Wardens Are Evil


"Put your trust in the Lord. Your ass belongs to me. Welcome to Shawshank."
Warden Norton, The Shawshank Redemption

The prison's warden will be a heartless, soulless monster dedicated to abusing and bullying prisoners in the most brutal ways possible. Alternatively, he or she will torment prisoners emotionally by saying hurtful words and putting them down. Or it could be both. Bonus points if his or her actions are illegal themselves and makes some of the prisoners act as his enforcers. Double bonus points if he/she gets busted and becomes an inmate in the prison they once ruled with an iron fist.

Don't even think about thinking about crossing him or her, and don't even think about thinking about escaping. If you do, the punishment will make you wish you were dead (assuming it doesn't involve death).

Note that this doesn't necessarily have to be a prison warden; it could just be the commander of a prison-like institution. Compare Corrupt Politician, Screw the Rules, I Make Them! Contrast Reasonable Authority Figure and The Jailer.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Dokuro has Kawashima Junta, chief prison guard.
  • One Piece: While he really means well for the world, Chief Warden of Impel Down Magellan qualifies. He has stated (and demonstrated) that he has the authority to punish or kill any prisoner there as he sees fit, and along with being a Poisonous Person, it's the reason he's so feared there. He's not without limits, though; his former colleague Shiliew is far worse, brutally massacring the prisoners for the fun of it. This disgusted Magellan so much that he ordered Shiliew to be imprisoned.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, there was Takasu, the obese warden of the prison facility. Among the unpleasant tropes that could be applied to him were The Bully, Politically Incorrect Villain, Bad Liar, Sore Loser, and Cheaters Never Prosper. A key part of his plan to break Yusei was to make ending a long lockdown depend on his success in a duel, and make sure he couldn't duel and was disqualified, the end result being the inmates hating him. But he forgot one thing: The inmates, without exception, despised Takasu, and weren't as stupid as he figured. They not only figured the plan out fast, they helped Yusei to makes sure he could duel. In fact, Takasu was such scum that his boss (Rex Godwin, the Big Bad of the first season, was disgusted with him, and fired him after his brutal treatment of inmates became known.

  • Batman and the Outsiders #4: Warden Brewster of Gotham State Prison deliberately denies a prisoner (codenamed "Meltdown") needed medical treatments and then lies that the Prison Board was responsible. He does this to trick the dangerously radioactive felon into escaping so he can be killed to save the public. Turns out the warden has decided rehabilitation doesn't work, so he's been finding ways to "legally" off prisoners.
  • Gregory Wolfe warden of Iron Heights Penitentiary in The Flash Comics. He's a bully who has inmates beaten for the slightest thingnote , and he himself has the power to induce muscle pain and will do so at the drop of a hat. Wolfe's cruelty though comes through his treatment of Anti-Villain and sympathetic criminals, as he sees the world through a strict Black and White Morality lens, refusing to sympathise with any criminals regardless of circumstance, and that includes a marked refusal to support any attempt at redemption or rehabilitation, making him a terrible fit to oversee the Flash rogues, who are typically characterised by their sympathetic Anti-Villain tendencies.
    • Despite his harsh view though, in Johns' initial run Wolfe was shown to hold some notable Hidden Depths and Character Development. Though he despised criminals and was very antagonistic towards the Flash and Hunter Zolomon, who he considered 'bleeding hearts' who were too soft on the Rogues, he confessed to Hunter that he empathises with them, Hunter especially, who as a profiler and psychologist has to get into the heads of monsters and thus finds his ability to still see good in them admirable. And, when Hunter is crippled by Grodd during his escape, Wolfe blamed himself and began re-evaluating how he went about things. When Hunter became Zoom, Wolfe was shown looking regretful and troubled at seeing what happened to him, to the point he reneged on his previous stances on rehabilitation. Unfortunately, later appearances abandoned this to instead portray him as a two-dimensional bully and potentially corrupt.
  • Doctor Who Magazine features Thinktwice, a space prison whose inmates are kept under control through memory-wiping. At best, this leaves them with no sense of identity and thus nothing to fight for; at worst, it fries their brains. The warden claims to be doing all this for their 'rehabilitation' while loving every minute of it. Oh, and his memory-wiping machine? It's being used to feed some very nasty, very hungry aliens.
  • Warden Kang of Kaijumax rules the island of giant monsters with an iron fist. Helps that he can turn himself into a giant armored soldier who can shoot lasers out of his chest.
  • Subverted by Maxon, appearing in one Tex Willer story: he has no problem beating up the inmates and make their lives into living hells, but they have to be creating discipline problems for that, as made clear in his Establishing Character Moment (he beats up his new inmate Jim Lowell, AKA Tex faking being a murderer to infiltrate a gang, but that's after 'Lowell' went out of his way to provoke him into a fistfight, and doesn't give him anymore trouble after he 'learned his lesson').
  • Ranko, featured in a Diabolik story, torments his prisoners while also selling them guns, knives and other illegal goods. Diabolik actually takes advantage of it: when one of the prisoners kills someone who befriended Diabolik in the process of breaking out, Diabolik's revenge is to drug the convict into walking back to the jail, with Ranko shown anticipating all the tortments he'll inflict on him for getting him in trouble with the riot he caused to break out.
  • A variation: An arc of Power Girl involved a superpowered man (parents immigrated from Quran but he was born in America) that had been arrested and put under maximum security restraints and constant 24-style interrogation without the capacity to even contact (let alone go visit) his dying father (or any kind of representatives for his defense). He had been put under arrest with the hope that he would break out and create a precedent for superpowered terrorists in order to speed up a Mutant Draft Board proposal.

  • In Escape from Alcatraz, the contrast between the unnamed Wardennote  and the rest of his staff is quite obvious. The guards and the Deputy Warden are just people doing their job and don't resort to plain brutality at any point. The Warden on the other hand is a cold, vain bully. He drives an old prisoner to madness by taking his painting privileges away just because he didn't like a painting the man made of him, and drives another into a heart attack by crushing a flower that the prisoner had brought into the cafeteria (and then not only remains stone-cold calm as the man dies at his feet, but he immediately follows up with a Bond One-Liner to remind the other onlooking prisoners that Alcatraz is inescapable). His mission to ensure that Frank Morris will remain in prison is also portrayed as more of a personal obsession than just fulfilling his duties as head of the prison.
  • Cool Hand Luke. The Captain is the sadistic warden of a chain gang prison. He ruthlessly mistreats the title character by locking him in a punishment box and having him beaten.
  • In The Shawshank Redemption Warden Norton is skimming money off of the price he charges for prisoners to work for various buinesses/public works/etc., and is willing to kill to protect his profits. When Andy reveals the corruption the warden commits suicide. Byron Hadley, the captain of the guard, is just as bad, insulting the prisoners with every breath and issuing brutal (and sometimes deadly) beatings as a matter of course.
  • Death Race: Warden Hennessey of Terminal Island Prison is a cold-hearted bitch which shanghais Jensen Ames (in more ways than one) into taking part of the titular Deadly Game (and plans to either keep him racing forever or kill him as soon as his usefulness as the season's Frankenstein is over-not that she had a plan to have anybody win). The Prequel movies also retroactively show that she had some amount of Small Name, Big Ego-she says on the first movie that she was the creator of Death Race, but in reality it was the corporation she works for, and they knew she would take credit around anybody who could buy it.
  • The Last Castle: James Gandolfini 's Warden Winter is an excessively brutal, excessively petty bastard. Doling out rules about prisoners not being able to act like soldiers anymore? OK, tough, but understandable. Using a number of brutal methods to break prisoners' wills (especially when Determinator Badass General Eugene Irwin arrives), and ordering prison guards to shoot prisoners in the head with 12-gauge rubber bullets (which is highly lethal) if they somehow manage to piss him off (which is unfortunately often)? Firmly cements him in this trope.
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, the warden of the Chateau d'If is a sadist who among other things has the prisoners flogged and given a lash for every year of imprisonment. Incidentally, this is a case of Adaptational Villainy, since in the novel the guards (the warden doesn't appear) are presented as good men doing a bad job.
  • The Boss from Big Stan is a near-perfect example.
  • Warden Drumgoole (played with gleeful smugness by Donald Sutherland) in the Sylvester Stallone prison flick Lock Up has a grudge against Stallone's character Frank Leone for getting him demoted by succesfully escaping a prevous prison he was responsible for (because he refused Leone the chance to see his dying friend, even with armed escort). Frank just wants to sit out his remaining time and reunite with his wife after his release, but the warden would like nothing better than to see him in prison for life or on the electric chair. He tries to provoke Frank throughout the entire film so that he'll lash out and turn himself into a lifer, even murdering Frank's best friend and pulling a Batman Gambit on Leone to make him try to escape, involving threatening his wife with rape.
  • Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky has a Warden as the Big Bad. He grinds his prisoners up in the kitchens to make food out of them.
  • Death Warrant: The Warden agrees with corrupt state officials to kill his prisoners to harvest their organs. Unlike the mastermind behind this scheme, his own motive is just profit. He's also a violent racist and a sadistic bully.
  • On Runaway Train, we have Warden Rankin, who holds a brutal vendetta against Manny. Granted, Manny is mentioned (and then shown) to be an escape artist (who had escaped before) and a violent thug, but Rankin himself is a Rabid Cop that welded Manny's solitary confinement cell shut (and felt content to have managed to keep him inside for three years before the court forced him to cut it open), arranged for other prisoners to try (unsuccessfully) to kill Manny, and violently strong-arms a train technician to tell him where the runaway train is so he can give it chase personally.
  • In Chicago, Matron "Mama" Morton isn't exactly evil, but corrupt to the core. Her motto (and introductory song) is "When you're good to Mama, Mama's good to you."
  • The guards in Mad Dog Morgan regularly hand out beatings to the prisoners, but Sergeant Smith is particularly brutal. His boss, Cobham, is even more sadistic.
  • Newsies: Warden Snyder, the head of the New York "refuge", where boys and young men convicted of crimes are sent to be "re-socialized" and turned into productive members of society. In reality Snyder pockets most of the money intended to be used for the boys' upkeep, leaving them living in basically a poorhouse. He also seems to use his charges as his personal servants.
  • Jailbait: Warden Frank sexually abuses the girls in his care in exchange for protection and not putting them into solitary. He also has the nurse first beaten, then shivved by one of the inmates to prevent her from talking.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?: The Sheriff. He he goes for overkill tactics while hunting for the protagonists like burning down a barn with them inside, he insists that he answers to a higher law than man's (so he will just keep coming to matter what), and the moment he makes it clear that he will see them all hang even if they are now innocent (and he will kill Tommy for no reason other than him just being there alongside the fugitives), he crosses the Moral Event Horizon hard. That he is a Satanic Archetype doesn't helps any.
  • Prime Cut: The nasty old madam who sold the young orphans under her care into prostitution.
  • Suicide Squad: Captain Griggs, the closest thing Belle Reve has to a warden, is an asshole who enjoys abusing the prisoners and has a massive gambling problem that makes him an easy target for blackmail by the Joker.
  • Fortress (1992): The wardens in both movies are more than happy to oversee a prison where the inmates are treated like cattle. However, the first movie provided a subversion where the Prison A.I. was revealed to be the one really in control.
  • Averted in Alien. Superintendent Andrews is something of a jerkass, but given the unique circumstance of Fury 161 is hardly in a position to abuse his power. He's running a former Penal Colony that's been shut down except for a scratch crew of three staff and 25 inmates who've chosen to stay. There's no way off the planet without a spacecraft and Andrew's authority is accepted only to ensure they get supplies, with the inmates actually taking their orders from another inmate who runs their cult. Everything works fine until Ripley and the alien shows up.

  • An interesting case in Discworld. The Ankh-Morpork City Watch is generally portrayed as heroic, but the city prison, the Tanty, is apparently answerable to the Patrician rather than the Commander of the Watch. When the protagonist of Making Money is springing a prisoner, he is pleased to find Bellyster, an evil cuss who doesn't even have the grace to turn his back when gobbing in a prisoner's food, on duty, because of the problems he's about to make for the man. Later in the book, when Moist's been arrested, the guards treat him pretty well because of said trouble (it seems Bellyster's not too popular).
  • In Escape from Furnace Warden Cross sees the inmates as a hivemind, starving them all out as the punishment of one persons actions, or sending them to solitary confinement in a literal hole in the ground. He could not care less if said inmates are killed by his guard dogs or by each other. Even in his first introduction, Alex notes that he couldn't stare Warden Cross in the eye, that there was some darkness that refused to let him do it. Later it's revealed Cross is actually a century old Nazi who drags inmates away in the night to surgically transform them into his guards in order to make a new master race.
  • Holes: The Warden at Camp Green Lake crosses the Moral Event Horizon when she slashes Mr. Sir across the face with her rattlesnake-venom-polished nails. Later, it is revealed that she established Camp Green Lake for the sole purpose of using inmate labor to find the relics of outlaw "Kissin' Kate" Barlow.
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts: Warden Williams is a tyrant who threatens to fire Moose's father just because Moose said something rude. A slight subversion in that his victims aren't prisoners, though.
  • In The Crowner John Mysteries, Stigand - the jailer at Roguemont Castle - is universally known and reviled as being a sadistic bastard.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Averted in Oz. Prison warden Leo Glynn is tough and takes no crap, but is, in general, a fair and understanding person who never abuses his power.
  • In Red Dwarf VIII, when the crew are back on the Dwarf as it was, but are sent to the onboard prison for correction: the Warden is a sadistic grudge-holding bully who takes delight in having Rimmer and the Cat beaten up.
  • Edwin James, the warden of Alcatraz. He has been shown to resort to psychological torture in order to learn crucial information about prisoners, such as manipulating Ernest Cobb's attempts to be placed in solitary confinement or threatening to leave Kit Nelson in a small dark room until Nelson admits the truth about his first crime (although Kit Nelson really had it coming, having been sent to Alcatraz for being a child killer). His deputy Tiller is corrupt and more open in his cruelty towards the inmates.
  • On The X-Files, Warren Brodeur, the corrupt petty tyrant of a Florida death row in "The List."
  • Subverted in Prison Break, where the warden Henry Pope is more of a reasonable authority figure who genuinely believes in reforming the prisoners. A straighter example would be the skull-cracking captain of the guards, Brad Bellick.
  • In NBC's Hannibal, Dr. Frederick Chilton oversees the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and has shown himself to be an evil, conniving man. In season 1, Chilton brainwashes Abel Gideon into believing he's the Chesapeake Ripper. In season 2, he secretly records nearly all of his inmate's conversations, and secretly shares Will's conversations with Hannibal without Will's consent. He hires Matthew Brown as an orderly despite Brown's history of mental illness.
  • In the Leverage episode "The Jailhouse Job," Nate finds himself in a prison run by a corrupt warden who is imprisoning innocent people to keep his occupancy rates up.
  • An episode of Quantum Leap has Sam leap into an inmate at a women's prison who must prove the innocence of another inmate accused of murdering yet another inmate. The actual culprit turns out to be the male warden who had gotten the deceased inmate pregnant, forced her to have an abortion, and then allowed her to bleed to death when the procedure was botched. After exposing the corruption Sam is told that, as a result, a sympathetic guard who had helped Sam throughout the episode eventually becomes the new warden (who, presumably, would avert this trope).
  • Mr. Robot: Ray is an interesting example. On the surface, he is the complete opposite of this trope: kindly, charming and friendly to the inmates, good at peacefully dissolving disputes and eager to help others work through their problems. Unfortunately, he's also running an illegal website specialising in weapons, drugs and human trafficking, and orders two inmates to be brutally beaten for looking into his business. He later undergoes a Heel Realisation and allows Elliot to turn him in.
  • In Orange Is the New Black, the prison's warden is often discussed and referred to, but never seen. The assistant warden, however, is a cold-hearted and self-serving woman who frequently turns a blind eye to the prison's problems or covers them up, blames the rest of the staff for everything that goes wrong, and is embezzling money from the prison's budget.
  • Doctor Who: The unseen warden of the prison space station that Davros is kept on in "Resurrection of the Daleks" is supposedly a real tyrant who even the staff of the station are afraid of. However, he is killed when the Daleks storm the station without ever appearing onscreen.
  • The warden from season 3 of My Name Is Earl subverts this by being a reasonable guy who lightens Earl's sentence when Earl's good deeds improve the prison. Double subverted when the warden shreds the early release documents so he can keep Earl there, continuing to improve the joint.
  • On Gotham Detective Jim Gordon is framed for murder and sent to prison. Unfortunately for Gordon the warden is a friend of the former corrupt police commissioner whose career Gordon ended. As soon as the publicity from the case has died down, the warden has Gordon transferred from protective custody to general population which is a death sentence for Gordon. Gordon is soon the victim of brutal beatings and the warden orders his guards not to intervene.
  • MacGyver (1985): In "Jack in the Box", the warden of a prison farm is a Corrupt Hick in cahoots with the local sheriff to jail people on trumped-up charges where they are used as a slave labour force to search an abandoned mine for hidden millions of dollars.
  • Luke Cage has Albert Rackham, the corrupt warden of Seagate Penitentiary.
  • An episode of Murder, She Wrote has Jessica visiting a womens' prison where the discovery of a body leads to a series of events that uncovers significant corruption throughout the prison which goes all the way to the top. In a subverion of the trope, the warden is revealed as possibly the only member of the staff who is not in on it, and in fact she is sincerely advocating for beneficial reforms.
  • Father Brown: In "The Penitent Man", one of the warders smacks Flambeau in the face for his smart mouth when he first arrives in prison, and then takes every opportunity to torment him about his upcoming execution. The prison governor is a closeted homosexual who attacks Flambeau when Flambeau calls him on it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Basic Dungeons & Dragons module DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor. The warden of the Prison Out Of Time is a sadistic former slave master who has been ordered to kill King Uther rather than let him be rescued. He carries out this order by trying to magically torture the King to death.
  • Classic Traveller Adventure 8 Prison Planet. The warden is a lying, hypocritical crook who orders cruel punishments for minor offenses, violates prisoners' rights in order to make his quotas and takes out his anger at his superiors on prisoners by arbitrarily denying parole.
  • Mutants & Masterminds has a character actually called the Warden, who let his desire to keep Freedom City's crooks in the Cardboard Prison overtake his empathy and turn him into a brutal petty tyrant, reasoning that they forfeited their rights when they became criminals. When he was fired, he turned to supervillainy.
  • Mice and Mystics defies this trope by featuring s Warden class in the Downwood Tales expansion. The Warden character introduced, Ansel, takes this further by being one of the most idealistic characters in the game, giving even Prince Collin a run for his money.
  • The Brony D And D campaign Welcome to the Show opens with the characters being tormented by a Warden which persists in their dreams after they escape.


  • Mr. Lockit from The Beggar's Opera is corrupt and abusive. When you arrive in his jail, he picks out your chains. The bigger your bribe, the lighter your chains.

    Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect 2 the prison ship Purgatory is run by Warden Kuril, a corrupt mercenary who extorts planetary governments to keep convicts off their worlds, sells convicts to people who want to mete out "personal justice" and, inevitably, tries to double-cross Shepard. He is also one of the few Turians shown without any face paint, hinting he was going to stab Shepard and his squad the moment he could from the start as the term "barefaced" means "untrustworthy".
  • SaGa Frontier: The Warden is so evil that he's actually one of the felons imprisoned within The Alcatraz.
  • Maiev Shadowsong from Warcraft III is a downplayed version- when you control her, she's chasing after Illidan, who was her prisoner for ten millenia, but there's no evidence that she mistreated him (and given that in the previous game, you freed him by killing her troops, her anger is understandable). She turns into a Knight Templar over the course of the campaign, willing to sacrifice her own allies in order to motivate the others to hunt him down.
  • Baldur's Gate II has an extra-dimensional prison whose warden is a Cambion, a half-fiend. He clearly doesn't care at all if his prisoners are guilty, and fits them with collars that allow him to kill them at will.
  • It is the (justified) fear of Police Brutality and possibility of a Lawman Gone Bad or Lawful Stupid Principles Zealot that make most Warden and Head of Security players in Space Station 13 inherently subject to this trope, and paranoia ensues every time a Warden is seen straying from the brig control desk.
  • Warden Montag in Strife. "Shackles or chains, I want you to hang around!"
  • Zet the Arc Warden in Dota 2 is a subversion. In the original Dota, he's amongst the Scourge, and when he's ported to the sequel, subsequently, he's amongst the Dire, which has some Dark Is Not Evil elements. However, he's less abusive and more concerned on bringing back those he kept from his prison: The very Ancients all heroes fought over, Radiant and Dire, he kept them from destroying the world. So he's basically trying to keep the world together by trying to re-imprison two wildly destructive above-godlike being.
  • In Secret Agent Clank The warden of the prison Ratchet gets sent to regularly and on purpose puts Ratchet in danger with the other inmates and taunts him as well.
  • Sheriff Fester Shinetop in The Secret of Monkey Island tries his best to stop Guybrush, is a jerk to his one prisoner, and is just generally sinister. He turns out to be the Big Bad in disguise.
  • Path of Exile has Brutus, Lord Incarcerator. As the warden of Axiom Prison he was legendary for his cruelty, and the prospect of being sentenced to his care was considered to be little better than a death sentence. When he grew old and infirm he let the thaumaturgist Shavronne experiment on him, turning him into a hulking monster and the mid-boss of Act 1.

    Visual Novels 
  • Averted in Ace Attorney Investigations: Prosecutor's Path. The warden, Patricia Roland, is uncannily kind to the inmates, referring to them as her "family" and the prison as their "home." Her Leitmotif is even called "Hugs and Kisses"! This is Double Subverted after all when she's unmasked as the killer of the previous case's culprit, who she was manipulated into believing was a subordinate of a notorious assassin already in her custody and bent on revenge. In cases 4 and 5, the skeletons really get dragged out of her closet when it's revealed that, years earlier, she ran an Orphanage of Fear and was directly and willfully involved in a presidential assassination.

    Western Animation 
  • Samurai Jack: The Dominator is perhaps one of the most frightening examples that Western Animation has given us. He is undoubtedly a heartless, soulless monster who enjoys too much of his work, as he tortures the intruders with electricity and tortures the kidnapped children with audio-frequency, turning them into mind-controlled slaves. He's also a mass murderer.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
  • Batman: The Animated Series has Lyle Bolton, head of security at Arkham Asylum. He decides to end Arkham's Cardboard Prison status by brutally torturing the inmates. When he gets caught, he gives us the page image by becoming the vigilante Lock-Up and creating his own prison to house not only criminals but the political leaders who opposed his methods. By the end of the episode, he's confined to his own cell at Arkham.
  • Walker from Danny Phantom is an obsessive Rules Lawyer when it comes to the rules of The Ghost Zone, and will go to great length to belittle his prisoners and keep them under control by any means necessary. His prisoners may be ghosts, but he can ensure a Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Storm Hawks: Mr. Moss is the Cyclonian warden of a high-security prison located on Terra Zartacla. He wields an energy whip and takes sadistic glee in hunting escaped prisoners.
  • Although he wasn't explicitly evil, the diamond-obsessed Warden Cyrus Meece in SWAT Kats was presented as greedy and unlikable. He even gets what the writers intended as a Karmic Death, being turned into crystal and then shattered.
  • The Clone Wars gave us Osi Sobeck, the Separatist warden of a huge prison known as the Citadel. In addition to being a Bad Boss who has his own droid guards destroyed if they even say the word "escape," he also tortures Jedi Master Even Piell for information, and executes a captured Clone Trooper in an effort to make Obi-Wan talk.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: The man in charge of Dexter's school's detention room on the short "Dexter Detention". The man treats his room like it was an actual prison, calling all students that are there "criminals" (the camera even zooms in on his mouth every time he says the word to make emphasis on this), trying to torture them psychologically so they accept their alleged guilt, and putting them into a "Punishment Box" that is just a little hole in the ground barely bigger than a shoebox (and if you don't fit, too bad—he'll make you fit) where he will keep them until they go mad or he decides to let them out, whichever comes first.