5 Prison Life Documentaries

Far more than 5 prison life documentaries have been recorded, but best of these films detail the experience of prison life from the perspective of inmates in an honest and unvarnished manner.

  1. "Scared Straight!" (1978) This classroom classic has been viewed by generations of American high school students. It documents the Scared Straight program, which compels convicts from maximum security prisons to tell their stories about life on the inside to convince kids that no crime is worth the time. This film won an Oscar for best documentary film, and it certainly must be classified as one of the best prison life documentaries ever shot.
  2. "The Farm: Angola" (1998) This Oscar-nominated documentary depicts daily life in the Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola. This documentary is depicted primarily from an inmate's perspective and includes interviews with several inmates, among them is an inmate nearing death after a life behind bars. A classic documentary film, it is in the upper echelon among all prison life documentaries ever made.
  3. "Lock-Up: The Prisoners of Rikers Island" (1994) Rikers Island, in New York State's East River between Queens and the Bronx, is relatively unknown outside the prison world. It is one of the largest correctional facilities in North America. This documentary film includes interviews with various inmates and people working in law enforcement on the island. The aftermath of prison violence and internal drug searches are set to screen in yet another classic of prison life documentaries.
  4. "O Prisioneiro da Grade de Ferro" (2004) Entitled "Prisoner of the Iron Bars" in English, this Brazilian film documents life within the renowned former Carandiru Penitentiary in Sao Paulo. Prisoners were provided cameras under the auspices of an educational program and their behind-the-scenes glimpses of life within the prison are simply unforgettable.
  5. "An Omar Broadway Film" (2008) Incarcerated gang member Omar Broadway snuck a video camera into prison to document what he perceived to be frequent use of excessive force and rampant corruption among the institution's guards. His hidden footage offers one of the most unique prison life documentaries shot from the perspective of the prisoner himself without institutional knowledge.

The prison life documentaries listed here include quite a few classics of documentary film. All are well-worth the effort to track down and watch. If you seek an unvarnished perspective on the life of a prisoner, any of these five prison life documentaries would offer an excellent starting point to explore the subject further.

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