Inside the World's Toughest Prisons is a television documentary series produced by London-based Emporium Productions and available on Netflix. The documentary shows life in 19 prisons around the world, mostly from the prisoner perspective but also including the perspective of prison guards and others interacting with the prison system. Season 1 was hosted by Irish journalist Paul Connolly and originally aired on Channel 5 (UK). Since the second season, the series has been commissioned by Netflix and hosted by UK journalist Raphael Rowe, who had himself served 12 years in prison for a crime he was eventually acquitted of. The series's sixth season was released on 28 September 2022.
Raphael Rowe is the ideal host for "Inside the World's Toughest Prisons" because, as a profile in Express notes, he spent 12 years behind bars himself. Rowe was wrongfully convicted of murder and robbery back in 1988, but he's turned that horrifying experience into an exciting new career. As Rowe clarified, he's not visiting these prisons as a journalist, but as an unbiased observer. "From the moment I step out of that van, those guards treat me like any other prisoner," he explained. Rowe starts each visit handcuffed in the back of a police van. He has no security, and ventures inside accompanied only by a couple camera operators and occasionally either a fixer or translator, depending on the situation.
Starting its life on British television station Channel 5 before changing hosts and commissioned for Netflix from season 2 onwards, the series follows renowned journalist Raphael Rowe who visits and endures the toughest conditions in prisons around the world.
"Inside the World's Toughest Prisons" is a documentary series wherein the show's host goes undercover as an inmate in order to give viewers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what really goes on in the world's toughest prisons. "We're always, rightly, told that we're safe because the bad guy is locked up, but it is what happens next that is key," host and presenter Raphael Rowe explained to Express about the premise of the show.
But even after serving 12 years, Rowe's not always prepared for the circumstances he finds himself in while working for the show. "When I walked through Tacumbú penitentiary in Paraguay, I could not believe my eyes," he recalled about a prison featured in Season 4. "I've seen inside many prisons and have witnessed all kinds of conditions but I had never seen anything like this." He added, "It was terrifying to see guys sleeping outdoors in the open air, openly using drugs and carrying knives."
There are six seasons of The World's Toughest Prisons. The show first aired back in 2016 and since then it has visited some of the most toughest institutions containing some of the world's most notorious prisoners. Covering prisons in countries across the world. Season one explores; Honduras, Poland, Mexico, and Philippeans. Season 2 visits prisons in Brazil, Ukraine, Belize, and Papua New Guinea. Season 3 covers Costa Rica, Columbia, Romania, and Norway. Season 4 features Paraquay, Germany, Mauritius, and Lesotho. Season 5 explores South Africa, Philippeans, and Greenland. Season 6 covers Moldova, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There is no official reason why Paul Connolly left as host of Inside the World's Toughest Prisons after hosting when the show first aired in 2016. Paul took the viewers inside the jails, showing them what living conditions are for the inmates, as well as the guards and while season one was popular, it could have been to do with its move to Netflix. There was a huge two-year break between its release and the second season recording.
Inside the World's Toughest Prisons is a documentary series available on Netflix, with seasons 2-6 being hosted by RRF founder Raphael Rowe. Raphael travels the world, experiencing life behind bars in many different environments with people from all walks of life. The series is thought provoking and really inspires people to think differently about incarceration by showing a variety of prisons and their individual systems alongside the prisoners themselves. What really stands out about the series is how representative it is of every faucet of prison life, even exploring the roles of the guards and prison directors in a truly unique demonstration of reality, which needs to be seen more often in the media.
All of the different countries and environments that the series is filmed in lends itself to accurately displaying life for men in prisons across the globe. Living conditions range from relatively nice, as seen in Norway season 3, episode 4, to abhorrent conditions as seen in Paraguay, season 4, episode 1. Whether the living conditions are good or bad, they are at the end of the day, still prisons. Prisoners sentenced for a range of offences, from petty crimes, to the most heinous, feature throughout the whole series. Prisoners are given the opportunity to feature on the series, not to glorify their crimes, but to display what kind of prisoners are incarcerated and learn a bit about them, their countries prison system and the environment they are kept locked up in. To me, one of the best things about the series overall is the fact that the prisons and prisoners are not sensationalised, which is really important when trying to accurately display prison life to viewers.
The topic of prisons has gained traction on TV and streaming platforms these past years, both as works of fiction and documentaries. Obviously, it is a theme that intrigues many who are curious to know about these institutions, maybe among them are aspiring prison wardens. Something tells me that there will be more seasons to come.
The pitch: Host Raphael Rowe knows a thing or two about life behind bars. After being convicted and sentenced to life in prison in the U.K. for a murder he didn't commit, he decided to start researching law and criminal justice. After 12 long years, he was able to prove his innocence, and shortly after he began working with the BBC's Channel 5 to create documentaries about crime, justice, and prison reform. Now, he travels the globe and goes inside of the world's toughest prisons to show the human side of some of society's most inhumane places. He spends a full week living with the most hardened criminals on their terms as a fellow prisoner, sharing their experiences with the world and reminding viewers that inmates are people.
Unless you've been incarcerated or know someone who has, most people don't really think about prisons very often. Prison is a vague concept, a place where "bad people" are kept away from the rest of civilization. Some people might think about things like punishment versus rehabilitation, but for the vast majority of people, what's out of sight is out of mind. Rowe takes cameras deep into the bellies of some of the world's most notorious prisons, and in doing so, he highlights the need for people to care about prisoners and prison reform. Rowe understands how to survive in the prisons and gets access no one else possibly could, engaging with his fellow inmates as human beings and learning their stories. Some of them are funny, some are scary, but most are absolutely heartbreaking.
It's unusual to find a crime documentary series with this much empathy, but Rowe's calm, gentle presence at the center of everything makes this potentially exploitative show into something important and eye-opening. The show's title sounds like something you'd see on a sensational TV show like Prison Break, or on Investigation Discovery, where the prisoners are painted as monsters and the portrayal of law enforcement is practically police propaganda, but it's a different beast entirely. Both inmates and their keepers are treated with an even hand, viewed simply as human beings trying to survive in a harsh world. Some prisons and their systems of rehabilitation are praised for trying to be humane, like season 6's Central Jail of Nicosia in Cyprus. Other prisons and their conditions are clearly condemned by Rowe and the series, though he doesn't shy away from the difficulties faced by those trying to maintain the law in some of the world's poorest and most crime-ridden areas. 59ce067264