When television producers first approached Sheriff Mark Lamb about doing a reality show, he was understandably hesitant.
It was early in 2017, and Lamb was still getting his feet wet as sheriff of Pinal County. But when Lucky 8 producers reached out again in the spring of 2017, Lamb was re-thinking the proposal.
“They wanted to show what a border-state jail felt like,” Lamb said.
SNEAK PEEK! Don't miss Sheriff Lamb on Thursday at 10PM during the brand new episode of 60 Days In!
Posted by 60 Days In on A&E on Tuesday, January 8, 2019
Lucky 8 produces “60 Days In” for A&E TV, and it is the network’s top-rated show. Now in its fifth season, the show sends a handful of innocent people undercover into jails. Posing as inmates, they gather information about other prisoners and staff from a vantage point usually unavailable to administration.
Previous jails filmed for the series included Clark County in Indiana and Fulton County in Georgia.
Lamb said he realized Pinal County Sheriff’s Office could gain great information at no cost to taxpayers. Filming at PCSO adult detention began in the fall of 2017 after PCSO and the TV producers did background checks on their faux inmates from diverse backgrounds.
“One had been in prison for 15 years,” Lamb said. “One was a police officer.”
The new season of “60 Days In” is airing now on Thursdays at 10 p.m.
After filming, the sheriff’s office debriefed the “cast” members and found consistent information from all participants. PCSO was instituting changes within a week. That included a body scanner purchase after learning the details of how drugs were entering the detention center.
“We didn’t get paid for the project, but we used the information to justify the purchase of the body scanner,” Lamb said.
Drugs, gangs and jail operations were focal points for PCSO in agreeing to do the series.
Had PCSO paid for a typical audit of the jail, “we would never get the intel that we got,” said Navideh Forghani, PCSO’s public information officer.
She said the department had also participated in A&E’s “Live PD” in the same way, weighing the pros and cons and seeing the benefits once they found a way to make sure everyone was safe. “Live PD,” she said, helped with recruitment, while “60 Days In” helped PCSO improve the jail.
While jail staff was as oblivious as the real inmates to the undercover operation, the sheriff said he had no intention of using the project as a “gotcha” against employees.
“We have 12-hour shifts for employees,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the programs were worthwhile.”
Lamb said his top priorities for any PCSO decision are employees, the agency, taxpayers and the county. He said he did not want the show to cost the department money. Any staff overtime required was paid by the producers.
While there were some things that went awry on the production side – participants forgetting their “back story,” for instance – there were not major issues for PCSO.
Besides the body scanners, the sheriff said the department has changed protocol, including improving the ability to lodge complaints.