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FRONTLINE: Locked Up In America

Airs Tuesdays, April 22 & 29, 2014 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Prisoner in solitary. Around 80,000 Americans are held in solitary confinement on any given day. FRONTLINE deeply examines the use and impact of this controversial practice — and takes an unprecedented look at life inside solitary at a maximum security prison in Maine.

For decades, the United States has been fixated on incarceration, building prisons and locking up more and more people. But at what cost, and has it really made a difference? In "Locked Up In America," a series of intimate, probing films, FRONTLINE goes to the epicenter of the raging debate about incarceration in America, focusing on the controversial practice of solitary confinement and on new efforts to reduce the prison population. Both films take a deep dive into two parts of the country, where officials are rethinking what to do with criminals.

With rare, unfettered access, award-winning director and producer Dan Edge gives viewers an up-close, graphic look at a solitary-confinement unit in Maine’s maximum-security prison, and he follows four residents of a housing project in Louisville, Ky., as they cycle in and out of the state’s jails and prisons. Both films offer raw and unforgettable firsthand accounts from prisoners, prison staff, and people whose lives are forever altered by this troubled system.

Courtesy of FRONTLINE

Inmate. There are roughly 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S., with a disproportionate number coming from a few city neighborhoods. More than two years in the making, FRONTLINE’s "Prison State" takes an intimate look at the cycle of incarceration in America and one state’s effort to reverse the trend.

"Solitary Nation" airs Tues., April 22 at 10 p.m. - When filmmaker Dan Edge was granted access to the solitary-confinement unit inside Maine’s maximum-security state prison in Warren, he knew it would be eye-opening, but he never expected the level of sensory overload he would experience. “People think the solitude is what drives prisoners crazy, but it’s actually the noise,” Edge says. “It’s so loud and awful, and it never stops.”

In "Solitary Nation," FRONTLINE gives a visceral portrait of life in solitary, told through the inmates living in isolation, the officers watching over them, and the new warden who is desperately trying to reform the system. With these previously unheard voices as its jumping-off point, the film deeply examines the use and impact of solitary confinement. On any given day, about 80,000 Americans are held in solitary. Critics say the practice is inhumane and counterproductive, and now some states are trying to curtail its use. "Solitary Nation" follows the efforts of Rodney Bouffard, the new warden at Maine’s maximum-security state prison, who is trying to move some inmates out of solitary.

“It’s really dangerous. You could have someone in here on a five-year commitment. They could do their whole time in segregation. But I don’t want him living next to me when we release him,” Bouffard tells FRONTLINE. “For the normal person who doesn’t work in a facility like this, they’re thinking if you punish them, you’ll make them better. The reality is the exact opposite happens.”

"Prison State" airs Tues., April 29 at 10 p.m. - The second film in the series, "Prison State," takes an intimate look at the cycle of mass incarceration in America and a statewide effort to reverse the trend. There are roughly 2.3 million people behind bars in the United States, with a disproportionate number coming from a few city neighborhoods. In some places, the concentration is so dense that states are spending millions of dollars a year to lock up residents of single blocks.

More than two years in the making, "Prison State" focuses on one troubled housing project in Louisville, Ky., where a large number of residents have been incarcerated. The film follows the lives of four individuals rotating between custody and freedom: Keith Huff, one of Kentucky’s most expensive inmates, who has been in and out of prison for the past 40 years; Christel Tribble, 15, now facing juvenile incarceration for persistent truancy; Charles McDuffie, an addict and Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD; Demetria Duncan, a 14-year-old who has been locked up by juvenile authorities four times.

Using deep access to the Louisville jail, "Prison State" focuses on the efforts of Mark Bolton, the city’s director of corrections, as he tries to move inmates back into the community. “We’re locking up people that we’re angry at; we ought to be using this space for people that we’re afraid of, people that are going to hurt us,” Director Bolton tells FRONTLINE. “We’ve gone through an explosion of prison construction in this country, costing us billions of dollars to build and billions to operate, and we’ve come to a fork in the road where we just can’t do that anymore. We can’t afford it—and we’re locking up people who don’t need to be locked up.”

Past episodes of FRONTLINE are available for online viewing. FRONTLINE is on Facebook, and follow @frontlinepbs on Twitter.

Video

FRONTLINE: Solitary Nation Preview

Above: About 80,000 Americans are held in solitary confinement on any given day. In “Solitary Nation,” premiering Tuesday, April 22, 2014 on PBS and at pbs.org/frontline, FRONTLINE deeply examines the use and impact of this controversial practice—and takes an unprecedented look at life inside solitary at a maximum security prison in Maine.

Video

FRONTLINE: Prison State Preview

Above: There are roughly 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S., with a disproportionate number coming from a few city neighborhoods. More than two years in the making, “Prison State” takes an intimate look at the cycle of incarceration in America, and one state’s effort to reverse the trend. “Prison State” premieres Tuesday, April 29, 2014 on PBS and at pbs.org/frontline.

Video

FRONTLINE: Fishing In Solitary

Above: Even in solitary, inmates find ways to smuggle contraband from cell to cell. In "Solitary Nation," premiering Tuesday, April 22, 2014 on PBS and at pbs.org/FRONTLINE, FRONTLINE brings viewers inside Maine's maximum security prison, where a new warden is trying to reduce the number of prisoners in solitary.

Video

FRONTLINE: Flooding In Solitary

Above: It was once believed solitary confinement would reform misbehaving prisoners, turns out it may push them to the brink of insanity. In "Solitary Nation," premiering Tuesday, April 22 on PBS and at pbs.org/FRONTLINE, FRONTLINE takes you inside Maine's maximum security prison, where a new warden is trying to move inmates out of solitary, which isn't as easy as you might suspect.