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You don’t have to commit a crime to spend some time in jail.
You don’t have to commit a crime to spend some time in jail; just fire up your Netflix account. Crime has paid for the streaming service, and Netflix now boasts a slew of great prison shows, from original documentaries like Making a Murderer to reruns of Breaking Bad. But if you’re more interested in what happens after the heist, Netflix has plenty of prison content for you. Here are the best prison shows on Netflix.
Best prison shows on Netflix
One of the most groundbreaking prison shows on Netflix is ending with season 7, but that means if you’re new there are six seasons waiting for you now. Starting off as the story of a PR exec who is sent to jail for a drug offense in her past, Orange Is the New Black quickly became its own beast. While Piper Chapman remains at its core, the show’s ensemble quickly earned a place in viewers’ hearts. Telling women-focused stories, including one of the TV’s most nuanced portrayals of a trans woman, OITNB sets itself apart from standard prison shows. Just get some tissues. You’ll need them.
2) Hard Time
If you’re curious about the American prison system, National Geographic’s Hard Time is a tough show to beat. Set largely in Georgia’s prison system, Hard Time gives prisoners and guards equal space to describe their lives. From violence to how new female prisoners are processed before entering general population, Hard Time never flinches. While season two takes place in an Ohio prison that’s just as tough as Georgia’s, the southern setting gives the other seasons an extra bit of character. Remarkably, National Geographic’s crew manages to film the entire show without ever showing favoritism to either side. This is a pure, warts-and-all documentary series.
While the American justice system as a lot of work to do, Paul Connelly’s Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons shows us how it could be worse—and, in a few rare cases, how it could be better. From the strict brutality of Costa Rica to Colombia’s oppressive home for drug dealers, Inside… shows the raw side of rehabilitation. But viewers might be most surprised by Norway, where arts programs and a lack of bars go to serve proper rehabilitation above punishment. Take a trip around the world to see the best, and worst, of international prisons.
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This British documentary mini-series, consisting of two hourlong episodes, is unlike any of the other prison shows on Netflix. Host Louis Theroux dives deep into some of Florida’s most violent prisons, uncovering a broken system that treats inmates like animals. Due in part to horrible conditions and the apathy of guards, inmates lash out violently, with consequences for everyone. Theroux ends in a youth boot camp, showing where the cycle of detainment begins. Miami Mega Jail is an occasionally horrific look at life in a broken system.
Netflix original First and Last shows inmates on the best and worst days of prison. Through interviews with inmates entering and exiting Georgia’s Gwinnett County Jail, viewers see polar opposite experiences of jail. How have these prison stays impacted the inmates leaving, and what do the new arrivals expect? You’ll be surprised by the answers First and Last provides.
The critically acclaimed Wentworth might be written off as an Australian Orange is the New Black, but don’t be fooled. Wentworth offers a much darker take on prison life. It’s also won tons of awards in Australia, including Best TV Drama and Best Lead Actress in a TV Drama. The series focuses on Bea Smith, a woman awaiting trial for the attempted murder of her husband. Soon prison life catches up with her, forcing Bea to choose between behaving and surviving. Wentworth is easy to pick up and compelling enough to inspire your next binge.
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7) The 100
After all this time behind bars, its time to explore a different kind of prison. Set in a distant future where the human population is under 4,000 survivors, The 100 centers on a group of teenage criminals sent to an uninhabitable planet as punishment. But the world they land on has surprises in store that no one could have anticipated. Blending Prison Break, LOST, and The Hunger Games, this CW show is heavy on the soap opera drama, but it also boasts powerful performances and great action. What do you do when your prison has no walls? Only The 100 know.
This docuseries follows the lives of a group of teenage girls incarcerated at the Madison Correctional Facility in Indiana as they struggle with the consequences of drug use and violence—and strive to become better young women. At its best, Girls Incarcerated is an emotional, impactful, and at times overwhelming look into what compels a teenager to act out and walk down the wrong path—and how these young women are working with all kinds of odds against them to forge a new path toward a brighter future. —Tess Cagle
During its original broadcast, each season of Lockup: Extended Stay focused on life in one prison. Netflix has instead gathered episodes from each run into one group. This approach strips the show of the broader context that came from multiple episodes in the same prison. But new viewers won’t notice, thanks to Lockup’s patented blend of real-life drama and correctional rehabilitation. Hopefully one day you’ll be able to stream this series in its proper form, but in the meantime, this collection is a solid placeholder.
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American history is full of horrific tales of injustice, but Kalief Browder’s is one of the worst in modern time. Accused of stealing a backpack in 2010, the then-16-year-old spent the next three years jailed on Rikers Island awaiting trial. He spent nearly two of those three years in solitary confinement. Time explains the legal nightmare that robbed Browder of his youth and the compounded tragedy that followed him out of jail. True crime fans, take note: This is one where the system is the bad guy.
Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, gangster movies, Westerns, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.
John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adapter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.