MSNBC’s award-winning prison documentary series “Lockup” is making its season premiere this Saturday with footage from the Louisville Metro Corrections Jail.
The series began filming at the city facility earlier this year, and features repeat offender Brian Voltz along with local inmates discussing their workout routines. The show is a ratings magnet for the cable news network that highlights sometimes violent footage of inmates in maximum security state prisons.
Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton says the show’s producers approached the department to see if they were interested, but that his staff urged him to participate.
“What I did is I engaged our entire staff and I put it out to a vote to them,” he says. “And overwhelmingly they came back and said ‘yeah, this might be an opportunity for us to showcase what we do and show the country a little bit about Louisville Metro and how we do things.’”
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Bolton says the contract agreement with “Lockup” gives Metro Corrections the final edit approval over the show’s content. The city also received $20,000 from the show that is being used for leadership development of corrections officers and staff.
But media critics have questioned whether “Lockup” is an informative documentary or a reality TV series, while others have argued its voyeurism runs contrary to MSNBC’s overall programming.
This isn’t the first documentary series to feature Louisville law enforcement either. For three years, the A&E network’s show “The First 48″, which follows homicide detectives and their cases, featured Metro Police until the department ended the contract.
During the show’s run, several legal questions were raised about the impact on murder investigations and local defense attorneys argued “The First 48″ exaggerated and manipulated scenes that influenced jurors against their clients.
In 2009, Louisville resident Tyson Mimms, who was shot and killed in the Parkland neighborhood earlier this year, filed a $3 million federal lawsuit against “The First 48″ claiming that it featured him as a murder suspect even after the charges were dismissed.
Bolton says he believes the program will give viewers a transparent look at what the department goes through on a daily basis, adding he took steps to make sure they will avoid similar legal problems.
“That is always a concern when you take these type of calculated challenges. I certainly think that the vetting rights that we had in terms of what actually ends up on the cutting room floor and what doesn’t certainly mitigates the potential for that,” he says.
The department has a capacity to hold 1,800, but Bolton says the jail usually houses approximately 2,000 inmates daily.