Penal Colony

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With the storms ragin' round us,
And the winds a-blowin' gale,
I'd rather have drowned in misery

Than gone to New South Wales.
Trad. Arr. Bob Dylan, "Jim Jones"

What to do with criminals is a problem for societies real and fictional. One common solution in times past and perhaps future is the Penal Colony. This is a self-contained society consisting mostly of prisoners and those who guard them, usually separated from the civilized world by natural barriers in addition to (or instead of) prison walls; in science fiction, it may be a whole Prison Planet whose Hat is an orange jumpsuit. Typically the prisoners will be required to do some sort of hard and dangerous labor; mining is a favorite in Science Fiction.

If the colony is fairly loosely controlled or has no guards at all, it will resemble a Wretched Hive, with the prisoners more or less running the place.

The Penal Colony can be a rich source of story ideas; if you're recruiting for a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, you might do it here. Revolutionary leader captured by The Empire and sent here? They may have to fight their way to the top of the prison hierarchy, then arrange an escape. Need a source of people you can dispose of without anyone caring? Have your Xenomorph invade the Penal Colony. Is the place too loosely supervised? If so, it may become a base of operations for the Big Bad.

Compare Wretched Hive and Death World (which may be what separates the Penal Colony from civilization). Particularly inescapable ones can overlap with The Alcatraz or Phantom Zone.

Examples of Penal Colony include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

Agito: You know, this place is really great.
Lutecia: You mean you can't see that it's a criminal deportation world?
Agito: That's not what I mean. It's not a penal colony. It's a world that people are currently adapting and developing.

  • The Excel Saga manga had one that Excel and Elgala were shipped off to. An island for women prisoners where they'd lose out to their feral instincts in a savage world with no hope of escape, and probably some sexual harassment. Excel and Elgala escaped during the boat ride there, although they got attacked by sharks and whirlpools in the process.
  • The Abh wind up conquering one of these in Banner of the Stars II. Lafiel is put in charge of figuring out what to so with the inhabitants, much to her displeasure, specifically the guards and some of the female prisoners who want off.
  • In Gun X Sword, Endless Illusion was originally a prison world. The Original Seven were used by the heads of security, and the Claw was once one of those in charge. He's also the last person who remembers the details.
  • Chimera in Jyu-Oh-Sei is a prison planet, or at least that's what the powers that be want people to believe. In actuality, it's a testing ground for breeding a new variety of humans hardy enough to survive in that star system.
  • One of these exists at the beginning of the Filler Arc in Naruto The corrupt teacher from waaaay back at the start of the series is there, and he's been experimenting with spells that could best be described as the wizarding-ninja equivalent of steroids. He gets out, and Naruto and the other Leaf Ninja have to stop him.
  • Guy Double Target has Heel as the warden of the Prison Planet Geo in which women are used as sex slaves for male prisoners as a reward.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The Phantom Zone from Superman is another prison dimension.
  • The Mines of Titan and the various Cursed Earth work farms in Judge Dredd
  • Takron-Galtos, the Legion of Super-Heroes' favorite dumping ground for cosmic baddies.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog has the Devil's Gulag, a prison built on top of a mountain top. However, two breakouts have lead to the prison being abandoned.
  • The British 1980's science fiction comic Starblazer had a number of these.
    • Issue 7 "Holocaust Hogan". Zeta-9 was the main colony in use by Earth forces. It held a large number of hardened criminals and was protected by a detachment of guard ships.
    • Issue 52 "The Mask of Fear". Milo's World had a moon called the Alpha Moon Death colony, which was used to exile political prisoners who harvested radioactive ore under horrendous working conditions.
    • Issue 57 "Galactic Lawman". The planet Mynos has a penal colony made up of prisoners from the planet Tara. The criminals are forced to perform hard labor and are brutally treated by the guards.
    • Issue 61 "Escape from Devil's Moon". The planet Catraz (AKA Devil's Moon) has a human penal colony with harsh working conditions. Catraz has no atmosphere and the colony is next to a nuclear waste dump.
    • Issue 100 "Pirates of the Ether Sea)". The planet Pavo's polar regions house a penal colony for the dictator's political enemies.
    • Issue 110 "The Tomb of Tara". The penal asteroid Gog is subject to blistering heat from a nearby sun which that quickly kills the convicts performing hard labor there.
    • Issue 208 "Planet of the Dead". The planet Devil's Island's population is made up of criminals. It's monitored by a law enforcement battle station in orbit but the prisoners are mostly left to their own devices.
    • Issue 221 "Beastworld". Tannadize 4 is very similar to Devil's Island above: the prisoners are left unsupervised but are watched by an orbital police post on one of the world's three moons.


Film[edit | hide]


Literature[edit | hide]

  • This is the convenient use for the levels below the Net in David Wingrove's Chung Kuo
  • Salusa Secundus in Dune was one of these.
    • Originally it was the imperial capital, but then a rogue house nuked it and it became a Death World on par with Arrakis.
    • Also the emperor's Sardaukar were recruited from that planet, the harsh conditions supposedly toughened them up.
  • In Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, serious criminals were suitably equipped with survival gear, and then sent on a one-way trip to the surface of a penal planet, where they would be effectively cut off from all modern (and indeed, not so modern) benefits of human civilisation, and left to fend for themselves for the rest of their lives.
  • This is where one of Kafka's short stories (In the Penal Colony) takes place. The focus of the story, however, is on an upcoming execution....
  • The planet Hades in Echos of Honor, from which Honor engineers a mass escape.
  • The planet Dagoola IV in the Vorkosigan Saga story Borders of Infinity, from which Miles engineers a mass escape.
  • In Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, part of the moon was a penal colony, but the Authority running the place treated the whole thing as such.
  • In The Sardonyx Net there is a prison planet called Chabad.
  • Camp Green Lake in Holes.
  • Jack Chalker's Four Lords of the Diamond series features four planets which serve as penal colonies, each with a unique cutthroat society.
  • The marvellously named planet Despayre in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the original construction site for the Death Star (and the first casualty of the Death Star superlaser). There are also others that tend to end up in this kind of role, such as the spice mines of Kessel.
  • In J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, Azkaban, the wizard prison, was such an example, being an island in the middle of the north sea. As it was run by dark creatures who eventually let the prisoners escape it was a cardboard prison.
  • The CoDominium universe has several, notably Haven and Tanith, but nearly every colony that isn't fortunate enough to have a nationalist patron gets convicts and dissidents "involuntary transportees" dumped on them whenever Earth feels like it.
  • Botany in the Catteni books. The similarities to the settlement of Australia are numerous and explicit.
  • "A Planet Named Shayol" by Cordwainer Smith took place on a very unusual prison planet.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Seekers of the Sky, the Isles of Sorrow are a penal colony where the condemned mine iron for the rest of their lives (usually, pretty short thanks to the conditions).
  • The setting of A Planet Called Treason is a penal planet for the leaders of a rebellion and their descendants. A lack of metal keeps the inhabitants on the surface while the rest of the galaxy profits from their otherwise advanced technology which is offered up for pittances of metal.
  • In the Green-Sky Trilogy, the underground caves beneath the Wissenroot were initially used for those who wanted the next generation to know about humanity's dark past. Eventually, it became used to exile those who opposed the Ol-Zhaan, with a nasty lie to their relatives that the exile was devoured by monsters. The exiles and their descendants became the Erdlings.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Captain Dylan Hunt and Andromeda had to escape from one in the episode A Rose in the Ashes.
  • Blakes Seven had Cygnus Alpha.
  • The Space: 1999 episode "Devil's Moon" had a prison moon.
  • Kirk made Ceti Alpha V into a prison planet for Khan in Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Space Seed". That episode become the basis for Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan.
    • A penal colony in New Zealand was shown in the pilot Voyager episode, where Tom Paris was put after his "pilot error".
    • The Whom Gods Destroy episode of the Original Series centres around a penal colony for the criminally insane, the Elba II asylum.
  • Desperus in the Doctor Who serial "The Daleks' Masterplan".
    • In "Frontier In Space", the Doctor is sent to one on the Moon.
    • The ultimate example from that show, though, may be Shada, prison planet of the Time Lords.
  • In The Time Tunnel episode "Devil's Island, the time travelers arrive on the French penal colony of Devil's Island just as new prisoners arrive. They are mistaken for two of the prisoners who have escaped and are imprisoned in their stead. The other prisoners are not interested in escape until Captain Alfred Dreyfus arrives on the island.
  • The heroes of Stargate SG-1 seem to wind up in these with alarming frequency.
    • One of these was a world where the gate had no dialing device, although, if you happen to find a power source, you can just dial manually.
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had Buck visit a world which seemed at first like a charming pastoral community. Then you find out that they aren't this low-tech voluntarily...


Music[edit | hide]

  • Steely Dan's "Sign In Stranger" (from The Royal Scam) is apparently about one of these. It seems to be entirely run by the inmates and has devolved into a lawless Wretched Hive.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Warhammer 40,000 has Penal Colonies, most of which have a toxic atmosphere. Some are used for mining others are just used to hold the people. They are also used for recruitment into Penal Legions which are sent on missions too dangerous for normal troopers or ones which need the people who did it to be executed afterwords.


Theater[edit | hide]

  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Benjamin Barker was sent to Botany Bay in Australia on false charges because the judge who sentenced him wanted his wife for himself. He got out and returned to London under a new name: Sweeney Todd.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Crime Cities, the penal colony occupies a three planet star system, with criminals contained because hyperdrive unit construction is a well kept secret and drives are available in-system. Prisoners are distributed among the three planets according to how violent they are, based on the minimum, medium and maximum ratings. As part of a conspiracy, research for hyperdrive technology is occurring on the most violent planet.
  • The prison stations orbiting Plant Houston, and, to a lesser extent, Houston itself in Freelancer.
  • The penal colony in which the game Gothic is set. It is separated from the rest of the world by a magical barrier.
  • Oovo IV in Star Wars, which also serves as a podracing track.
  • The Isle of Despair in Arcanum.
  • In Myst V, one of the ages you go to is a prison age. Back in old D'ni society, hardened criminals were shipped off to prison ages; one-way linking books to harsher worlds. There was no way out without help from the outside. The D'ni criminals were left to their own devices on prison ages; they formed their own societies.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • In Schlock Mercenary, Petey seems to be turning the Andromeda Galaxy into one for the more aggressive races from the Milky Way to make themselves useful. It's commented upon in at least one strip, as is his resemblance to a koala.
  • A minor running gag in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob is that the Pirates of Ipecac don't want to be sent to the Lint Mines of Dustworld. "The dust bunnies! Shudder!"
  • The Eye in The Lydian Option is a self-contained asteroid prison with few rules - the guards rarely intervene in fights between prisoners unless directly threatened.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Tech Infantry had the Federation penal colony in the R45 system, which was also a Death World.
  • Penal colonies feature a fair amount in Look to the West. After the American colonies object to being used as one (which was Truth in Television before the American Revolutionary War in our timeline), Britain switches to using Newfoundland and Michigan, and later West Africa. France meanwhile uses French Guiana and Russia uses Siberia, which they also did in Real Life.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • English colonials established a penal colony in Botany Bay, Australia
    • Port Jackson (modern Sydney Harbour, Australia) was also founded as a penal colony.
    • Brisbane was actually founded as a double-plus-penal colony, for transported convicts who committed crimes again while in Australia.
      • That's it, I'm moving to South Australia. Thanks a lot, guy above me.
  • Devil's Island in French Guiana
    • Côn Sơn Island in French Indochina
  • The Gulags of Siberia and other remote places (the Arctic north, Sakhalin) were used this way by the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, the major industrial cities of Norilsk, Vorkuta, and Magadan all started out as Gulags.
  • During the early years of WWII the Nazis planned to deport Europe's Jews to Madagascar, which was under the control of Vichy France. The plan was put on hold when it became clear the UK would not surrender, and scrapped after Commonwealth and Free French forces captured Madagascar.
  • The Andaman islands were used as a penal colony for participants of the Indian independence movement.
  • Islas Marías Federal Prison in Mexico is an example of an extant penal colony.
  • The early American colonies were a popular destination for persons convicted of crimes; they would arrange with the prosecutor to become indentured servants in America, and after a term of years would win their freedom. Furthermore, the state of Georgia was originally founded by Britain specifically as a colony for those imprisoned for being unable to pay their debts (rather than having committed some crime) in 1732. However, after the War of Independence, Britain had nowhere to transport convicts who had previously been going to America. For various reasons, Canada was not an option, but the British noticed that Australia was conveniently unclaimed by any of the other European powers, and was therefore "empty" (try telling an 18th century European that Indigenous Australians are real people, and you'll probably get laughed out of the room). And so Australia was chosen, and you probably know the rest of the story if you've read the rest of this section.