What Works?

How a civil rights activist became father of the American gulag.

Late one afternoon in the summer of 1979, sociologist Robert Martinson hurled himself to his death through the window of his fifteenth floor Manhattan apartment while his teenaged son Michael slept in his bedroom some twenty feet away. A charismatic socialist and civil rights activist in his youth, at the age of 48 Martinson made a name for himself in academia and corrections policy by boldly claiming that rehabilitation efforts had no effect whatsoever on whether or not the incarcerated would return to crime. That wasn't entirely true—but Martinson thought attacking the current models of rehabilitation or “treatment” would result in a new dialog about crime and what to do about it. Instead, his work caused a total abandonment of rehabilitation programs and a forty-year run of rising incarceration rates, to the incalculable detriment of American society. Martinson realized his error and recanted his thesis only four years later, but by then it was too late.

This is the story of Robert Martinson, a talented, embattled man, as told by his friends, lovers, and son Michael. It is a story about fatherhood, the allure of fame, and the hazardous intersection between scientific research and public policy.


By holding individuals morally accountable, and by showing, via story rather than rhetoric, the chaotic interplay of human actors and their motivations, this film will sidestep rote truths about the corrections system perhaps helping policy makers avoid a similar path going forward.


Adam Humphreys. I live in New York and run a small oproduction company called Videospa .

I am the director and producer of this film.

I am using the money to fund a trip to interview key parties in the film.

My wife, Lauren Bucquet , is a shoes and accessories designer. We live in Los Angeles.

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Adam Humphreys
Los Angeles, CA

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