"In the big rock-candy mountainIn the spirit of Joker Immunity, the judicial/incarceration system in fiction will be just as worthless as the police. It may keep certain villains off the street so that the heroes just have to deal with one at a time (except for those occasional "teaming up" deals), but expect them to bust out real soon or find a very sympathetic parole board. In the real world, voters would be demanding crackdowns. In fictionland, the same person can break out hundreds of times and nobody gets fired. In some cases, they also have policies against re-arresting escaped Villains Out Shopping unless they commit another crime during the same episode. Perhaps a necessity in stories which feature a Rogues Gallery, since you need to find a way to keep bringing them back but have the heroes seem somewhat effectual. This was particularly true in comics in the days when The Comics Code held sway — the villain had to be clearly defeated at the end of each and every appearance, requiring an escape from either incarceration or apparent death before he could show up to vex the heroes again. Often involves The Guards Must Be Crazy. See also Unsafe Haven, where instead of a prison being laughably easy to break out, a sanctuary is laughably easy to break in. Not to be confused with "Get out of Jail Free" Card.
all the jails are made of tin,
And you can walk right out again
as soon as you are in..."
all the jails are made of tin,
And you can walk right out again
as soon as you are in..."
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Anime & Manga
- Minor villain Beck from The Big O breaks out of prison no fewer than three times over the course of the series, although sometimes he has help.
- The Mari Land prison in Onegai My Melody: Kuromi and Baku can escape with minimal efforts. Repeatedly.
- Any prison is this for Lupin III.
- Best shown in Lupin III The Italian Adventure: arrested and subjected to the harsh 41-bis regime specifically to prevent him from breaking out, he does the following:
As soon as the guards turn their backs on him, he escapes through the air vents. Had Zenigata not expecting that, he'd have been out then and there;
Lupin is closed in a steel box with a surveillance camera. He immediately destroys the camera, and is overpowering the guard who came in to check on him when Zenigata shows up;
After the camera is eliminated, he calls for a priest... And he replaces the priest. Too bad Zenigata decides to check his face...
After the previous attempt, Zenigata moves the cage on a desert island. Only Zenigata surveils it, as he knows all of Lupin tricks and can guess his new ones. Lupin still breaks out. It takes him six months, using a brush made with his own hair and colours made from the food to paint a fake body and feigning he let himself starve to death to get Zenigata to open it and thus switch places, but he still breaks out.
- Best shown in Lupin III The Italian Adventure: arrested and subjected to the harsh 41-bis regime specifically to prevent him from breaking out, he does the following:
- One of the classics is Arkham Asylum from Batman, although this was lampshaded a few times in the comics (e.g., as the effect of a curse). Not only is Arkham Asylum worthless, it seems to make its inmates worse instead of better. (What did you expect? It's ARKHAM! Cue insane laughter.)
Dick: But you caught the bad guy. The Joker's back in Arkham for, like, the seventy-ninth time — where maybe we can hold onto him for more than an hour and a half this time..."
- Mr. Freeze murdered a psychiatrist who was questioning him without problems (no guards, or even a surveillance camera on the room), somehow hacking the Air Conditioner systems with a pen, stepping outside and walking to a nearby room housing his suit. Bear in mind that if it wasn't for that suit he wouldn't be able to escape at all. It's comforting that even after a general reboot, some things won't ever change.
- One of the funniest lampshade hangings on this was in the The Sandman, when a villain locked in Arkham learns that someone else intends to escape, and on a whim, with no planning at all, escapes as well.
- In issue number two of The Joker's own comic book, a pair of bumbling Arkham security guards are fired because The Joker has escaped on their watch five times. This series was published in the mid-seventies. You know it's bad when people have lampshaded Arkham's poor security for forty-odd years.
- Arkham Asylum: Living Hell has Commissioner Gordon outraged and chewing out Dr. Carver about the fact a villain called Doodlebug was released, who then added insult to injury by having written in graffiti "Gone to Arkham. Back after lunch" on a wall in an in-universe lampshade of Arkham's security. It turns out that the "Dr. Carver" who issued Doodlebug's release was an imposter known as "Jane Doe" who'd killed the real Carver before the story, adding to Gordon's point, as does The Reveal of Doodlebug being a serial killer who uses his victim's blood in his paint.
- One comic mentioned that Batman is a bit rougher with his more dangerous enemies than is strictly necessary to subdue them for precisely this reason. If he simply puts the Joker in Arkham, he escapes. If he puts the Joker in Arkham with a couple of broken bones he will take the time to convalesce before escaping. Usually.
- Gotham City also has Blackgate Penitentiary for its non-insane criminals. It's just as bad as Arkham.
- After trying to traffic in nuclear weapons during Birds of Prey, the Joker got sent to Slabside Penitentiary, which is nicknamed "the Slab". Supposedly, no villain has ever broken out of it. In Joker's Last Laugh, the Joker is informed that he has terminal cancer. It takes him all of about five minutes to think up a plan to not only break himself out, but break out most of the other villains with him, and use the prison's own anti-riot countermeasures to "Jokerize" them all. Maybe The DCU's prisons aren't cardboard prisons. Maybe the Joker is just that good. The two aren't mutually exclusive. However, after it, Status Quo Is God got invoked and subsequent stories would see the Joker once again being housed in Arkham.
- In the case of the inmate named Amygdala, Arkham's treatment actually made him worse. A violent sociopath, after drugs and therapy failed, they tried experimental surgery, and removed the part of his brain he is now named after. It made him even more violent and nearly mindless, easily manipulated by Gotham's smarter criminals.
- This is lampshaded in "Hush" by Dick.
Alfred: They took Eddie Nash to the madhouse. The real one, not Arkham.
- Also lampshaded in Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Alfred:
- This is discussed in the New 52 revamp of Superman/Batman. Batman meets his older Earth 2 counterpart, and finds out that Earth 2 Gotham is now crime-free thanks to the Supreme Court closing down Arkham and authorizing the use of cryogenic stasis to permanently inter supervillains. A brief glimpse of the facility shows The Joker and even Sinestro quietly locked up and frozen. That's not enough for the new Batman, who shoots the Joker without waking him.
- In the first episode of The Batman, Joker breaks into Arkham, quipping that he was feeling "a bit screwloose". He then proceeds to release everyone.
- Even the much Lighter and Softer campy 60's version of Batman showed how poor Gotham corrections could be at times. At the beginning of one episode, King Tut was being examined by a doctor at the psychiatric ward where he was being held, who fell asleep while the villain was talking to him. When Tut noticed, he was simply able to walk away.
- In Batman: Arkham Origins, after Batman defeats Black Mask and leaves him to be arrested, the latter mocks the former's reliance on the justice system, stating that he'll probably be bailed out of prison soon. Then again, he's still locked up in Blackgate in Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate and he only escaped because an explosion caused by careless guards provided a distraction.
- A recurring incident across multiple universes involves Poison Ivy. She's usually in a glass cell, ostensibly so she doesn't have access to growths like mold. Except she's constantly given potted plants. While one may presume it's for therapy reasons, she uses them to escape all the time.
- Ironically, one time the doctors at Arkham seemed almost competent was in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Dreams in Darkness"; they were actually able to hold Batman longer than most actual villains could, but this prevented the hero from tracking down the true culprit, the Scarecrow, who was engineering his sinister plot without even leaving Arkham.
- Then there's Lex Luthor.
- In All-Star Superman, he tells Quintus that if he wanted to leave prison, he would have hours ago. In the comic book, he demonstrates that he can leave at any time, and does so by getting Clark Kent out of a riot without stopping their interview.
- Lampshaded in one Superman novel, in which Luthor is sent to prison. Jimmy Olsen immediately starts writing his report about Luthor's escape, before he had actually done it. In the course of the story Olsen mentions that following one previous escape, Luthor had later broken back into the prison to retrieve something he had inadvertently left behind, then escaped again.
- Justified in the case of the Silver Age Mad Scientist version of Lex Luthor, who was fond of MacGyvering a Phlebotinum-powered escape device out of absolutely anything. For instance, in one story he waited for the warden to go on vacation, knowing the temp who replaced him would trust him more, then sabotaged the prison newspaper's printing press. He offered to fix it for the temp guy, and instead turned it into an armored tank which he used to smash his way out of prison.
- Writer Elliot S! Maggin once had Luthor muse that it had reached the point where the only two items his guards would allow him to have were a pen and a pad of paper. Luthor had, in fact, long since figured out a way to turn the ink, metal, plastic, and wood pulp into a high explosive to blast his way out, but he would never do so, because then the next time Superman threw him in prison, the prison wouldn't let him have a pen and paper any more.
- He once built a radio to the future and was able to engineer an escape. By calling supervillains in the future. Yes.
- Another had him use his radio — one radio — to build a combination holographic projection device and a ray that would hopefully give humans superpowers. Guess which mild-mannered reporter he tested it on? And when they checked, Luthor had reassembled the radio back to specs to boot.
- Intermittently, The DCU attempts a solution to both the in-character problem of this trope and the metafictional problem of keeping losing villains effective, by having villains perform missions as part of the US government top-secret Task Force X, a.k.a. Suicide Squad. This program offers early releases for imprisoned supervillains if they participate in, and survive, extremely dangerous secret missions that are subject to official denial. Thus, the villains temporarily become Anti-Hero protagonists.
- The Flash's Rogues Gallery aren't imprisonable, because one of them can travel to an alternate dimension and back via mirror. Every time the Flash arrests any of his friends, Mirror Master goes and fetches them right back out again. The warden explains that they've tried to have the mirrors removed but prisoner-rights liberals won't have it.
- There was also the time Abra Kadabra got out because he was allowed to work in the kitchen and somehow formed the equipment there into a hypno-ray. No, really.
- And then there's Dr. Alchemy, who uses prison for reading time and when he finishes a book, he turns the walls into oxygen and walks out... only to walk back in a month later with a new stack of books.
- "The Vault" was the Marvel Universe's most secure prison, but villains still escape as needed for various comic book plots. Its cardboard nature was actually commented on by writer Kurt Busiek, as the reason the writers had it destroyed. After its destruction and the resulting mass escape (the final shredding of the cardboard, if you will), supercriminals were incarcerated in lesser prisons nationwide, with predictable results.
- The Vault was later replaced by the Raft. It was first introduced in the first arc of New Avengers. Said arc is about a massive jail break. A running subplot was Mayor J. Jonah Jameson shutting the Raft down, noting how much of a failure it was. In Superior Spider-Man, its last duty was to execute Alistair Smythe, the Spider-Slayer, only for him to execute a prison break. In short order, Ock!Spidey kills Smythe, blackmails Jolly Jonah for giving him that order and takes control of it, turning it into Spider-Island II.
- This was lampshaded in the Young Avengers/Runaways crossover during Civil War. The Runaways end up fighting Flag-Smasher, only for Karolina to bemusedly point out that the kids had just beaten him and sent him off to prison only a few months prior.
- "Prison 42", nicknamed "Fantasy Island" by its inmates, debuted in Civil War. It's located in another dimension, accessible only by certain teleporter systems, secure and heavily coded. Many superheroes unwilling to register with the government were locked up there, and were indeed its first inmates. It was supposed to be the final answer to this trope. Naturally, the anti-registration heroes on the outside engineered a mass jailbreak. Likewise it serves to be a sort of deconstruction of what steps you would have to take to actually make a prison immune to the kind of crazy shit filling the Marvel Universe. And as predicted by some annoyed fans, it later got taken over by the residents of the Negative Zone. Because it just would've made too much sense to place the prison in a pocket dimension that wasn't already occupied by various fanatically xenophobic aliens. Ironically, this ended up being what ultimately subverted this trope for 42. With Blastaar's invasion and takeover of the prison, the remaining prisoners (who at this point were mostly villains) were trapped in the facility, the portal back to Earth permanently shut down due to a warning to Reed Richards from the Guardians of the Galaxy about Blastaar's invasion force, and any attempts to escape the facility itself would cause Blastaar or one of his minions to kill them on sight.
- Any prison was cardboard to the Serpent Society, at least when Sidewinder was in charge; one of the benefits of being a member was that he could rescue an imprisoned member via his ability to teleport himself and others. Being semi-retired at the time, it was the only condition for his personal involvement.
- Lucky Luke:
- The prisons of the Lucky Luke comic, especially the penitentiary. The wardens are a bunch of incompetent morons, their dog is even stupider than they are, and the prisoners, especially the Daltons, escape constantly, sometimes right after being brought back to jail. They even managed to accidentally free Joe Dalton once. When he didn't even want to get out. This is subjected to frequent Lampshade Hanging, to the point Luke gets sick of it in later albums.
- The Rantanplan spin-off even has an episode where people succeeded in kidnapping Averell Dalton without much problem. They don't just fail at preventing their prisoners from getting out, they also fail at keeping people from coming in to take their prisoners forcefully. Even Joe is outraged by such a degree of ineffectiveness.
- The same episode has Jack Dalton coming back to his cell and leaving again three times while one of the warden is still trying to close the hole from their last escape. The warden just let him take what he needs and go away, without even trying to stop him.
- The first time in DC Comics that the Crime Syndicate of Earth 3 showed up, they were beaten and imprisoned in a bubble created by Green Lantern, and THEN thrown into a limbo between dimensions/earths. They kept somehow breaking out and causing trouble. Although at first not that often and, at least the first time, only after outside interference. Johnny Quick, Power Ring, and Superwoman managed to escape from the bubble after an interdimensional traveler passed by and somehow weakened it (no real details given). That was about 14 years after their first appearance (real time; in comic time, it could have been anything from a week and a half later). A couple of years later, Ultraman got out, but nothing at all was said about how. Owlman wasn't seen again until the Crisis, and could well have been stuck in the bubble the whole time until the entire Syndicate returned home in time to die in the destruction of Earth-3.
- French comic book Le Mercenaire contains a literal example of a cardboard cell. The hero is imprisoned inside a flying castle, which is in fact a giant hot-air balloon. Hence, everything is constructed of light and hollow material, including the large jar used as cell, which is thick cardboard. The prisoner was relieved of any item that could pierce it beforehand (including his belt buckle), but can cut through once he receives exterior help (in the form of dagger).
- One Golden Age Captain Marvel comic has his bald Mad Scientist adversary, Dr. Sivana, sitting in prison grumbling that there's no point in escaping because Captain Marvel will only catch him again. He then thinks up a plan to destroy Captain Marvel and, his mood brightened, easily escapes by simply performing a mathematical calculation in his head that "opens a portal to the fifth dimension" and then walks out through a wall like a ghost.
- In Justice League of America #5 Monty Moran "the Getaway Mastermind" breaks himself and 5 other supervillains out using a shrinking ray he somehow built that makes them half an inch tall. Then they use a balloon with a container underneath to get out.
- The Beagle Boys (Disney) use prisons as a temporary home, and are known to jailbreak at any convenient moment. A recurring gag is that they receive a cake filled with tools; once, the cake was the tool, as it was so dense and heavy that it could be used to smash the pavement, and the frosting used to dig.
- The Punisher occasionally finds himself thrown in jail, but it's usually part of a Batman Gambit to kill a crime lord who's already behind bars in the same prison (for example: the final level of the video game). One time Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Wolverine all teamed up in an attempt to stop the Punisher once and for all, but at the end of the battle the Punisher points out that if they put him in jail he'll just kill every inmate in the prison before escaping again. The three heroes agree and let him go.
- The absence of these is actually a plot point in Watchmen. Because all the supervillains the Minutemen thwarted tended to stay thwarted, they eventually ran out of situations that required a team of heroes to deal with. This was one of the factors that led to the Minutemen breaking up.
- In a comic based on Batman Beyond featured on Scans Daily, the Royal Flush Gang are out committing crimes when they are supposed to be in prison. Terry doesn't know how they could have escaped noting, "This place is locked up tighter than a drum." Despite the outcome, Terry's comment still seems like an odd thing to say when Bruce Wayne has told him all about his past, with one person posting, "Uhh, Terry? You got in, didn't ya?"
- Any prison is this for Diabolik and his accomplice Eva Kant. The first time he had been arrested (alluded in his first story and shown in a flashback years later) it had been because his perfect masks weren't known yet, so the police didn't realize he was wearing one and he walked out of a maximum security prison with a stolen guard uniform after taking the mask off, but later imprisonments, which happened after his masks and real face were known, all ended with them breaking out rather easily in spite of always increasing measures to keep Eva in for life and him just long enough for his execution, with their first times being particularly ridiculous due what they did to break each other out:
- The first on-page arrest of Diabolik has the title character kept in jail long enough to be tried and sentenced to death, with Eva (who at the time had just become his lover and accomplice, thus their relationship wasn't publicily known yet) present to every session of the trial. Diabolik, expecting to die, winked in Morse code to tell Eva where she could find his loot and tools in public, so she could make herself a new life away from her Stalker with a Crush... Except Eva bribed the guards of the death cell to bring her Diabolik just for the night before his execution, kidnapped her stalker, and when the guards brought Diabolik to her he had the tools to make a mask with his face and brainwash the stalker, so that Diabolik could take the identity of the stalker (who just happened to be above suspicions, what with being a high-ranking functionary in the ministry of justice) and marry her, with the evidence being destroyed when the body of the fake Diabolik was cremated as per Diabolik's own last wills (implying Eva somehow told him to do it, given it's the only reason he did it). The only reason it didn't work was that Ginko realized that 'Diabolik' had been drugged just as the executioner released the guillotine's blade, leading to the discovery and the bribed guards confessing what happened...
- When Eva was first arrested, she was put in a women-only jail in a swamp, with a train as the only way in or out, and brought out only for the sessions of her trial. Diabolik first kidnapped a top model to convince the world he had ditched her, thus getting the jury to pity her enough to sentence her to life in jail while he prepared her break-out. Then, knowing she had been recently inoculated, he caused a cholera outbreak in the jail. As the jail was being evacuated, with Eva and the healthy patients in the last cars because the forward ones shook less, he derailed the train and freed Eva, with Ginko, who had been distracted by a fake sighting of Diabolik somewhere else, arriving right after they left.
- Thanks to the super strength granted to them by the magic potion, it is extremely rare for any prison to keep Astérix and Obelix in or out any longer than they feel like it.
- Exploited in Ric Hochet with "Le Bourreau" because he's an invaluable asset to the Eastern Bloc. Everytime he is jailed, foreign powers will request his release in exchange for France's captured secret agents.
- Iznogoud once wanted to hire the services of a master thief. He did not have to go looking far, as the thief was already in the Caliph's prison! ...some of the time. A nearby guard informed him that the thief is so good he comes and goes as he pleases, and nothing the jailers have done has managed to hinder him in the slightest. He basically treated his jail cell as a place where he could stay and eat for free and where people can contact him if they need to.
- Marvel's G.I. Joe comic had Cobra Commander employ an Army of Lawyers to ensure that if any of his mooks were captured, they would be Off on a Technicality before they did any real time behind bars. The Joes, in an attempt to avert this, once imprisoned Storm-Shadow in a windowless Alcatraz cell, but he still got out.
- Sam Wilson actually quipped about a pool for how long S.H.I.E.L.D can actually hold a villain (this case being Crossbones and he said two weeks). Given that he and Maria Hill were in the midst of a bit of a spat at the time, it's not quite sure how serious he was about it given that Sam's neither the most serious nor most joking of heroes.
- When Wally is imprisoned, Dogbert tells him that the guards just pretend to lock it up. As Wally said, "I'd have to say, the lifers were the most embarrassed."
- Another occurrence in the same comic: the PHB is sent to do time in a place so horrible it has no name — Wally's cubicle — which has no door at all (the PHB serves his term because his sense of direction is so poor he cannot find the way out again).
- Any time Popeye goes to jail, this trope goes into effect as Popeye uses his strength to take the wall of his cell apart brick by brick. In one early strip he was kicked out of jail for doing this!
- Snap and Loopin in My Immortal are constantly send to St. Mango's or Azkaban, but are usually found somewhere around the school by the next chapter. It's mentioned that Britney had helped them escape once.
- Arnold in Soulless Shell manages to talk his guards into helping him escape and joining him to fight against Leif.
- In the Teen Titans fanfic Joker's Wild, they give the explanation that the state of Jersey gives Arkham a huge defense budget, but forces them to spend it all on security equipment, and can barely afford the little staff they have. People escape so often because the secretaries and janitors are paid so little they are easy to bribe.
- During a debate over Thou Shalt Not Kill in Connecting The Dots between Cyborg, Robin, Sakura, Neji and Naruto. Naruto tries playing the devil's advocate until he finds out the prisons in the DC universe are this:
Naruto: "Well if they are in prison at least they get to live but can't escape right? (Cyborg and Robin share a nervous look) RIGHT?"
- In A Frog in Arkham Asylum, Jade lampshades Arkham's status as this, comparing it to Swiss cheese. In fact, she claims that the only reason she hasn't escaped yet is that she doesn't want to (since it would make her look guilty, and she's trying to clear her name). Strange confirms this by saying she's had several chances to escape, but hasn't taken them (and these are only the ones that he knows about).
- What Happens in Vegas:
Robin: One of these days, we're finally going to discover just where the contractor used cardboard instead of concrete to build the prison walls so he could save a few bucks.
Films — Animation
- In Megamind, the title character can apparently escape the prison with ease, as long as he has help from Minion.
- In Wreck-It Ralph, Fix-It Felix Jr. is locked up in the Sugar Rush Fungeonnote . As he laments, he notices that the bars on his window are loose. He whips out his Fix-It hammer, and strikes the bars. They become twice as thick.
WHY DO I FIX EVERYTHING I TOUCH?!
- Kung Fu Panda 2. Po and the Furious Five have no problem busting into the jail where Masters Storming Ox and Croc are being kept. In fact, they actually have more trouble convincing Ox and Croc to escape, as they've been demoralized by Lord Shen's cannon and are convinced that Resistance Is Futile. Cue a hilarious scene where the various kung fu Masters keep kicking down the barred iron door or putting it back up again while they argue.
Storming Ox: Like I said, you are NOT getting me out of this cell! (realises he's been thrown out of the cell in the struggle)
- Syndrome's prison in The Incredibles doesn't work for long on Violet, because she can block the electricity holding her suspended with her force fields.
Films — Live-Action
- Public Enemies shows off John Dillinger's escape from Crown Point.
- Cool Hand Luke's title character is able to escape prison regularly (though he's usually brought back quickly). Finally, the sheriff has enough and shoots him.
- Hancock cannot be held by any normal prison due to his powers; his willingness to stay in one is part of his Character Development.
- In Law Abiding Citizen, protagonist Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) checks in and out of a so-called maximum security prison many times through hidden access points that he built into said prison himself. Fortunately for Clyde, it doesn't occur to the Warden to simply assign a guard to watch him or install a camera in his cell.
- The resident superhero in Mystery Men (a spoof of superhero movies) gets tired of catching thugs, having caught all the supervillains long ago, and uses his influence to get the parole board to release one of his former enemies from an institution for the criminally insane. However, he underestimates his foe, is captured, and subsequently ends up dead. Notably, Casanova Frankenstein is one of the only nemeses he has left, the others having been given the death penalty or life imprisonment already.
- In the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, the titular prison fits this trope. It is established late in the film that Ben Wade has already escaped from Yuma at least twice before the events of the movie. After Dan Evans and Wade's posse die, Wade willingly steps onto the train and sets off on his trip towards the prison — but not before he calls his faithful horse to ride alongside the train, proving that as soon as the film ends, he'll simply escape again.
- In Cube there is a character nicknamed The Wren who has escaped prison 6 times. Sadly, he's not so lucky in the Cube.
- The two prisons shown in Austin Powers: Goldmember. The first one is a Swiss maximum security prison, where Doctor Evil is placed in a transparent cell in the middle of a big room, surrounded by armed guards round-the-clock. Then Dr. Evil accidentally pushes open the door to his cell. No alarms sound. He waits a second, then says "I'll get it", and closes the door. The second prison is in the US, where Dr. Evil and Mini-Me escape after starting a prison riot, despite floodlights aimed at them along the wall. The whole thing is played for laughs.
- In Drive Angry, Hell is apparently one of these, even being described as the afterlife's prison. It's said that John isn't the first to break out of Hell, and he won't be the last. Though the movie ends with him willingly going back to hell, he says he'll break out again. Although it's implied that whenever someone escapes from Hell, someone like the Accountant hunts them down and eventually drags them back. For example, his reply when Piper threatens to kill him in order to stop him from taking Milton:
"Someone else will come. Someone else always comes."
- In the opening scene of El Mariachi several carloads of assassins turns up at a police station to kill a man who's in lockup. He realises what's happening, wakes up his men who unlock their cells and produce several automatic weapons. After they've killed the assassins, they just walk out of the station. The police ignore all this, having been bribed by both parties.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Earthbenders are imprisoned in a a metal prison ship in the middle of the ocean, so as to neutralize their bending. But in The Last Airbender, this is changed to a prison camp. In a quarry. Why they didn't break out in the first five minutes we'll never know. Once Aang reminds them that they were in fact Earthbenders and that this was, in fact, earth, the prison doesn't last too long.
- Idiocracy: The prison Joe is sent to has tons of security, but Joe easily tricks the guards into letting him leave. Averted when he gets sent back to prison, and they chain him to a big rock so he can't possibly escape.
- The Scar of Shame: It's bad enough that Alvin got ahold of a file to hack at the bars to his cell. But when he hacks through said bars, and then bends them apart like they were made of rubber, this trope is in in full effect.
- The juvenile maximum-security facility in Maximum Security. James escapes with a literal piece of cardboard, exploiting a real security flaw. The scary thing is, two guards who were in on it weren't actually needed, they were just there to guarantee success.
- The prison at the Patrician's Palace doesn't keep said Patrician in for any longer than he wants it to; he's smart enough to know he's the only one likely to be locked in it and has it built to keep people out, not in (and has a spare key hidden in a brick, of course).
- In The Last Continent, Rincewind finds himself imprisoned in a jail cell on the continent of XXXX, awaiting execution. The guards inform him that the cell's previous inhabitant, "Tinhead Ned", used to escape with regularity. Rincewind dismisses this as an attempt to break his spirit by getting him to run around rattling bars and searching for hidden panels. Then he finds a message from Ned, telling him to "check the hinges". He discovers that the cell's door can be entirely removed with sufficient effort, and escapes. At the end of the novel, after becoming a national hero, he requests that the cell never be redecorated, thus assuring that it will retain its cardboard nature for the next person to wind up inside it.
- Going Postal spoofs it, as the protagonist, Moist von Lipwig, discovers that he has the perfect means to escape his cell with some effort, using his spoon to scrape old plaster off the bricks. After days of effort he manages to get several bricks off — only to discover a brand new brick wall behind it, along with a fresh spoon. Lord Vetinari believes that it gives the prisoners some much-needed exercise, and keeps their minds off from their impending execution.
- In David Weber's Honor Harrington series, the government of Silesia is so corrupt that most of the authorities are, individually, in cahoots with one or another band of pirates in the area, and frequently find excuses to release them when they're caught by Manticoran patrol ships. This leads to the Royal Manticoran Navy's draconian policy: Anyone caught a second time engaging in piracy will be executed immediately.
- In Fingerprints, a heavily drugged prisoner manages to just wander out during a computer malfunction. Yes, it was a makeshift prison being maintained by just one person, but still: epic failure.
- In one of Enid Blyton's Magical Faraway Tree books, a character is put in jail in The Land of Goodies for eating part of someone's house (which is made out of sweets). Predictably, he just eats his way out of the prison.
- In The Leonard Regime, the national prisons (known as DERSO Correctional Facilities) are run by idiots and have insufficient security. There are not one, but two prison breaks during the course of the book.
- In Batman: The Birthday Bash, Batman asks Commissioner Gordon how the Joker escaped. Apparently, he had been very good lately so they let him bake a cake in the kitchen.
- In Hornblower in the West Indies, a Marine bugler is jailed for refusing to play a flat note. Hornblower is unable to convene a court-martial before he is relieved of command as the necessary officers are unavailable. The Marine is jailed in the Admiralty House Jail, which has a thatched roof. Naturally, he escapes. Hornblower muses that although he escaped the jail, he was still on Jamaica, where his white face and uniform would stick out like a sore thumb and with the standing reward of £10 for returned prisoners he had only added to the charges against him. He is not recaptured. Hornblower later finds out that Lady Barbara bribed a merchant to transport the Marine to Puerto Rico.
- The Phantom Tollbooth: When Milo and Tock get put in the prison in Dictionopolis, the Witch (who stays there of her own free will) shows them the secret escape passage. Officer Shrift doesn't even try to recapture them once they're out, he just assumes they served their sentence and he lost track of time.
- In The Star Beast the titular creature is temporarily held in a steel-bar cage. The human protagonist remarks to himself that this was like confining a rebellious teenage boy by piling pies around him. The well-behaved Star Beast confines herself to merely tasting the steel. Until later.
- Doctor Who:
The Master: Brigadier, if I wanted to break out, I wouldn't still be here.
- In the eighth season the Master is finally caught by UNIT. They make a big deal about how this evil-doer has finally been caught, and led away in handcuffs. Three adventures into Season 9, the only reason he's still in the prison is that he's taken it over and turned it into his secret base.
- Lampshaded in the novel The Face of the Enemy.
- River Song's incarceration in the Stormcage Facility is completely voluntary on her part. Whenever she finds out that the Doctor needs her for something (whether it's the end of the world or just a nice party), it takes all of twenty minutes for her to get out. What's more, when she's done helping the Doctor, she voluntarily returns to her prison. Based on the escapes shown, River is just good at it, even though the guards do try to keep her there.
Guard: (on the phone to his superiors) You'd better get down here, sir, she's doing it again. Dr. Song, she's... packing.
- In "A Good Man Goes to War", she picks up one of the security phones and tells them to turn the alarms off, because she's breaking back in this time. So they do. Then she orders breakfast.
- Parodied in the Ripping Yarns episode "Escape from Stalag Luft 112B", in which Major Phipps becomes the only man never to have escaped from the prison camp of the title.
- The Andy Griffith Show plays this for comedy with Mayberry's jail. The Sheriff keeps the keys on a hook next to the door so that the town drunk can lock himself up at night and let himself out in the morning.
- Hogan's Heroes: This is yet another aspect of Nazi incompetence. Not only is Stalag 13 so cardboard that it's a waypost for other escaped prisoners and underground agents, the number of escapees that come through suggest that the other Stalags aren't much better. All of the ranking Nazis present, excepting Klink himself (and there are hints even for him), being in on it might have something to do with it. Several episodes in the series centered around Hogan having to find a way to keep the Stalag like this, usually by finding some clever way to keep Klink from being promoted/fired/shot/sent to the Russian front and getting replaced by a more competent officer. A large portion of the Heroes' time was spent keeping a careful balance of Stalag 13 appearing as The Alcatraz (No prisoner has ever escaped from Stalag 13!) while really being this trope.
LeBeau: No, not one. Maybe a hundred, but not one!
- The prison Faith is kept in on Angel is presumably sufficient to keep ordinary humans inside. However, after Faith breaks out of it in 30 seconds (including about 1 second of planning), there can be no question that her incarceration was completely voluntary.
- Parodied in a sketch on The State, where the warden informs the prisoners that the only two ways of escaping Lowell Maximum Security Prison are either "dead in a pine box" or "that big, wide open gate over there... let's consider the open gate (air quotes) off limits." One prisoner decides to escape while the guards aren't looking, but ends up feeling so guilty about it 5 years later that he comes back. So the warden decides to increase security by setting up orange cones that spell "OFF LIMITS" in front of the gate.
- The Supermax facility where Neal Caffrey is held during the White Collar pilot is managed in such a way that ordering a guard's uniform online and having it shipped to oneself at the prison is a viable escape plan. Clearly the staff doesn't monitor prisoners' Internet access or screen their mail for contraband. On top of that, the guards fail to recognize a prisoner because he just shaved off his beard.
- Supernatural portrays Hell as rather ineffective at containing demons. Demons who are exorcised back to Hell pop back up to cause trouble again at the Speed of Plot (e.g. Meg, Ruby, Alastair, Lilith). Considering who is in charge down there, this is probably deliberate. Lucifer's cage also qualifies if you take his army of fanatically loyal minions into account. Combinatorial calculations yield at least 1.22 x 1087 distinct methods by which he could be freed. (This figure assumes that there are exactly 600 seals, that the first and last seal are fixed, and that breaking the same seals in a different order doesn't count as different.) On top of that, the actual seals include things like a "righteous man" (read "Dean Winchester") shedding blood in Hell in a canon where Being Tortured Makes You Evil and one of the aforementioned fanatically loyal minions sacrificing herself for the cause. Accordingly, springing Lucifer is as easy as baby kitten pie. Again, given who is in charge of the imprisonment, this is deliberate. In the Prison Episode "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19) of Supernatural, Sam and Dean also make rather short work of getting out of an actual prison, climbing out a vent in the showers with the help of the warden.
- 24 plays this up to ridiculous standards sometimes. If an antagonist is somehow caught, you can bet your ass they're eventually going to escape somehow and ultimately wind up getting killed either by Jack Bauer or someone else. In the offchance a terrorist actually doesn't manage to to make a getaway, they're all but guaranteed to wind up dying within the next episode to keep them from talking about their plans. It's extremely rare for an antagonist to be incarcerated for good and still be alive by the time the season's over. This trope applies to Jack as well; every single season forces him to go rogue at least once either because he's being set up or under a case of Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!, and if he is caught he's usually free within the next episode.
- Iron Heights Penitentiary is one of these in Arrow, in grand comic book tradition. They lose at least four inmates per season and, in keeping with Starling's Vice City nature, they put a higher premium on covering up their screw-ups then they do on fixing them. And that's leaving aside the inmates being recruited for the Suicide Squad.
Felicity: Iron Heights is better at keeping secrets than prisoners.
- The Wire sees Bodie easily escape a boys' village home.
- As mentioned in the page quote, "Big Rock Candy Mountain" describes jails made of tin sheet metal, something the common man could tear down (if not punch right through) barehanded.
- The Goon Show episode "Tales of Old Dartmoor" involves the inmates of Dartmoor Prison escaping but taking the prison with them, leaving a literal cardboard replica in its place.
- Very much the case in the Freedom City setting for Mutants & Masterminds; the character most focused on making it un-cardboard is the Warden, and he's a dangerously unstable Knight Templar.
- The supplement Lockdown describes a prison that is secretly run by a crime syndicate. Trusted prisoners are often sent out on jobs and snuck back in afterward.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, in every edition prior to fifth, actually keeping any player character in a jail cell required ignoring the standard difficulties and statistics listed in the manual, as there is essentially nothing that a character cannot eventually bypass with repeated attempts and in many editions even an excellent lock requires only a moderately good roll by an untrained character to pick unless more gold than the entire listed wealth of the city has been spent on magical reinforcement.
- In Knickerbocker Holiday, the council find that they have nobody to hang on Hanging Day because all the inmates of the jail got out through a hole. The hole, cut by a previous prisoner, had been there at least since last December, but the councilmen couldn't agree who should fix it. The hole is closed with an iron grating just in time to prevent Brom from escaping.
- Batman: Arkham Series
- The intro of Batman: Arkham Asylum takes pains to show off Arkham's new "improved" security system. It takes all of 10 minutes for the Joker to not only break his bonds, but take over the asylum and free all of the inmates. Unfortunately for the Arkham staff, a good bit of work had already been done for him. He arranged a fire at the Gotham prison to get his mooks on the island, and Harley already had control over the security system. Mostly it serves as a massive Worf Barrage as soon as the credits finish rolling. If the Joker just overpowered this small army with no significant casualties, what chance does one guy with a bunch a toys have?
- In the prequel games, Blackgate suffers three major security breaches over a four month period (two of them over the course of one night). Then-City Councilman Quincy Sharp uses these incidents to claim that Blackgate isn't capable of holding the more dangerous criminals Gotham is producing and lobbying for the reopening of Arkham Asylum, which would hopefully be more secure.
- A sidequest in Origins reveals that the architect Cyrus Pinkney designed his buildings with a style that was said to drive away evil. One of those buildings was Arkham Asylum. This wasn't quite what he had in mind.
- Averted in Batman: Arkham City. You would think that a giant prison made out pf part of a city would be easy to escape from, but only Black Mask managed to escape before the events of the game, and he's recaptured. Of course, since the whole point of Arkham City is to round up Gotham's criminals and have them exterminated, it makes sense that the prison is virtually escape proof.
- The general majority of prisons in Rockstar games, prominently Bully and the Grand Theft Auto franchise, are this. You get caught for [INSERT HEINOUS CRIME HERE] and your punishment? They take away a bit of cash and some easily replaced weapons.
- A politician in Vice City off-handedly states in a radio interview that letting criminals off easy is standard practice to save money on prisons.
- Zigursky Prison, also known as "The Zig", in the MMORPG City of Heroes. Its walls are so permeable that bands of escaped prisoners freely roam the streets of Brickstown, the zone in which it is located — and all the bosses and archvillains who take advantage of its apparent revolving-door policies. The tutorial in the counterpart City of Villains has your character escaping the Zig as part of a massive prison break.
- Also, some mission maps contain prison areas where your character goes if defeated. When you wake up, all that stands between you and freedom are some guards and a door that can't take more than a few good shots from whatever powers you have.
- An extreme example of this is the final mission of the "Faultine" series: between when you get the MacGuffin and when you get the mission to destroy it (about 30 seconds), the villain you defeated to get it escapes from the Zig.
- Parodied in Toonstruck. The guard has a sensitive nose that can be irritated by dust from your cell's doormat, incapacitating him. If you're locked up again, he acquires a gas mask which you persuade him to take off. If you're locked up again, the guard has quit in disgust, leaving a note that the key is under the mat.
- Prisons in Monkey Island games are never renowned for their security.
- You're thrown into a prison hut at one point in The Secret of Monkey Island. The natives (who imprisoned you) go through more and more elaborate door security systems if you keep getting captured, even using anachronistically futuristic technology. They never notice the Guybrush-sized hole in the floor...
Native: The only thing confounding us more than how you keep escaping is why you keep coming back.
- The prize must go to the Flotsam Island Jail in Chapter 4 of Tales of Monkey Island: to get out, Guybrush simply says he wants to see his lawyer — which happens to be Guybrush himself. You can also tell the guard to go get some food for you, then try to take advantage of a loose window bar (which turns out to be a bit less loose than it seems at first) or a soft spot in the wall (with solid steel directly underneath).
- You're thrown into a prison hut at one point in The Secret of Monkey Island. The natives (who imprisoned you) go through more and more elaborate door security systems if you keep getting captured, even using anachronistically futuristic technology. They never notice the Guybrush-sized hole in the floor...
- Dragon Age: Origins:
- In the expansion, Awakening, there is the new party member Anders, an apostate mage who has escaped from the Templars seven times.
- It's laughably easy to escape Fort Drakon in Origins too, if you let Ser Cauthrien take you away. There is only one easy to fool guard (and he has the cell key) in the same room as your cell, and all of your equipment is in one chest — that is also in the same room. The cell isn't even one of those special doors that can't be lockpicked. There are also spare guard uniforms a couple rooms over too.
- Cody from the Street Fighter series has spent every game since Final Fight in jail. This doesn't hinder him at all because he's so badass he just breaks out whenever he feels like it. He always turns himself in after the current tournament is over.
- In the video game of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, all the prisoners you've managed to capture in the first half are conveniently busted out by Carmen so you have to capture them again in the second half. The bars of the prison are upgraded after that.
- In Marvel: Avengers Alliance, there are numerous missions where the Mooks are escapees from Ryker Island or the Raft. There is also the Wrecking Crew, a quartet of villains who serve as Bosses/Mini-Bosses. No matter how often the player Agent defeats them and sends them back to prison, they're back a few missions later.
- The Saints Row series usually just skips the prison and has the cops kill you outright, but the second game takes gleeful delight in this trope. The FIRST mission of the game has the player and one other convict break out by stealing the guards weapons and then a boat and blowing up everything trying to stop them. Then, a few missions later the player has to break back into the prison with a bomb to free a drug dealer.
- The prison in the third game of The Spellcasting Series is a variant: the local sheriff is quite good at fixing exploits that can be used to escape so that they cannot be used again, but there are also more ways to break out than there are opportunities to get arrested.
- In Undertale, Papyrus' attempts at containing the player if he captures them is basically his shed with bars so wide you can walk right through, a note asking the player not to escape and the shed being locked from the inside.
- The Perpetual Testing Initiative DLC for Portal 2 has the player enter a universe where Cave Johnson is the warden of a prison in space, where the only doors are force fields because of Rule of Cool. Reality Ensues.
Cave Johnson: I'm gonna be brief. Because I'm dying. Because I got shivved. A lot. I just wanna get it on record that using force fields for doors in a space prison is a bad idea. You know what would have been better? Regular doors. With locks. Locks that don't open when the power goes out. Man, those blue force fields looked good, though. Every time I saw one, I thought, "Wow. I am in space." Still though, a door made out of paper would have been better in the long run. Would have at least slowed 'em down for a second.
- Fallen London: New Newgate is intended to be The Alcatraz, what with being inside a massive stalactite with the zee below, only reachable through dirigible, but in practice it's this. All players start there, so everyone has escaped from it at least once, they can all keep escaping by just stowing away on a dirigible, they'd throw Unfinished Men in there and not reinforce the bars so they can't just break them open, and they've got a candle-eating Face Stealer problem so huge you can bribe the guards with candles so they'll let you out early.
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds: Getting caught by the cult around Dark Palace has Link thrown into a cell in the middle of the courtyard he's trying to sneak through. Because the game's whole gimmick is turning into a painting and maneuvering across walls, Link can walk right out. Justified in that, if it weren't for that gimmick, it would be impossible for Link to get out. Which begs the question of how the cultists managed to get him in.
- In Rise of the Tomb Raider, Lara Croft is captured by Trinity soldiers and thrown in a prison so old and dilapidated that she's easily able to escape within seconds. Of course, it also helps that Trinity didn't bother posting any guards in the prison, and they conveniently left her equipment right outside her cell.
- Homestar Runner:
- Spoofed in the aptly-named "Strong Bad Is In Jail Cartoon". The "jail" Strong Bad is put in is a cardboard box with a hole cut into it, and Strong Mad frees him by lifting the box and throwing it away.
- Strong Mad also baked a jackhammer into a "cake" for Strong Bad, but it turned out to be unnecessary. He is left standing there looking at the cake and still confused as to why Strong Bad didn't want it.
- Bob and George. George can break the Author out with no trouble at all.
- Freefall. All jails are made of cardboard if you're an alien squid.
- The Order of the Stick:
- In strip #489, Roy Greenhilt justifies working with a Chaotic Evil halfling on the grounds that all prisons are cardboard to him, and this way he can be put to some good use. Considering that as of #745 they are both held in prison, but Roy won't let Belkar break them out.
- The other characters have also proven time and time again that all prisons are cardboard to any high-level character.
- Inverted when Roy suggests locking up the Linear Guild, on the grounds that in a world of Death Is Cheap, killing their prisoners would actually be less effective than locking them up. Once your allies can start casting Resurrection, the afterlife itself becomes one. And he might have been right if said prison wasn't almost immediately destroyed by an invading army.
- It's not so much that the jails in Schlock Mercenary are made of cardboard as the characters are just brilliant at escaping, which isn't so hard when you wear low-profile power armour, which they generally get to keep since it looks like regular uniforms. In addition, the title character can become any shape he wants, and thus they have to use shields to contain him.
- In Faux Pas, Stu justly brags that no-one ever built a make-up case that could hold him. (Foolish humans, thinking you can just put a rabbit in a box.)
- In Cucumber Quest, Peridot complains that Cabbage hasn't escaped -- the door isn't even locked.
- In Antihero for Hire, this trope is critical for Shadehawk's financial health. He gets paid for thwarting criminals. Every time a criminal either escapes prison or somehow obtains legal early release, he can get paid for thwarting their next scheme. If the supercriminals stayed thwarted, he'd run out of lucrative schemes to thwart and go bankrupt. This is also why he tries to take major criminals alive.
- The first chapter of Sire has the girls escaping an asylum on high security lockdown. After killing a man and while still wearing a straight jacket. At the start of chapter 2 they are successfully stowed away on a boat to London. High security lockdown and the manhunt for a murderer mean nothing to the Hyde-Child.
- Star Harbor Nights pays tribute to Arkham with Dunwich Asylum. Mad scientist Rhyme cheerfully accepts the fact that she'll eventually be caught each time she escapes, as she knows she'll get out again.
- Regularly breaking out of prison is considered a viable PR strategy for the villains of Super Stories.
- Except for The Birdcage, this is all prisons in Worm.
- In Noob, which is set in present-day France, Master Zen apparently was able to escape prison by digging a tunnel out and was able to bring two fo his future guildmates from Relic Hunter guild along with him. Granted that Valentin's player was his cellmate, but they had to pick up Elyx's player in entire different part of the prison.
- The Meadshire prison from Thrilling Intent is deliberately one. Gregor pointedly refuses to break out, despite this.
- Animaniacs: As a result of their antics, the Warner siblings were locked away in the water tower on the Warner Bros. Studios lot, and allegedly hadn't escaped until the series premiere. However, it's shown in later episodes that not only were Yakko, Wakko, and Dot able to get out whenever they wanted, but were even let out more than once while the tower was being fumigated. Furthermore, similar to The Joker's attitude towards Arkham, they view their so-called "prison" as their home, and always return to it willingly when they're done causing chaos.
- Of the lighter variety, the dog catcher in the early sound cartoon "Dinnertime" (produced by Van Beuren Studios) unwittingly lets all of his dogs loose while trying to catch the dogs raiding Farmer Al Falfa's meat shop.
- The royal prison the Little King visits in "Jolly Good Felons", which is Played for Laughs; one of the prisoners even removes one of the bars from his cell window, only to dust it off and put it back. Then the King unwittingly ticks off a prisoner by ruining his chess game, which makes him tear the bars off his cell, steal the keys from the prison guard, and then a lever that releases all of the prisoners!
- Challenge of the Superfriends
- In "Wanted: The Superfriends", Lex Luthor uses a dream machine to force the heroes to commit crimes. When they turn themselves in, the police chief (actually Bizarro) points out that he knows the Superfriends could easily escape, so he is going to simply rely on their integrity to stay.
- Sinestro, Black Manta, and Cheetah escape from a cell by Sinestro just walking into the anti-matter Universe of Qward and the others following him.
- Batman: The Animated Series
- "Lock-Up" is dedicated to a former brutal Arkham security officer turned vigilante out of disgust with Arkham's poor track record. He actually said that as far as villains are concerned, Arkham has rotating doors.
- In "Deep Freeze", Robin wryly mentions that the recent breakout of Mr. Freeze was the "most elaborate escape from Arkham this year". Truthfully, Freeze did not actually escape in that episode; he was kidnapped while in jail.
- In "Jokers Wild", The Joker manages to escape from Arkham in all of about 45 seconds after seeing a news broadcast about the new Joker-themed casino opening in Gotham. However, the tycoon who had built the casino was going bankrupt, and was depending on the Joker to blow the place up so that he could collect the insurance money, and one of the guards acknowledges to himself that the Joker is being suckered. Thus, it's not unreasonable to assume that he had paid off the guys at Arkham to let the Joker escape.
- In "Judgement Day", one of the city officials endorsing the Judge (who uses lethal force on criminals) says Arkham is like a revolving door.
- Lampshaded in "The Joker's Favor" when Charlie Collins threatens to blow up the Joker to end the threat to his family, pointing out that if he goes to Arkham he'll just escape again.
- WOOHP's so-called high-security prison is a continual source of escaped baddies on Totally Spies!
- Lampshaded when Smalls was captured again, Jerry commented that because he was so small they didn't even notice that he had escaped.
- And another when a villain was able to escape simply by making a guard uniform in arts and crafts. Jerry is obviously embarrassed by this predicament.
- Kim Possible reuses some villains this way, the ones who don't conveniently get away. Partly played for laughs at the beginning of the fourth season, where two episodes feature another villain breaking Shego out of prison and leaving Drakken behind, including his own cousin. Drakken is eventually freed by an alien Amazon, which the prison can't really have been expected to foresee.
- Teen Titans:
- The series starts off with the gang going to control a prison break. (Oddly enough, it was a bad guy breaking in instead of the prisoners trying to break out.)
- The trope isn't just limited to this galaxy, either. When questioned on her reappearance, as she was supposed to be locked up in some galactic prison, Blackfire nonchalantly commented, "I got bored, so I broke out." (What really makes this odd is that the Space Police who arrested her in the first place were guys who were even able to give the team a good deal of trouble.)
- The Simpsons:
- Sideshow Bob is constantly getting out of prison by one way or another. However, Bob has only really escaped twice: once by sneaking away while working at the Air Force base and once by disguising himself as his cellmate. More often than not he was released legally, albeit for highly questionable reasons: "No one who speaks German could be an evil man! Parole granted!" And he knows it too. Once, being dragged off to prison he yells "You can't keep me in jail. Sooner or later there'll be a Democrat in the White House again and I'll be free! And all my criminal pals as well."
- In "Lisa on Ice", Chief Wiggum agrees to let out a bunch of prisoners so they can watch the little league hockey finals, but only if they promise to come back afterwards. When the prisoners refuses to even pretend that they'll agree to do this, Wiggum lets them out anyway.
- "The Springfield Connection"
Wiggum: Cuff him, boys. We're putting this dirtbag away.
Snake: Ha! I'll be back on the street in 24 hours.
Wiggum: We'll try to make it twelve.
- In another episode, Snake simply walks out through the jail's unlocked door, ignoring the "no escaping, please" sign posted nearby. Fellow inmate Kearney is not pleased.
Snake: Screw the honour system.Kearney: You're ruining it for the rest of us!
- Homer takes this literally when he goes to Japan. His jail cell is made out of paper. So he just walks through it. despite the cell now being open.
- On DuckTales, the ease with which the Beagle Boys get out of jail countless times (usually with the help of cakes with poorly disguised tools inside sent by Ma Beagle) became a running gag. In one episode, the prison staff decide to X-ray one of Ma's cakes to put a stop to this. Though there's no tools baked inside, whatever recipe Ma used makes Burger Beagle (who devours it in quickly) jitter so much his brothers use him as a JACKHAMMER.
- Lampshaded in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: XR and XL switch heads, and XR (with XL's body) is thrown in Star Command prison. While looking at the different buttons on XL's arm, he makes a startling discovery:
XR: "Lasers"... "Acid"... "Escape From Prison"! So that's how he keeps coming back!
- The Real Ghostbusters:
- The ghost containment unit is particularly unreliable. The marshmallow man might as well have been meeting with a parole officer. And yet it's actually very secure from the inside. Most of the break outs are some idiot (Slimer) shutting it down.
- One story featured a ghost who kept breaking out of the ghost traps no matter what the Ghostbusters tried. Ultimately he turned out to be the Ghost of Harry Houdini and fortunately was actually a good guy, negating the need to try putting him in the containment unit.
- Incarnations of Carmen Sandiego. The game shows are especially guilty of this. In Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?, the fact that the local authorities let Carmen escape just hours after Acme detective prodigy Lee Jordan made history by actually capturing her was the beginning of his Face–Heel Turn.
- Professor Norton Nimnul from Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers has been arrested countless times, yet he doesn't ever seem to stay in jail and always returns with new schemes.
- Parodied in the Christmas special for Invader Zim. After convincing the worlds that he is actually Santa Claus, Zim orders that Dib be thrown in one of his jingle jails. Minutes after being locked up, Dib realizes the candy cane colored bars are made out of REAL candy canes. After breaking free, Zim finds him and orders that he be thrown in the "Actually strong Jingle Jail". When Dib asked why he didn't just put him in the strong one the first time, Zim replied with something along the lines of "Your puny brain can't grasp the genius of my evil mind."
- The Powerpuff Girls:
- In one episode, some crooks manage to be let out of jail because there were some Powerpuff Girl costumes conveniently located in their cell.
- House of Mouse ran a Mickey Mouse short in which Mortimer gets him falsely arrested for theft. He manages to escape because the policeman guarding his cell is dumb enough to demonstrate the easiest way for a prisoner to escape — knocking him out and taking the keys.
- Made fun of in Robot Chicken in a G.I. Joe Parody.
Duke: (concerning Cobra Commander) We flew in, beat 'em like mixed-race stepchildren and Cobra Commander went to prison... and he promptly escaped. Whoo boy, the other countries of the world were pissed, they wanted him put to death immediately, but we kinda dragged our heels and by that time Zartan had busted him out with a wicker basket thing and a remote control snake or something... ahhhh good times.
- Transformers Animated:
- Starscream is captured and placed in a holding cell on the Elite Guard's ship. Unfortunately they forgot to properly restrain him or take away his weapons, so he was easily able to blow up part of the hull and escape. In later episodes, it seems they actually learned their lesson from this incident.
- The tie-in comics reveal that Starscream got his chance to escape while they were studying his flight tech. This trope is also used inconsistently with the human supervillains: the police don't even seem aware of Meltdown's first escape, but after that they stick him in a special cell not even his acid can melt through (he escapes, but thanks to the Dinobots following Blackarachnia's orders). On the whole, the comic-relief villains seem to have an easier time breaking out than the actual threats.
- The Fairly OddParents!: Though not a villain, Cosmo leads to an example of this when Wanda tricks him into a dog carrier when he needs to go to the D-O-C-T-O-R. Multiple times, it shows him easily having the ability to escape the trap, but he's too clueless to take any of the opportunities. Worse then it sounds; he does escape it a few times, just to show how "inescapable" it is... only to go right back in.
- In El Tigre, the Miracle City prison sees mass breakouts virtually every day; in one episode, El Oso is blase about being sent back to jail because he plans on breaking out before dinner anyway. In a later episode, he's taken away in a police van and is immediately seen walking free seconds after.
- In Sushi Pack, though most villains are shown going to jail at the end of each episode, only one villain has been consistently shown in jail. Lampshaded in one episode, as Ikura comments, "They need to start building better jails in this town!"
- The Spectacular Spider-Man:
- The Sinister Six are broken out of a prison by Doc Ock, and another time are broken out of a mental institution.
- Another episode even has Spider-Man testing out the security of the Vault in a sealed cell. Guess the results. Actually, pretty good — though the Green Goblin manages to remotely take control of the prison, he manages to eventually take control again with some help from Black Cat and her father.
- It's a little hard to catch, due to Spidey's tongue being burnt, but in the episode "Reinforcement", he says something along the lines of "Beaky!? Is there a revolving door at that prison!?"
- In the old Birdman cartoon, a Gadgeteer Genius once broke out of prison by constructing a suit of Powered Armor complete with a jetpack in the prison metalshop. After Birdman kicked his ass and sent him back to prison the episode ended with the warden deciding to assign the guy to prison laundry duty instead of the metalshop, thinking the guy wouldn't be able to turn this to his advantage. The villain proved him wrong in a later episode when he escaped again by converting a dryer into an escape rocket. After Birdman caught him again, the warden finally wised up and sent the villain to work in the prison library, far away from any machinery.
- The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!:
- This happens in the very "first" episode. There's a massive jailbreak at the four supervillain prisons (The Vault, The Cube, The Big House, and The Raft) that creates the need to form The Avengers. The viewers aren't told the history of the prisons beforehand aside from the fact that they were tailor made based on the type of supervillain they held. (The Vault had tech criminals, the cube radiation criminals, the big house genetic villains, and The Raft had the most dangerous criminals) Seeing how someone broke into the Vault in one of the backstory micro episodes, and two inmates had apparently broken out of the Cube in the past (Hulk and Absorbing Man), they don't sound too great.
- Regardless, all these prisons are presumably abandoned for prison 42, the above mentioned "fantasy island" of comic fame. Unlike in the comics, this prison has functioned just as designed, and despite the less-than-friendly environment, is generally considered a good idea in universe. At least until it gets attacked from the outside by Annihilus and has to be abandoned.
- During an imagination episode of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh that portrayed a Wild West train robbery, Pooh and Tigger are put in one of these. Not only were the bars wide enough for the characters to walk through (and they do), but also there was no back wall.
- Family Guy parodies this with "Canadian Alcatraz", where the guards routinely let prisoners out, as long as they're back by sundown.
- Young Justice. After Hugo Strange takes over Belle Reve, the prisoners are to leave to do jobs for The Light and return before any inspections can take place. Even after Strange is exposed at the end of Season One, this trope is in effect as all the villains that were captured in Season One are free after the Time Skip at the start of Season Two.
- In the Batman: The Brave and the Bold adaption of the "Emperor Joker" story, Batman says he designed Joker's new cell himself and that he won't be getting out. Bat-Mite uses his Reality Warper abilities and Joker is loose again. This may explain the trope itself.
- In "King", during the first episode Bob Wire puts Russell and the others in a prison that once you enter you can't leave. Because the door is "ONLY" on the outside. in turn the outside door has no reason to be locked. Russell then pulls out a few loose bricks, putting them back in backwards so the outside door is on the inside, escaping within minutes.
- In the Axe Cop episode "Heads Will Roll", Axe Cop is incarcerated. He decides to stay because it makes killing bad guys very convenient. As soon as he learns that Flute Cop is in trouble, he easily escapes.
- In the Steven Universe episode "Jailbreak", Steven easily breaks out of his cell within a minute of waking up in it. Justified since the cells are only meant to contain full gems, and have Force Field Doors designed to disrupt a Gem's Hard Light body. Since Steven's a Half-Human Hybrid with an organic body, he only feels minor shock akin to a joy buzzer (if that) when passing through the barrier.
- The Loud House: In "Get the Message", Lola and Lana play "hall monitor" and put Luan in a literal cardboard prison.
- Danny Phantom captures his ghostly enemies and then ... returns them to the Ghost Zone. Which is accessed by a completely uncontrolled portal that opens whenever it feels like it. As well as a basically unlimited number of other portals that randomly connect the Zone to various points in time and space. This isn't even to mention that some ghosts, like Johnny 13, can open portals whenever they feel like it! It's small wonder that "caught" ghosts often return in the very next episode.
- "Open prisons" do exist in real life, where "escaping" can often be a simple matter of walking off the premises. However, these are only intended to be used for extremely low-risk prisoners with crimes like avoiding fines and petty vandalism (and usually who have a life outside that it's not worth throwing away for the chance of escape); if someone actually does escape it's the fault of the prison service for assigning them to that facility, more than that of the guards.
- There are European countries where the only criminal charge associated with escaping from prison is the theft of one's prison uniform; mail it back, and an escaped prisoner won't have any time added to their sentence. That isn't to say they won't be made to resume their sentence if recaptured.
- For the first 40 years of Folsom Prison's existence, the prison had no perimeter wall. Instead, the prison relied on the presence of six gatling guns to intimidate prisoners into staying put. Prisoners who made escape attempts were identified with a (hilariously appropriate) Red Shirt.
- Pablo Escobar created the very prison he was sent to. He was still able to execute his enemies and commit drug trafficking deals. Many civilians claimed to have witnessed him in public while he was "in prison". Soon government troops raided the prison and faced a significant cartel force shooting back at them while Pablo escaped his "prison".
- Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera, a Mexican drug lord, managed to get out of a maximum security jail with little to no effort. He and his associates had to pull some mind-boggingly huge strings and had to spend shiploads of cash to do it, but his case caused such a massive outcry in the media, that the jail from where he escaped, called "Puente Grande" ("Great Bridge"), was nicknamed "Puerta Grande" ("Big Door").
- Harry Houdini claimed (and was able to back up) the ability to escape from anywhere. He toured England, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia. In each city, Houdini would challenge local police to restrain him with shackles and lock him in their jails. In many of these challenge escapes, Houdini would first be stripped nude and searched. A police officer is reported to have said he was very glad Houdini was not actually a criminal. Houdini once performed this trick in the Tower of London. No matter what he did, he could not unlock the door. Then, on a hunch, he tried the door handle and found the door opened. The jailer, in an attempt to fool the magician, had deliberately not locked the door.
- Magician David Copperfield was able to escape from Alcatraz in one TV special aired in 1987, and he had an obstacle installed that most prisoners did not: bombs installed in three locations to hinder him.
- Jack Sheppard escaped from a London jail four times in succession. Once within a few hours, once within a week, and the last two times in under two months each. It's amazing London didn't stop letting prisoners have bed sheets by the time he was done.
- Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, wrote about such an occurrence in two of his blog posts (later published in book form). In the first he tells the news story of a man who escaped prison by making a fake ID and a set of civilian clothes, and simply walked out. In the second post he reveals that the man had been caught outside a bar, intoxicated and making no attempt to hide his identity. Adams theorizes that the prisoner had simply forgotten something like a pack of cigarettes or a pair of sunglasses in his cell and got caught on purpose so he could retrieve them, certain that he could escape again, and that this time he wanted to try it drunk.
- Willie Sutton. Broke into banks, broke out of prisons.
- John Dillinger escaped from the Crown Point Jail (at the time it probably was the highest-security prison in the country, certainly in Indiana) by carving a fake gun out of wood (or soap) and bluffed the guard into giving him his (real) which he used to take two men hostage, lock the entire staff in his cell, stole the sheriff's car and drove away. According to another version of the story he bribed a guard to give him a gun, and made up the story in order to cover for him. In Illuminatus!-trilogy he claims that he walked through the walls.
- This trope is largely averted in real life. There's a great number of people that based their assumptions that any "especially dangerous" criminal could easily get out of any prison, when it's really quite far from the truth. All it takes is a few high profile escapes, and that security is based on the assumption that it can fail, and putting in as many safeguards in to prevent it. Guards must go through an exhaustive background check, and their training has a high attrition rate for a reason. Also, some, such as military corrections officers, have a way of minimizing the risk of an inside job through simply rotating them to a different facility every few years.
- Toño Bicicleta was a Puerto-Rican criminal that was able to escape prison several times (seven times to be exact). The Next time the cops caught him, they didn't even bother arresting him and they just shot him.
- Two men escaped a maximum security prison in Greece by being picked up by a friend in a helicopter. Twice. Actually it was a rental tour helicopter. Which they took from the ROOF... Needless to say, many jokes emerged. (What is [escapee] doing in the prison courtyard? Checking in.)
- A prisoner once accidentally escaped Fremantle Prison in Australia by being assigned to do maintenance on the prison wall, and falling off. Not wanting to harm his chances of parole, he simply walked back around to the main gate and asked to be let back in.
- Socrates was supposedly put in one of these. He was put on trial for what amounted to asking lawyers really hard questions in public and making them look dumb. He was sentenced to either pay a small fine or death. They only wanted to publicly best him and were surprised when he chose death and tried to make an escape easy, so people wouldn't see them as murderers. The cell was left unlocked, guards would take frequent breaks, and he could have almost definitely have had a student bribe his way out, but never did for two reasons. The first is his philosophy on the issue and inevitability of him avoiding the situation again, and the second is that he saw it as an argument; by being executed, he proved the lawyers unjust.
- This was frequent on the roughest frontier edges of The Wild West. As the real setting wasn't nearly as lawless as it's portrayed in fiction, building jails was a low priority. The occasional prisoner would be locked in a storehouse, an animal pen, or, in at least one case, tent-pegged down under a buffalo skin while awaiting trial.
- Alain Robert, the "French Spiderman", has been arrested and imprisoned many times in his career. He's stated that he could easily have escaped from the jails he's been placed in by scaling the walls, but it's easier to wait for his lawyers to spring him than become a fugitive.
- Steven Jay Russell, the inspiration for I Love You Phillip Morris, escaped from prison so many times that his release date is now 2140.
- It's not cardboard, but the walls of the Benewah County jail are in such poor shape that a prisoner once created a hole by removing the mortar with a plastic spoon, then lowered himself to the ground on a Bedsheet Ladder, just one of the many people to escape from there.
- During World War II, a French POW made a deal with the guards of his prison camp — he would be "allowed" to escape the camp to visit his family back in occupied France (with the guards giving him false documents, skipping him during roll call, tasking one of their own to sleep in his bunk and generally looking the other way), and in return he had to promise that he would come back, and bring some rationed delicatessen (wine, cheese, cutlery, etc.) for everyone. He did. Several times. Not as surprising as it first appears. Most camps for French PoWs and forced labour where small affairs somewhere out in the country close to the farms they worked. The camps themselves were guarded by the (newly-drafted) farmers from these farms who were too old or too sick for frontline duty. So you have gaurds who often shared their meals and always their work with those they guarded (and rumours suggest there were also quite a few 'family matters' binding them together). Under such circumstances it is not too hard to see how such a thing could happen.
- Oflag IV-C in Colditz Castle during World War II was a strange case of being both this and an inescapable prison. This is because, despite the fact that the castle itself was meant to keep prisoners in, the attitude of the guards was that it was the POW's duty to try to escape. They had a gentleman's agreement that the guards would not go rough on the prisoners and in turn the prisoners would not harm any guards in their escape attempts. This, combined with the fact that most of the prisoners here were sent here because they had previously tried to escape other POW camps meant that Colditz had one of the highest records of successful escape attempts for a Nazi POW camp. And, there were plenty who escaped from their original POW camps, but were caught before they could get out of Germany itself. Getting out of a prison barracks unnoticed is one thing, getting across an entire country or continent unnoticed is another.