‘Unlocked: A Jail Experiment’: Arkansas County Refuses $60,000 Check From Producers of Netflix Doc Amid Ongoing Legal Battle

Earlier this month, Arkansas’ Pulaski County turned down and returned a $60,000 check sent by Lucky 8, the production company behind the Netflix docuseries “Unlocked: A Jail Experiment.” Pulaski County is where “Unlocked” was filmed, and Lucky 8 apparently intended the check as reimbursement for any costs the county incurred during production.

But in a letter sent alongside the returned check, county judge Barry Hyde wrote, “Pulaski County has no contract with Lucky 8. As such, Pulaski County must treat this check as an offered donation. Your donation is refused.”

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This is not the first legal dispute to emerge surrounding the project, which was took place at the Pulaski County Detention Center (located in Little Rock, Ark.) in 2023. Per Little Rock’s ABC affiliate KATV, the county’s quorum court in March issued an emergency ordinance requiring Sheriff Eric Higgins, who spearheads the “social experiment” depicted in the docuseries, to produce a report about the production of “Unlocked” — including relevant documents and records and answers to several questions posed by the county.

In an interview with KATV, country judge Barry Hyde said that he was unaware of the series until March of this year and pointed out that according to “the constitutional requirement of all the counties in Arkansas, the only person who can bind the county is the county judge. For any contract purchase, I have to sign it or it is invalid.”

Higgins told the outlet, “The question was, ‘Do I have the authority to allow a camera crew to come into the facility?’ The answer was yes, that as a sheriff, you run the jail. You control who can go in and out of that jail. If you want to have them come in, you can do that.”

Variety has reviewed a location agreement appearing to authorize Lucky 8 to film in the Pulaski County Detention Center; however, the document was signed by Higgins, not by Hyde.

The issuing of the $60,000 check is explained by one article of the agreement, which reads, “Producer acknowledges and agrees that it may not, prior, during or after filming, put owner to any expense it would not otherwise ordinarily incur, and any filming in connection herewith shall be done at no cost to the Facility, therefore, Producer shall pay Owner an all-inclusive fee of $1,000 (the “Fee”) per day during which Producer is filming at or in the Facility, for purposes of reimbursing owner for expenses in connection with the filming on the Property and daily operating expenses related thereto.”

“Unlocked: A Jail Experiment” follows a group of Pulaski County detainees over a six-week period during which their cells were unlocked. Led by Higgins, the project aims to “determine if more autonomy and less control in jails can lead to a more community-oriented living environment and better support one of the fundamental purposes of incarceration: discouraging people from committing future crimes,” per Netflix’s companion site Tudum.

The series was an immediate hit, becoming Netflix’s second-most-watched English-language series of the week with 3.9 million views in its debut week and maintaining second place while rising to 5 milion views the week after.

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