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The Prisoners

Mon Apr 15, 9-10pm, BBC1

Series one, episode one
Incarceration is almost as popular a topic as childbirth for TV these days. With ‘Prisoners’ Wives’ just finished and ‘Soldiers Behind Bars’ airing last week on C5, ‘The Prisoners’ is another series to favour personal tales over in-depth analysis, to considerable effect.

Louise Malkinson’s three-part documentary begins in Holloway women’s prison, where Emma, Crystal and Jayde are regular inmates stuck in cycles of addiction, low self-esteem and re-offending. On their release, all three talk a good game about not wanting to return, but the temptations and dangers of life on the outside prove overwhelming. Prison may offer a relatively safe haven for these women, but it’s self-evidently no holiday camp either.

While it’s frustrating that the obvious systemic failures allowing these women to reoffend are largely left unremarked upon, perhaps such scrutiny is best left to another series altogether. But, as a depressing litany of narratives on human frailty offering the flipside of the standard TV arc of redemption, this is exceptional documentary-making.