Fact Check: Is Netflix's Unlocked real or scripted? Explained

A still from Unlocked: A Jail Experiment (Image via Netflix)
A still from Unlocked: A Jail Experiment (Image via Netflix)

Netflix's experimental documentary series Unlocked: A Jail Experiment has gathered enough momentum to become one of the most streamed Netflix shows in recent weeks. The eight-part documentary series focuses on a prison experiment where convicts are allowed to stay out of their cells without direct supervision. This was done in a bid to help inmates create a community for themselves and abide by a structure without the strict bondage of the law.

While it does seem like an idea that is too good to implement without a script, the events of Unlocked: A Jail Experiment are absolutely true. Though as advertised in the show, the "no lock" policy wasn't exactly without any locks. Rather, officers were posted right outside the secure doors of the prison, while allowing inmates to be free only inside the premises. There was also strict surveillance through cameras, which were monitored by the authorities as well.

Spearheaded by Arkansas Sheriff Eric Higgins, who came up with this idea amid his concerns about high recidivism rates and lack of dignity in prisons for inmates, the series documented the six weeks that prisoners were allowed to stay unlocked inside the prison. The thought-provoking docu-series has already built a strong fanbase around the globe.

Because of Sheriff Eric Higgins' bold decision to allow this to happen, there is currently an ongoing controversy involving the question of whether the sheriff was allowed to do this at all.


How did Eric Higgins come up with the idea of Unlocked: A Jail Experiment?

The idea of Unlocked: A Jail Experiment came to Sheriff Eric Higgins because of his concerns regarding high recidivism rates and the sad conditions inside the prison. Part of it is also a reflection of how the Sheriff views the prison inmate community and how he tried to help them.

Speaking to Netflix's official site, Tudum, Higgins explained:

"The goal was to determine if more autonomy and less control in jails can lead to a more community-oriented living environment and better support one of the fundamental purposes of incarceration: discouraging people from committing future crimes...We thought, ‘What can we do to create some ownership for those detainees in that unit?'...How do we make the facility safer, and what can we do to still hold them accountable but empower them at the same time?’"

So this led to the creation of this alternate way of running a prison, which, according to the show, yielded a high success rate, with most criminals aligning themselves with the idea and the way of life, even successfully building tired structures inside their community for self-sustenance.

The inmates were given the choice of running their system in their own way. Higgins elaborated to Tudum:

"They each have their own issues, whether it’s court, their charges, their contact or lack of contact with family members, their lack of support… all of those things are coming into play...They stepped up. They recognized that they can improve their environment. And the majority of the people in the unit did the right thing from Day 1."

Though the experiment became a success and the show became a huge hit among streamers, there is still ongoing controversy surrounding the same, making us question whether this would be allowed in other prisons as well.

If the safety concerns are aptly addressed, this may become a standard prison system in the future, especially for the low-security prisons across the country.

From a viewer's standpoint, this seems to be a good solution that also allows more insight into the lives and functions of prison inmates.


Unlocked: A Jail Experiment is currently streaming on Netflix.

Edited by Tiasha
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