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orange is the new black - best prison movies and shows on Netflix Netflix

Prison. It’s one of those things that many are intrigued by, but obviously only from a distance (the further away the better). It is something that no one wants to experience in real life. Reel life is completely different though. We all love a good prison movie or series. from those that show life on the inside to daring prison escapes, there are a lot of great options out there.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best prison movies and series on Netflix you can stream right now!

Best prison movies and series on Netflix:

Note: We’ll continue to update this list as more prison movies and series on Netflix are released.

Best prison movies on Netflix

Cool Hand Luke

This classic 1967 drama, based on a novel by Donn Pearce of the same name, is one of the best prison movies you can watch. It earned Academy Award nominations for stars Paul Newman and George Kennedy (who also won), and also picked up the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The story follows Luke (Paul Newman) who gets sent to a Florida chain gang prison for two years. Despite harsh conditions and increasingly horrifying punishments, he doesn’t let anything dampen his spirit and hope for the future. Paul Newman gives one of his best performances as the anti-hero, and the movie is peppered with unforgettable scenes and lines.


13TH refers to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that abolishes slavery, but with a qualifying clause with regards to using it as a punishment for crime. Cut to the horrifying truth of mass incarceration and the booming prison industry in the modern age. Helmed by Ava DuVernay, this provocative documentary features numerous academics, activists, and politicians as they explore the realities of America’s justice system. It’s definitely not an easy watch, but is something that everyone should see.

Survivor’s Guide to Prison

Packaged as a prison survival guide with segments about the various aspects of life in jail, this 2017 documentary explores the harsh reality of the American prison system. It features interviews with inmates, prison officers, court officials, lawyers, and more. You also get a slew of celebrity cameos throughout the film, a few of whom are former prison inmates as well.

The Fear of 13

The Fear of 13 is a documentary that follows the story of Nick Yarris, who spent 22 years in prison on death row after being wrongfully convicted of murder. He was released in 2004 after DNA evidence helped overturn his conviction. We may know how this story ends, but this documentary is full of twists and turns as it explores different events of his life. Shot and told in the style of a one-man show, The Fear of 13 is a very compelling watch.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Some may be familiar with the Stanford prison experiment story, and this 2015 drama brings that true tale to life. Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor at Stanford, offers twenty random students the opportunity to take on roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison setting. The students lose themselves in their assigned roles, with the guards becoming more abusive, while the prisoners edge towards psychological breakdowns. It’s an interesting, albeit horrifying, exploration of the prison dynamic and the human condition.

Best prison series on Netflix

Orange is the New Black

No list of Netflix prison series, or just the best Netflix series in general, will be complete without including Orange is the New Black. Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, the story revolves around Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), who is sentenced to 15-months in a minimum security prison. While the series remains about Piper at its core, it has grown into its beast, fueled by award-winning performances from its excellent cast. The series is currently six seasons in. If you haven’t caught up, now’s a great time to do so, with the seventh and final season dropping at on July 26.


It would be easy to dismiss Wentworth as the Australian Orange is the New Black (many have done so). However, featuring prison in women is as far as the similarities go. Wentworth is a much darker, grittier take on life in a maximum security women’s prison. It follows Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack), who is sent to jail for attempted murder, and chronicles her life as she struggles to survive. There are currently six seasons of the show on Netflix. Season 7 is currently airing in Australia and an eighth has already been commissioned.

Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons

The name of this Netflix prison series is self-explanatory. Hosted by Paul Connolly (season 1) and Raphael Rowe (season 2 and 3), the series explores some of the most dangerous prisons, and a couple of really nice ones, around the world. The hosts go into these prisons as voluntary inmates to provide an inside look at what it’s like. Being in prison is never good, but this series showcases how much worse some people have it.

First and last

This series documents the first few days of new prisoners and the final days of those being released at Georgia’s Gwinnett County Jail. It’s an interesting and emotional exploration of what is often the worst and the best day for an inmate and how being in jail can change you. The first season is six-episodes long. 

Time – The Kalief Browder Story

This series documents the heart-breaking and horrifying tale of Kalief Browder. The high school student was accused of stealing a backpack at 16 and sent to prison because his family couldn’t afford the $900 bail. Despite never being convicted, Browder spent three years at Rikers Island, two of them in solitary confinement. This six-episode series is one that I highly recommend, even if it isn’t an easy watch. 

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