NBC News anchor Lester Holt recently spent two nights inside the largest maximum security prison in the U.S. for a "Dateline NBC" documentary on mass incarceration and criminal justice reform.
The 60-year-old "NBC Nightly News" anchor stayed at the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary known as "Angola", where he wanted to ensure his embedded reporting wasn't seen as gimmicky.
“I’ve done a lot of criminal justice stories over the last several years and was trying to move into the next level,” Holt told People magazine. “We knew we wanted to do something big in the criminal justice space. An idea was born, apparently among my bosses at 'Dateline,' to put me in prison.”
“The important thing for me was that we didn’t go as some kind of a gimmick, that this would be a reporting device,” he added. “We tried to be as unobtrusive with the cameras as possible, which allowed me to have organic conversations with people. I think we built a level of trust with those we spoke with."
Louisiana State Penitentiary is 28-square miles and houses more than 5,500 inmates.
The documentary, slated to air on Friday, comes as Gov. John Bel Edwards’s (D) seeks to lower the prison population in the Bayou state.
“All we advocate is the truth,” Holt told the Associated Press. “When you do these stories, it’s not necessarily with the intent of getting someone out of prison. You’re there to provoke conversations and thought, to allow people to see things as they are and make decisions from there.”
Holt was named lead anchor of the "NBC Nightly News" in June 2015 and has been with the network for more than 20 years.