9 regular people going undercover at an Atlanta jail discovered a frustrating truth about inmates and guards

A&EEmmanuel, center, was one of nine undercover inmates on ’60 Days In.’
  • Nine regular people went undercover at Fulton County Jail on the A&E show “60 Days In.”
  • They found that guards and inmates have an adversarial relationship with each other – both are afraid the other is taking advantage of them.
  • Sometimes, that can lead to testy confrontations and scary moments.

In Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail, corrections officers and inmates are frequently at each other’s throats.

Inmates have everything from their recreation time to their medicine dosages carefully regulated by jail staff, and both parties are constantly wary of being taken advantage of by the other.

Nine ordinary people discovered just how taxing it can be on the on the A&E documentary series “60 Days In,” which follows law-abiding citizens who voluntarily go to jail as undercover inmates to expose problems from within the system.

As chief jailer Col. Mark Adger explained, it’s common for inmates to test new staff members by asking for small favours, like finding out when their court date is or when their section of the jail will be given recreation time. Although the favours seem benign, fulfilling them can distract staff from observing illegal activity happening in the cells, Adger said.

“A new hire, a detention officer or sheriff, might get caught up in those games due to lack of experience,” Adger told Business Insider. “They find themselves running around trying to fill out requests, doing things for inmates, only to find out they’re being played.”

That distrust leads to an almost adversarial relationship between guards and inmates – a relationship that plays out on “60 Days In.” In one episode, an undercover inmate named Emmanuel lashes out at corrections officers who are reluctant to help after he complains there was blood and mucus on the wall left from a previous inmate.

“Their relationship with inmates, it can be a pretty touchy one,” Adger told Business Insider. “I think the main issue is the staff is always on alert of being scammed by an inmate or being played or manipulated by an inmate, regardless of the actual inmate’s situation.”

Emmanuel, a public health analyst from New Jersey, immediately got into a shouting match with the corrections officers, who he said would not have responded to calm reasoning.

“It’s a common pattern with the COs that it takes challenging, just being belligerent, in order for them to give you respect,” he said on the show. “It’s sad. They will respond to you cursing at them, you yelling at them, and honestly, that doesn’t help the inmates that are in here when they go out, because they know they can just get something by just yelling.”

60 days in jaclynA&EJaclyn, an undercover inmate.

Apart from Adger and two deputies, none of the jail staff knew about the presence of the undercover inmates, who were given false identities and booked under fake charges. According to A&E, the show’s producers and camera personnel operated under the guise that they were filming a documentary about first-time inmates.

The show has landed corrections officers in trouble before. In 2015, multiple corrections officers were fired from Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where the show’s first two seasons were filmed, as a result of events witnessed by the undercover inmates. No firings have been reported at Fulton County Jail as a result of the show.

Still, Emmanuel was not the only participant in the show to describe questionable behaviour by jail staff. In the women’s wing of the jail, inmates complained for more than hour that there was a gas leak before staff took action, even as many of the women began panicking for their safety.

“I really just genuinely think the officers were tired of smelling it, tired of hearing us complain, so they had to do something,” said Jaclyn, a paralegal from Indiana and one of the undercover inmates.

60 days in gas leakA&EStephanie, one of the undercover inmates, covers her mouth during a gas leak in the women’s section of Fulton County Jail.

Staff eventually relocated the inmates and called the fire department, who found a faulty valve in the heating system was left on.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m inhaling, and that’s dangerous,” said Stephanie, another undercover inmate. “I get we’re in jail, but no one should ever try to inhale that. I mean, the COs didn’t want to inhale it, but they were making us inhale it.”

Adger said the experiences depicted on “60 Days In” reinforce the need for proper training for staff – something he’s emphasised since the show came out.

“When you’re dealing with incarcerated individuals, you have to realise they are human beings,” he told Business Insider. “We have to remind ourselves they are still human beings and they deserve a level of respect and dignity.”

The next episode of “60 Airs In” airs Thursday at 10 p.m.

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