Applying the same format to a new facility, this refreshing approach to troubled youth remains compelling.
The first season of Girls Incarcerated debuted last March. We reviewed it, we liked it, and as the comments of support for the show and the troubled teen girls it followed began to pile up beneath the article, it became pretty clear that its unique approach to prison life was a successful one. Many commenters wanted to personally reach out and adopt some of the girls featured. When Madison Juvenile Correctional Facility in Indiana, where Season 1 of Girls Incarcerated was filmed, was shut down, many lamented the fact we wouldn’t get a second season. Rejoice, then, since Girls Incarcerated Season 2 debuted on Netflix today, in a different facility, with a new crop of girls, but with the same refreshing approach to rehabilitation.
Girls Incarcerated Season 2 doesn’t wipe the slate clean completely, though. LaPorte Juvenile Correctional Facility, where the eight new episodes are set, was stocked with high-risk inmates who were moved from Madison after various reforms reduced the state’s imprisoned youth by over half. It feels, in many ways, like an organic outgrowth of that first season, proof that its empathetic and encouraging yearn for change can have results.
That empathy is still central to the show’s identity. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that some of these girls are inmates at all, so similar are they to ordinary teens in any other environment. Which is the point, obviously. These are ordinary teens, with the same dreams, ambitions, and anxieties. The difference is that, for various reasons, they have been ensnared in an opportunistic and capitalistic for-profit prison system — no, not by accident, but often thanks to forces outside their control.
Girls Incarcerated Season 2 recognizes the perils of prison officials who stand to profit from their facilities remaining full, and of harshly inflated sentences for relatively petty crime, and while it doesn’t absolve its subjects of personal responsibility, it also positions them within a broader system within which their criminality isn’t inherent, but part of a cycle that can be at worst interrupted and at best broken completely. It isn’t a coincidence that the various social factors that contribute to misbehavior among youth — lack of education, relative poverty, domestic abuse — remain consistent all over the world, nor that any attempts to address the matter earlier rather than later tends to see dramatic results.
This is why Girls Incarcerated Season 2 places such focus on education and positive role models, on referring to the girls as students rather than inmates, on giving them structure and a long-term goal and a purpose beyond simply serving their sentence. And it’s also, again not coincidentally, the reason why so many people became so enamored with the girls in the first season, and will presumably do so in the second. This is a prison-set docuseries quite unlike any other, one which doesn’t see crime among youth as inevitable, doesn’t consider its subjects as less-than-human or beyond reform, and recognizes that imprisonment can be not just a punishment but an opportunity for growth, change, and progress.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.