Dystopian, Thriller
The Best YA Books Featuring Prisons

The Best YA Books Featuring Prisons

If you’re interested in the kinds of stories that get told in and about prison, and then this list is for you! These YA books are all largely set in prisons, detention facilities, and penitentiaries, across a range of genres, including historical fiction and dystopian fiction. Read on to know more about these books, whose stories feature teens struggling against systems bent on breaking them, teens who are wrongly imprisoned and want to get free.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes.

It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.

What do readers say?

Passed this book around to all the young people in our family, and currently not sure which family has it. That is, AFTER we read it together in the car on a road trip. Awesome book, can’t hardly put it down. If you want to get your kids reading, force them to read the first chapter and you won’t see them until they’ve finished. 🙂PuceEmu, Amazon user ★★★★★

Lockdown by Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers enjoys speaking with kids in schools and juvenile detention facilities about writing and making positive decisions. He says, “I have enormous faith in young people.”

What’s it like in juvie jail? Enter the world of fourteen-year-old Reese, who’s locked up at Progress juvenile detention facility. Can he get a second chance?

What do readers say?

My students loved the book… It allowed us to have discussions as well as discuss character, setting, actions/motives.The book, when accompanied with the audio, and when you allow students to develop a comfortable place express questions and thoughts about what they have read and heard, brought such an intense level of comprehension to what growing up can be like.” – plcorrado, Amazon user ★★★★★



Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Incarceron is a prison so vast that it contains not only cells and corridors, but metal forests, dilapidated cities, and wilderness. It has been sealed for centuries, and only one man has ever escaped. Finn has always been a prisoner here. Although he has no memory of his childhood, he is sure he came from Outside. His link to the Outside, his chance to break free, is Claudia, the warden’s daughter, herself determined to escape an arranged marriage. They are up against impossible odds, but one thing looms above all: Incarceron itself is alive…

What do readers say?

On word I could use to describe this book would be: smooth. There are no breaks in the story, where you wonder when it will pick up again. This leaves me with only one more thing to say: When the sequal, Sapphique, comes out later this year, I’m going to buy it. Because I know I will enjoy it.Manatee, Amazon user ★★★★★



Solitary by Alexander Gordon Smith

Alex Sawyer and his mates should have known there was no way out of Furnace Penitentiary.

Their escape attempt only lands them deeper in the guts of this prison for young offenders, and then into solitary confinement. And that’s where a whole new struggle begins–a struggle not to let the hellish conditions overwhelm them.

Because before another escape attempt is even possible, they must first survive the nightmare that now haunts their endless nights.

What do readers say?

“Once one enters the Furnace universe, it’s difficult for me to imagine how anyone could choose to leave it without first devouring every book in this series. Great character development, and awesome story line…not too far removed from where our world might be heading. And all this just makes these books even more terrifying. DEFINITELY recommended.” – Kindle Customer ★★★★★


Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

What do readers say?

The horrors of the setting and the emotions they evoked were definitely not glossed over. Whether it was bombed-out London, the interior of the camp, or the Nuremburg trials, everything was vivid and stark in its reality. I felt the emotions inspired by the setting that the characters experienced. I experienced the settings with the characters: the horror of the camp, the freedom of flying for Rose, the tenseness in the courtroom, and the moments of readjusting and panic in the Hotel Ritz. Everything was vivid and stark in its realism and emotional wallop.” – Sarah L. Gruwell, Amazon user ★★★★★

Rikers High by Paul Volponi

Martin was sitting on the front stoop of his apartment building minding his own business when he was arrested for something he didn’t even mean to do. Five months later, he’s still locked up on Rikers Island, in a New York City jail. Just when it seems things couldn’t get much worse, Martin is caught between two warring prisoners, and his face is slashed. Now he?ll be forever marked with a prison scar. One good thing comes from the attack: Martin is transferred to a different part of Rikers where inmates are required to attend high school. If Martin opens up to a teacher who really seems to care, perhaps he’ll learn a lesson more valuable than any taught in class.

What do readers say?

Paul Volponi has a real following among teen readers, and when they learn that RIKERS HIGH has a real-life connection to the author’s own experience, it is sure to be a popular read.Readingjunky, for TeensReadToo, Amazon user ★★★★★

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Today I moved to Alcatraz, a twelve-acre rock covered with cement, topped with bird turd and surrounded by water. I’m not the only kid who lives here. There are twenty-three other kids who live on the island because their dads work as guards or cooks or doctors or electricians for the prison, like my dad does. And then there are a ton of murderers, rapists, hit men, con men, stickup men, embezzlers, connivers, burglars, kidnappers and maybe even an innocent man or two, though I doubt it. The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don’t want. I never knew prisons could be picky, but I guess they can. You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst. Unless you’re me. I came here because my mother said I had to.

What do readers say?

I could barely put down my Kindle. I have yet to read a book written for young people that grabbed my attention like this one. I like historic fiction and this Ms. Choldenko has found a niche in history that few of us know about and filled it with interesting characters and a plot line that doesn’t just confine itself to its unique location. The story of Moose and his sister Natalie is nicely woven into the overall plot along family life during the depression and Moose’s coming of age, friendships, romances, and the natural curiosity of the youngsters about their notorious neighbors.Curtis G. Richardson, Amazon user ★★★★★


What are your favorite YA books that are set in prisons, or have prisons in them? Let us know in the comments!

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