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The Fascination With Netflix’s Unlocked: A Jail Experiment, Explained

The Fascination With Netflix's Unlocked: A Jail Experiment, Explained


  • Sheriff Higgins experiments with unlocked doors for inmates to prove they can “act more like people than criminals” in a new docuseries.
  • Unlocked: A Jail Experiment offers a raw look at inmates behind bars, showcasing the desire for change and rehabilitation among individuals.
  • Viewers connect with inmates’ personalities and struggles, hopeful that Sheriff Higgins’ experiment will help them turn their lives around.

Unlocked: A Jail Experiment is Netflix’s latest docuseries that features a radical (and potentially illegal) social experiment right in the middle of the gray halls of Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility in Little Rock, Arkansas. In short, Sheriff Eric Higgins, a man with more than 30 years of experience with the police department in Little Rock, decided that a single unit of inmates he oversees needed to be given the opportunity to prove that they could “act more like people than criminals.” Higgins’ motive behind the experiment was that he wanted to prove to everyone and have the inmates prove to themselves that while they are locked up for various crimes, they are still capable of being decent individuals with pride in their community.

The logistics of the experiment came down to this: instead of the inmates following a 23:1 schedule, where they are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day with only one hour to interact as a group or go into the concrete courtyard for recreational activities, their cell doors would be unlocked all day every day for the next six weeks. In addition to this bit of freedom, a deputy would not be in their unit monitoring everything, but rather, they would be watching dozens of cameras to make sure rules were still followed.

When Higgins introduced the idea of unlocked doors to the 46 incarcerated individuals, he was met with a lot of laughs, skepticism, and doubt. Some of the men believed people would not take the privilege seriously and get the whole experiment shut down, but there were a few who took the initiative and started thinking about potential problems and solutions before they even began. As viewers watch the eight episodes, some expectations are met, but there are quite a few things that come as a big surprise.

Find out exactly why people are so fascinated by Netflix’s Unlocked: A Jail Experiment below.

Unlocked: A Jail Experiment Shot to the Top of the Netflix Charts

It is no secret that millions of people are captivated by true-crime series, but what happens when the crime has (allegedly) already been committed and the suspect in question has been locked away? People’s curiosity does not end the moment the handcuffs are put on, and when looking at the ratings of Unlocked, it is clear that plenty of individuals really want to know what goes on behind the scenes of the concrete walls and barred windows.

Unlocked: A Jail Experiment gives audiences an inside look into the aftermath of 46 individuals who have been behind bars for quite a bit of time. Some admit to having been in and out of jail their whole lives, a few know they will likely never get to live a normal life and have freedom again, and a couple admit that they are actively trying to do better for themselves, regardless of where they end up. For many viewers, it is fascinating and heartwarming to see some men want to turn their lives around. However, not all viewers are as touched by Higgins’ experiment.

Because this is not a fictional prison series like Orange Is the New Black or Prison Break, everyone watching the series needs to keep in mind that every single inmate shown has family, friends, and possibly enemies on the outside. These free people are watching the show and seeing these men get a taste of freedom with unlocked doors, less supervision, and eventually, access to free phone calls. Opinions and feelings about this sort of situation do not sit well with everyone, especially those who have been wronged by the individuals on the screen. Because of this controversy, even more people are curious about the docuseries and what will come of the actual facility in the future.


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Fans are Drawn to the Real Story of Rehabilitation

When we think about jails in America, a few things come to mind: overcrowding, poor conditions, and violence. Within the very first episode of Unlocked, Sheriff Higgins actually addresses these issues and says that he wants to change the way jails function. He explains that before even pitching the experiment, he had done years worth of research on other countries’ jail systems. He learned quite a bit about how many Scandinavian countries focus on ways to rehabilitate incarcerated individuals into becoming law-abiding citizens who support their community and feel supported rather than someone sitting in a cell, counting down the days until they are free to get into trouble again. Higgins likened the approach of giving a whole unit of inmates some power and say over one another, and thus, the premise for Unlocked: A Jail Experiment was born.

Many viewers, especially those living in America, who are comfortably sitting on their couch watching these inmates on the new Netflix docuseries understand that the jail and justice system could be better. By seeing these inmates as real people who want to do and be better if given the opportunity, people are more hopeful that these faulty systems can be changed and help individuals as well as their communities — which is supposed to be the purpose of jail.


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The Prisoners’ Personalities and Concerns Are Relatable

As viewers watch any sort of reality series, it is easy to get caught up in the cast’s likable personalities, the lovey-dovey couples and newly established friendships, and their genuine concerns about certain situations. Just because the individuals featured in Unlocked are criminals, that does not mean that all of their feelings and troubles no longer matter.

In the beginning, it was easy to immediately take a liking to Randy “True Story” Randall because he was already given more responsibilities, such as tray duty and clean-up crew, within the unit. Then there is Krisna Pino Clarke, who has gone by “Tiny” all his life due to his size. Tiny openly speaks about being affiliated with a particular gang, but the moment he talks about his son, anyone can see that he wants to be a better father. Several inmates, like John “Eastside” McAllister and Daniel “Crooks” Gatlin, openly talk about dealing with anxiety and depression, so for them to have more than an hour a day to talk to others and get some perspective on things really hits home for many viewers.

In the end, when you take a look at the mental struggles a lot of these guys are going through, you will likely find yourself having some sympathy. It is easy to act tough and get hyped up when the cameras are around because something new is happening, but when these men go back to their bunks or their phone call gets declined, it is easy to see that they are in pain. Hopefully, because Higgins’ experiment did prove to be an overall success, a new leaf will be turned, and more of these individuals will be able to make a difference in their own lives and their communities.

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

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