The Greatest TV Shows About Prison
For most of the population, prisons are only accessible via our TV sets and movie screens. At least, that's the goal as nobody really wants to visit a prison. For those of us interested in seeing what life is like behind bars, there are television shows about prison for us to watch! These series generally sit in the drama and action genre, but comedies have been known to get locked up as well. You can even find anime series about prison. While there are more than a few docuseries and reality shows about being imprisoned, there are also series with impressive storylines and detailed characters fans can enjoy. So, if you'd prefer to see what prison looks like from the perspective of the people serving time, or hear some scary prison stories, you'll find plenty of options on the list below.
More recent additions to the jail genre include women-in-prison shows like Orange is the New Black, which delves into the life of the inmates in a women's prison, while a series like Prison Break features men trying to fulfill the title of the show. Whatever your interest in prisons— getting into them or breaking free—there are plenty of shows on television capable of captivating your attention!
What are television's best prison shows? Vote up the shows about prison life and prisoners you think are the best and see where your favorite prison shows rank.
Unit manager Tim McManus presides over Emerald City, an experimental wing of prison that focuses on rehabilitation rather than just punishment. Though the intentions sound good, the reality of Em City is that it is a gruesome and violent place. Oz has been noted for being one of the most graphic depictions of prison life.
- Actors: Ernie Hudson, Terry Kinney, Harold Perrineau, Eamonn Walker, Kirk Acevedo
- Premiered: July 12, 1997
- Photo: Prison Break
When Lincoln Burrows is sentenced to death, his brother attempts to break him out and clear his name. At first Fox turned down the premise but after seeing the success of Lost and 24, decided to back the project which became one of its biggest ratings successes. Later seasons declined in popularity once the original premise was exhausted and the show turned its focus to government conspiracies.
- Actors: Wentworth Miller, Dominic Purcell, Sarah Wayne Callies, Amaury Nolasco, Robert Knepper
- Premiered: August 29, 2005
- Photo: The Longest Night / NetflixNEW#27 needs votes
The Longest NightCenters on a psychiatric prison where a group of armed men aim to capture an incarcerated serial killer, but are met with resistance from the prison director.
- Actors: Fran Berenguer, Alberto Ammann, David Solans
- Premiered: July 8, 2022
- Photo: Fremantle Australia
A reimagining of Australian soap Prisoner, Wentworth follows Bea Smith as she learns how to survivem and eventually thrive, in the prison hierarchy. The series eventually shifts to a more ensemble format, allowing outside characters to shine. Wentworth has received critical acclaim for its spot-on casting, dramatic tension, and grittiness.
- Actors: Pamela Rabe, Kate Atkinson, Katrina Milosevic, Robbie Magasiva, Leah Purcell
- Premiered: August 28, 2013
Based on Piper Kerman's memoir, OITNB's blend of comedy and drama led to it being one of Netflix's biggest original programming successes. The Emmy award winning program takes an ensemble approach to life in a women's prison, following several characters as well as unearthing the circumstances of their backstories that led them to being incarcerated.
- Actors: Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Jackie Cruz
- Premiered: July 11, 2013
- Photo: 60 Days In
The fascinating docuseries takes volunteers and places them in prisons undercover for 60 days. Each person is given a pseudonym and backstory with the intention of discovering illegal goings-on in the jail that the correctional officers and security cameras may not be catching.
- Actors: Jamey Noel, Scottie Maples, Mark Adger
- Premiered: March 10, 2016
- Photo: Netflix
Season one of Girls Incarcerated tells the story of adolescents at Madison Juvenile Correctional Facility while season two shifts to LaPorte Juvenile. A coming-of-age docuseries, the girls on the show openly struggle with the circumstances of their lives and reveal how their upbringing meant the deck was always stacked against them.
- Premiered: March 2, 2018