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Documentary details Ark. sheriff’s social experiment that allowed inmates to govern themselves

“Unlocked: A Jail Experiment” follows 46 inmates for six weeks without locks or officers in the Pulaski County Regional Detention facility

By Sarah Roebuck

JACKSONVILLE, Ark. — A new documentary detailing a social experiment follows 46 inmates in the Pulaski County Regional Detention facility to see if they can govern themselves.

The documentary, called “Unlocked: A Jail Experiment,” debuted on Netflix on April 10. The detainees were given six weeks without locks or officers in the facility to “prove that they can act more like people and not criminals,” the trailer states.

On April 14, the NAACP in Jacksonville hosted a question and answer with Sheriff Eric Higgins where he addressed comments and questions regarding the documentary, THV11 reports.

“I want to humanize people. I want to empower people to have an impact on their culture, environment, and community. If you can do that on a micro level, in jail with people you don’t care about or didn’t initially care about, and if you take that with you when you go to the broader community, then maybe you realize that you are empowered, you can have a positive impact on your neighborhood, on your family,” Higgins said.

Higgins expressed his hope is that this initiative will lower the recidivism rate and enable inmates to positively contribute to the community.

Corrections veteran and host of Tier Talk Anthony Gangi broke down the first episode of the documentary. To hear his take, watch the video below or click here.

Have you watched “Unlocked: A Jail Experiment”? What did you think about it? Email us your thoughts at

Corrections1 readers respond

  • My husband and I just finished “Unlocked: A Jail Experiment,” and we both appreciated the positive changes serious offenders can make when allowed to interact and work through community building. As a high school English teacher, I just completed a Juvenile Justice unit with my seniors, and this documentary hit home for me. It’s refreshing to see innovative attempts to rehabilitate folks and provide them opportunities to build social skills that will benefit them wherever their next placement may be. The sheriff should be applauded for recognizing the humanity of these men, however broken they may be, and for his willingness to take risks — it seems like thoughtful, calculated risks.
  • It should be implemented in other jails. What a positive impact it made on those men. I feel proud of them. I congratulate you Sheriff Eric Higgins for what you did for those men. I always thought of jails and prisons as being such a negative place with no help to rehabilitate. Just wasting time with nothing positive to look forward to.