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Arkansas Sheriff Grilled Over Hit Netflix Show Filmed at Jail

An emergency ordinance passed by the Quorum Court of Arkansas’ Pulaski County on April 22, 2024, demanded answers from county Sheriff Eric Higgins to questions about a TV show filmed at the jail in Little Rock. The county also returned a $60,000 payment from the producers of Unlocked: A Jail Experiment, which quickly shot to the top of the ratings after its release on the Netflix streaming service on April 10, 2024.

Filmed over a six-week period in 2023 by production company Lucky 8, the eight-episode documentary series follows detainees in a general-population area at the Pulaski County Detention Center (PCDC) as the Sheriff conducts an “experiment” that extends to them many of the same chances to earn privileges that had already been successfully implemented in a separate area for detainees preparing for release and re-entry into society.

But a turf war erupted in March 2024 when county Judge Barry Hyde got wind of the show, and he loudly protested that only he could contractually obligate the county to Lucky 8. The Quorum Court quickly passed an ordinance calling Higgins to task for a “no locks” tagline in the show’s advertising, to which the Sheriff replied that guards were present during filming and the unit secured, though cell doors were opened. He also argued that it’s the Sheriff’s prerogative to determine who may enter the jail and what may be done there.

That didn’t tamp down the brewing controversy, however. Detainee advocates like Pastor Eric Crowder-Jones with Another Chance Ministries praised the Sheriff for “giving those inmates the opportunity to become better by allowing them to govern their freedom, rather than to sit in a caged area and become bitter.” Countered Arkansas First Responders Bureau Chief Roy Baker, “At no time should any inmate feel that they have even the smallest amount of freedom or reign within the detention facility.”

Lucky 8 sent a promised $60,000 payment to the county to reimburse any additional costs incurred during the production. But the county returned it on April 9, 2024, saying it had no contract with the company to which the payment could be applied, adding also that it would not accept a donation, either.

The Quorum Court’s most recent ordinance pressures Higgins to explain alleged discrepancies between his answers to the earlier queries and what was depicted in the show. The Court also wanted to know why show participants included detainees charged with sex crimes or capital murder.

 

Sources: KATV, Variety

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