Netflix Original docuseries Girls Incarcerated, follows the lives of some of America’s youngest female offenders as they adapt to life incarcerated. Set in a female juvenile correctional facility in Madison, Netflix capture the ups and downs of prison life and shines a light on the positive changes that can result from institutional programmes. Executive producers Nick Briggs and Stuart Cabb take us on a journey through the all too familiar teenage dramas starring some of Americas hardest youth.
Girls Incarcerated is a coming-of-age documentary. We get to take a sneak peek into the world of teenage girls, which is, surprisingly, just how you would expect in any other environment. These girls seem to not be phased by their surroundings; still, they gossip, style each others hair and go to school. Not unlike the typical teenage life, it is pleasing to see how the correctional officers treat the young inmates as pupils, and as teenagers. After seeing other Netflix Original docuseries’, coming into Girls Incarcerated, I held the view that most, if not all of America’s correctional facilities would be cold and unassuming environments. This may be thanks to simply too many adult documentaries that represent prisons as harsh and bleak places, created to punish rather than reform.
Girls Incarcerated works to expose the actualities of a juvenile correctional facility. Of course, the facility comes with its many rules: no contraband, no sharing commissary, and no physical relations. All of these things, found in prisons and adult facilities too, and surprisingly punishments such as solitary confinement, although with a more friendly name (M.A.C – Making A Change), still make their way into the girl’s routines. Even so, the Madison facility is a place of refuge for most girls, a nurturing environment with order and routine. Girls Incarcerated focuses on the good and illustrates the positives of reformation. Most girls are incarcerated without an end date and instead have to aim to complete an institutional course. The course includes work on social issues, drug use and categories of education that they can apply to life outside of the facility. This approach provides the inmates with goals and delivers them with minute successes that feed their desire to be their better self.
The stars of Girls Incarcerated are of course the inmates, a group of loud and rambunctious young ladies all lending their unique attributes to create a fascinating internal community. Following the inmates’ drama and gossip may appeal to a teenage audience, serious topics are brushed upon, but the heart of the docuseries is in the relations between inmates. We are privy to all disputes and quarrels, but most importantly we are given personal recounts from each inmate. Thus allowing us to see the real individuals behind the characters they try to display on a daily basis. This leads to touching moments of honesty and heartbreaking confessions of guilt and the desire to improve.
Overall Girls Incarcerated is a unique look into life in prison from a juvenile’s perspective. The docuseries allows us to see the girls vulnerabilities and understand that they are all just normal teenagers who have made wrong decisions. Honestly, I was not overwhelmed by the series but could easily see how it will appeal to many. Young people alike, and possibly fans of Netflix’s own Orange is the New Black should switch over to see the true dramas of a female institute. To conclude, it is a marvelous thing to see some of the inmates reform into upstanding citizens, and it’s positively heartwarming knowing the good that the institutions do to give young people a second chance. An honest look at how the girls talk about their dreams, ambitions and genuinely yearn to change for the better.
Maggie has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Maggie gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.