Is Unlocked: A Jail Experiment real?

Daisy Phillipson
Tiny in Unlocked: A Jail Experiment

With the release of the intriguing new Netflix docuseries Unlocked: A Jail Experiment, you might be wondering: is it real or scripted? Here’s what you need to know. 

This week, the documentary realm is dominated by two key titles: Quiet on Set following the release of its bonus Episode 5; and What Jennifer Did, about the chilling Jennifer Pan case. 

But another release that’s well worth your time is Unlocked: A Jail Experiment. Part reality TV show, part documentary, this series delves into a revolutionary social experiment that grants a group of Arkansas inmates more freedom than they’ve ever had behind bars. 

The idea is to examine whether alternative practices could reform America’s broken prison system and lead to genuine rehabilitation. But to gain these insights, authenticity is a must — so, is this the case?

Is Unlocked: A Jail Experiment real?

Yes, Unlocked: A Jail Experiment is completely real and not scripted. The experiment was held at Little Rock’s Pulaski County Regional Detention Facility and led by Arkansas sheriff Eric Higgins, who ensured all of the detainees involved went through a screening process and knew what they were signing up for. 

Across eight episodes, the Netflix docuseries explores the experiment that sees a group of real-life prisoners going from spending 23 hours a day in lockdown to living in a unit where cells are unlocked and deputies are removed. 

The aim is to figure out whether more freedom and less control can lead to a community-oriented living environment, creating a blueprint that could reform the prison system and help to prevent prisoners from committing further crimes in the future. 

Speaking to Netflix’s Tudum about the experiment, Higgins said, “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?’”

Alongside cameras, monitors were installed in the unit to ensure the safety of those involved, and they were all briefed beforehand. “We didn’t automatically open the doors,” Higgins added. “We talked to them about the possibilities, and about behavior.”

Before filming began, the prisoners were given a list of responsibilities and were given the opportunity to ask detailed questions. And if they wanted to leave the experiment at any time, they were allowed to do so. 

Who are the prisoners in Unlocked: A Jail Experiment? 

A total of 50 prisoners are listed as taking part in Unlocked A Jail Experiment, as well as nine staff members. But there are definitely some individuals who emerge as key players in the opening episodes of the docuseries. They include:

  • Randy “True Story” Randall, 45, arrested for domestic assault and drug charges
  • Krisna “Tiny” Piro Clarke, arrested for aggravated battery and first-degree robbery
  • John “Eastside” McAllister, arrested for drug possession and armed robbery
  • Mason “Mayham” Abraham, arrested for capital murder
  • Raymond “AJ” Lovett, arrested for capital murder and aggravated assault
  • Daniel “Crooks” Gatlin, arrested for aggravated robbery and theft
  • David Miller, arrested for domestic battery
  • Chauncey Young, arrested for first-degree violence, theft, and aggravated robbery

Elaborating further on the experiment, Higgins said: “In this country, we have a certain perception of someone who goes to jail — the assumption being that they’re guilty. 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.”

Unlocked: A Jail Experiment is streaming on Netflix now. You can also find all of the other new documentaries streaming this month, as well as the TV shows to add to your watchlist

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About The Author

Daisy is a Senior TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's a lover of all things macabre, whether that be horror, crime, psychological thrillers or all of the above. After graduating with a Masters in Magazine Journalism, she's gone on to write for Digital Spy, LADbible and Little White Lies. You can contact her on