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Spencer Reid in an early episode of Criminal Minds.
via IMDb

Why did Spencer Reid go to jail in ‘Criminal Minds’?

The complicated storyline with Spencer Reid certainly isn't easy to follow.

With intense storylines, suspenseful mysteries, and a cast of characters fans grew to adore, Criminal Minds has been building an admiring fan base since before the show was put onto streaming platforms such as Paramount Plus and Hulu. With easier access to the series now than ever before, fans are looking back at some of the most significant storylines and cases driven forward by Quantico’s Behavioral Analysis Unit.

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The BAU is a group of talented agents who work together using sociological and psychological tactics to uncover patterns and hidden motives to solve crimes, save lives, and identify unsubs (unidentified subjects) before the wrap of an episode. Some storylines are so complex that viewers were able to follow them through several weeks of airtime, and as we spent more time with the characters, one stood out above the rest as a beloved fan favorite.

Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Spencer Reid, brought to life by Matthew Gray Gubler, is a character you can’t help but root for, so imagine the surprise fans had in the 12th season when he spent half of the episodes in prison. Yes, BAU favorite Spencer Reid spent time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and it was no simple crime or storyline, either.

So why is Reid put into prison, and what becomes of our favorite Criminal Minds character? Let’s take a look.

How does Reid’s mother play a role in his arrest?

The incredible Jane Lynch played Diana Reid, Spencer’s mother, and she was a recurring guest star on the series; living in an institution following a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Reid lived a life with a mother unlike that many of us are accustomed to. His time growing up with his mother was beautiful but different, and as she grew older, she was also given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, a debilitating disease that robs you of your memory, and Reid had to navigate yet another new chapter of life with an altered version of his mother.

Diana was accepted into a clinical trial to fight Alzheimer’s, and things were looking up; with a promising set of circumstances surrounding her, it was heartbreaking for Spencer to realize that budget cuts would be the downfall of this trial for his mother. He learned of a new trial and visited the facility in Houston, Texas, where he admitted her for yet another chance at a life with less (or hopefully no) continued disease progression.

Eventually, Reid brings her home to live with him and hires a caretaker, but Diana doesn’t think she needs one, which leads him to search for other options. While he was in Texas, he met a woman named Rosa Medina, a doctor specializing in Alzheimer’s. She had written a paper that Reid read, leading him to seek her out. Later, he went to and from Mexico, where Medina was staying, three times without notifying the FBI.

How did Spencer Reid get arrested?

In the episode titled “Spencer,” Reid is arrested in Mexico on charges of drugs as well as the murder of Rosa Medina, who ended up being a woman named Nadie Ramos. Because of Ramos’ dual citizenship in the U.S. and Mexico, Reid was transported back to the States to be sentenced, but the FBI refused to help Reid because he never told them about his trips to Mexico, which was against protocol.

Reid is sent to prison on charges of drug possession with intent to distribute and the murder of Nadie, and while his lawyer recommends not just one but two plea deals, he refuses both of them. Knowing he did nothing wrong, Reid won’t admit to a crime he didn’t commit. Of course, this is Criminal Minds we’re talking about, and someone did frame Reid to try to paint him as a guilty party, and the person who did so isn’t a stranger to the BAU.

When his mother visits him in prison, he realizes that someone working closely with her isn’t who they claim to be, and that’s where the not-so-stranger comes into play. In fact, the character is directly tied to a villain in the Criminal Minds realm that viewers love to hate. Lindsey Vaughn is the woman who comes to the prison with Reid’s mother under the guise of being a nurse, and Reid remembers her as a victim of a case that the BAU worked on many moons ago. The twists, however, don’t stop there.

Vaughn is working for none other than Cat Adams herself, a notorious hitwoman whom Reid directly captured in yet another previous case. Cat has been obsessed with Reid since their paths first crossed, even going as far as to say that Reid is the father of the baby that she’s pregnant with. He quickly disproves that allegation, and he can be released from prison and reunite with his mother, knowing he didn’t hurt anyone.

Why is Reid’s arrest so important?

While it’s a long explanation, it’s an interesting storyline that actually led to a lot of character growth. That being said, it also divided fans, with some people believing that Reid was out of character after going to prison. Then again, who wouldn’t be? The truth is, his arrest led to a character arc that fans didn’t anticipate, and some may have deemed unnecessary, but it led to a forward-going story that allowed Spencer unprecedented growth and a new view of life.

Criminal Minds ran for fifteen seasons and ended back in 2020, but a limited-run series premiered on Paramount Plus and gave fans a continuation of the story. We had a new case with some of our favorite characters, learned of their blessings and traumas in the time since we left them, and a second season is slated to be released, and fans can’t wait for it.

We can only hope that we’ll get more of Spencer Reid in the future, but for now, we live well knowing that he never stepped out of line, survived the unthinkable both before being sent to prison and in it, and came out better after experiencing all of it. Here’s hoping we’ll see our beloved Spencer Reid again soon.

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Ashley Marie
Ashley Marie is a staff writer, beat leader, Disney fanatic, and Yellowstone expert. When she's not filling her friends in on all the entertainment news they can handle, she's drinking her go-to Starbucks order — a caramel macchiato, thank you — and wishing she was at Disney World or spending time at the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. With a focus on positivity and kindness in journalism, Ashley has been writing for a decade and hopes to keep bringing you articles for decades to come.
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Ashlie Coon
A Maryland native with a BA in Theatre Performance as well as an AA in Communications. She spent three years in high school yearbook and participated in extracurriculars such as newspaper, creative writing and theatre. She is an avid Marvel, anime and Teen tv fan as shown in her work.