Chief jailer gives insight into prison reality show

2017-05-21 11:00

Johannesburg - Now in its third season, this edition of The Jail: 60 Days In is in turns an illuminating and frustrating look at what life is like in a prison in Atlanta, Georgia.

Ten ordinary people volunteer to go inside for 60 days and let cameras record their moments.

Included in the group are prison reformists and #BlackLivesMatter activists, others are interested in the criminal justice system, while some are trying to understand the experiences of their partners who have been incarcerated.

Whatever their reasons, these 10 volunteers give up their freedom to live behind bars for two months. The real inmates don’t know why they’re there, and only a few of the jail’s staff members are in on it.

As the series progresses, it’s interesting to see how the volunteers find the experience much harder than they expected.

While some blend in and even befriend real inmates, others crack under the pressure of being exposed to constant violence and drug use, and living in close quarters. The show really gives you a feeling of the hell that is prison – the noise, the senseless violence, the frustration and boredom. It’s often exhausting to watch, but worth it.

Watch the trailer here:

#Trending interviewed Fulton County’s chief jailer, Colonel Mark Adger, by phone to find out why he chose to run the experiment in his prison.

Does Fulton have rehabilitation programmes for its inmates?

The jail pods that you see in the show are not part of any programmes because most inmates aren’t going to be there for long enough to be part of a programme.

Also, a lot of the inmates are not suitable for programming – that’s one of the things we learnt from the show, most of these guys are not interested in programming. They want to keep on gang-banging for as long as they can because they don’t think they’re going to get to the age of 25.

What would your ideal prison model be?

I don’t know if I have one. Each community is different. But if I could rebuild Fulton Prison, I’d definitely do it differently. I’d use a direct supervision model, which means that the staff supervise inmate activity at all times.

I would provide more programme space. There wouldn’t be an outdoor yard, but there’d be a suitable recreation space and more built-in programmes so that inmates who wanted to learn a new skill or get counselling online could do that more effectively.

Why couldn’t you get information on your jail from former inmates or from prison reform activists? Why did you specifically want it from these volunteers?

We’ve run undercover operations before that were undertaken by law enforcement officers or paid informants, but they usually only lasted for a few days and they weren’t able to get me the information that I’m interested in.

I want to know what effect jail has on people who’ve not been in jail before. I want to know if, when we incarcerate a first-time offender, we’re making them a better or worse person because of the experience.

The only way we can get that information is from someone who is willing to stay inside for a minimum of 60 days, and from someone who can learn and adjust to the system.

You’re not going to get that information from someone who knows they can leave at any time. I think that, for the most part, we got what we wanted from the participants. It has been the most successful undercover operation that we’ve so far run at Fulton.

What was the main thing you learnt during the experiment?

The effects that jail has on a person’s psyche. What these participants were like when they arrived compared with when they left is important. Some of the participants report that, even months later, they are still dealing with the experience, and said they had previously taken their freedom for granted.

Catch The Jail: 60 Days Saturdays at 20:00 on Crime and Investigation (DStv 170).

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