The action drama film, ‘The System,’ directed by Dallas Jackson, follows the story of Terry Savage, a war veteran who ends up on the wrong side of the law as a result of his circumstances. Consequently, presented with the choice between a decade in prison or an undercover mission for the Police Commissioner, Harvey Clarke, Savage chooses the latter and prepares to enter Degnan Correctional Institute. As the man spends more time inside the crooked private prison, notorious for its high convict body count, Savage uncovers the truth behind Warden Lucas and his weekly fight matches held in the dreadful “Dungeon.”
The film showcases a rich and intense lawless depiction of the private prison where, ironically, the law isolates criminals from society. Since the Degnan Correctional Institute directly correlates to the film’s social messaging about power abuse within the justice system, viewers must be curious to know if the facility has any basis in a real-life prison.
Degnan Correctional Institute Is a Fictional Facility
Degnan Correctional Institute from ‘The System’ is not based on a real-life private prison. Much like the film’s narrative, Warden Lucas’ prison is also a fictional addition, crafted by exaggerating specific realities to serve the story’s overarching theme. As such, the facility remains a work of fiction, credited to director and writer Dallas Jackson.
In real life, within the confines of the physical location, the Degnan Correctional Institute, as showcased in the film, is actually Jackson, Mississippi’s Rankin County Prison. In an interview with The Knockturnal, Tyrese Gibson, who portrays Savage’s role, discussed the atmosphere of the real-life prison and said, “I think it was us filming in Mississippi, inside a real prison with real inmates that gave us everything that we could ever need. I mean, there’s just certain environments that don’t really require any acting at all.”
Thus, the Rankin County Prison certainly contributed to maintaining authenticity within the film. However, anything outside the on-screen facility’s interior design, layout, and cells is not faithful to the Rankin County Prison’s reality. The social culture within Degnan Correctional Institute, made up of a hierarchy determined by weekly lethal fights, often to the death, is a fictional detail added for the sake of storytelling.
Yet, even though Lucas’ private prison does not share this commonality with Rankin County Prison, its physical counterpart, there have been similar instances of in-prison violence in real life. In fact, filmmaker Jackson, when discussing the origin behind his film, referenced an article about an upstate New York prison wherein prisoners were made to fight to death.
Although one can’t confirm the exact identity of the prison Jackson mentioned, a similar story unfolded in the RNDC youth jail at Rikers Island in 2012. At the time, The New York Post reported the story of a “sadistic system of jailhouse enforcement called The Program,” as described by the news outlets’ inside sources. Nevertheless, despite the factual statistics of 4,435 injuries at RNDC in 2011, the city Correction Department asserted the existence of The Program as “patently false.”
On the other hand, sources claimed that The Program was used as a way for guards to “maintain order without having to use force and endanger their careers.” Although the RNDC youth jail and the controversy surrounding it have no tangible connections to the Degnan Correctional Institute, it puts the latter in a social context, allowing it to have real-life roots. Nevertheless, ultimately, the facility remains a fictional addition to ‘The System’s’ fictional narrative.