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The ‘Lock-up’ series

<font size="5">In a New Year Marathon, MSNBC Investigates </font><font size="5">what goes on behind the bars, and inside the minds of prisoners and guards.</font></p>
A guard watches as inmates prepare for a work detail at the minimum-security facility known as the Carol Vance Unit.
A guard watches as inmates prepare for a work detail at the minimum-security facility known as the Carol Vance Unit.Getty Images file
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It's estimated that more than 600,000 people will be released from America’s prisons this year. But will they be prepared to rejoin society as productive citizens? Each year, our nation spends about $24 billion on its prison system. For the men and women living and working in that system, the daily challenge is simply to survive. MSNBC Investigates what goes on behind the bars, and inside the minds of prisoners and guards.

Society also faces a crucial challenge: with more resources than ever invested in America’s prisons, many experts believe the time has come to find out whether the system itself is really working. To search for answers, MSNBC examined this dangerous world from the inside out, gaining extraordinary access to many of the nation’s most notorious prisons. The disturbing results are revealed in ‘Lockup,’ our series of documentaries providing one of the most comprehensive examinations ever produced about life behind bars in America. 
January 1, 2004 marathon

  • Lock-up: San Quentin. At nearly 150-years old, San Quentin state prison is one of the most famous, one of the most notorious penitentiaries in the world.  It is steeped in history, a very violent one.  Today its walls are crumbling.  The institution has become outdated, contributing directly to an overwhelming increase in both the number and severity of brutal assaults by inmates. During this hour, you will witness life inside San Quentin as you’ve never seen it before. MSNBC was granted unprecedented access, including a never-before-look inside California’s vicious death row. Airs January 1, Thursday, 6 p.m. ET
  • Lock-up: Inside Stateville. Stateville Correctional Center is a maximum-security facility located forty-five minutes southwest of Chicago. Nearly half of the twenty-six hundred inmates are in for murder. Another 25 percent are serving time for the commission of violent crimes. The prison’s always been home to some of the state’s most violent criminals. For a long time it had the reputation for being a place where the inmates challenged the guards for control. How that changed is the big story behind the walls of Stateville. Airs January 1, Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
  • Lock-up: Inside Folsom. Folsom State Prison in California— is one of America’s oldest maximum security prisons. Since 1880, Folsom has gained the reputation of being a violent and bloody place - prisoners housed there once called it “the end of the world.” The antiquated structure presents real challenges for those trying to maintain security. Officers are outnumbered 92 to 1 by inmates. In this hour you’ll see what’s being done to maintain safety and how violence sometimes boils over anyway. Airs January 1, Thursday, 8 p.m. ET
  • Lock-up: L.A. County. In this special 2-hour edition of Lockup, MSNBC takes you inside one of the largest jail systems in the world. The L.A. County Jail is made up of eight different facilities spread across 50 miles of southern California. Unlike a prison where an inmate has been convicted of a crime, those coming to the L.A. County Jail are either awaiting trial, transfer or bond payment for release. MSNBC’s cameras will take you behind the walls of this overcrowded and violent jail system, including the dangerous Super Max facility, where the city’s largest riot happened. Airs January 1, Thursday, 9 - 11 p.m. ET
  • Lock-up: The Inmate Diaries. MSNBC has once again gained rare access inside America’s prison system. Davis correctional facility in Holdenville, Oklahoma has allowed 10 of its inmates a unique opportunity — a chance to tell their story. Put into a room with a small, easy to use camera, these men were asked to share their experiences— how they wound up behind bars, and what they plan on doing when, or if, they get out. No interviewer, no script, no topic off-limits. These video diaries paint a portrait of individual tragedies and rebirths, run-ins with drugs and with the law, stories of crime and some of redemption. Airs January 1, Thursday, 11 p.m. ET
  • Lock-up: Getting Out. The numbers have quietly grown to epidemic proportions. More than 630,000 Americans will leave state or federal prisons this year. That’s more than the number of Americans who will die this year of coronary heart disease, the nation’s most lethal ailment. It’s more than the number of Americans who get tax refunds next year. Are prisoners prepared to live a better life than the one that put them behind bars in the first place? Statistically, the answer is no. More than 60% of the people who enter state prisons return within the first 36 months of their release. A great number of those are brought back to prison for violating their parole, not for committing any additional crimes. In Lockup: Getting Out, we will watch three former prisoners in their first hours, days, weeks and months of freedom. We will be able to see for ourselves the choices they make, the hardships they face, and the support they get. It’s the latest edition of our acclaimed “Lockup” series, which takes viewers inside the lives of those living and working in America’s prisons. Airs January 2, Friday, 12 midnight.

Producer's Note:

Our nation prides itself on its love of freedom, yet we have the highest percentage of citizens locked behind bars of any nation on earth— close to two million men and women. Each year, our society pours 24 billion dollars into this prison system. For the men and women in prison, the daily challenge is simply to survive. But today, society also faces a crucial challenge— with more resources than ever invested in America’s prisons, many experts believe the time has come to find out whether the system is really working.

To search for the answers, MSNBC examined the issue from the inside-out, gaining extraordinary access to many of the nation’s most notorious prisons. The stunning results are revealed in Lockup, its series of ten, one-hour documentaries, which premiered on June 11, 2000.

The programs detail a variety of disturbing conditions and problems behind bars-and the enormous difficulties faced by the prison officials who try to solve them.

One grim look at prison life, featured one of the most volatile prisons in America: Pelican Bay state prison in California. It was designed to be California’s new Alcatraz, a single facility that would successfully isolate and contain the state’s most dangerous inmates. Instead, it has achieved nationwide notoriety because of its reported inmate violence and officer brutality. Since opening in 1989, Pelican Bay has been beset with violence and mired in litigation.

Lockup also examined the new, controversial approach to dealing with the toughest inmates: the “super-max” prison. The Colorado State Penitentiary is one such facility, and is home to some of the country’s most dangerous and disruptive prisoners. Inmates are locked up for as many as 23 hours a day with limited opportunities for human or physical contact. Human rights activists label these types of prisons inhumane warehouses, where inmates are not rehabilitated. CSP officials opened their gates to MSNBC cameras, where we got a close-up look at the living and working conditions for prisoners and guards alike.

The series also visited New York City’s Rikers Island-America’s largest and most infamous jail system, to see how officials are working to fight crime and violence on the inside. Lockup reveals what life is like for the Rikers population of about 20-thousand... from the feared gang members to the troubled mothers with babies, to those working in the busy bakery.

Anchor Forrest Sawyer takes viewers behind the walls of the Joliet Correctional Center, built from sandstone by inmates in 1857, it’s one of the oldest prisons in the United States. In January of 1999, a new prison administration came into office with the expressed goal of taking back the Illinois prisons and making sure that doing hard time meant just that.

MSNBC cameras were allowed to capture, first-hand, what life’s like inside Joliet and to see how these new initiatives work inside this legendary institution.

Several of Lockup’s episodes examine the problems uncovered by our investigation, as leading experts debate the important issues raised by the series and propose solutions for improving America’s rapidly growing prison system.

And in 2003, Lockup premieres several new shows, including a first-ever look at the intimidating death row of San Quentin prison in California, the all-out effort to seize control from the gangs of Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois, and an expanded look at the massive L.A. County jail system.