Would you spend a night in jail if you didn’t have to?
What about two months?
Seven ordinary people did exactly that on A&E’s new documentary series “60 Days In,” which aired on Thursday night in the US. The show follows the participants’ experiences as undercover inmates at an Indiana jail.
The volunteers — none of whom had criminal records — were booked on fake charges and assumed false identities during their stays at Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville.
Provided with a small stipend to compensate for not working, they lived among the jail’s 500-inmate population without corrections officers or other inmates knowing their secret.
The show is the brainchild of Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel, who said he needed outsiders to give him an honest look at life behind bars.
“The only way to truly understand what was going on in the jail was to implement innocent participants into the system to provide first-hand unbiased intelligence,” Noel said in a statement provided by A&E. “These brave volunteers helped us identify critical issues within our system that undercover officers would not have been able to find.”
Aside from pointing out systematic problems, the participants provided Noel with key details about the social dynamics that govern daily life for inmates, he told Business Insider.
For example, some of the undercover inmates informed him of a strict hierarchy that dictated when inmates could use the bathroom. New inmates were expected to fork over food or items purchased in the prison commissary in exchange for bathroom privileges, according to Noel.
“Even folks in corrections for 20-plus years had never heard of that,” he said.
In one disturbing scene in the first episode, two participants witness a bloody fight between inmates ignited by a mealtime dispute.
“The fight had an obvious cause and effect,” a participant and former Marine named Zac said on camera. “Ricky was supposed to give his hash browns to Cody. He didn’t give his hash browns to Cody. He got beat up for it.”
Another participant, a housewife named Barbra, told Business Insider that new inmates were especially vulnerable.
“When you go into jail and you’re an inmate, and it’s your first time, the other inmates automatically take advantage of you. They can sense it,” she said. “I had things stolen from me. There were issues with taking a shower, trying to sleep, and where to sleep.”
Over the course of two months, the participants said, they experienced violence and sexual harassment from fellow prisoners and witnessed drug use and drug deals between inmates.
About 80% of the jail’s population were there on drug-related charges, according to Noel.
Participants also confirmed to Noel a long-held suspicion: that some inmates had purposely gotten arrested because drugs were cheaper in jail than they were on the street.
Another participant, Maryum Ali — the eldest daughter of boxing great Muhammad Ali — said the experience was “the most scared I’ve ever been in my life,” People reported.
At the end of her two months, Ali told Noel the jail needed better drug treatment services, which led to the establishment of a Narcotics Anonymous program for inmates, Noel explained.
According to an A&E spokesperson, multiple corrections officers were fired as a result of events witnessed by participants.
And Noel’s experiment has already led to at least one arrest; using information gained from the undercover program, investigators arrested a woman who tried to smuggle drugs into the jail last month, according to southern Indiana newspaper News and Tribune and confirmed by Noel.
Noel, who became sheriff in 2014, said he hopes he can help the jail shed its reputation of corruption. The previous Clark County sheriff, Danny Rodden, signed a plea deal in federal court in 2014, admitting he lied to the FBI to cover up an affair with a prostitute. He’s also part of an ongoing federal lawsuit over the jail’s drug court treatment program.
A&E paid the jail $60,000 to make the series. Noel told Business Insider the money would go toward improved guard training, an updated camera system, and a body scanner for the jail.
The network has already picked up the show for a second season, A&E announced Tuesday.
Watch a preview of the series here:
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