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An audit or entertainment? The Utah County Jail will be on reality TV’s ‘60 Days In’

The exterior of Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork, May 3, 2024.
Tilda Wilson
The exterior of Utah County Jail in Spanish Fork, May 3, 2024.

Reality television isn’t unfamiliar with Utah, whether it’s housewives, ballet or unexplained phenomena. Now viewers will get a look inside Utah County’s jail.

A&E’s “60 Days In,” which follows a group of volunteers who agree to be incarcerated, has announced its ninth season was filmed in Spanish Fork. Different seasons take place in jails across the county. They do so with the permission of the sheriff, who also appears as part of the show.

Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith will appear in the upcoming season. He said the show “hinted around and contacted us to talk about getting into the jail. And we've always kind of just said no. But this time we didn't say no.”

The participants are undercover, and the jail’s general population doesn’t know they’re there. The people incarcerated are told they’re being filmed for an “unnamed documentary” and choose whether or not to sign a release. If they don’t sign, their faces are blurred out in the show.

The show appealed to Smith because it provided an opportunity to audit his jail.

“Over the years, we've done multiple audits in the sheriff's office. And really, most of them have just focused on procedures and financial issues, manpower issues, you know, things like that.”

Part of the show’s premise is that the volunteers act as outsiders who go into the jail and report back on what they find, and how the jail can improve.

“The level of audit that we were able to do through the 60 days and program is something that I don't have the resources to do, I don't have the funding to do.”

The county sheriff’s office did not receive any money for participating in the show, Smith said. He sees a positive in the fact that “no taxpayer funds were used to do that level of audit and to take the things that we learn and improve our facility and be better.”

For a mom whose son is awaiting trial at the Utah County Jail, it’s hard to see the show as something that benefits the detainees. KUER granted her anonymity because of the worry that speaking publicly could impact her son’s case.

Her son, who suffers from a mental illness, has been held since the end of last year, and she doesn’t know if he signed the film release. She’s seen previous seasons of “60 Days In” and didn’t find out about the new season until it had wrapped and was publicly announced. Given her familiarity with the premise and her family’s current situation, she is skeptical about it improving jails.

“It's frankly dishonest, and it's taking advantage of an already marginalized group of people.”

She thinks the Utah County Jail is well run and she was glad her son was there rather than one of the other facilities in the state. But she teared up explaining her worries about him ending up on camera.

“To have my kid possibly put on television as entertainment? Like our grief and his mental illness as entertainment? It just feels, it just feels cruel.”

John Mejia, legal director of the ACLU of Utah, said there’s reason to be concerned when it comes to the legal rights of the people detained there. The show’s crew were there with the permission of the sheriff’s office. Once a pre-trial detainee has an attorney, “the police are not supposed to question them outside of the presence of their attorney.”

“So to the extent that these documentarians are allowed there by the police and are filming with their permission,” Mejia said. “It does raise some serious concerns about the voluntariness of any statement that they're making about that could potentially criminally implicate themselves.”

Tilda is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in the Central Utah bureau based out of Provo.
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