Prisons are a mysterious world that most people only get to glimpse through the lens of TV shows and movies. It’s not exactly the kind of place you’d put on your travel bucket list. However, if you’re curious about what goes on behind those bars, there’s a whole array of television shows ready to satisfy your curiosity. These shows cover a wide range of genres, from thrilling dramas and action-packed series to hilarious comedies and even anime set in the confines of a prison.
While there are plenty of docuseries and reality shows that provide a realistic portrayal of prison life, there are also shows that take you on captivating adventures with well-developed characters. So, whether you’re seeking a glimpse into the daily lives of inmates or craving some spine-chilling tales from the inside, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
In recent years, the world of prison shows has expanded to include groundbreaking series like “Orange is the New Black,” which offers an intimate look into the lives of women behind bars. On the flip side, “Prison Break” follows the thrilling journey of men attempting to escape from prison, living up to its name. No matter what aspect of prison life intrigues you, whether it’s exploring the inner workings or the pursuit of freedom, television has an abundance of captivating shows that will easily hold your attention.
So, ready to dive into the captivating world of prison shows? Discover the top-notch series that depict prison life and its inhabitants in the most intriguing ways. Join the conversation and explore where your favorite prison shows rank among the best.
Wentworth is a fresh take on the popular Australian soap Prisoner. It takes us on a journey with Bea Smith as she navigates the prison hierarchy, learning the art of survival and eventually finding her way to success. As the series progresses, it becomes more of an ensemble, giving other characters a chance to shine and bringing in exciting new faces from the outside.
One thing that sets Wentworth apart is its incredible casting. The actors are spot-on in their roles, bringing the characters to life with authenticity. This, combined with the gripping storyline, creates a constant sense of dramatic tension that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.
But what truly stands out about Wentworth is its gritty nature. The show doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of prison life, depicting it in a raw and unfiltered way. This honesty adds an extra layer of realism and depth to the series.
It’s no wonder that Wentworth has received critical acclaim for its exceptional qualities. From its captivating performances to its intense plotlines, this show has captivated audiences and left a lasting impression.
Actors: Pamela Rabe, Kate Atkinson, Katrina Milosevic, Robbie Magasiva, Leah Purcell
Premiered: August 28, 2013
2. Prison Break
When Lincoln Burrows gets a death sentence, his brother tries to break him out and prove his innocence. Initially, Fox rejected the idea, but they changed their mind after witnessing the triumph of shows like Lost and 24. This decision paid off, as the project became one of their highest-rated shows. However, as time went on, the show’s popularity dwindled when it shifted its focus from the original premise to government conspiracies.
Actors: Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell, Sarah Wayne Callies, Amaury Nolasco, Robert Knepper
Premiered: August 29, 2005
Unit manager Tim McManus is in charge of Emerald City, a unique prison wing that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment. While the idea may seem promising, the truth is that Em City is a brutal and violent environment. Oz has gained a reputation for its raw and explicit portrayal of prison life.
Actors: Ernie Hudson, Terry Kinney, Harold Perrineau, Eamonn Walker, Kirk Acevedo
Premiered: July 12, 1997
4. Orange Is the New Black
Okay, so there’s this show called Orange is the New Black, you might have heard of it. It’s actually based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, and let me tell you, it’s a real hit on Netflix. Like, seriously big success. And you know what’s cool? It’s this perfect mix of comedy and drama, which is probably why people are so into it.
Basically, the show focuses on life in a women’s prison, and it does it in a pretty unique way. Instead of just following one main character, it takes this ensemble approach and introduces us to a bunch of different people. We get to know them and their stories, and we also find out how they ended up behind bars.
And hey, guess what? This show even won an Emmy. Yeah, it’s that good. So if you’re looking for something entertaining and a little bit thought-provoking, I’d say give it a shot.
Actors: Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Jackie Cruz
Premiered: July 11, 2013
5. 60 Days In
The docuseries is absolutely fascinating! It takes ordinary volunteers and puts them undercover in prisons for a solid 60 days. Can you believe it? These brave souls are given fake names and backgrounds, all in the name of uncovering illegal activities that might be slipping under the radar of the correctional officers and security cameras.
The show’s concept is pretty intriguing, don’t you think? It’s all about exploring the hidden secrets of jails by immersing regular people in the prison environment. The volunteers are like spies, trying to unveil any shady stuff happening behind bars.
To ensure the volunteers blend in seamlessly, they are assigned new identities. They get cool pseudonyms and backstories that add an extra layer of authenticity. The idea is to create an environment where these undercover individuals can really dig deep and expose any illicit activities that may be happening under the noses of the prison staff.
The show aims to shed light on what goes on within the walls of these institutions, beyond what the correctional officers and security cameras are able to capture. It’s like they’re giving us a glimpse into the hidden world of prisons, revealing the things that are often kept out of sight.
By immersing the participants in this intense experience, the show hopes to uncover the truth about the illegal happenings in jails. It’s definitely a unique way to explore the criminal justice system and see if there are any loopholes that need to be addressed.
Actors: Jamey Noel, Scottie Maples, Mark Adger
Premiered: March 10, 2016
6. Girls Incarcerated
Season one of Girls Incarcerated takes us inside the world of Madison Juvenile Correctional Facility, where we meet a group of young adolescents facing tough challenges. This gripping docuseries captures their journey of growth and self-discovery.
In season two, the spotlight shifts to LaPorte Juvenile, offering a fresh perspective on the experiences of these remarkable girls. This coming-of-age series delves into their struggles and sheds light on how their upbringing has placed them at a disadvantage from the start.
Through candid interviews and raw moments, the girls on the show bravely confront the harsh realities of their lives. They show us the obstacles they face and open up about the stacked deck they’ve been dealt. It’s an honest portrayal of their journeys toward redemption and personal transformation.
Premiered: March 2, 2018
The extended franchise Lockup is made up of several different shows, including Lockup: Raw, Lockup: World Tour, Lockup: Extended Stay, Lockup: Disturbing the Peace, Lockup: Special Investigation, and Life After Lockup. These shows take a look at the prison system in the United States and showcase notable inmates, circumstances, or events. With a total of 25 seasons, the series has provided an in-depth exploration of the prison system.
Premiered: June 4, 2005
Prisoner, an Australian series, made history by being the first to have a predominantly female cast. This soap opera is set in the fictional Wentworth Detention Centre and served as the inspiration for the series Wentworth.
Actors: Kerry Armstrong, Betty Bobbitt, Wendy Playfair, Maggie Kirkpatrick, Val Lehman
Premiered: February 27, 1979
9. Escape at Dannemora
The seven-episode series, directed by Ben Stiller, revolves around the real-life events of the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape. In this gripping tale, we witness two convicted murderers, portrayed by Paul Dano and Benicio del Toro, receiving assistance from a prison guard played by Patricia Arquette as they plot their escape.
Actors: Patricia Arquette, Paul Dano, Benicio del Toro, Bonnie Hunt, Eric Lange
Premiered: November 18, 2018
10. Making a Murderer
The two-season docuseries tells the story of Steven Avery and, to some extent, Brendan Dassey, who were accused of murdering Teresa Halbach. This gripping series has received widespread praise for its in-depth examination of the justice system, although some critics have raised concerns about its objectivity.
Actors: Steven Avery, Brendan Dassey, Dean Strang
Premiered: December 18, 2015
11. Beyond Scared Straight
In the TV show “Beyond Scared Straight,” they take troubled teens who are considered at risk of getting involved in crime and bring them to actual prisons. The idea is to show them what life is really like behind bars. During their visit, these teens get to talk to prisoners, hang out with officers, and even eat the same meals as the inmates. However, the results of the program have been mixed. While some of the teens do decide to turn their lives around, there are others who continue down the wrong path despite the experience.
Actors: Cecilia, Emily, Leanna
Premiered: January 13, 2011