Depressing, exploitative and sick: Welcome to the Sheriff Jones reality show

Netflix series ‘Jailbirds’ official trailer

Love, hate, betrayal -- the drama never ends for both first-time and veteran inmates trying to survive behind bars at the Sacramento County Jail.
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Love, hate, betrayal -- the drama never ends for both first-time and veteran inmates trying to survive behind bars at the Sacramento County Jail.

Scott Jones, the former GOP congressional candidate currently serving as Sacramento County sheriff, has a new job: television producer.

Netflix viewers saw the debut of “Jailbirds,” a Netflix TV “reality” show about women in the Sacramento County Jail.

Jones’ rationale for approving the project was to give props to the without-a-doubt hardworking jailers, who must keep the prisoners on track and on a routine while they wait for trial. Like all reality TV shows with high-concept premises (let’s see if we can elect Donald Trump President of the United States by showing him as a real executive!), this program is exploitative and depressing.

We’re not sure what Jones was thinking here, given the fact that the sheriff’s conception of the First Amendment is that it’s, um, on probation at minimum, and more often in solitary confinement.

Oh, we see the usual stuff here: Hard-luck story inmates struggling to survive in a terribly unpleasant environment while guards keep them (mostly) in line.


In Episode 1, the viewer is treated to a drug deal gone bad in the day room – until a prisoner with her name tatted over her left eye notes an overhanging microphone. D’oh! The would-be dope seller then pretends it’s all a gag.

Gag us.

Oh, and cameras catch the same Girl With The Name Tattoo and her cellmate making a bootleg booze concoction out of oranges fermented in a plastic bag. They both then deny it when they are caught by a guard. Oops! There was a camera on them! Now that’s entertainment!

What’s not entertaining about “Jailbirds” is that Jones thought this was a good idea. 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. Hardly the kind of message we want to send to would-be criminals and, furthermore, it dilutes what jail is supposed to be: punishment, and not a method acting workshop.

Not to be spoilsports, but reality television follows a tired formula. Generally speaking: Throw a bunch of hapless people together, provoke conflict and film the sad interactions that follow. And if one of the characters is really pretty, all the better for ratings. If the pretty one can’t even post bail, then we can show her crying. That’s good for ratings, right? Is it good for her if we want her to avoid carjacking in the future?

Exploitative seems to be a fairly conservative word to describe what Scott Jones is allowing in his (our) jail. The word we’re looking for here is sick.

It is sick to feature incarcerated people, many of whom have had sad lives to begin with, as zoo animals. People who are in the county lock-up may or may not have done bad things. Then Netflix (and Sheriff Jones) brings in the cameras to do what? Glorify them? Shame them? Treat them like a carnival act so that society may gawk while taxpayers foot the bill?

We have a reality TV show concept that Sheriff Jones might not like. It’s about a Sacramento sheriff who tries to do the right thing and not embarrass the voters.

Naw. That would never work.

Sacramento County’s use of solitary confinement in its jail is facing scrutiny from inmate advocates. A lawsuit claims the practice unfairly punishes people experiencing mental health crises.

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