"What an evilicious day! First I open my magnificent escape-proof prison, then I fill it with my most hated enemy!"A prison-centered installment in a larger work that is otherwise not about prison. It might be an episode in a serial, a sequence in a video game, or a few chapters in a book. Usually this involves one or more major characters being in prison, or at least in noticeably prison-like circumstances. In some cases, they might run the prison. When this trope shows up in video games, you can expect the inventory of the player character(s) to be taken away. This results in the player having to use stealth and cunning to avoid the guards, until the hero(es) get their inventory back. Despite this being only a segment of the series, it might end up having permanent effects on the tone of the series from that point on. For example, it may portray major characters as becoming more inclined to crime as a result of said imprisonment. More generally, a prison episode is often used to show and/or begin a Darker and Edgier Tone Shift.
— Dr. Ivo Robotnik, Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
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Anime and Manga
- In One Piece, Monkey D. Luffy breaks into Impel Down, the Marine Forces' top maximum-security prison, in an attempt to free his brother Ace. He arrives barely too late.
- In Jing King Of Bandits, Jing heads to the prison Seventh Heaven in order to find Campari and steal his dream-making power.
- In Fist of the North Star, Kenshiro was lead into Villainy Prison by Jackal and had to fight the notorious killer Devil Rebirth. Later on in the series is the Cassandra arc, where he must free his captive brother Toki, but not without a fight against the cruel warden Uighur.
- The Batman comic books have featured at least a couple of stories involving Batman being a prisoner in Arkham Asylum: "This Way Lies Madness"/"Asylum Sinister" in Batman #327-328 and "The Last Arkham" in Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1-4 to name two.
- The Ms. Tree arc "Prisoner in Cell Block Hell''.
- Both movie and comic versions of Sin City include a very existential-looking prison for John Hartigan.
- Both Daredevil and The Punisher have had arcs or issues set in prisons. One time actually had Daredevil put into prison and the Punisher had himself commited to watch Daredevil lose his mind.
- The Legion of Super-Heroes had one in the Silver Age, the Super Stalag Of Space!.
- Except for a couple of flashbacks, the whole issue 36 of Paperinik New Adventures, "The Day That Will Come", is set in Time Zero, the prison of the Time Police, since Paperinik was Arrested for Heroism... just in time for a jailbreak. It is one of the darkest issues of the series.
- Calvin and Hobbes: The Series: "Time Terror" is this for Socrates, being in the Wild West.
- Sonic X fanfic Don't Keep Your Distance has a scene where protagonist Paint and her friend (and Dr. Eggman's robot) Star are arrested and preparing for trial after she brings it to her village and is accused of endangering it. Nevertheless, they seem to like the officer and their guard and spend most of their time happily talking.
- Prison Island Break is a Sonic the Hedgehog Alternate Universe Fic with the Contextual Reassignment of a prison - not just the canon characters going to prison for once, but actively being convicted criminals.
- Active and completely unrepentant for the most part. All of the powers/talents that make them heroes in canon are simply redirected to criminal ends. Sonic robbed a bank, nearly managed a second one, killed a cop in the process and escaped normal prisons with utter ease. Shadow killed his foster parents, then used his Chaos Control to rape and murder young women. He started killing men "just to even it out" and was only caught by complete accident on his part.
- Toy Story 3 has strong prison themes, with Sunnyside Daycare as a prison-equivalent, complete with a Great Escape. Bonus points for the shock value of a prison-themed installment in a G-rated Pixar series.
- Madea Goes To Jail, a movie about a woman who was arrested for her behavior management problems.
- Muppets Most Wanted has Kermit spend the majority of the movie in a Russian prision after being mistaken for a frog criminal named Constantine who looks like him.
- The third CHERUB Series book has James and his friends sent to infiltrate a maximum security prison.
- Subverted when Chip gets thrown in the brig in The Rats, The Bats, and The Ugly: He wants to stay in the brig where he gets a mattress and three meals a day. At the front, he doesn't get that.
- The novella "The Borders of Infinity" in the Vorkosigan Saga is set in a very nasty but technically legal prisoner of war camp.
Live Action TV
- The MacGyver episodes "The Escape" and "Jack in the Box".
- CSI: NY episode "Redemptio"
- My Name Is Earl has a several-episode-long imprisonment arc.
- Farscape's Rashomon episode "The Ugly Truth" features most of the crew on a disc like prison-thing.
- In Arrested Development, the first season has George, Sr. in prison. However, as part of an "Illusion", his son GOB goes to prison for an episode to prove he can escape in 24 hours time. He escapes when an inmate shivs him and he's taken to a hospital.
- Later, Tobias spends some time in prison to research the role of Frightened Inmate #2.
- The Ellen episode "Three Strikes" revolves around her being arrested for participating in an animal rights protest and ultimately remanded to the custody of her parents.
- NCIS: McGee gets tangled up in a women's prison riot in "Caged." The plot revolves on him trying to resolve the conflict and the other characters trying to get him out alive. Notably, he is significantly more badass afterwards.
- In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "Mistaken Identity" both Will and Carton are arrested due to racial profiling. In "There's the Rub" Will and Phil are mistakenly jailed for solicitation.
- Supernatural has "Folsom Prison Blues" which features Dean and Sam deliberately getting themselves arrested so that they can solve a case inside a prison.
- On Leverage, the season 3 pilot features this after Nate is voluntarily sent to prison to protect the rest of the team . Notable in that it avoids a dark feel due to the team staging an escape in typical Leverage fashion.
- In House, the titular character is sent to prison after his actions during the season 7 finale. The first episode of season 8 sees him on the verge of being granted parole. The following episodes go on to inconsistently reference his status as a conditionally released prisoner (he is forced to wear an ankle-mounted GPS, which viewers are sometimes reminded of).
- Murder, She Wrote had "Jessica Behind Bars". While it's set in a jail, Jessica is only there because of a writing program that involves a former student.
- Much of the beginning of Season 2 of 24 has Jack in prison to break out a drug kingpin as part of a larger plan.
- Victorious had a one-hour special where the gang visits a country named Yerba, and eventually, one missing eye and dead octopus later, everyone gets sent to prison. Andre and Beck have rocks thrown at them, Jade is nearly beat up by another prisoner, and Robbie is put on the girl's side. They manage to escape thanks to their teacher, though.
- Seinfeld is the rare example where the Prison Episode is the Grand Finale.
- Xena: Warrior Princess had "Locked Up and Tied Down" where she went to prison for killing a girl long ago except the girl became the prison's warden.
- JAG had "The Prisoner" in its first season in which Harm was held by the Chinese.
- In Covert Affairs Annie is taken to a high security prison in Russia.
- Burn Notice: Fiona spends a chunk of season six trying to survive in prison, while Michael works to get her out.
- Red Dwarf's eighth series was an extended prison episode.
- The episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon commits contempt of court - or rather utter contempt of the judge - and is sent to the cells until he apologises. Although Sheldon Cooper out-weirds hardened criminals to the point where "you're in my spot" makes a tough con give up his seat to the psycho, the thing that makes him crack and make a grovelling apology is when he realises the awful truth about the bathroom facilities...
- And on Everybody Loves Raymond, there is the episode where Debra Barone is arrested and incarcerated for drunk-driving. Seeing her in the lock-up makes her brother in law, Lieutenant Robert Barone, do a very big double-take.
- Star Trek: Voyager:
- "The Chute" has Tom and Harry sent to an orbiting prison after being falsely accused of terrorism.
- "Repentance" is an interesting case in that Voyager itself is turned into a prison for several death-row inmates.
- The Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Canamar" is a variation—the episode is named for a notorious prison, yet Archer and Trip spend the whole time on a prison transport that never actually makes it there.
- Person of Interest has a several-episode arc in which Reese is held in prison on suspicion of being The Man In The Suit.
- Hawaii Five-0 has an episode in which Chin is kidnapped and wakes up in prison, where the Dirty Cop that Chin got incarcerated wants to have some fun with him before killing him. Unable to trust the guards, Chin resorts to starting a fire in the hope that he can communicate with the rescue workers. The fire triggers a prison riot that Chin must survive long enough for Five-0 to rescue him.
- Due South: Ray gets sent to prison for being in contempt of court. In order to watch Ray's back as well as protect an important witness in Ray's case, Fraser intentionally commits a crime and gets sent to prison himself; he's so straight-laced that the cop who's arresting him as a favor has to be the one who puts the single candy bar in his pocket.
- Arrow: Much of "Broken Arrow" is set inside Iron Heights and focuses on Roy's attempts to survive in prison after he confesses to being the Arrow.
- The Goodies: "Goodies in the Nick" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The Goodies spend several years in prison after committing a series of crimes for a police sergeant to solve so he can gain a promotion.
- Used a number of times in the Zelda series.
- In the The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time the Gerudo throw Link into some sort of cell, leaving him all of his equipment, and no matter how many times he escapes and gets caught again, they just throw him back in the same cell. With all of his equipment.
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past had a prison sequence, but made you break in to save the princess.
- The prison in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess made sense, but the one in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was truly laughable. Absolutely a Cardboard Prison. The way out of the cell is hidden behind a pot (though it would still work wonders at imprisoning moblins...or any adult male, for that matter).
- Chrono Trigger had one sequence in a prison cell. It followed a very humorous scene and preceded a challenging boss though and thus was better than most. It is especially interesting because the prison lets you keep your sword.
- Metal Gear: Snake is thrown in a jail cell which the player can escape from within seconds simply by punching the wall. The prison escape sequences of Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 3, however, were fun and memorable.
- The 1982 Escape From Rungistan game starts with "escape from a jail cell". You had to (a) ask a guard to bring you dinner (b) give a piece of cheese to a mouse (c) move your bed under a window (d) give a piece of candy to a child and (e) dig a hole in a wall to get out.
- Command & Conquer: Renegade has you captured and stripped of your weapons.
- There are several examples of this is the Final Fantasy series.
- In Final Fantasy VIII: You have to escape a prison in the middle of a desert.
- Ditto Final Fantasy IX.
- In Final Fantasy VII, the desert is the prison.
- There's another in Final Fantasy X, surprisingly not in a desert.
- The characters of Final Fantasy XII have to survive the Nalbina Dungeons, which is full of people who are just left there to die of thirst or starvation. The Dreadnought Leviathan can also be considered a prison episode. After the Tomb of Raithwall the characters are arrested a third time but they escape quickly thanks to the nethicite blowing up the Ifrit
- Kaim and company in Lost Odyssey are at one point obliged to escape from the brig of a royal yacht, dodging security drones and pussy-footing across pressure-sensitive floor tiles. Hilariously, they begin their escape by wiping the memory of their guard and convincing him that they were jailed by accident, so even if the player makes a mistake and the party gets caught again, the guard will apologize and let them back out.
- The last segment of Tex Murphy: Overseer takes place on the island prison of Alkatraz. Tex Murphy finds himself trapped a cell and must escape and make his way deep into the prison while avoiding deadly security droids.
- In Penny Arcade's parody RPG, On The Rain Slick Precipice Of Darkness Episode 2 the main characters are at one point placed in a sanitarium. While your two companions are locked up, tied down or what-have-you, your character is allowed to run completely free, albeit disarmed. On the other hand, when you rescue your friends, they haven't been disarmed.
- Starting any The Elder Scrolls adventure in prison seems to be the default. Apparently it's the sort of world where Ex-Cons really do have a chance a rehabilitation....
- Skyrim has a second prison episode as well - when you first enter Markarth you get to witness an innocent woman (potentially - you can stop it if you're quick) being murdered in the middle of a crowded city square. If you work with a local miner to investigate, the corrupt guards eventually pin the murder on you and throw you in prison. You're stuck in there until you find a way to escape. Aside from this, committing a crime anywhere in the game and getting caught always has a chance of getting you sent to jail.
- Tales of Symphonia had Lloyd, the main character, tossed into a Desian prison in the middle of the desert. He busts out on his own, just before the party shows up... too late.
- In Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire, the titular hero gets his behind tossed in the prison of Raseir. This is the first time in the game where it's not an instant death and involves breaking out, but this was all a plan by the game's villain, who then proceeds to show up after your break, and have his evil ways with you.
- And again in Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness where the now-undead evil vizier Ad Avis from Trial by Fire traps you in his dungeon. Yet again part of a bigger plan, seeing as he hopes you figure out how to break out and kill the Master of Darkness. Too bad the Master of Darkness is someone you know and by hammering a stake trough the vampire's chest, you earn a Game over! Ad Avis... will you never learn.
- In Planet Alcatraz, although the whole planet is technically is a prison, the Industrial Area is the only place that most resembles a prison, or more precisely, a labor camp. You're stripped of all belongings and have to run errands for the bosses to get promoted, before having the opportunity to escape. One of the gameover screens implies you spend the rest of your life there working.
- Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne had a campaign mission where Lady Vashj and Kael'thas free the Blood Elves from the Dalaran dungeons, which were full of ultra horrifying monsters. It wasn't a bad level, but at of the day it wasn't as challenging as the normal base-building campaign missions.
- World of Warcraft has the Stockades, an instanced prison dungeon in the centre of Stormwind serving prior to the Cataclysm as a continuation of the Defias questline and now updated to fit current miscreants.
- Dead to Rights had an extremely long prison level early on in the game, where the player has to compete in various minigames and do a lot of hand-to-hand combat to arrange a prison break.
- XIII featured one (two?) levels inside Plain Rock Asylum, a mental institution.
- In Max Payne, Max is drugged, tied up, whacked with a baseball bat, and still manages to get out and continue his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- The last level of the 2005 Punisher game features Frank Castle in Ryker's Island during a prison riot led by Jigsaw. He starts out unarmed, but quickly gets guns from the mooks.
- Tomb Raider III puts Lara in this.
- Grand Theft Auto II had a level where you specifically had to get arrested and then spent time in prison before escaping again.
- Illusion of Gaia throws Will into the castle dungeon near the beginning of the game.
- Dragon Age: Origins had a side-quest called "Captured!", which saw your active party thrown into prison, with an option given to either fight your way out or wait for rescue from the rest of the party. The latter option is probably the single biggest source of hilarity in an otherwise grimdark game.
- In Space Rangers 2 engaging in criminal activity may result in the character being sentenced to several months in jail. This triggers one of the game's many text-based minigames. Throughout his stay the character can join a fight club, race cockroaches, become a stool pigeon for the guards and, if he plays his cards right, come out much richer than he was going in. Granted, he may also die, but that's a minor detail.
- Discworld Noir has a brief prison-escape scene at the Patrician's Palace, which takes Lewton into Leonard of Quirm's secret workshop. A subversion because, once he's broken out of his cell, Lewton has to repeatedly break back into the secret location he'd escaped through to close the case.
- Case 2 of the second Ace Attorney Investigations. Notably the victim here was the killer in the first case, and the murderer from the very first case in the series appears as a witness.
- In Splinter Cell Double Agent, Sam goes undercover as a prisoner to infiltrate a domestic terror organization and earn their trust.
- In Shadowman the main character is tasked with tracking down and killing five serial killers and take away the dark souls that empower them. Three of them are in the same prison, and have started a riot. Because the lockdown prevents the player character from exploring the whole prison, he must use portals in Deadside to access different parts of the prison.
- Silent Hill 2 has a level exploring a prison beneath the lake of the town.
- The main character of Silent Hill: Downpour is a convict who escaped after his prison transfer bus crashed in the town. The last level of the game has the town transporting him to a prison where he must finally confront his past.
- In Fable I, the Hero is captured and sent to Jack's dungeon for at least a year. Part of escaping involves winning a race against the other inmates and being "rewarded" with a private recitation of the warden's poetry.
- Deus Ex features one of these after you send a warning signal to the NSF and antagonize UNATCO. Getting out of the cell is easy, while escaping the whole prison complex can be nigh-impossible depending on the character build.
- In Kingdom Hearts II, the first (and unplanned) visit to Space Paranoids revolves around the party being in a digital prison following an accident involving a mysterious blue alien. With the help of a friendly program named Tron, they manage to escape their cell, and subsequently escape the computer that's imprisoned them.
- In Bravely Default the party is knocked unconscious trying to pass through the enemy stronghold and are thrown in prison, except for Edea, who very easily takes the cell keys and breaks into the prison to break the rest of the party out. Amusingly, when she enters the prison, a party chat can be viewed where the rest of the party comes to the conclusion that Edea is suffering a far worse fate than them and are planning a wacky escape scheme, only for Edea to come in and point out how loud they were yelling their plans (they're held in seperate cells and were unsure of how far they were from each other.). It's even funnier when the random encounters reveal there most definitely ARE a lot of guards patrolling the cells.
- Saints Row 2: The game begins in a prison; your character has to bust out after awakening from a 5-year coma after the events of the previous game. They have to break in (and back out again) later, when a drugs specialist is required.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Monster Capsule GB, Seto Kaiba's RPG World starts with Yugi's imprisonment.
- At one point in Resistance 3, you are captured by bandits who use a local prison as their base. They force you to fight in a gladiatorial arena, until one of their own has a change of heart and frees you, giving you The Mutator, a gun that essentially makes enemies puke themselves to death. Brutal revenge ensues.
- The Simpsons has several of them, mostly involving the villains, but occasionally major characters (especially Homer, sometimes Marge) end up in jail as well.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender had two prison episodes (Technically three, since one was a two-parter):
- Season one has "Imprisoned", where Katara deliberately gets herself imprisoned by the Fire Nation in an attempt to free a friend from said prison.
- Season three has "The Boiling Rock", where Zuko and Sokka infiltrate a Fire Nation prison in the hopes of locating Sokka's father, who had been captured in the war a few weeks earlier.
- In Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Ickis gets put in jail because he was mistaken for a fugitive.
- The Looney Tunes Show, "Jailbird and Jailbunny".
- American Dad! has episodes like these. Noticeable when Stan was sent to prison where he enjoys staying and doesn't want to leave.
- In the season two premiere of Gargoyles, "Leader of the Pack" Coyote, at the behest of Xanatos, breaks out the rest of the Pack.
- In "Opening Night" of The Spectacular Spider-Man, Spidey volunteers to test the security system of The Vault, a prison designed to house super villains. Unfortunately the prison's computers are hacked by the Green Goblin, locking all the guards up as the prisoners are let out of their cells.
- In "Terrors" of Young Justice, Superboy and Miss Martian go undercover into Belle Reve to ascertain and foil a break out attempt.
- Phineas and Ferb has Phineas And Ferb Get Busted. While what they are sent to is called a reform school, it is most certainly run like a prison.
- Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog has "Sonic Breakout", which is about in-universe cartoonist Sketch Lampoon going to prison for making fun of Dr. Robotnik... and Sonic deliberately letting Robotnik's minions catch him so as to get behind bars to escape from prison and take Sketch with him.
- Garfield and Friends has "Wanted: Wade!" , where Wade Duck rips the tag off Orson Pig's chair. About 2 minutes of the episode is a fantasy sequence where Wade dreams about what would happen if the police caught him for ripping the tag off a mattress.
- A later episode, "The Legal Eagle", had Roy jailing everyone because he took his job as deputy too seriously.
- The 101 Dalmatians: The Series episode "Cadpig Behind Bars", where Cadpig is sent to the pound, which is run like a prison.
- The Littlest Pet Shop (2012) episode "Gailbreak!" is about retrieving a dog held in the Largest Ever Pet Shop's pet storage area, which is portrayed much like a prison.
- Rugrats, "The Big House" wherein Tommy is inside a daycare center that, much like the above example, looks and feels like a prison.
- The majority of the Mumfie's Quest arc of The Magic Adventures Of Mumfie is this, which is rather shocking for a show meant for preschoolers.
- The ChalkZone episode The Label Police had Snap being sent to Label Prison for removing a tag from his pillow. He spends the episode attempting to break out with the other prisoners, who include the polar bear for putting a "dry clean only" shirt into a washing machine and a 7-year-old girl for solving a jigsaw puzzle that is only for people 8 or older.
- Jimmy Two-Shoes has "Jimmy in the Big House" where Jimmy and Beezy try to bust Cerbee out of an animals-only prison by disguising themselves as pandas. Unfortunately, Cerbee had already escaped by himself, so the duo now have to get themselves out.