A Prison Ship is a penitentiary, correctional facility, or jail that moves under its own power. Often featured to highlight the questionable practices of villains, the heroics of protagonist, a setting in itself, or just to move the story along. It's also an easy way to set up TheAlcatraz; in the middle of the ocean or in space, there's nowhere to escape ''to''.

For the purposes of this trope there are two types of Prison Ship:
* The Prison Transport: often hijacked, this humble vessel is either designed or modified to transport prisoners, not hold them permanently. The transport in ''Film/PitchBlack'' is not an example as it had only one prisoner strapped in; the rest of the occupants were paying passengers. Conversely the prison transport in the ''Series/{{Lexx}}'' miniseries would count because his divine shadow is just that thorough.
* The Jail: often a setting in and of itself this vessel is usually purpose built to hold prisoners permanently (often for unscrupulous deeds outside of jurisdiction) needs things like guard stations, plumbing, cafeteria, life-support, or stasis pods to function.

Not to be confused with {{Shipping}} between prisoners.


[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* ''Anime/CowboyBebop'' episode "Black Dog Serenade". One such ship gets hijacked by prisoners.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* The Marvel UK version of ''Franchise/{{Zoids}}'' followed the story of the survivors of a human Prison Ship which crashed on what they think is an uninhabited planet but is in fact Zoidstar, former capital of the Zoidaryan Empire.
* ''Franchise/StarWarsLegends'' had a "dungeon ship" which Luke found himself in in ''ComicBook/DarkEmpire'', specially designed to hold Jedi.
* Francois Bourgeon's series ''Les Passagers du vent'' contains both types at the time of the American War of Independence - a French slaver and a British prison hulk.
* In [[Franchise/{{Batman}} Gotham City]], Blackgate Prison (located on an island in the harbour) has used a modified barge as overflow housing for less dangerous prisoners. Cluemaster once planned a [[GreatEscape mass breakout]] that involved cutting the barge loose and having it picked up by [[APirate400YearsTooLate modern-day pirate Cap'n Fear]].
* In the ComicBook/RatchetAndClankComic Ratchet gets sent to one of these in Issue #2 "Friends with Benefits" after being captured by Artemis Zogg.
* ''ComicBook/StarWarsDoctorAphra'': During the "Catastrophe Con" arc, Aphra is imprisoned by the Imperials on [[PenalColony Accresker Prison]], which is a unique spin on this trope. It's actually the hulks of several ships magnetically strapped together and tugged around by a Star Destroyer, whose prisoners are press-ganged to act as boarding parties whenever the Imperials raid a new ship.

* The airplane in ''Film/ConAir'' was a prison transport.
* ''Film/VonRyansExpress'' is set on a train being used to transport allied [=POWs=] from Italy to Germany. The prisoners escape and hijack the train.
* In ''Film/XMenTheLastStand'', the government imprisons Mystique in a special mobile prison built on a semi-trailer that is constantly moving; thereby making it harder for the Brotherhood to locate her and stage a rescue.
* The eponymous ''Film/{{Amistad}}'' is a slaver ship.
* One appears as a plot point in ''Film/TheDarkKnight''. [[spoiler: It does not blow up.]]
* In ''Film/ManOfSteel'', General Zod and co. are stored in a prison ship.
* The Tomb in ''Film/EscapePlan'' turns out to be an anchored tanker off the coast of Morocco.
* The heroes of ''Film/GuardiansOfTheGalaxy'' truly get to know one another aboard the prison ship they happen to be locked up on.
* ''Fortress 2''. In ''Film/Fortress1992'', TheAlcatraz was built inside a mine in the desert. In the sequel, it's revealed to be a satellite orbiting the Earth.

* In Creator/JohnWCampbell's short story ''Literature/WhoGoesThere'', the characters speculated that the crashed alien vessel was a Prison Ship.
* The SherlockHolmes story ''The Adventure of the Gloria Scott'' concerns a prison ship to Australia.
* Over the first few books in the Literature/XWingSeries we hear talk of Lusankya, the Empire's secret prison and brainwashing facility, but only later is it revealed to be the ''Lusankya'', a Super Star Destroyer. Even after the pounding it takes in ''The Bacta War'' there's enough left to salvage, and the New Republic captures and makes use of it until the Literature/NewJediOrder, where it goes out in a proper blaze of glory for [[RammingAlwaysWorks Operation Emperor's Spear]].
* Over half of ''Literature/DeathTroopers'' takes place on one, until the main characters have to run from the zombies to the larger spaceship it is docked on to. Then they encounter even more zombies.
* In Creator/CharlesDickens' ''Literature/GreatExpectations'', Abel Magwitch has escaped from a prison ship, and is transported to Australia on one.
* The Literature/MatthewHawkwood novel ''Rapscallion'' is set, in part, on the British prison hulks being used to hold [=POWs=] during the Napoleonic Wars.
* In ''Kur of Literature/{{Gor}}'' Tarl finds himself on a prison ''planet'', an artificial satellite of Gor dubbed the "Prison Moon" by the inhabitants of Gor even though they don't know that it's a prison. He is the only prisoner in the entire place at the start of the book.
* The ''Literature/DredChronicles'' are set on a prison ship called Perdition, in permanent orbit in an isolated system. It's where the Conglomerate dump people who they judge beyond any attempt at rehabilitation, and it's largely lawless there are no cells and no human guards. There are deadly robotic sentries which keep prisoners from getting too close to anything deemed too sensitive, but they don't interfere in gang warfare or non-lethal degradation of conditions.
* ''Franchise/DocSavage'': ''The Fortress of Solitude'' opens on a Soviet prison ship transporting prisoners to TheGulag. EvilGenius Jon Sunlight orchestrates a mutiny among the prisoners and they hijack the ship. This does not go so well, as none of the prisoners kmow how to operate a ship and they wind up running aground in the Arctic circle.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* The original cast of ''Series/BlakesSeven'' (with one exception, introduced later) were all prisoners on a Prison Ship.
* ''Series/DoctorWho'' episode "Doomsday". The Doctor discovers that the Genesis Ark was a Prison Ship built by the Time Lords during the Last Great Time War. Being of Time Lord origin, it's BiggerOnTheInside and contains a small army of Daleks.
* In ''Series/MiraiSentaiTimeranger'', the villains hijack a Prison Ship and name themselves after it.
* ''Series/{{Farscape}}'': had many a episode set inside one, poignant considering Moya was one before the pilot episode. And half her crew in said pilot were escaped prisoners.
* A ''Series/StargateSG1'' episode centers on the team finding a crashed prison spaceship.
* Both series of ''Franchise/BattlestarGalactica'' had a prison ship among the ragtag fleet.
** The [[Series/BattlestarGalactica1978 original series]] had the Prison Barge, a ship used to hold prisoners of various kinds, including prisoners of war. Baltar organizes an escape from the ship along with various characters arrested or captured in previous episodes.
** The [[Series/BattlestarGalactica2003 re-imagined series]] had a prison ship called the ''Astral Queen'' which held common criminals as well as noted terrorist Tom Zarek. It was a prison transport but after the attacks the prisoners were stuck in tiny cells for months before anybody even noticed/cared. When the fleet needed laborers for dangerous duties mining water ice on a frozen moon, Zarek negotiated the partial release of the prisoners as a condition of their being used as grunt labor. The prisoners were given their former prison ship as their new home among the fleet.
* On ''Series/RedDwarf'', the ship itself serves a secondary purpose as a prison transport ship. Apparently only a few people are aware of that floor.
* One episode of ''Series/StarTrekEnterprise'' had Captain Archer and Trip aboard one of these. The other criminals launched an escape and killed the guards, forcing them to make themselves useful to the criminals in order to survive.
* An episode of ''Series/StarTrekVoyager'' had the ''Voyager'' itself briefly converted into a Prison Ship. Using {{Force Field Door}}s, [[IdiotBall of course]]...
* The premise of ''Series/SevenDays'' is the use of technology from the [[RoswellThatEndsWell crashed Roswell UFO]] to develop TimeTravel. In one episode, one of the inventors finally translates the markings on the ship and finds out that it is a prison transport. Unfortunately, the [[TheGreys Grey]] prisoner has just escaped and is hell-bent on paying the humans back for putting him in a coma.
* ''Series/LostInSpace'' episode "Condemned Of Space". The Robinsons encounter a computer-controlled prison ship with criminals kept in HarmlessFreezing cryogenic suspension.
* In both [[Series/{{Roots}} the original]] and [[Series/Roots2016 the remake]] of ''Roots,'' Mandinka warrior in training, Kunta Kinte, is brought aboard a slave ship where he has to endures three long months inside the cargo hold during the Middle Passage. Although he starts a revolt in an attempt to kill any unecessary crewmen, and keep the rest alive to sail them back to Africa, the uprising fails, and he and the rest of the Africans are brought to the Marryland coast, [[AuctionOfEvil where they bought by numerous plantation owners]] and [[MadeASlave Kunta ends up in John Weller's plantation.]]

* In [[Machinima/RedVsBlueTheChorusTrilogy the season 13 premiere]] of ''Machinima/RedVsBlue'', Locus and his partner [[spoiler:Felix]] hijack a UNSC prison ship to recruit followers.

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* ''TabletopGame/{{Traveller}} Adventure 1 The Kinunir''. The Kinunir class starship Gaesh was converted into a Prison Ship and used to hold Imperial political prisoners.
* ''TabletopGame/{{Warhammer 40000}}'''s [[TheEmpire Imperium of Man]] has the dreaded Black Ships, each ferrying tens of thousands of {{psy|chicPowers}}kers [[SuperRegistrationAct conscripted as per government policy]]. They're all taken to Holy Terra for processing, with the strong being "sanctioned" to serve as communicators or warriors, and the rest [[PoweredByAForsakenChild fed to a giant psychic navigational beacon]].
* The sci-fi horror RPG ''Abandon All Hope'' takes place completely inside the ''[[MeaningfulName Gehenna]]'', a gigantic ship that was made by a super-fascist Earth to put in everybody they deemed undesirable (criminals, political prisoners, people they deemed "useless" because of a useless skillset for the new world government [[KillThePoor and the like]]) and sent away... whereupon it flew inside of a NegativeSpaceWedgie that is best described as Hell by way of ''Film/EventHorizon''. The Player Characters are prisoners within the ''Gehenna'' trying to survive the subsequent demonic invasion.

* ''VideoGame/TheElderScrollsIIIMorrowind'' has you starting off in one.
* ''VideoGame/RatchetAndClankGoingCommando'' has one the Flying Lab on Planet Aranos, which later gets used as a prison ship for the heroes.
* ''VideoGame/{{Rayman 2}}'': There's also The Buccaneer, the robot pirates' mobile headquarters and prison ship.
* ''VideoGame/{{Unreal}}'' has you start out on a crashed prison transport named the "Vortex Rikers".
* In ''VideoGame/PhantasyStarOnline'', an incarnation of Dark Force Faiz was locked away in a giant Prison Ship in the center of Ragol.
* ''VideoGame/MassEffect2'' has a sequence set on the prison ship ''[[IDontLikeTheSoundOfThatPlace Purgatory]]'', a privately-run jail holding the type of prisoners planetary governments don't want in ''their'' prisons. The warden also makes some extra cash by threatening to release the inmates in the systems it passes through unless the locals cough up free supplies. [[SarcasmMode Real nice guys, the Blue Suns.]]
* An alternate Cave Johnson in the ''VideoGame/{{Portal 2}}'' Perpetual Testing Initiative is captain of one of these.
* In ''VideoGame/{{Freelancer}}'', [[LawEnforcementInc Liberty Police, Inc.]] have prison ships in the Texas system above Planet Houston, the LPI ''Huntsville'' and the LPI ''Sugarland.'' These are type II prison ships: while called ships in the game, they hold prisoners rather than merely transporting them, act more like space stations in function, and resemble [[VideoGame/{{Portal}} Weighted Storage Cubes]] in appearance.
* ''VideoGame/StarcraftII'' has you mount a raid on one to rescue [[spoiler:Raynor.]] To highlight Mengsk's asshattery, he orders the ship to selfdestruct with Kerrigan on it... without informing the ship's crew.
--> '''Guard:''' Get to the escape pods!\\
'''Medic:''' This is a prison ship, there aren't any escape pods!
* On the Navy skill-building path at the beginning of ''VideoGame/SystemShock2'', one of the missions you can select therein is the UNN Pierce, which plays this straight. According to the debriefing, said prison escort apparently had a mercenary on board, disguised as a prisoner.
* Iron Heights, a prison that traditionally holds Franchise/TheFlash's enemies appears in ''VideoGame/BatmanArkhamKnight'', reimagined as an airship that crashes into the waters outside of Gotham and had captured Killer Croc [[spoiler:for the purpose of experimenting on him and other inmates.]]
* In ''VideoGame/FTLFasterThanLight'', you can come across a [[SpacePirate slaver ship]] whose crew will either gladly sell you one of their slaves or attack you if you don't hand them over one of ''your'' crewmembers. Put enought dents in their hull and they may decide to give you a slave for free instead. Smugglers hiding in SpaceClouds and the Rebel transport ships may also turn out to be a prisoner transport, as do several other ships if you kill their crew without destroying the hull.

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* An early episode of ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'' has a Fire Nation prison shipyard, a massive oil-derrick-like construction built way out in deep water. It serves as a TailorMadePrison for Earthbenders, as there is nothing for them to manipulate, unlike in a traditional prison where they could work with the literal ground beneath their feet.
* The ''WesternAnimation/XMen'' animated series featured a two-part episode with a "Spirit-drinker" that Lady Deathstrike accidentally released from an alien Prison Ship.
%%* ''WesternAnimation/SherlockHolmesInTheTwentySecondCentury''
* An episode of ''WesternAnimation/SamuraiJack'' involved Jack and his friend [[spoiler:Ashi]] exploring an alien prison spaceship that crashed on Earth. The only surviving prisoner is a [[StarfishAlien weird monster]] named [[TheWormThatWalks Lazarus-92]], which apparently killed all the other inmates, guards, and crew members of the ship.

[[folder:Real Life]]
* TruthInTelevision, [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison_ship of course.]]
** These were often older decommissioned ships, kept permanently at anchor and used because of the easily available space, versus having to build a custom prison. This was especially useful during times of war, where they might temporarily have many more prisoners than they would on a long-term basis in peace time.
** Note that decommissioned ships have seen similar use for a variety of other purposes, to include housing for military recruits, defensive outposts, and as museums (often centering on the career of the ship itself, natch).
* The practice of chaining slaves, and cramming them into ships' cargo holds is as old as maritime trade.
* During [[UsefulNotes/WorldWarII WWII]], Allied [=POWs=]' were crammed into "Hell Ships," to be transported across Japan's new dominions to be held in [[HellHolePrison hellish prison camps,]] or as [[MadeASlave manual labor]]. Being unmarked, Allied naval forces would often attack and sink these "Hell Ships," thinking they were filled with supplies or combat troops.