Follow TV Tropes


Prefer Jail to the Protagonist

Go To

Officer Nancy: Good work, SpongeBob. You put the Strangler behind bars!
Tattletale Strangler: At least I'm safe from that yellow idiot.

A villain has plotted an Evil Plan, an evil plan so terrific he has no doubt in its completion. Nothing can stand in his way, not even that do-gooder coming down the street!

But wait — suddenly he's stuck in the area with this guy for some time. Now the evil plan doesn't seem so important — all that's important is getting away from this nut, no matter how! Maybe the person is so loony he makes your head spin. Maybe he's so bratty he makes you pull your hair out (what hair he didn't pull out himself). In the worst cases, he may be so fearsome he makes your blood curdle and your hair stand up. Whatever the cause, nothing could be worse than being alone with him another minute. But where can you go? Back to jail!

Note that this strategy does not always work. An extremely determined person may follow the villain back to the prison he's trying to go to escape from him. The point, however, is that prison isn't a concern for the bad guy anymore. All that matters is getting this annoyance/terror off his back.

Can be the result of Pity the Kidnapper, Unintentionally Notorious Crime, or Mugging the Monster. Subtrope of Unishment. See also Falling into Jail. An interesting subversion is Cruel Mercy if the hero realizes that jail is too easy for the villain. Contrast The Mob Boss Is Scarier, where a criminal is so fearsome that no one will inform on them and will take jail time or other legal penalties rather than risk their wrath.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Inversion in Blake and Mortimer. When Olrik (who had been working for a rogue Soviet doctor) is arrested, he's his usual flippant self when Blake and Mortimer visit his cell, but when he learns he's being exchanged by the British police to the Soviets, he begs for them to prevent it.
  • In The Death of Superman story arc of the Superman comics, Batman catches a terrorist who was going to use Superman's funeral as an opportunity to assassinate a world leader. Batman caught him and said that in Superman's honor, he'd do things Superman's way. The assassin is left tied to a flagpole begging to be arrested because "Batman might come back!"
  • In the Disney Ducks Comic Universe Duckburg criminals often turn themselves in the moment they realize Paperinik is in the area. Justified in that they know from experience that if Paperinik has to catch them he'll do it painfully and often in a humiliating way before bringing them to the police, so this way they at least dodge the beating.
  • At the start of the MAD parody of Wonder Woman, many criminals are fleeing from the eponymous heroine, searching for a safer place such as Sing Sing or Devil's Island.
  • Many criminals let themselves be imprisoned so as to evade The Punisher (and depending on their status, may end up in a Luxury Prison Suite). When that happens, Frank turns himself in, always getting sent to the same prison, and takes out the criminal (and the criminal's bodyguards, tough guys who want to show off, rival prison gangs, prisoners he runs into on the way, and his cellmate) before breaking out of the prison.
  • In a comic book published by Dell Comics based on The Twist, a one-page comic sees a man released from jail after 25 years. He returns to where he used to hang out, only to witness everyone doing the Twist. He promptly runs back to jail.

    Fan Works 
  • Played for Horror in Mike's New Ghostly Family; William Afton stole younger Nightmares' essences, Escaped from Hell and tried to claim his revenge on Mike Schmidt for giving his ghost victims a happy ending and for giving demon lord Nightmare suggestions on how to worsen his tortures. He tried to possess Mike Schmidt to enter his mindscape and subject him to a Cold-Blooded Torture, but Mike turned out to be a lucid dreamer, which made him a full-fledged Reality Warper inside his mindscape, using it to subject William himself to gruesome tortures instead. As he was tortured, William got so terrified of Mike that the murderer begged Nightmare to take him back to Fire and Brimstone Hell just to get away from Mike. In response, Nightmare decided to keep him with Mike for a longer time, amused by how Afton sees being trapped with Mike to be a worse fate than Hell, and only after Mike's mother descended from Heaven to placate his rage was when Nightmare finally brought William back to Hell. And to add insult to injury, Nightmare decided to recreate Mike Schmidt's inner darker aspects for his Ultimate Custom Night torture, just to have the protagonist in question, in an essence, continue making William suffer even inside his prison.
  • The Omnitrix Hero:
    • Played for Laughs in the first chapter of Season 3. When Flash deals with some crooks as his alien U-Reek-Ah by spraying them with his stink blast, the crooks run out of the bank screaming and immediately surrender to the police waiting outside, begging to be arrested to get away from U-Reek-Ah and for them to them to keep the "horrible monster" away from them.
    • Played for Horror the first time Flash uses Ghostfreak. He subjects a bomber to a brutal No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, including threatening to drop him from the sky. This completely terrifies to criminal, with the narration of the story itself briefly referring to him as Ghostfreak's "victim" before going back to "opponent". The bomb eventually throws himself at Shining's feet giving up, begging him to get him away from that "monster". This all serves as early foreshadowing to Ghostfreak's true evil nature.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes fanfic A Study In Situations, Lestrade snaps handcuffs on a criminal who Holmes captured and notes that they're probably unnecessary, because the guy doesn't look like he wants to go anywhere besides the police ambulance. Lestrade calmly tells the man that messing with Watson was a mistake.
  • In Taylor Is DOOMed, after Taylor destroys the Empire 88's headquarters, brutally kills every cape she meets and pretty much makes her mark, the few survivors choose to beg to be put in prison - anything as long as it will keep them away from Overkill.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Courageous: Officers Fuller and Mitchell have to take a captured burglar/drug holder to the jail while their civilian friend Javier is in the back. Mitchell deals with it by calling Javier the leader of the Snake Kingsnote  and instructing the guy to yell for help if Javier tries to kill him. Javier ramps up the paranoia by rambling creepily in Spanish. By the end of the ride, the formerly belligerent youth can't wait to reach the "safety" of a jail cell.
  • John Woo's The Killer (1989) has Wong Hoi doing this at the end of the movie to get away from Inspector Li Ying, who wants him dead for killing Ah Jong, the protagonist of the film. This results in Li gunning him down right in front of his fellow officers and then getting arrested.
  • In The Muppets Take Manhattan, a phony Broadway producer is about to be arrested for fraud when he takes Gonzo and Camilla hostage. After an attack from Animal, he begs to be arrested.


  • In the Honor Harrington short story "What Price Dreams", the control officer of an assassination attempt was detected and mobbed by treecats, to such a degree he screamed for help and made a full confession more or less on the spot to the rangers and bodyguards coming to the scene.
  • Mr Monk Helps Himself: After kidnapping Monk, the villains of the clown case race off, leaving their Bulgarian housekeeper to mind all the children from their daughter's birthday party. When Stottlemeyer, Lt. Devlin, and Natalie arrive on the scene, she offers to be arrested, given that it couldn't be worse than things are now.

    Live Action TV 
  • Downplayed in The Addams Family episode "Halloween with the Addams". Crooks Marty and Claude finally race out of the house in a panic after spending an evening hiding from the police. In their haste to escape, they get caught by the police.
  • At the end of one The Adventures of Superman episode, one villain tells another he can call the police: "Better a hundred of those guys than Superman!"
  • Barney Miller
    • In one episode, inveterate gambler Nick comes in crowing about a big score he had made: he picked all the bowl games, then bet it all on a hockey game and won there too. Then his bookie comes into the detective squad room and turns himself in for illegal betting: turns out everyone had had the same sting of luck and he can't cover his bets. And not everyone is as nice as Nick is.
    • In another episode a burglar had been caught and tried in a makeshift community court (which had been designed for small civil disputes) and had been serving his "sentence" locked up in the basement. He escapes and is picked up by the real cops; he's grateful to be in a real jail.
    • In "Homicide: Part 2" a Mrs. Shulton comes into the squad room to report that she hired a hit man to kill her husband. The 12th saves Mr. Shulton's life, but when he's brought in he's revealed to be an annoying, smarmy prick who probably deserved to be murdered, and his wife regrets changing her mind. At the end Barney tells her that she's going to be charged with assorted crimes including soliciting a felony and attempted murder. Mrs. Shulton takes one look at her husband, looks back at Barney, and says "Thank you."
  • In an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Banks hire an ex-con as a servant while Jeffery's away. Eventually he decides to violate his parole and go back to jail rather than continue to work for Phil Banks.
  • In the iCarly episode "iFind Lewbert's Lost Love", even though Chuck Chambers was responsible for stealing all the TV remotes in the Bushwell Plaza, Lewbert tells the police that he stole the remotes in order to get away from Marta Trundel, his ex-girlfriend. Just to ensure he's away from her for a long time, he slaps one of the officers to extend his sentence.
  • One episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, had a rising mob boss who used You Have Outlived Your Usefulness or The Mob Boss Is Scarier liberally. In the end, Goren manages to use this against him by making it look like one of his henchmen was plotting against him, meaning said henchman practically begged Goren to arrest him and cut a deal.

    Visual Novels 
  • A variant happens in the final case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All. Professional Killer Shelley de Killer isn't heroic by any stretch of the imagination, but he does have scruples, unlike his client Matt Engarde, and when he learns his client betrayed him, he announces his intent to kill him. By getting de Killer to turn on Engarde, Phoenix forces the latter to confess and go to prison to avoid the wrath of a skilled assassin.

    Web Original 
  • Enchufe Tv: The sketch "Yo Ya Estoy" ["I already am"] centers around a boy who instantaneously becomes anything that is mentioned (ranging from appearing in formalwear when his friend mentions an event's dress code to materializing in the arms of a kidnapper complete with a gun pointed at his head when the kidnappers merely discuss taking a hostage). His reality warping disturbs the kidnappers to the point of pleading to be arrested and away from him.

    Western Animation 
  • The Action League NOW! episode, "Flesh and Blood" has two criminals impersonating The Flesh's parents and tricking him into robbing a mansion. However, the Flesh's inadvertent injuries to them get them to confess they're not his real parents and beg for the police to take them to jail.
  • The Addams Family (1992) episode "Hook, Line and Stinkers" has the Spy Twins plead Cousin Itt to take them to a maximum security prison when they've had enough of enduring the torture inflicted upon them by Wednesday and Pugsley. Unfortunately for them, the Addamses' pet alligator Snappy joins them in the armored car transporting them.
  • Played with in The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 with real-world public enemy #1, Crimewave Clyde. He's sentenced to a Longer-Than-Life Sentence with no parole, until King Koopa has Bully escort him out of prison and into the Mushroom Kingdom, where Koopa then proceeds to have Clyde tutor his Koopa Kids on how to commit crimes. The problem is, the Koopa Kids are insistent on double-crossing Clyde themselves, resulting in him performing a Heel–Face Turn and working with the Mario Bros. to get back at Koopa. He's returned to prison at the end of the episode with an even longer sentence than before thanks to Bully breaking him out, but he admits to Mario and Luigi that he's much happier in prison than working with Koopa, making this a case where the antagonist prefers jail to working with the greater villain.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. In "Acts of Vengeance", Baron Zemo and the remaining members of the Masters of Evil surrender themselves into the custody of The Avengers so they will have to protect them from the Enchantress who is on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge after she was betrayed in "This Hostage Earth".
  • Variation in The Batman. In "Rumors", The Penguin tries to hand himself over to Batman because an even more dangerous vigilante named 'Rumor' has begun attacking Gotham's criminal community. Everyone knows that criminals who cross Batman end up handed over to the police and arrested, but criminals Rumor targets are abducted and never seen again, so Penguin decides a jail cell is the safest place he can be.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • In "Joker's Favor", the protagonist is an ordinary man who has the misfortune to become The Joker's "hobby". After a whole episode of torment, he seemingly snaps and confronts the Joker, frightening him so much that the Joker calls Batman for help.
    • After his encounter with The Creeper in "Beware the Creeper", the Joker surrenders to Batman, declaring the Creeper "a lunatic" without any irony whatsoever.
  • Classic Disney Shorts: In "Two-Gun Goofy", after getting (accidentally) slapped around, stepped on, and nearly blown up by Goofy, Pistol Pete decides he's had enough and locks himself in jail.
  • A variant in the Darkwing Duck episode "Time and Punishment": Megavolt and Quackerjack for once don't want to break out of the St. Canard Jail. Given that they're in an alternate future and that future's Darkwing has gone Knight Templar, they have a good reason.
  • Dennis the Menace (1986):
    • In "Circus Berserkus", Mr. Wilson is forced to take Dennis and Joey to the circus at Mrs. Wilson's request. At the circus, a wicked ringmaster tries to sabotage it as revenge for getting fired from it. His plans include releasing a live bear and a live tiger from their cages and cutting the ropes to the tent to cause it to collapse, but all of those plans are foiled thanks to Dennis and Joey's antics. At the end of the episode, the ringmaster is arrested, and he begs for the police to take him to jail so that he doesn't have to be near Dennis and Joey, who have been oblivious to his presence throughout the episode.
      Dennis: Gee, what's the matter with him?
      Mr. Wilson: I don't know, but I can relate to it.
    • In "Strike Up the Band", Henry and Mr. Wilson gets jobs as police officers and pursue a purse snatcher. Around the same time, Dennis forms his own band with him on trumpet, Margaret on cymbals, Gina on accordion, and Joey on drums. However, because they all play different songs at the same time, their music is atrocious. The purse snatcher manages to evade Henry and Mr. Wilson, but when he hears Dennis' band playing, he surrenders to them so that he can go to jail and not have to listen to it.
    • In "Faulty Alarm", Henry installs a burglar alarm in Mr. Wilson's house, but Dennis accidentally sets the alarm off a few times, which results in the police giving Mr. Wilson a ticket. When a real burglar tries to rob Mr. Wilson's house, Dennis and Ruff capture him. Dennis is made an honorary deputy by the police, who decide to pardon Mr. Wilson of his false alarm ticket if he promises to get rid of his alarm. Dennis tells Mr. Wilson he won't need it anyway, since he'll be coming over to his house every day to protect it. Upon hearing this, Mr. Wilson tells the police chief that he'd like a jail cell with a view.
  • In the DuckTales (1987) episode "The Good Muddahs", Webby is kidnapped and held for ransom by the Beagle Boys' cousins, the Beagle Babes. Webby is rescued by the end of the episode, but she developed a bond with the Beagle Babes and doesn't want them to be arrested. Scrooge agrees to drop the charges, provided they work for him. Not wanting that, they willingly let the police arrest them, but not before kissing Webby goodbye.
  • An episode of Freakazoid! had Freakazoid being arrested for excessive silliness. His choice of punishments are 30 years in jail, or 30 minutes listening to Fanboy ramble about nerd stuff. Freakazoid demands they "lock me up and throw away the key!!" Too bad for him Fanboy somehow winds up in his cell.
  • Garfield and Friends:
  • A few MAD Agents in Inspector Gadget surrendered themselves to the police so they could get away from Gadget's idiocy. The agent in "Birds of a Feather" even begged the cops to "Get me away from this MANIAC!"
  • In Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, when Batman/Thomas Wayne fights a criminal named Yo-Yo, he tries to grill her for information on the Joker who in this rendition is Martha Wayne turned insane from losing Bruce. When Yo-Yo refuses to divulge any information, Thomas throws her off the building they were fighting on. Cyborg arrives and quickly catches her, to which Yo-Yo is more than happy to surrender to him than deal with Thomas again.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • "Bugs and Thugs" has Bugs Bunny trick Rocky and Mugsy into hiding in a stove, then later impersonate a policeman and light the stove with them still inside. When the real policeman shows up, Rocky and Mugsy beg for him to take them to jail.
    • An Accidental Hero example: In the 1936 Porky Pig short The Blow Out, Porky, here a young child, is trying to earn spending money by returning objects that grown-ups have dropped. He thus innocently chases a Mad Bomber around, repeatedly handing his activated Time Bomb back to him. The increasingly frazzled bomber finally runs voluntarily into an open police wagon, only for Porky to toss the bomb in after him.
    • In Two Scent's Worth, a burglar uses a cat named Fifi to help him rob a bank. The idea was to paint Fifi's back to make her look like a skunk, drop her into the bank and scare off the customers, where he is free to rob it. After the robbery, he encounters Pepé, thinking it's Fifi, but by then, he realizes it's not Fifi after smelling Pepé, at which point he races over to the city prison and intentionally imprisons himself.
    • "Devil's Feud Cake" is a rather extreme example where the villain prefers eternal damnation to the protagonist. It revolves around Yosemite Sam trying to capture Bugs Bunny in an effort to get out of Fire and Brimstone Hell. But after several failed attempts ending with a series of painful deaths, Sam tells Satan that he'd rather stay in Hell than go after Bugs again.
      Yosemite Sam: If you want him, you can get him yourself! (runs offscreen, returns in a Big Red Devil costume) I'm staying! (Evil Laugh)
  • An episode of Mister T titled "Mystery of the Stranger" deals with abducted kids. Mr. T and company track down a pair of kidnappers. Eventually, Mr. T catches one of them and with a Death Glare, offers the kidnapper a choice: face him or go to jail. The kidnapper begs to be thrown in jail.
  • In an episode of Muppet Babies (1984), Gonzo apprehends a train robber in a fantasy segment. Once he's tied up, Gonzo says, "So what'll it be: 20 years in jail, or 20 jokes from Fozzie?" The train robber chooses jail.
  • In The New Woody Woodpecker Show episode, "Baby Buzzard", Buzz disguises himself as a baby so he can rob Woody's house when Woody starts his babysitting service, but ends up being treated very roughly due to Woody struggling to care for him. Woody eventually finds out that Buzz is robbing his house, and makes him take a nap with a ferocious badger (a recurring side character on the show) while he calls the police. When the policeman arrives, a thoroughly frazzled Buzz begs to be arrested, stating that at least prison will offer some measure of comfort compared to what he had to go through. Unfortunately for Buzz, the badger has somehow ended up in the paddy wagon as well, whereupon it starts mauling him again as he's being hauled away.
  • The Patrick Star Show: In "Patrick's Prison Pals", an escaped prisoner named Sockeye switches places with Patrick and thinks he'll have it easy. However, the bizarre structure of Patrick's house, his family's Bizarre Taste in Food, and Slappy send Sockeye tunneling right back to prison.
    Sockeye: Prison! Yes, I'm back! I'm finally safe from that crazy Star family!
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998):
    • The episode "Child Fearing" has Mojo Jojo being released from prison to babysit Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup while the Professor is at a meeting. At first, he wants them to help him take over Townsville, but taking care of them is too much for him to handle, and he calls the police so they can take him back to jail.
    • The Amoeba Boys avert this - they simply want to go to jail to prove they're just as much criminals as the other villains in Townsville.
    • In the episode "Sun Scream", two criminals are disgusted by the girls' sunburnt skin peeling and beg to be taken to jail. However, the girls decide to leave them stranded on an island with only a tube of sunscreen instead. The criminals get sunburned as a result of not using the sunscreen, claiming it's only for nerds.
  • In the old Polish cartoon Prosze Slonia, two thieves attempt to steal the tusks of the main hero, a white elephant named Dominik. However, after a number of painful failed attempts, they get so scared that they just beg the police to take them away.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • Mrs. Puff gets sent to jail in "Doing Time". She loves it in there, simply because she doesn't have to deal with SpongeBob anymore. Though she doesn't have the heart to say it to his face and SpongeBob and Patrick become bound and determined to help bust her out of prison, much to her dismay.
    • Providing the page quote is "SpongeBob Meets the Strangler". The Tattletale Strangler disguises himself as a bodyguard to get close enough to SpongeBob to strangle him for turning him in. However, SpongeBob's frequent delays, culminating in two surprise parties, drive the Strangler so insane he rips off his false mustache and screams his identity, runs, rides a taxi and boards and jumps out of a plane to flee, only for SpongeBob to show up everywhere, and ultimately drops into prison. He ends up crying as he once again confesses to being the Strangler, only then getting the message across when SpongeBob sees his undisguised face right next to the wanted poster. The Strangler's so broken that he doesn't even care about being in jail if it means he doesn't have to deal with SpongeBob anymore. A Brick Joke from after the second party results in the Strangler sharing a cell with Patrick, implying he's still not out of the woods on that front.
    • In "The Getaway", a recently-escaped prisoner named Sticky Fins Whiting tricks SpongeBob into being his getaway driver. Anyone who is aware of what SpongeBob's driving skills are like will realize just how horribly that must've gone. Indeed, by the end of the episode, Sticky Fins begs the police to put himself in solitary confinement just to keep SpongeBob far away from him. In fact, Mrs. Puff decides to try and get in jail too, knowing she'll be subjected to teaching SpongeBob again.
  • In the 4th season of Teen Titans (2003), Dr. Light faces Raven using her dark powers, whereas exposure to that in the 1st season reduced him into a shivering wreck. Upon seeing that thing again in the 4th season, Dr. Light goes from "No one defeats Dr. Light!" into "I'd like to go to jail now, please."
  • The Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "Take Elmyra Please" has Arthur Jabba's henchmen, George and Leonard, kidnap Elmyra Duff and hold her for ransom in exchange for her father's fuel formula. Elmyra thinks their hideout is a TV studio and her antics drive George and Leonard up the wall, to the point where by the time her younger brother, Duncan, and the police show up, George and Leonard beg for the police to take them to jail. Of course, since the kidnapping was Mr. Jabba's idea, they rat him out and he is arrested as well.
  • Trollhunters: In "Arcadia's Most Wanted", the thieves behind the burglaries have taken Toby hostage and declare they're not going back to prison... then Blinky and AAARRRGGHH!!! show up and send the crooks running to turn themselves in.
  • In the T.U.F.F. Puppy episode, "Moms Away!", Snaptrap plans to get rid of all the Moms in Petropolis by shipping them to a deserted island and stranding them there. At the end of the episode, Dudley foils Snaptrap's plan and decides to have his Mom punish him. Snaptrap begs to be taken to jail instead.


Video Example(s):


The Tattletale Strangler

By the end of the episode, the Strangler has been driven so crazy by SpongeBob's antics that he's actually relieved to be in jail and away from him. Unfortunately, he finds that Patrick is his cellmate

How well does it match the trope?

4.51 (43 votes)

Example of:

Main / PreferJailToTheProtagonist

Media sources: