Would you agree to go undercover in a jail to make a TV show? Seven people did for 60 Days In, a new unscripted series debuting Thursday on A&E. We talked to Sheriff Jamey Noel about why he agreed to allow civilians and a production company to film inside the Clark County Jail in Jefferson, Indiana.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKY: How did you come up with this idea?
SHERIFF JAMEY NOEL: The county jail was in tough shape. I literally had moms saying how they want to feel safe knowing that if they have a kid going to jail, at least he’s not going to get drugs. In the Clark County Jail, you could actually get more drugs inside and cheaper than you could get on the outside. We started attempting to make some changes but the inmate culture doesn’t want to talk to corrections, they don’t want to talk to me as sheriff because they don’t want to be viewed as a snitch. And the culture of some of the corrections officers is such that sometimes they don’t want to admit that we’re doing something wrong. Because of the illegal activity that’s running rampant, I had to arrest a few of our own employees.
My initial thought was to put undercover police officers in the facility but my concern was I wouldn’t get the stuff that I was looking for — inmate behavior, inmate movements. We started getting a lot of local media coverage because we were doing these searches. I got a phone call from a production company saying they had an interest in what we’re trying to do. So, we kinda mutually suggested putting a regular person in.
Where did you put the cameras?
They came in and installed some pretty high-tech cameras that we’ve never had in our facility before. Inmates signed a waver to agree to be in that section [where the cameras were]. We were able to basically monitor them around the clock. Every once in a while an inmate would say, “Hey, I don’t want to be part of the show. I don’t want to agree to be taped.”They would be moved to a different section of the jail.
Doesn’t that get in the way of your trying to uncover secrets about the place if you let them know you’re filming?
Well, we had to let ’em know that we were filming a show and the amazing part about it is … they get so used to them being there that they forget. When it’s a known thing and it’s right there in front of you, people kind of get used to it and go about their normal business.
Did the inmates know that you put regular Joes in the jail, they weren’t actual criminals?
No, they did not know that. They did not know that they were helping me in an undercover capacity. And I didn’t let them know, because I didn’t want them to be branded as a snitch or put in an unsafe situation.
I notice that these volunteers were prepped for their time in prison. How do you prep them?
There were certain code words and different gestures that people monitoring immediately knew that if they saw that, that the person would be, within seconds, pulled out of that section released from the facility.
Did any of them do that or did they all stay in?
Well, I don’t want to tip too much but yes, there were some incidents where people did leave.
Did you prepare them for the possibility that they could be involved in a fight somehow or anything like that?
Yeah, they were. They were told that, hey, this is jail. This is what could happen. So, even though it was a low risk they understand that it could happen but they were also briefed, too, that, hey, if you’re in this facility for up to 60 days and you start getting comfortable yourself, it doesn’t give you carte blanche to commit a criminal act yourself.
60 Days In premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on A&E.