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This gripping new Netflix reality series takes you inside an actual prison

Published Apr 10th, 2024 4:25PM EDT
Unlocked: A Jail Experiment on Netflix.
Image: Netflix

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Ten years after Orange is the New Black debuted on Netflix, the streamer is serving up another original series about inmates, but this one isn’t scripted. Unlocked: A Jail Experiment premiered on Wednesday, going behind the scenes on a real-life social experiment that took place within the Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility.

As Netflix explains on Tudum, the experiment was dreamed up by Arkansas sheriff Eric Higgins, who was disappointed in the poor conditions of the jails in his community and the high recidivism rates of their occupants. As the name of the series implies, Higgins unlocked the unit cells of the inmates for six weeks and gave them a chance to build a community in the jail.

By giving inmates more freedom and autonomy within the jail, they would be better prepared to integrate back into society once their sentences ended. There are also rewards for inmates who demonstrate consistent good behavior.

Throughout the series, we hear from the inmates participating in this experiment about the good, the bad, and the ugly. The inmates were approached about the offer and were free to say yes or no and leave the experiment at any time. They were also told ahead of time that the production company would be present, recording their every move.

While there are ups and downs throughout the series, including more than one fight, Sheriff Higgins believes the experiment was a success. In fact, the doors in that Pulaski County Regional Detention unit are still unlocked to this day.

“In this country, we have a certain perception of someone who goes to jail — the assumption being that they’re guilty,” Higgins says. “But they deserve dignity. These individuals, they’re fathers, they’re uncles, they’re sons. People care about them… they’re not just a number. I believe that if you treat people right, and you hold them accountable… I think they take that with them when they walk out of this facility. I think we have proven that people will rise to the expectation.”

You can watch all eight episodes of Unlocked: A Jail Experiment on Netflix now.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.