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Sheriff Scott Jones criticized in Daily Beast story in light of Netflix’s ‘Jailbirds’

Criticism of Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has taken the national stage in the three weeks since the debut of Netflix series “Jailbirds,” a reality show that let TV cameras inside the Sacramento County jail.

Jones’ history during his tenure as sheriff was excoriated in a scathing, 2,700-word story published Saturday by The Daily Beast news and opinion website.

The piece recounts controversies that have centered on Jones during and before his tenure as sheriff, and essentially alleges hypocrisy on Jones’ part for allowing a reality show like “Jailbirds” to be filmed at Sacramento’s downtown jail.

The Daily Beast article claims that the TV show “gives scant notice to the man who greenlit the whole project—the guy who oversees Sacramento’s jail system, and who was granted editorial veto power over all of Jailbirds’ footage.”

The story, which heavily cites public records and news coverage by The Sacramento Bee and other local news outlets, points to comments Jones made in 2015 in reaction to ACLU statewide poll results showing that a majority of voters supported law enforcement officers wearing body cameras.

Jones, who in 2015 opposed mandatory body camera policies on grounds of officer privacy, reportedly told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that bodycam footage would be “fodder for reality-television shows.” But The Daily Beast story points out that Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department activity has been featured regularly on popular reality show “COPS” and in six 2015 episodes of MSNBC’s “Lockup.”

“Lockup,” canceled in 2017, was produced by 44 Blue Productions, which also conceived “Jailbirds.”

“In a statement to The Daily Beast, “Jailbirds” executive producer Rasha Drachkovitch wrote that 44 Blue Productions ... is ‘motivated by stories that focus on redemption and second chances,’” the story says.

“But Jones,” the Daily Beast story continues, “who has served as Sacramento’s sheriff since 2010, has spent much of his ‘tough-on-crime’ career making sure many inmates don’t have them.”

Tagged under the subject of “Controversy,” the story is headlined: “The ‘Mini-Trump’ and Accused Sexual Harasser Behind Netflix’s New Reality Series ‘Jailbirds.’”

The “sexual harasser” label refers to claims made in court documents, which were uncovered in 2016, that Jones made unwanted sexual advances toward a subordinate in 2003 while he was a sergeant, as previously reported by The Bee.

A sheriff’s deputy, 26 at the time, said in a deposition that Jones gave her inappropriate massages, kissed her and unzipped her pants. Jones denied those allegation in a sworn, signed declaration, saying he had intimate physical contact with the deputy on only one occasion - when she started to kiss him, and he told her to stop.

“Mini-Trump” is a moniker that Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Bretón has recently used in reference to Jones, and which Jones in turn referenced himself at a contentious Board of Supervisors meeting in December.

The Daily Beast story additionally points to a lawsuit filed against the jail involving Disability Rights California, which sued last July over jail conditions including “inhumane” solitary confinement rules in Sacramento County’s jails.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors greenlit construction on an 86,000-square-foot, $89.3 million medical and mental health ward expansion at the county’s Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, which is aimed primarily toward addressing needs of inmates with emotional and psychological problems.

The Daily Beast said Jones declined multiple requests for an interview, and includes comments from an unnamed sheriff’s spokesperson who said it was not appropriate to speak about Jones’ legal history and that it was not relevant to the creation of “Jailbirds.”

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Tess Deterding told The Bee earlier in May that “Jailbirds” was “an opportunity to showcase the services we have going on,” including vocational and educational programs, as well as other resources like drug treatment.

“I’m sure they’ve dramatized some of it, but some of the things that happen certainly happen, like the toilet talking and the fishing, we’re familiar with that,” Deterding said earlier this month.

Deterding also said jail and sheriff’s staff were generally pleased with the show.

Jones approved filming after 44 Blue Productions approached the Sheriff’s Department last spring. It remains unclear why Sacramento was picked.

While viewers ate up the six-episode first season, learning about “toilet talking” and getting to know inmates like Megan “Monster” Hawkins, mixed response from critics, local publications and national media outlets have called into question the ethics of a show like “Jailbirds.”

“What’s not entertaining about ‘Jailbirds’ is that Jones thought this was a good idea,” a recent editorial by The Bee read. “Pitch meetings can produce some silly ideas, but this one just makes Sacramento look like we are making fun of the desperate lives contained within the jail walls.”

So far, review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes has just three reviews posted for “Jailbirds” - two positive and one negative, an amount too low for a score on the site’s popular “Tomatometer.” But even the two positive reviews - one by Common Sense Media and another by Decider - use the word “exploitative,” as did The Bee’s editorial.

A one-sentence summary of Common Sense Media’s review reads: “Intriguing docu about female inmates can feel exploitative.”

The final verdict in Decider’s review, meanwhile, says: “We could get on our high horse and say how exploitative Jailbirds is, but then we realize that everyone there is an adult, they signed a release, and the show is pretty damn fun to watch.”

The negative review, a 1.5-out-of-5-star review by The Daily Dot, called it “superficial,” focusing on “petty drama between inmates.”

Regardless, entertainment media have reported that the show quickly established an audience of hooked viewers. After the show left on an apparent cliffhanger to end its first season (no spoilers here), there are already calls for a Season 2, Newsweek reported Wednesday.

A second season has not been confirmed.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.
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