Get into Jail Free

John Doe needs to get information from (or kill) Richard Roe. Unfortunately, Richard Roe has just been thrown into prison. How to get access to someone surrounded by high walls, barbed wire and armed guards? Why, commit a crime and get imprisoned yourself! After all, escaping should be easy for our hero once the deed is done!

Undercover police officers actually do carry out these kinds of missions, but in fiction they often go one step further and commit a crime instead of just faking a criminal record. Of course, John Doe may not have the luxury of law enforcement co-operation. However, this raises the question of how he'd arrange to be thrown into the same prison or cellblock as the inmate he needs to approach.

Supertrope to Can't Get In Trouble For Nuthin'. See also Trojan Prisoner, Play-Along Prisoner, Conveniently Cellmates and Chained Heat. This is a subtrope of Unishment, where being put into prison is the desired "penalty" for committing a crime, and of Captured on Purpose. Has nothing to do with a "Get out of Jail Free" Card.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Near the end of Outlaw Star, Gene arranges himself to be sent to an outer-space Alcatraz in order to get the information that an inmate has regarding the MacGuffin.
  • Golgo13. In "Sleep Inside the Cage", Duke Togo allows himself to be arrested so he'll end up in the same ludicrously high-security prison as his target, a crook whose old companions are worried about spilling the beans on them. Needless to say, escaping a prison that makes Alcatraz look like a cardboard box is no problem for Golgo 13!
  • Lupin III knows he can do this at any time, due to the obsessive nature of his archrival, Detective Zenigata. As a Gentleman Thief, Zenigata has been trying to arrest him for years. All he has to do to go to jail is walk up and announce he's Lupin, coming to surrender.
  • Ladd Russo does this in Baccano!! 1934 - Alice in Jails in order to get to Huey, who was held at Alcatraz. While serving a sentence in a different penitentiary and acting like a model prisoner, he learns that inmates may get themselves transferred to Alcatraz for persistent or serious troublemaking in prison. He decides the best way to make such trouble is to systematically brutalize every other inmate in the prison cafeteria.
  • In Devil May Cry: The Animated Series, Dante assaults some street punks and causes property damage in the process to get sent to prison, in order to rescue a man who had been framed by a demon for murder. The prison turns out to be run by demons, but that's no problem for Dante.

     Audio Drama 

    Comic Books 
  • In Suicide Squad #6, Harley Quinn shoots up a police car outside of a police station in order to get herself arrested and taken inside the station where the Joker's skinned face is being kept.
  • Batman
    • The villain Black Mask's accomplice, Circe, tries to get Harvey "Two-Face" Dent to do this - return to Arkham Asylum and kill Black Mask while he's in there.
    • Batman also does this himself, getting himself into Arkham because he knew Zsasz, despite being locked up, was somehow sneaking out to kill people.
  • Deconstructed in a MAD joke regarding Prison Break. The joke points out the Fridge Logic associated with Michael's plan, saying that even if he clears his brother's name, he'll have to serve his own sentence for something he actually did.
  • One Lucky Luke comic book has the Daltons trying to get thrown in jail so that they can dig up a large treasure buried in the prison grounds. However, the judge turns out to be incredibly soft on crime (the prison is really a fortified luxurious holdout where he lodges criminals he's recruited), eventually forcing them to simply dig their way into the prison. As one of them points out, this is a complete reversal of their normal operation.
  • The Escapist had the titular character need to enter prison due to suspected Iron Chain activity. He committed a robbery and was arrested. (He had to work at the arrest, though.)
  • The Punisher often pulls this off, though in his case it's less committing crimes and more strolling up to the police station and surrendering. In one story he does just that when he hears Daredevil's been arrested, killing crooks while he waits for Daredevil to show up asking for help.
  • Diabolik has sometimes pulled this, but with a twist: having a death sentence on his head he can't let himself be arrested even in disguise, otherwise he'd risk the cops or the guards will check for his masks and chuck him on the guillotine as soon as they complete the paperwork. As such he has to replace one of the inmates, as the guards won't check someone who is already in jail.
  • Has happened to Tex Willer. Being a Texas Ranger, all he has to do is to have whoever asked him this to invent a crime and fill out the paperwork.

  • 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.
  • The movie Law Abiding Citizen had a man not only get himself thrown in jail, but then got himself sent to solitary confinement. He got himself sent to solitary because he'd already dug a tunnel linked to every cell so he could escape at will, cause mayhem all over the city and have the perfect alibi - all to get back at the prosecutor who took a plea bargain from one of the men who broke into his home and killed his wife and daughter in front of him.
  • In Let's Go to Prison, the protagonist is a convicted criminal with a plan for revenge on the judge that locked him up over and over since he was a preteen. Unfortunately, he gets his plan together a day late and the judge is already dead from natural causes. Instead, he goes after the deadbeat son of the dearly departed judge and gets the guy busted for drugs, then he deliberately gets himself arrested so he can become the deadbeat's cellmate for the sole purpose of making his life hell (he pleads guilty on condition of being allowed to serve his sentence at that specific prison). Eventually, the two are forced to bond together in order to make it through their prison stay alive.
  • In Skidoo, a retired hit man (Jackie Gleason) is ordered by The Don (Groucho Marx, in his last role) to get himself into prison to kill a snitch (Mickey Rooney).
  • The Joker does this in The Dark Knight in order to kidnap Lau to make him reveal where the mobsters' money is.
  • In The Departed, to make Billy Costigan, Jr. suitable for use as an undercover cop, it is arranged for him to go to prison on a forged assault charge that gives him street credibility.
  • In Face/Off, to locate a biological bomb planted by Castor Troy, Sean Archer must take Castor's face and get planted in a federal prison to extract information on the bomb from Castor's brother Pollux. But when Castor comes out of his coma and steals Archer's face in reply, Archer actually has to carry out a real jailbreak.
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol starts out with the team breaking Ethan Hunt out of a Russian prison. To their surprise, he tells them off as he was put in there by IMF in order to get information from another inmate (he improvises by breaking out the inmate with him).
  • In The Three Stooges short Three Smart Saps, the Stooges' fiancees' father has been framed and thrown into jail, so the Stooges elect to get themselves arrested so they can bust the old man out. Hilarity Ensues as the Stooges try to break the law and get caught.
  • White Heat. The undercover cop seeking evidence against Cody Jarrett specializes in this kind of assignment.
  • Colombiana. Our introduction to the protagonist as an adult Professional Killer involves her suddenly ramming a police car while Playing Drunk. The police put her in a cell overnight to sober up; she breaks out of the cell, kills a criminal who's being held overnight there by Federal Marshalls, then gets back in her cell as an alibi. Unfortunately the feds realise the killer had to have been in the building, so start checking into everyone held in custody.
  • Extreme Prejudice. Two of the special forces team pretend to have a racist confrontation so they'll be taken inside the police station, and can report via hidden transmitters the local law enforcement set-up.
  • The Steve McQueen movie Nevada Smith (1966). Max Sand discovers that Bowdre, one of the three men who murdered his parents, is in prison. Smith commits a robbery and allows himself to get caught. They escape the prison together, whereupon Smith murders Bowdre after revealing his identity.

  • In one of the books of the CHERUB Series, Teen Superspy James Adam's assignment is to go undercover in an Arizonan maximum security juvenile prison and engineer the escape of himself and one of the juvenile inmates. The plan is that the inmate he is helping them escape will lead them to his fugitive mother, a wanted international black market arms dealer. He does this by posing as a juvenile with a felony record, which is faked by the FBI.
  • In Savannah Swingsaw Mack Bolan "The Executioner" discovers an elite KGB assassin is after a petty embezzler, so he gets thrown into prison in order to get close to the kid, avert the plot and find out why he's being targeted. Hal Brognola creates a fake criminal record, but Bolan commits a burglary so he'll be caught by local police. Things go pear-shaped when some fellow vigilantes recognise Bolan and bust him out, thinking they're doing him a favour.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat does this at both ends of his career:
    • In A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born, a young DiGriz allows himself to get caught in the belief that he'll meet criminal masterminds in prison who'll teach him the art of crime. As it turns out, he only meets the losers who were dumb enough to be caught. He does have to try to get into an actual prison rather than juvenile hall. When the judge is about to give him a reduced sentence, he flips out in court and attacks a reporter, causing the judge to lose all sympathy.
    • The Distant Finale of the series is a short story where the Rat, as an old man, apparently loses his touch and gets arrested and imprisoned. It turns out he's still got it, and let himself get caught as the first step of a plan to bust an old friend out of the prison.
  • In his final novel, Quiller discovers 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.
  • Happens in Warbreaker when Vasher gets arrested in order to get Breath from a captured rebel.
    Vasher (thinking): It's funny how many things begin with me getting thrown in prison.
  • In Victoria Hanley's The Seer and the Sword, Landen exploits his bounty to get into the castle.
  • Discworld has Done-It Duncan, who'll confess to anything in order to spend the night in jail, where he's safe from other criminals and gets something to eat. He almost never actually did it, and the Watch put up with him because he inadvertently gives them information about the crimes.
  • Sazed in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy deliberately gets himself thrown into jail to bust Vin back out.

    Live Action TV 
  • 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.
  • An early episode of The A-Team had an episode where Hannibal, BA and Murdock tried to get arrested as part of the plan to get thrown in jail to break up a illegal prison fighting ring.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Vick 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. Notably, this one manages to get around the big issue of being sent to the same area as the prisoner in question, because the target is in temporary holding, just like Vick would be when assaulting a cop. Once he's inside, he can literally just rip the doors off the walls until he finds his target.
  • In Burn Notice, Michael asks to be put in prison for a week to protect a friend of Sam. This ends with a prison riot, and the man who wants Sam's friend dead being broken out of prison, and set up to go right back. Mike manages to get in by use of the two FBI agents who owe him a favor from a previous episode.
  • Due South
    • A key witness is behind bars and Fraser's partner is jailed for contempt. Fraser gets himself arrested to join them and be in position to protect them. He's such a straight arrow that he can't bring himself to shoplift a candy bar, and his police friends have to plant it on him.
    • Fraser gets himself interred in a mental hospital (to help break Ray out) by showing up in his RCMP uniform and telling them the unaltered truth of how he ended up in Chicago.
  • Chris Ryan's 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 the Brit out, interrogate and then kill him.
  • Done in the Mission: Impossible episode "Old Man Out". Of course, the IMF stacks the deck in their favour to get the result they want. Rollin is arrested for pickpocketing right outside the prison, and the arresting officer is Dan Briggs disguised as someone high-ranked enough to order the prison to hold him till he can be charged.
  • One episode of Batman had The Penguin try this after acquiring samples of various rich people's handwriting, because a forger has been imprisoned next to his usual cell.
  • In Veronica Mars, Logan takes a tire iron to a police car in order to get thrown into a holding cell...with the guys who nearly raped Veronica. We get a nice Oh Crap! look from them, and the scene ends.
  • In the Prison Episode "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19) of Supernatural, the Winchesters get deliberately caught so they can remove a ghost haunting the prison. The warden was the one who called them in, which helped.
  • In Justified Boyd Crowder assaults a US Marshal in a federal courthouse in front of dozens of witnesses. He assaulted a federal agent on federal property specifically so he would be sent to the federal prison rather than county jail. Once inside he bribes a crooked guard to be placed in the right cell. He is trying to get close to Dickie Bennett who is in the prison awaiting trial on federal charges. Raylan figures this out and tried to thwart the plan by having the charges dropped and Boyd released.
  • The Practice: To avenge a deceased relative, a man kills the hitman and arranges to serve his sentence at the very same prison the one who hired the hitman was serving time for another crime.
  • Done by Max in Get Smart to get back a microfilm he'd planted onto a tooth of a convict being sent to prison.
  • Law & Order: SVU: Olivia knows that one of the corrections officers at Sealview Women's Prison has been raping and abusing inmates (as well as the 14-year-old daughter of at least one of them). So to catch him, she goes undercover as a woman named Katrina Rae Lewis sent there for a theft or something, complete with a fake past-record of an abusive father and an abusive ex-husband. She ends up getting sexually-assaulted by that CO.
  • On My Name Is Earl, Randy misses Earl so badly that he takes the exam to become a prison guard...and since he scored at least 50%, he passes. Though he's such a bumbling idiot that just like on the outside, Earl ends up protecting Randy instead. (Sometimes from other prisoners, sometimes from Randy himself.) Before that, Randy stole a car and parked it on a median strip hoping to get caught, but he never did.
  • Fargo: In "Eating the Blame", Lester punches a cop in order to get arrested and away from Numbers and Wrench. Numbers and Wrench later stage a bar brawl and get arrested and placed in the same cell as Lester.
  • Person of Interest.
    • In "Prisoner's Dilemma", a government assassin is ordered to kill John Reese, who is being held on Rikers Island. The assassin immediately draws his gun in the middle of New York and starts Firing in the Air a Lot, then surrenders quietly to police.
    • Showing extraordinary confidence in the ability of the Machine to protect her, Root lets herself be black-hooded and dragged off to a Black Site for interrogation, in order to free another prisoner there. Sameen Shaw is posing as her CIA captor, to assist where necessary.
    • On a couple of occasions the Victim of the Week has just thrown something at a passing police car in order to escape pursuers.
  • In the Castle episode "Witness for the Prosecution", Castle gets himself purposefully thrown in jail on a "contempt of court" charge so he can have a private conversation with the defendent of a murder trial, without her lawyer being present.

    Video Games 
  • A sidequest in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion involves getting yourself imprisoned to gain the trust of an inmate, who you are told has hidden a stash of treasure somewhere.
  • At one point in Baldur's Gate II you have to get yourself sent to Spellhold - which is actually the local asylum, but it plays out similarly. The easiest way to do so is to tell the local Lord you must be deranged because you travel with Minsc. After being subjected to Minsc's conversation for a few minutes he wholeheartedly agrees and sends you there forthwith.
  • This is how you get to join the terrorists in Splinter Cell Double Agent.
  • Excelsior Phase One Lysandia: The PC must speak to a political prisoner, and so when the guards mention they're looking for a murderer and ask if the player knows who he is, the PC turns himself in.
  • Grand Theft Auto 2 features a mission where the Rednecks want the protagonist to shoot up Alma Mater Prison from the inside. The player has to get arrested while selling moonshine to get in.
  • In Watch_Dogs, Aiden Pearce gets himself arrested so he can reach a witness and intimidate him into silence.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the final case of Trials and Tribulations, after Iris is arrested for murder, Larry, who's smitten with her, contemplates stealing Detective Gumshoe's wallet in order to follow her there, then decides against it because he "can't do that to someone who looks like he's down on his luck."
    Larry: "Whenever I find a girl I like, they always run away! I even chased one of them to Tibet… Next it’s going to be prison, I guess. …I’ll steal that detective’s wallet. That’ll get me locked up for sure."

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Katara gets herself arrested for (bogus) Earthbending so she can find the Fire Nation's Earthbender-proof prison and free the prisoners.
  • In the Mega Man cartoon, Megaman decided the best way to get to Dr. Light and Roll in the Wily-run future was to get himself arrested, so he hit a copbot over the head with a lamppost. It worked.
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, Jackie is guised up as a criminal to get into jail to find a MacGuffin. He did this to stop the bad guys, who Got Into Jail Free in order to release a demon.
  • In one episode of Darkwing Duck, Darkwing pretends to be a supervillain so he can get thrown into supervillain prison. Getting arrested turns out to be ludicrously difficult, however. Made especially silly since there is no reason the police would be unwilling to assist him in his infiltration.
  • Young Justice does this with a twist: a collection of ice villains all get arrested so that they can help with a break-out. The heroes get clued off when this involves Mr. Freeze suing to be considered legally sane and Icicle Jr. suing to be tried as an adult.
  • King of the Hill:
    • Hank gets himself arrested to talk to Bill, who'd been put in jail on a petty charge after getting estranged from the gang. Humorously, Hank's first idea is to jaywalk in front of a cop (he waits for the light to switch and then walks), assuming this is enough. His second attempt is even tamer: taking off his shirt in a convenience store while pointing out the "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" sign and attempting to surrender to a couple of cops buying sodas - at which point he's informed "it's not officially a law" (and the clerk rubs it in further by mentioning he doesn't even enforce the store policy). Finally, he decides to give one of their cars a light bump with his truck. Of course, their reaction is immediate and angry — he's in jail quickly.
    • There's a variation in another episode where Boomhauer had been put into a psychiatric hospital after falling asleep tubing and showing up in the city in a sunstroke-induced rambling state, clad in a Speedo and algae. His friends each feign craziness to get admitted and spring him, unaware that once the 24 observation period was complete he could leave anytime he wanted.
  • In one episode of C.O.P.S., Rock Krusher walked into the police station and tried to rob the place. He was easily apprehended, but what he really wanted was to be sent to prison as part of the Big Boss' latest crooked scheme. Luckily for him, he actually sort of likes prison life.
  • In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode "Deception" Obi Wan disguises himself as a bounty hunter to get himself caught and is sent to the Republic Judiciary Centeral Detention Center to stop a scheme on kidnapping the Chancellor.
  • In Batman: Assault on Arkham, Harley Quinn breaks into a doll store so she will be captured and sent back to Arkham Asylum.