The protagonist needs to get information from -- or kill -- another character. Unfortunately that character has just been thrown into jail. How to get access to someone surrounded by high walls and armed guards? Why, commit a crime and get imprisoned yourself! After all, escaping should be easy for our hero!
Undercover police officers do this is real life, but in fiction they always go one step further and actually commit a crime instead of just faking a criminal record. Of course the protagonist may not have the luxury of law enforcement co-operation. However this raises the question
of how they'd arrange to be thrown into the same prison, not to mention cellblock, as the inmate they need to get close to.
See also Trojan Prisoner
, Play-Along Prisoner
, and Chained Heat
- The entire premise of Prison Break. A man is Wrongly Accused and his brother Michael Scofield commits a bank robbery so he'll be caught and thrown into the same prison (Scofield pleads 'no contest' on condition he's sent to a prison near his home) to help him escape. It helps that Scofield designed the prison, and the design is now tattooed onto his body.
- The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Cromartie finds one of his targets has been thrown into jail, so he follows suit by the simple method of walking up to a group of police officers and punching one of them. Of course being a Terminator he can get out at any time just by knocking the cell door off its hinges.
- Fear is the Key (1972), a film adaptation of the novel by Alistair MacLean. The protagonist gets into a bar brawl with the police, so he can get hauled into a courtroom where he takes the daughter of a millionaire hostage and a Car Chase ensues. The entire event turns out to have been faked by the police to give the protagonist a convincing criminal background as the girl's father is involved with The Mafia. In the novel though the bar brawl at least is implied never to have happened.
- In Savannah Swingsaw Mack Bolan discovers an elite KGB assassin is after a petty embezzler, so he gets thrown into prison (Hal Brognola creates a fake criminal record, but Bolan commits a burglary so he'll be caught by local police) in order to get close to the kid, avert the plot and find out why he's being targeted. Things go pear-shaped though when some fellow vigilantes recognise Bolan and bust him out, thinking they're doing him a favour.
- Strike Back. John Porter gets arrested in Zimbabwe for dealing in illicit diamonds so he'll be thrown into a high-security prison where a British national is accused of trying to kill Robert Mugabe;Porter's job is to break him out, interrogate and then kill him.
- In the final novel Quiller discovers that a witness who has evidence that can bring down a high-ranking boss of The Mafiya has been thrown into The Gulag. He gets himself sent there too (though only by faking the conviction papers) even through no-one has ever escaped before.