A jailbreak or jail break is an escape from prison. Since prison escapes are generally undesirable, jailbreaks are usually met with a formidable law enforcement response, especially when they involve high value prisoners or prisoners who have committed serious and violent crimes. Jailbreaks have been popularized in numerous films and books, and history has also seen a number of interesting real-life jailbreaks, including the 1962 escape of three prisoners from supposedly inescapable Alcatraz Island and the 1943 escape of numerous Allied prisoners from a notorious German prisoner of war camp known as Stalag Luft III.
Many jailbreaks are unsuccessful, because prison and jail officials do their best to prevent prisoner escapes. Outdoor areas in penal facilities are usually tightly controlled, for example, and prisoners are monitored at vulnerable moments such as prison transfers to reduce the risk of escape. Many prisons also have extensive action plans in place for dealing with a jailbreak; these plans are designed to lock down the prison to discourage further escapes while sending out search parties for the missing prisoners. Generally, escapees are apprehended within a few days.
A successful jailbreak requires extensive planning, and it often works best with some kind of assistance. While prisoners do spontaneously take advantage of situations such as poorly guarded work crews, prisoners who take the time to plan out their jailbreak can sometimes succeed in escaping and evading capture for some time. Assistance on the inside from other prisoners and guards is extremely useful, as is cooperation from outsiders who can shelter escaped prisoners or provide them with needed supplies.
When a jailbreak does occur, jails usually notify neighboring communities. By alerting neighbors, the jail can expand the network of people who might assist them in capturing the prisoner, and people can take steps to protect themselves if a prisoner is known to be violent. Usually, members of the public are asked to report sightings of escaped prisoners without attempting to stop them, since the prisoners may be armed, or they could resort to desperate moves to avoid capture.
Popular culture includes numerous depictions of jailbreaks because many people find the thought of executing an escape from prison intriguing. It requires immense organizational ability and cooperation to be successful, and some historical jailbreakers have been inspiring figures. Prisoners of war, for example, have engaged in some astounding jailbreaks to escape brutal conditions. Some notorious gangsters like John Dillinger have also distinguished themselves with daring prison escapes.