What happens when you lock up a group of criminal minds together nearby for years?
Prison is a phenomenon that intrigues most people, but fortunately, only a few get to experience it. Prison shows and movies have always caught people’s eye because they provide an insight into a place many are curious about.
The planning, the crime, investigation, arrest, and life in jail have always been the successful premise for directors, actors, and fans. The shows may not be on par with the harsh real life as it comes from the writer’s imagination and the stories told by those who have experienced it.
The shows bring us life from inside the cell; loyalty, courage, friendship, betrayal, and enemies. Prison shows bring us emotions from happiness, sadness, relief, and frustration, sometimes leaving us in tears, making it impossible not to binge-watch.
A sight that is entertaining to watch, as long as it is distant from our reality. If you are looking for a series to dwell in, this list will guide you through the most popular prison shows on Netflix to start watching.
Wentworth is an Australian TV series that many fans and critics have compared to ‘Orange is the New Black.’ A show about women, it centers around Bea Smith, who awaits trial after she attempted murder on her husband. As she experiences prison life, the story displays Bea as she struggles to survive and slowly learns to adapt to her new reality.
A binge-worthy show that the actors execute with precision. Despite comparisons, the show is darker and has a more serious tone than its contemporaries. Wentworth is a compelling story and currently has 9 seasons on Netflix.
Interesting Fact: The show has the name of a real-life prison.
2. Girls Incarcerated
Girls Incarcerated is a documentary series that revolves around four girls locked up at Madison, a juvenile facility. The show portrays their lives as they struggle to become better women post the impact of drug addiction and violence.
An emotional show that reminds the viewers to make the most of their privileged lives. It depicts the characters’ raw emotions, emphasizing that the troubled, too, is, after all, a mere human being.
Jailbirds is a documentary series that begins with a 19-year-old being brought to jail. The television series centers around the female prisoners of the Sacramento County Jail. From [personal drama to numerous challenges, the inmates do everything they can to improve their lives, even if it makes the slightest difference. It is one of the best prison shows on Netflix.
A morally questionable, challenging, intellectually stimulating, and enjoyable show for most.
Interesting Fact: The show honestly represents what prison life looks like from the inside.
4. Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons
Paul Connelly gives us an insight into the world’s most dangerous prisons and, worse, being stuck in a jail in an unfamiliar country. Raphael Rowe takes over seasons 2, 3, and 4 and they walk us through prisons across the world by pretending to be inmates. As if the idea of being put behind bars isn’t already scary, this will permanently change our idea of it.
The show shows us rehabilitation and prisons in their raw form. A journey of how the justice system can be better and how much more horrific it can get.
Interesting Fact: Raphael Rowe was wrongfully charged and sentenced to life imprisonment. During his time in the maximum security cell, physical activity and meditation were his only escape.
5. First and Last
A Netflix prison show revolves around a plot that explores the first and last few days at Georgia’s Gwinnett County Jail. From the expectations of a new arrival to the sweet farewell, this series covers the journey of the inmates. It gives us way more than we expected as we walk into a show bound to keep us hooked.
First and Last is an emotional and insightful show that goes beyond just the crimes to show us the lives of the prisoners and the numerous emotions from anxiety to fear and an awaited goodbye to a temporary home.
Interesting Fact: The docu-series aimed to capture the emotions racing as one entered their sentence and the freedom that came along as they bid goodbye to the prison.
6. Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is one of the best Netflix prison shows to exist and is mandatory on every watch list. This Netflix original begins with a young woman, Piper Chapman, being sent to jail because of her actions in her past life. The plot explores her life, her adapting to prison, and her female inmates. Orange quickly becomes a big hit.
Though the show’s core remains at Piper, Orange is the new black and is curated extremely well from the script to what we see on our big screens. It is emotional and entertaining with excellent performances and women-based stories. The show truly set the standard for all prison movies and shows on Netflix that are to come.
Interesting Fact: The real-life women on whom this show is based on a feature in the opening credits.
7. Time: The Kalief Browder Story
Among the long line of injustice in the world, Kalief’s story is one of the most frustrating cases in the recent era. The story centers around a 16-year-old boy falsely accused of a crime and were put on Rikers Island for three years.
A story about a boy who lost his youth for a crime he did not commit. Post the three years, the series covers the tragedy that follows his release. A must-watch show for all true crime fans and a way for his story and sheer injustice to be heard. The narrative passion for showing viewers the tragic injustice with emphasis on Kalief and many like him.
Interesting Fact: Barack Obama spoke about his case and banned solitary confinement. Kalief’s mother died of a broken heart the year after he died by suicide.
8. When They See Us
This Netflix series covers the 1989 Central park incident of five innocent Harlem teenagers. They were falsely accused of assaulting a white woman. When They See Us exposes the intense racism and cultural divide that has persisted in society for decades.
The layers of truth and injustice portrayed through the show impact its viewers deeply. Powerful filmmaking that raises questions and shows the audience raw race-based brutalities.
Interesting Fact: The movie was originally set to be titled The Central Park Five.
9. 60 Days In
’60 Days In’ is a reality show where seven people volunteer to enter Clark County Jail and spend 60 days in the cell. The rationale behind this is to understand and get a deeper understanding of corruption and violence from the inside.
Assisting Sheriff Jamey Noel, the volunteers assist him in his mission to end all the illegal activities and violence in prison. Though the reality is slightly blurred, the people participate mostly for noble reasons, comprising one of the latest reality television shows on Netflix.
Interesting Fact: Not all volunteers stayed in prison for 60 days. A third of the participants of season 4 were released way before the 60 days.
10. Inhuman Resources
‘Inhuman Resources’ is a series based on the book ‘Cadres Noires by Pierre Lemaitre. The plot centers around Alain Delambre, who lost his job six years ago and has been engulfed with depression and frustration. The protagonist, Alain, is willing to do anything to get a decent job and regain lost respect.
The show is dramatic and offers a promising, fresh storyline. An interesting story that covers real issues like mental health and unemployment, which adds to the beauty of the series.
Interesting Fact: Ahead of the first episode’s release, there was an announcement that the show is based on a true story. However, as the episodes unravel, this claim has been deemed doubtful.
11. Prison Playbook
‘Prison Playbook’ is a Korean comedy-drama. The story centers around a Baseball pitcher who gets jailed for protecting his sister from sexual assault. The protagonist needs to adapt to prison life and learn to survive. Luckily, his best friend is a correctional officer who always had his back inside the jail.
‘Prison Playbook’ is one of the best movies and shows on Netflix. With a fresh and intriguing story, unique from most other k-dramas, and is comprised of brilliant acting. This show set the standard for prison shows and is a solid competitor to its contemporaries.
Interesting Fact: The actor Park Hae Soo had his debut as a musical theater actor. He sings well.
12. Locked Up (Vis a Vis)
‘Locked Up’ is a Spanish crime-drama series set almost entirely within the walls of a prison. It covers a young woman arrested post being tricked into an embezzlement scam. Macarena Ferreiro had to learn to adapt to cell life, which is way more chaotic than she was used to.
The show has much darker content than Netflix: Orange is the New Black. It is witty, violent, and intense, with brilliant performances leading the cast to the Ondas Award for Best Actor. Filled with drugs, violence, and sex, the show keeps getting better as the episodes flow in.
Interesting Fact: Did you know it is based on a true story?
‘Mindhunter’ is a Netflix series that centers around the late 70s. Two FBI agents are on a mission to interview numerous serial killers and solve cases left open. The series is well written with careful motive and great performances.
One of the most mesmerizing dramas, it covers themes from effective ways of profiling murderers to the unknown. Unsurprisingly, there are always things left unsaid, and the crime life is no exception.
Interesting Fact: The prison interviews shown in the show are based on real prison interviews of popular serial killers.
14. Making a Murderer
A documentary series, ‘Making a Murderer, is about Steven Avery from Manitowoc County, who was falsely convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen. He spent 18 years of his life in jail. Avery was later charged with the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach.
The story sheds light on the numerous problems with the legal system. However, part 2 is more entertaining than the actual investigation. It is a well-constructed documentary made by Avery’s supporters, making it one-sided. It is among the best prison shows on Netflix.
Interesting Fact: Avery’s sister-in-law and Fiance claim he was physically abusive. He allegedly also wrote threatening letters to his first wife.
15. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
Director Joe Berlinger sourced 100 hours of interviews with Ted Bundy and his family to make the 60-minute episodes of the show. Ted Bundy was accused of sexually assaulting 30 women and murdering them. However, he pleaded non-guilty and this Netflix series shows the world his story, a tape with all his interviews that was made private back then.
The series perfectly captures the events that lead up to the execution of Ted Bundy. The four-part documentary consists of all the audio recordings Bundy hoped would be lauded but remained in vain. The show is extremely interesting and will grab your attention for the entirety of it with its raw portrait of a killer – especially if you are a true crime geek.
Interesting Fact: Bundy believed that killing would bring him fulfillment. He threatened to kill himself before the execution.
16. Inventing Anna
In an American biweekly magazine – New York, Jessica Pressler wrote an article, ‘How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People’. This inspired the Netflix limited series Inventing Anna, which quickly rose to popularity. Shonda Rhimes directed Julia Garner as the titular Anna Sorokin.
The story revolves around a Russian girl who dupes people into believing she is a German heiress and mooches off them to open an art club. Orange is the New Black actor Madeleine Brewer supposed to be cast as Anna, but that didn’t materialize.
Interesting fact: Anna Chlumsky portrayed a journalist, Vivian Kent, the real-life Jessica Pressler. She is also the famed reporter whom Julia Stiles played in Hustlers after she wrote an article in 2015 – The Hustlers at Scores.
17. The Inmate
This American crime show, Inmate, has a Spanish title – El Recluso. It ran only for thirteen episodes in one season and went off the air due to low viewer ratings. However, Argentine actor Serricchio played the role of a hardened and gritty ex-marine with conviction.
The storyline follows him entering a maximum security prison to gain information from prison gangs about the kidnapping of the adolescent daughter of a judge in America. The entire filming took place in Mexico.
Interesting Fact: Did you know that directors Jorge Colón and Mariano Ardanaz had adapted it from a popular Argentine series called El Marginal?
18. The 100
This show about a group of prisoners take place in a dystopian world where people are already living and procreating in space. Jason Rothenberg directs a tale based on the YA fantasy novel of the same name. Almost a decade after a nuclear war wiped the planet earth of life, a group of young delinquents is sent to earth to see if there is any hope left.
It went on for seven seasons and received several Teen awards nominations, including one Emmy. Despite being based on a book, the two storylines developed wipe gaps, and fans of the book do not have to fear being spoiled for the show.
Interesting Fact: Did you know that David J Peterson created the made-up language Trigedasling, which they speak in this show, just like he made up the Dothraki language in Game of Thrones?
19. The Yard
Titled Avlu, this is another prison show revolving around the women inmates after the success of Orange is the New Black. Actresses Demet Evgar, Nursel Kose, and Ceren Moray play the roles of the main characters. The show focuses on how they navigate through their life with minimal freedom and develop bonds of sisterhood with each other. It is also the story of a mother’s fight to bond with her daughter.
Interesting Fact: This one has been inspired by the Australian show Wentworth which also features in our list.
20. Happy Jail
This one has a very interesting storyline, completely different from the prison shows we are accustomed to. It is a documentary focusing on a jail in the Philippines whose manager is an ex-convict. It goes on for five episodes.
Why is it pertinent?
In 2007, this prison shot to its fame after a video of the inmates dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller got out. It received a lot of attention then. In the documentary, Michael Josue returns to this jail to document the current lives of the convicts under the care of someone who was like them some time ago.
For society at large, the prison has always been something of a scary enigma. With this variety of crime and prison shows and documentaries, normal people get a glimpse into the hardened dark side of the world’s toughest prisons. Take your pick and settle for a binge-watch. But be careful, it’s fun only from the other side of the bars!