Press Release | FRONTLINE Presents “Locked Up in America”

April 1, 2014
Patrice Taddonio Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE

Two New Films Examining Incarceration in America

Solitary Nation, Tuesday, April 22, and Prison State, Tuesday, April 29, 2014,
both at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) | Twitter: @frontlinepbs #FrontlinePBS #LockedUp |Instagram: @frontlinepbs

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.

Solitary Nation, airing Tuesday, April 22

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, airing Tuesday, April 29

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
  • ŸChristel Tribble, 15, now facing juvenile incarceration for persistent truancy
  • Charles McDuffie, an addict and Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSDŸ
  • 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.”

Solitary Nation premieres Tuesday, April 22, and Prison State premieres Tuesday, April 29, both at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and online at



Locked Up in America is a FRONTLINE production with Mongoose Pictures. The producer, writer, and director is Dan Edge. The deputy executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.


FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. The series has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 65 Emmy Awards and 14 Peabody Awards. More than 150 FRONTLINE films can be watched in full, for free, at

FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation and additional support from James Worth.

Press Contacts

Karen Laverty
Greenough Communications

Lucy Muscarella
Greenough Communications

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