10 Best Prison TV Shows, According To Ranker

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ABC For life is a gripping series centered on a wrongfully incarcerated man who becomes a lawyer, but it won’t get a third season after it was canceled. So there’s a noticeable lack right now of major soap operas that take place in prisons.

Although there have been talks of stars wanting to do more Orange is the new black, this trend is set to continue for quite some time, which means it’s a great time to explore other great prison-based shows from the past few decades. Luckily, TV fans on Ranker have voted for the shows they think are the best in that category.

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Note: Ranking lists are voted by fans, live and continue to accrue votes, so some rankings may have changed after this posting.

Blocking (2005)


The title image of Lockup on MSNBC

A gripping documentary series that spanned 12 years and 25 seasons exposing some of the realities of life behind bars, Blocking is still a popular choice among viewers. Airing on MSNBC, the series is at its best when it focuses on some of the most notable inmates and shows their day-to-day interactions.

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It’s easy to get involved because some of the people the show follows receive visits from loved ones and attend disciplinary hearings. Although the series ended several years ago, there is so much content, including the rest of the Blocking TV franchise which means fans will be satisfied for a long time.


Prisoner: Cell Block H (1979)


A promotional photo for Prisoner Cell Block H

known simply as Prisoner in Australia where the show originated, Prisoner: Cell Block H proved as early as the late 1970s that the lives of women in prison could become gripping drama, long before people like Orange is the new black and the reinvention of the spectacle in the 21st century Wentworth.

The show immediately became cult and achieved unprecedented success when it aired in the United States. Focusing on the lives of prisoners at a women’s detention center rather than the staff, the show ran for some 690 episodes. Because of this, the show has a ton of rewatchability which has allowed it to maintain a fan base long after its initial airing.


Incarcerated Girls (2018)


Netflix has helped create a revival for the documentary genre, with tons of amazing documentaries to watch on the streaming service, but one great series it produced that is sadly overlooked is Incarcerated girls. Over two seasons, it examines the lives of teens held in two juvenile facilities in Indiana.

Of course, the show ends up looking at some heavy topics and it might not be very clear. However, it also contains some of the memorable and touching moments that only real life can produce and stay with the viewer long after. Although it was not renewed for a third season, it managed to attract many fans.


For Life (2020)


A promotional photo for For Life on ABC

A legal drama based on the real-life story of Isaac Wright Jr., the man who was wrongfully sentenced to life in prison before orchestrating his own legal challenge and later becoming a lawyer, For life is one of the best prison shows of recent years. Although it hasn’t been renewed for a third season, the two that exist do a great job of showing a man on the wrong side of a broken legal system.

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Also exploring Wallace’s relationships with other inmates as well as some of his lowest moments such as his repeated stints in solitary confinement, For life manages to cover a lot in its 23 episodes. Although low viewership may have contributed to its cancellation, many of those who remained became loyal fans of the series.


60 days in (2016)


In a new version of the prison documentary formula, 60 days in has volunteers who spend two months in jail pretending to be real criminals in order to get a feel for what life behind bars is really like. Although some interesting behind-the-scenes secrets of 60 days in may detract from some of the drama of the show, there are definitely things to enjoy about the show which has spanned 6 seasons.

What really stands out from the series are the complex power structures that can exist in prison environments and how important prison gang politics can be. While its premise might be off-putting to some, it’s a show that shines a light on some of the realities of prison life, and for many TV fans on Ranker, it likely left a big impression.

Escape from Dannemora (2018)


Benicio Del Toro and Paul Dano escape to Dannemora

A great miniseries that can be binged in a single weekend, Escape to Dannemora is based on the real-life escape from Clinton Correctional Institution in 2015 and features real talent including Benicio del Toro and Patricia Arquette, as well as the direction of Ben Stiller. Centered on two convicted murderers whose escape sparks a massive manhunt, it manages to maintain plenty of tension for its 7-episode series.

Although some stories contradict the series’ narrative of events, that didn’t stop it from being a highly successful drama that received critical acclaim upon release. The show didn’t receive huge popularity but, thanks to its great execution, it has its fair share of loyal fans.

Orange is the New Black (2013)


Piper, Tay and Poussey in Orange Is The New Black

An incredible comedy-drama set in a women’s prison, Orange is the new black was one of the first sensational shows that made Netflix a potential mainstream television rival. Based on a memoir by Piper Kerman about her experiences living in prison, the show is full of distinctive characters who lend her a lot of heart.

It’s also very funny at times, and the incredible pilot episode sets the tone for what’s to come with a good mix of serious and lighthearted moments. Sadly, the series is not expected to continue but, with 7 memorable seasons, it has managed to gain a large following over the years since its release, so it’s no surprise that the series is a pick. popular.


Oz (1997)


The prisoners of Oz watch.

One of the shows that established HBO as a name to be reckoned with in the world of long-form dramas, ounces was also a tense and engrossing spectacle in its own right. The show’s title is shorthand for Oswald State Correctional Facility, the fictional maximum-security prison that formed the show’s setting as well as the site of a kind of social experiment to control the often unstable inmates.

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Unlike some of the violent and unrepentant criminals of “Emerald City”, the prison wing where most of these events take place, the central character is incarcerated for a fatal drunk driving incident and he provides the perfect perspective for navigate the show. twists. Often brutal and graphic, even for those who did not like his style, ounces is a memorable series.

Wentworth (2013)


The modern reimagining of Australia’s cult soap opera Prisoner: Cell Block H, Wentworth proves far more popular with contemporary audiences thanks to its compelling depiction of a prisoner rising from a new inmate to the top of the prison hierarchy in its first 4 seasons.

His attempt to modernize the show was well received by critics but, more importantly, it proved popular with audiences who had long gone without a long-running prison soap opera. Although it is less talked about today, having had its last season last year, Wentworth is quietly a very popular show, especially with Ranker TV fans.

Prison Break (2005)


Lincoln Burrows

While it’s not always a gritty, realistic depiction of prison life, there’s no show more associated with incarceration than Fox’s sensational prison breakout drama 2000s. Centering on Lincoln Burrows, a man wrongfully sentenced to death and incarcerated in a state prison, the first season features an ambitious plan to free him and several other inmates.

Although subsequent seasons continue with different storylines, it ends up taking on different prison environments as the main characters find themselves on the wrong side of the law and other shadowy organizations. There are quality drops across Prison Break‘s five seasons, but there’s a reason why the series is considered by many to be the best prison-centric show.


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