Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons season 5 review – banged up again

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: January 8, 2021 (Last updated: last month)
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Inside the World's Toughest Prisons season 5 review - banged up again


Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons season 5 maintains the same fascinating up-close look at far-flung prison systems, even if it’s even briefer than usual.

Raphael Rowe is an interesting guy, and Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons is interesting largely because of him. You’d think doing 12 years’ hard time after a wrongful conviction would be enough to put anyone off incarceration, but he seemingly can’t wait to get banged up again and again. For the viewer’s purposes, it’s only a good thing. Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons Season 5, now streaming on Netflix, works in the same way previous iterations (excepting the first) have — with Rowe providing a been-there, done-that kind of authenticity to life on the inside.

These seasons air on British TV before international distribution, and usually comprise four episodes. In each, Rowe gets banged up in some far-flung prison with some kind of unique gimmick or problem and does a week’s hard time there, giving us insight into not just the inmates but the system that made them such. There is no shortage of television series’ about prison, our cultural fascination with criminals and criminality being what it is, and Netflix hogs its fair share of the market, both with fiction, such as Orange Is the New Black, and fact, such as Girls Incarcerated. Most ostensibly real-life accounts suffer from sensationalism and an obviously fake made-for-TV sensibility, but Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons isn’t like that, largely thanks to Rowe.

Even briefer than usual, this new outing only has three episodes, but it makes them count. In the first, Rowe goes to the Brandvlei Correctional Center in South Africa, where most of the inmates are gang members; in the second, to the dangerously overcrowded Manila City Jail in the Philipines; and in the third, to Greenland, of all places, to a frozen-solid maximum security facility like something out of a Fast & Furious movie. You can’t help but wish for more, but what’s on offer is diverse enough that each episode feels distinct and dangerous, as it should.

READ: Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons Season 7 Review

Fans of this kind of thing, and this show, in particular, won’t find much that’s surprising in Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons Season 5, but they will certainly find what they were expecting, which is the reason to tune in anyway. It’s a solid, gritty, and most importantly believable docuseries, even if it’s a little too brief. Unlike Raphael Rowe, I’m happy to see these places from a comfortable distance, and only for a little while.

Netflix, TV Reviews
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