Women's prison is a setting that stands out for how scarce its depictions are... outside of porn that is. At most, only expect a vague allusion but the instances where the lives of female inmates are featured are vanishingly rare in comparison to that of male inmates. And the only thing that most people recall about women's prison is its Fetish Fuel potential.
In short, women's prisons are hotbeds of... uh... intrigue. For instance, if there's a female detective character, she pretty much has to be sent to prison undercover, as is the law in most countries.
Still, an unfortunate effect of Most Writers Are Male is that most of them have never been to a women's prison, nor do they know how life is inside of it. It can be because men are not allowed inside, much like women in men's prisons. It may be because female offenders aren't considered asbadassas male offenders and thus less worthy of scrutiny. It may even be because in most places, there are a lot more male prisoners than female. Or it may be because they just didn't bother with research.
But, let's face it, it's mostly because most of them assume women's prisons are a lesbian porn heaven. No matter what, in sharp contrast to men's prisons, women's prisons are always believed to be a Fetish Fuel station where women learn to be bisexuals thanks to this oh-so beautiful and chaste thing called lesbianism (which doesn't involve rape at all, oh no), so they can serve men'sfantasies better once they get out. And of course, female guardians partake joyfully in it as well as the lucky male staff who live in this palace of pleasure! It also goes without saying that the women are beautifully feminine except perhaps for a few tough dominant ones who run the prison and initiate newcomers. Depending on how dirty-minded the audience is, and the time slot, this may result in a sort of Chekhov's Gun scenario as the audience expects... action. In a movie or late-night cable TV show, there will be at least one Shower Scene or strip-search.
Needless to say, the above description is purely fantasy and NOTTruth in Television, except maybe for the shower scenes and the nudes searches, as can be seen in men's prisons. But the preponderance of the porn-friendly description is so deeply ingrained in pop-culture that realistic depictions of women's prison as a main setting that don't include these elements are exceptional.
In Real Life, women's prisons are populated with the same ilk as men's prisons: criminals and lawbreakers. And no, just because they're vagina-havers doesn't mean they are more peaceful and gentle than penis-havers. The daily fight for dominance also applies there, catfights tend to involve the use of shivs and the Alpha Bitches are just as ruthless and physically violent as Alpha Dogs in men's prisons, especially to newcomers who happen to be prettier than them. Remember: in an all-female setting, good looks are a hindrance, not an asset. And just like in men's prisons, sexual violence is a very real threat, not only at the hands of fellow prisoners, but also from the guards.
A case of Situational Sexuality taken Up to Eleven to pander to the audience. May contain offensive tropes like Double Standard: Rape, Female on Female.
Compare Prison Rape and Wondrous Ladies Room (another trope whose misconstrued depictions is due to Most Writers Are Male).
See also: Chained Heat, Forced Prize Fight.
In one chapter of the Excel♥Saga manga, Excel and Elgala are on a boat headed for an island women's prison. A guard mentions that "they will be subjected to tortures both savage and sensual!"
The sixth story arc of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure begins with protagonist Jolyne Kujo being framed for murder and sent to prison.
Black Lagoon alludes to this when Revy threatens Janet to "show her her stuff" if she ever tried to have sex with Rock, tellingly hinting at how she would make every other inmate her bitch back in prison.
Happens to Ms. Tree in the "Prisoner in Cell Block Hell" storyline.
Gold Digger #82 has Gina Diggers doing time in a women's prison. The comic includes a shower scene and a fight with the head bitch, who happens to be a Shout-Out of a certain female Star Wars character.
Adventure Comics #394 features a Silver Age story with Supergirl in an alien women's prison. The story isn't really that good; however, and the comic is best remembered for its cover◊ with the laughter inducing tagline "Heartbreak Prison! Where Every Girl's A Lifer!"
Catwoman #80 features said character being thrown into a women's prison. It includes catfights and a shower scene.
O'Brien spends time in a women's prison during The Punisher MAX arc where Frank is going after Nicky Cavella and his men for pissing on his family's remains. Being a MAX Punisher story, O'Brien's arc is played for drama rather than titillation as she fights viciously to keep other convicts from raping her.
Caged, a 50's film that is considered a classic example of women in prison.
Bare Behind Bars is an especially brutal example of the genre.
Girls in Prison, a 1994 film that is an example of the innocent woman in prison plotline.
Under Lock and Key, a B-Movie with the classic undercover female cop plot.
Werewolf in a Women's Prison. Nuff said.
Joshuu Sasori (Female Prisoner Scorpion), a Japanese women's prison movie that sparked a series of sequels and copycats. Thing is, the prison in question is full of feuding, scheming inmates and the whole film is a deconstruction of the genre, shot through with sadistic torment and unexpected surrealism. The only person who behaves like the stereotypical sexpot prisoner is an undercover warden with zero in-story credibility.
Gothika is a notable aversion, despite being an asylum for the criminally insane, featuring an all female prison with NO porn-like scene. The Shower Scene, for instance, features a bunch of inmates in which some are unattractive or old, like a Real Life women's prison would feature. Scenes in recreation rooms consist of those women often sobbing, staring blankly, or gabbling to themselves.
Played with in Freeway. On one side, you have the typical lesbian inmate Rhonda (Brittany Murphy) who hits on Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon) and on the other hand, the dominant Mesquita (Alanna Ubach) who immediately provokes Vanessa to a physical fight over who's the baddest bitch, thus the one in command.
This series liked the women's prison plot enough to use it a second time, albeit with only one Angel actually imprisoned in "Caged Angel."
The 2011 remake also had an episode where the Angels went to prison, titled "Angels in Chains" in homage of the original series episode. There are some notable differences; however, such as the prison being located in Cuba and the absence of a Shower Scene.
Subverted on the Seinfeld episode "The Little Jerry," where George goes on a tour of a women's prison, as he is in a relationship with one of the convicts, and is disappointed to discover it's a peaceful, minimum-security institution without a shower fight to be seen.
An otherwise best forgotten episode of Stargate SG-1 had Carter lampshade this trope.
Carter: Why do I feel like I'm in a women behind bars movie?
Pacific Blue had an episode that guest starred WWE's Sable, with one of the (female) main characters going undercover into the prison and Sable playing the head bitch. Yes, there was a shower scene, and a couple different catfight scenes.
German TV series Hinter Gittern - der Frauenknast (English: "Behind bars - The Women's Prison")
One episode of Xena: Warrior Princess has her sent to a women's prison island for murdering a woman who turns out to be the very-much-alive commandant of the prison. It is, however, played entirely for drama rather than sex appeal.
On Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Olivia goes undercover at a women's prison in one episode. However, it is definitely not played for prurient amusement; in fact she's sexually assaulted by a guard and several later episodes show her dealing with the trauma.
Lexx had an episode where Xev went to prison, complete with a shower scene.
Lois and Clark has a two-part episode where Lois Lane is framed for murder and sent to a women's prison.
Red Dwarf series VIII was set in the eponymous spaceship's brig. In the episode "Krytie TV", Kryten is classified as a woman because of his lack of identifying male genitalia. Although his programming does not allow him to exploit that, Killcrazy and other prisoners kidnap him, reprogram him and make him secretly film and broadcast the women prisoners showering for the viewing of the male prisoners.
NCIS episode "Caged" plays this realistically. McGee is at a womens' prison interviewing a murder suspect when a riot breaks out over the murder of a guard— and the female inmates prove very difficult to handle, one threatening to kill him repeatedly.
Season 5 of The L Word sees Helena incarcerated in a women's prison. Scenes include a strip search and shower.
Sex with her cellmate, who is very butch. Trope played absolutely straight.
Coronation Street has Fizz falsely in jail for murders committed by her husband John Stape.
Prisoner Cell Block H was set in a women's prison.
In My Name Is Earl, Joy frets about going to prison, because she is Genre Savvy enough to know that it's not lingerie and pillow fights. (Randy tries to convince her that it won't be so bad, because of this trope.)
Burn Notice does a fairly realistic depiction when Fiona goes to prison for awhile. While there, she has to fight the most dominant member of the prison and has to adapt to the harsh conditions. Of course, she does pretty well under the circumstances..... It should be noted that Fi as always been portrayed as a full fledged action girl, quite self-reliant, self confident, independent, and succesfull in pretty much every aspect of her life, both before, and after michael showed up in Miami, yet when he visits her in prision she has an emotional breakdown, and michael later informs his mother when asked, that she is eating very little, and is quite scared. this is all shown withouth a trace of chickification.
Angel Shows Faith in jail a few times. Mostly it's the visitor's room, complete with telephones and a window, but there is a prison fight between two inmates in the yard. There is no fetishizing of the prison, mostly it looks like depictions of male prisons but with the inmates having longer hair.
The Late Show with David Letterman: when Martha Stewart was in prison for insider trading Leterman made many jokes implying that Stewart was in this kind of prison.
The third season of Lost Girl sees Bo in prison for having gone on a crime spree following the defeat of the Garuda. It's... kinda porny, in keeping with the tone of the show.
In one episode of Police Woman from 1974, detective sgt. Pepper Anderson has to go undercover in a women's prison. Despite looking like a high-security facility from the outside, with guard towers and tall walls, the inside of the prison is rather "soft": the inmates don't have cells, but "rooms" (without doors), the furniture looks more comfortable than in most depictions of prisons, and the guards seem pretty nice for prison guards. If there is any Fanservice it is that all the inmates are young, good-looking (with makeup and nice hairdos), wear uniforms consisting of sleeveless minidresses, and spend a lot of time walking around in their short nighties.
The WOW (Women of Wrestling)Tag Team Caged Heat, named after the film, Loca and Delta Lotta Pain, who were the first, and, until last month, the only WOW World Tag Team Champions. They were billed from the Nevada State Correctional Facility, wore orange jumpsuits and their signature moves had such names as "Hard Time" (Bear Hug with top rope clothesline) and "Capital Punishment" (better known as The Dudley Boys' "Dudley Death Drop"/"3D," a combined flapjack and a "cutter"). Their entrance video showed them in prison rapping their theme songnote Theirs was the only one with lyrics. The absence of logic in the fact that they were supposedly driven to the arena from prison, and then sent back after the match, was not even Handwaved away, as this promotion adhered to an old-school, straight-faced Kayfabe mentality, which is what would be expected from a promotion started by David McLane, who had previously created GLOW in The Eighties. In 2000-2001, this was a decided contrast to WWE's Attitude Era, which was taking place at the same time. Despite the implications of their gimmick, they were VERY popular.
WOW's Spiritual SuccessorWrestlicious featured a character called Felony (played by indie wrestler Rain) who was apparently allowed to wrestle on work release. She had to be led to the ring in handcuffs by her parole officer and a Running Gag would be her trying to escape from him whenever she got the chance.
Subverted in The Japanese Beetle when Kremlina goes to jail. The "top dog" tries to make her her bitch, only to get downed in one punch - which makes Kremlina the new top dog, complete with another inmate asking very politely to be her bitch.
Averted in Last Res0rt — There are plenty of female contestants, and yes, the show is in a prison, so while there ARE Girls Behind Bars, it's a relatively calm co-ed prison environment and the closest we get to a Shower Scene is one panel of Daisy from the shoulders up.
In one episode of Family Guy, Peter reveals that he accidentally recorded over his and Lois' wedding video with "softcore cable porn"; the brief clips we're shown are of a Girls Behind Bars film.
And referenced in another episode, where Quagmire frets that what Peter is doing could land him in jail- "And not the good kind of jail, like on Cinemax! The man jail!"
The episode "Breaking Out Is Hard to Do" sees Lois sent to prison. When visiting with her family she remarks-"I'm just gonna have to lay back and let the penal system teach me a lesson."
In the episode "Dial Meg for Murder," Meg goes to prison and becomes a hardened criminal.
Averted entirely on The Simpsons where Marge goes to prison for a month, as the situation is Played for Drama and this particular trope is not even mentioned.
The Futurama movie "Into the Wild Green Yonder" has Leela, Amy and a bunch of other female characters from the show all get sent to a women's prison. While it's far from the nicest place, all these good friends are put in cells together and start painting toenails and the like.
Tripping the Rift has a women's prison themed episode. It contains skimpy prison dresses, a shower scene, and a catfight during said shower scene.
Johnny Bravo had an episode where Johnny was falsely convicted of bank robbery and sent to a women's prison because of a typo on his birth certificate spelling his name "Joanie".