Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Reality (TV) of Jail

OK, I just saw the first episode of the new reality TV show, Jail, on WUTB last night. I understand this is a remake of the cable show Inside American Jail from Court TV but I've never seen that since I don't have cable. Anyway, this really is a show people should see. It was created by the same people who made Cops, and it's based on the same premise. The show follows sheriffs around as they process new arrestees at various large urban jails.

Last night's episode featured lots of people under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. It showed the booking process, the intake medical screening process and the suicide prevention measures. It gave a good glimpse of the people who come to jail, why they come there and the condition they're in on arrival. It was easy to pick out the detainees with altered mental states but not nearly so easy to tell whether that change was from psychiatric problems or substance abuse. One pretrial detainee highlighted the medical problems jails deal with---he had a single tooth hanging from his upper jaw. When the officer doing medical screening asked him if he had dental problems, he burst out laughing.

The episode I saw featured three different large urban jails. All the jails were more spacious, cleaner and quieter than the ones I've been in. Maybe it was just a good time of night, but I was surprised to see their booking cells only held one or two people at a time. There was no obvious blatant profanity or shouting, but then again with the FCC fines being what they are I'm sure the networks would screen this out. I thought the show did a good job of illustrating the plight of the average new arrestee. As one first-time offender put it, "My bond is only $400 and a lot of people here have it a lot higher, but when you've got nothing it might as well be a million."

Some folks may feel a bit of guilty voyeurism watching this show, but let this pass: This show should be mandatory viewing for all people who want 'tough on crime' policies.