Stream It or Skip It: ‘Jailbirds’ on Netflix, a Docuseries About Women at the Sacramento County Jail (2024)

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  • Stream It or Skip It: ‘Jailbirds’ on Netflix, a Docuseries About Women at the Sacramento County Jail (1)
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You may think you know what being a woman in prison is like after watching all those seasons of Orange is the New Black, but you have no idea; a county jail is an especially interesting environment due to the breadth of criminals residing there, who are either on short-term sentences or awaiting arraignment or trial.Jailbirds takes a look at the women at the Sacramento County Jail and the relationships and rivalries they build. Read on for more…


Opening Shot: A young woman is being brought into the Sacramento County Jail and processed. She looks like a normal 19-year-old, but she’s been arrested for carjacking and sending cops on a chase where she got up to 130 mph.

The Gist: Jailbirdsis a docuseries that takes viewers into life in the Sacramento County Jail. Though they profile male inmates, most of the screen time is given to the women’s floor. Unlike a prison, the county jail is where people who have been arrested and can’t make bail await arraignment, or if they’re awaiting trial. People who have been convicted are there for relatively short terms of a few months, to just over a year.

So there are people who are in for crimes ranging from identity theft to murder (though a disclaimer warns that those there who are awaiting trial are innocent until proven guilty). However, most are there for the short term. Most of the inmates seem to smile while they describe what got them there, often for the second or third time, but they vow that this is the last time.

One who is determined to change is Shawn (everyone is identified by nicknames), who is ready to get out and build a life with her wife. She’s had a relatively easy time because she’s flirtatious and inmates want to do stuff for her because they’re attracted to her. But she’s still devastated when she’s turned back as she’s about to be released due to her parole officer needing more time. Monster, a tattoo artist, has done jail stints on the east coast and now is doing time on the west coast, and she finally realizes she’s “f*cking up.”

Noonie calls herself a “nice-ass rude bitch,” meaning she’s nice to some and a bitch to others. Drea is the sh*t-stirrer of the group, who always seems to be causing a fight that puts everyone on lockdown. And Yasmin is the new girl, the one being arraigned for carjacking, who is so unfamiliar with jail that she complains her cell is dirty when she’s locked up.

We also see “trustees” or “workers” of both sexes, able to have more free reign in the jail in exchange, and we see what happens when Noonie and Monster are put in restriction when the COs are told that Noonie is brewing pruno (a type of jailhouse hooch) in their cell. They assume that Drea is the snitch, and they yell at her from the window of their cell door. Drea claims she’s not the snitch, and you know what happens next…

Our Take: Jailbirdsis produced by Rasha Drachkovitch, who producedLockupand its offshoots. This is a little different from that series;Lockup went to different jails and prisons, following a couple of inmates through hearings and other processes.Jailbirds stays in one jail and follows a group of inmates like it’s aBravo-esque personality series. ThinkReal HousewivesorBelow Deck but where everyone wears orange-and-white-striped jumpsuits.

On its face,Jailbirds is no doubt an entertaining show. Seeing the relationships that are built inside, and how the inmates manage this mini-society is always going to be fascinating. Fights that contain the word “bitch” over and over are always fun to watch. But it feels superficial, making the inmates into characters instead of keeping in mind that they’re real people who have families back home who hate that their loved ones are in jail. It comes up a bit when Shawn, after finding out she’s not being released yet, phones her wife asking for money. “I don’t have any! You need to grow up,” her wife is heard saying. That is the most emotionally raw scene in a show that can feel exploitative at times.

It just didn’t feel like we were ever going to get to know the person behind the nickname; we see their rap sheets and mug shots, but for the most part, no other details. Maybe Drachkovitch will explore that later on. But for now, the show feels too superficial for where its filming.

However, there is one fascinating aspect that we hope to see more of: The toilet communication system. Someone figured out that if you bail out the toilet in your cell, you can talk to cells above and below yours like you’re on one of those old telephone party lines that disappeared in the ’80s. Seeing both male and female inmates talking to each other via their toilets was as unique as anything we’ve ever seen on TV.

Stream It or Skip It: ‘Jailbirds’ on Netflix, a Docuseries About Women at the Sacramento County Jail (3)

Sex and Skin: Lots of talk, no action. Yasmin is even spared her dignity when she strips down to put on her jail gear.

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Parting Shot: Drea gets hot under the collar because Monster and Noonie accuse her of snitching about their pruno. A lockdown is called, and we see COs running to break things up and looking at the situation on their monitors.

Sleeper Star: Yasmin is so very happy with herself when she’s first brought in, but quickly realizes she’s screwed when bail bondsmen repeatedly tell her to go screw herself when she wants to pay off her $100,000 bail in installments.

Most Pilot-y Line: Nothing, really, but one day we want to try to make pruno at home. Wedidcringe when Monster waggled both sides of her split tongue at Shawn’s request.Ugh.

Our Call: STREAM IT. We could get on our high horse and say how exploitativeJailbirds is, but then we realize that everyone there is an adult, they signed a release, and the show is pretty damn fun to watch.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon,,, Fast Company’s Co.Create and elsewhere.

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