The 10 Best Documentaries About Prisons

Nov 4, 2023 | Best Of, Crime

This is a captivating documentary about prisons, which takes the viewer on an intimate journey into the lives of inmates and prison staff. It uncovers the complex relationship between incarceration and society, as well as how people can remain resilient despite harsh conditions. Through interviews with inmates, families and correctional officers, It delves deep into the daily struggles faced by those living in and around prisons, highlighting the humanity that lies within. This profoundly moving documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in understanding how our justice system works and what it means to be incarcerated. By exploring the unique perspectives of prisoners, their families and staff,It offers an insightful look into the prison experience. Its powerful message will leave viewers with a greater understanding of the complex issues surrounding incarceration and its consequences.


1. Prison State

This is a harrowing tale of life in a troubled housing project located in Louisville, Kentucky. Home to countless individuals who have been incarcerated, it follows the lives of four individuals on their journeys between freedom and captivity. Through unprecedented access to the correctional facility, Mark Bolton – Director of Corrections for Louisville – navigates the complex landscape of prisoner rehabilitation and providing prisoners with an opportunity to reintegrate into society.


2. Life in Prison The Code

This is a documentary that paints an intimate portrait of life in prison. It explores the day-to-day struggles faced by inmates, as well as their unique stories and experiences. The film is told in three parts: In the first part, we learn about the harsh realities of incarceration and how it affects those who are incarcerated; in the second part, we hear the voices of the inmates themselves who share their stories and dreams; in the third part, we look closely at the daily rituals prisoners practice to cope with their situation.It is a powerful documentary that sheds light on an often overlooked aspect of life – imprisonment.


3. In the hell of Peruvian jails

This is a riveting documentary that shines a light on the dark reality of life in Peruvian prisons. Through interviews with prison staff, inmates, and former inmates, It reveals the often hidden brutality and hardship experienced on a daily basis by prisoners. From harsh living conditions to inadequate medical care, viewers gain an inside glimpse into the terrible realities endured by those who have been labeled as criminals. It isn’t just a film about prison, though. It is also an exploration of the power of redemption and hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Through heartwarming stories and powerful testimonies, viewers are shown how even those who live in the depths of despair can still find solace and joy by clinging to faith .


4. The World’s Most Notorious Prison

The walls of prison have stood for centuries, a symbol of fear and despair to those who inhabit its cells. It is known far and wide as the world’s most notorious prison, one that has been home to some of history’s most notorious criminals.


5. World’s Toughest Prisons

This is a riveting documentary that takes viewers inside Urso Branco, one of the world’s toughest prisons. Located in Brazil, it is notorious for its high rate of inmate violence and extreme living conditions. This harrowing film dives deep into the challenges inmates face in their day-to-day lives as they attempt to survive within this dangerous and chaotic environment. Viewers will get an intimate look at the struggles and tribulations inmates face, as well as a glimpse into the culture of Urso Branco. Through interviews with former inmates and prison staff, the documentary paints a vivid picture of what life is like inside one of the world’s most notorious prisons.


6. Lockup in Germany – A Town Behind Bars

Deep in the Eifel region of Germany lies the largest prison complex: JVA Wittlich. A sprawling compound that covers 25 soccer fields, this maximum-security prison houses over 600 male inmates and also includes a juvenile detention center, hospital and educational facility. The documentary takes an insightful look at the daily lives of prisoners as well as the innovative training of prison officers. Through candid interviews and gripping scenes, we explore the trials and triumphs of those living behind bars as well as the dreams they have for their future.


7. Inside Indiana State Maximum Security Prison

This is an insightful documentary series presented by veteran journalist Sir Trevor McDonald. He takes a deep dive into some of the most notorious prisons in America, getting unprecedented access to those inside their walls. From hardened criminals to those trying to survive the system, It gives viewers a unique glimpse into life behind bars and the complex issues surrounding incarceration. It’s a must-watch for anyone who wants to understand the real impact of prisons on society. Throughout his journey, Sir Trevor illuminates how these institutions can be a catalyst for change, revealing the inspiring stories of those trying to make it through their darkest days.


8. The World’s Toughest Prisons – La Mesa, Mexico

Deep within the walls of La Mesa is a story few dare to tell. For years, the prison was under the rule of cartel bosses who brought drugs and violence into its hallways. But it wasn’t just lawlessness that reigned; riots also broke out, leading to fatalities among inmates. Nowadays, security at La Mesa is tight as a drum. Inmates are separated and isolated from one another to minimize the risk of harm. The prison has gone through a dramatic transformation, as the guards strive to protect innocent inmates from dangerous outside forces.


9. Germany’s Most Dangerous Jail

This is a documentary that offers an in-depth exploration of Aachen Prison, one of the most secure and dangerous prisons in Germany. With space for over 700 inmates, this facility houses some of the country’s toughest criminals – murderers, sex offenders, and pedophiles. This film takes an intimate look at life behind bars and asks thoughtful questions about who is serving sentences there, what crimes they have committed, and how the families of inmates cope with their loved ones being in custody. The documentary also reveals the strict daily routines that are followed by prisoners and guards alike – from cell inspections to safety protocols.


10. Inside America’s Most Notorious Prison

Trevor McDonald is an experienced journalist with a unique opportunity to explore one of the most notorious prisons in the United States. Join him on an eye-opening journey as he gets up close and personal with some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, witnessing first-hand how our justice system works at its most intense level.


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David B