The latest series from Loud TV takes a unique approach to the issue of incarceration in America.
Girls Incarcerated, which launches on Netflix today (March 1), is a docuseries that spotlights a female juvenile correctional facility in Madison, Indiana. It documents life inside the facility, capturing the challenges the young women face.
The topic has become a hot-button issue in the unscripted world with docs such as Ava Duvernay’s 13th, and series including A&E’s 60 Days In and OWN’s Released spotlighting incarceration from different vantage points.
Speaking in Netflix-friendly terms, Nick Rigg, president of ITV America-owned Loud TV, sees Girls Incarcerated as the Orange Is the New Black for a 13 Reasons Why generation.
Rather than featuring adults, he felt a focus on teens would showcase a segment of the incarcerated population not often addressed.
“Unlike incarcerated adults, teens are very much still in transition,” he says. “They can still be molded and changed. They’re not stuck in the system. There’s real hope there.”
It was this hope that appealed to Rigg when Plum Pictures first approached him with the premise. In 2015, Loud TV teamed with the UK indie in a partnership intended to help Plum develop and produce content for the U.S. market. The two companies co-create formats and series for the U.S. market, with Stuart Cabb, MD of Plum, working with Rigg to develop and pitch projects.
It was Plum that had gained access to the Madison Juvenile Correctional Facility in Indiana. Rigg and Cabb talked about the project extensively and how to work with the institution.
Loud TV has a firm foothold in the unscripted space with the success of series such as Tiny House Nation on FYI and Restoration Wild on Animal Planet, but Girls Incarcerated gave Rigg the opportunity to go back to his documentary roots. The exec spent a number of years early on in his career producing docs for the BBC.
“We didn’t want to go into the prison saying we were doing a reality series — that’s not what we were doing, and we had to message that correctly,” he explains. “We weren’t going to make TV stars of these girls.”
Loud and Plum took a lot of guidance from the prison when it came to determining what they should and shouldn’t focus on before deciding on the participants who they felt represented an accurate cross-section of the prison. “Ultimately it was also about the girls who wanted to do this,” he adds. “Not every teenage girl wants to be on camera.”
To that point, Rigg stresses that one of the ligher points of the series is recognizing that the drama that goes on in their day-to-day lives is much like that for any other teenage girl. There are the same rivalries, romances and gossip you might expect from any high school drama.
But on a more serious note, Rigg hopes viewers will be drawn into the lives of the girls, and as their stories are unpacked, will begin to sympathize and root for them.
Rigg says he and the crew were particularly struck by the fact that the the girls aren’t called inmates in the prison by the staff — they’re called students.
“This is the first time in their lives that many of these girls have had stability, and the staff in the prison is committed to seeing them change,” he says. “When you have that hope, it really changes the tenor of the whole conversation about incarceration.”
Netflix, for its part, was on board with approaching the issue from a different perspective.
“The first meeting we had with them, they said, ‘Go out and make the best series you can,’” Rigg says. “It really encourages you to go out and do just that.”
The end result, Rigg hopes, is a series that can illustrate the power of change.
Girls Incarcerated is produced by Loud TV and Plum Pictures. Nick Rigg, David George, Jordana Hochman, Bianca Barnes and Royd Chung are executive producers for Loud. Stuart Cabb and Lisa Keane serve as executive producers for Plum.