Follow TV Tropes


Hellhole Prison

Go To

"The vilest deeds like poison weeds
Bloom well in prison air.
It is only what is good in man
That wastes and withers there.
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate
And the Warder in Despair."

Plenty of prisons simply content themselves with confining people, but some go the extra mile and actually try to break them. This sort of prison is an absolute hellhole — between the lack of food and proper clothing, the absence of light or sanitation, the sadistic guards, and the violently insane fellow prisoners, they hardly need the nasty-looking torture equipment they probably have scattered around. Sometimes, they won't bother with things like individual cells — prisoners will just be lowered into a big pit and left to fight each other for whatever scraps are thrown down. Expect the inmates to be treated like animals, and expect most of them to act like animals as well. Indeed, being thrown to the prisoners might be used as a punishment just like being thrown to the lions, and jailers in such places occasionally suffer Karmic Death that way too.

Alternatively, especially in the future settings, the prison might not be a barbaric pit where only the strongest survive and where the guards turn a blind eye to the criminal control. Instead, it will be a Dystopian Panopticon where every action is monitored, any step out of line is equated with an attempt to escape and punished accordingly, and there is one, if not several, Mad Scientist(s) who regard the prisoners as nothing more than guinea pigs for their immoral experiments. Of course, the worst of prisons might well mix and match the elements outlined above, resulting in something like a Nazi concentration camp.

Story-wise, this sort of prison will often get heroes thrown into it, so that the hero can demonstrate their inherent hero-ness by refusing to be defeated by the prison, often because they were either framed for the crime that got them sent there or because they are an enemy of the evil dictatorship that runs it. It may also serve to toughen them up for the next part of the plot (since pretty much any story with a prison as a setting involves a Great Escape as the plot). Other times, it will just serve as a Fate Worse than Death which the hero must fight to avoid.

Those that went through it often decide that they are Never Going Back to Prison.

A prison like this will often also be The Alcatraz or a Tailor-Made Prison, but those are defined by the difficulty of escape rather than the conditions — some of those prisons can actually be quite nice. If a prison is this cruel to child prisoners, see Juvenile Hell. Related to Bedlam House.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Bleach has the Nest of Maggots which, at first glance, seems more drab than anything. The prisoners are even allowed to mingle in the main chamber with little supervision. However, the stress of being imprisoned for who knows how many centuries in a dark hole in the ground is enough to drive many Shinigami insane.
  • The eponymous Dead Leaves lunar prison colony, populated almost entirely by the rejects of a secret cloning project for the military and manned by the project's successful, sadistic results.
  • The eponymous prison in Deadman Wonderland, which is a Tailor-Made Prison built specifically for deadmen (as in, humans with the power to use their blood as lethal weapons) in mind. The prison is actually the tyrannical government's chief source of income, as they put the inmates through lethal Gladiator Games in a public event called the Carnival Corpse. (It is implied most citizens believe the fights are staged. They aren't.) Inmates are kept in line and "persuaded" to participate via Slave Collars that kill the wearer in three days, unless they reset the timer by eating candy, which they have to win at the Carnival.
  • Heavy Object has Château de Rouge, a Legitimacy Kingdom prison where nobles dump commoners they find offensive. Prisoners are not allowed outside of their cells, which are effectively steel boxes hanging from cables in the open air and contain only a cot, toilet, and small sink. There is no air conditioning despite being in the tropics, just a vent to allow natural airflow. The guards are all thoroughly corrupt and revel in the power they have over the prisoners. Even if somebody could escape, the entire facility is on an artificial island in the middle of the ocean.
  • Impel Down in One Piece may be the worst prison in fiction.
    • The warden is a Poisonous Person who is not at all averse to killing prisoners with his powers (and is one of the few characters who's handed Luffy his ass), and he has a staff of Badass Normals (including one Vice-Warden and devilish beasts and guards) under his command. There is also a literal evocation of hell, down to the horns on most of the higher staff. But the layout of the prison is the real nail in the coffin.
    • It is so bad that it's literally called hell. Level 1 is Crimson Hell, where prisoners are forced to walk through fields of razor-sharp grass and trees, thus dyeing them red with their blood; Level 2 is Wild Beast Hell where wild beasts roam the floors, and the prisoners are forced to flee from them; Level 3 is Starvation Hell, a desert-like environment where prisoners are kept in a near-death state of starvation... and the sand on the level is from the prisoners that have succumbed to death; Level 4 is Blazing Hell, where the prisoners are forced to labor and endure torture at boiling temperatures, its this level that provides Level 3 with its desert like heat; Level 5 is Freezing Hell, where the prisoners are kept in subzero temperatures with food practically inedible due to said temperatures, and wolves that were deemed too vicious for Level 2 roam around too; and Level 6 is Eternal Hell, reserved only for the worst of the worst criminals, its existence unknown to the general public. The criminals on the lowest level are erased from history... but due to them being so powerful, it's the only level that's like a standard prison, as torture would be wasted on them. (So, when Luffy told Ace that You Are Worth Hell, he meant it.)
    • In spite of the above, however, it's been shown that even THEY have standards; former Chief Jailer Shiryu of the Rain was an Ax-Crazy maniac. As stated above, warden Magellan wasn't opposed to killing criminals, but he only did it if he was provoked. Shiryu went on rampages killing prisoners just out of sadistic pleasure, and it got so bad that Magellan locked him up in Level Six.
  • In Prison School the main characters have to spend one month in their high school's prison for getting caught peeping in the girls' bath. The prison cells are very dirty, the boys have to do a lot of hard labor and their prison guards, members of the school's student council punish them liberally. Despite all this Kiyoshi notes that it's only taken a few days for them to get used to their prison life. They still take their classes, though through a monitor, and they get the same food as the rest of the students. Unfortunately, it goes back to being a Hellhole Prison after Kiyoshi's breakout as the student council are more strict on the boys and manipulate the boys into getting themselves in trouble so they can be expelled from school.
  • Honey Prison in Toriko is where people who committed food related crimes are sentenced. Since this is a world where food is even more Serious Business than it is in real life, it's a pretty horrible place. The lightest punishment is having your sense of taste altered so you can't taste your favorite foods. In real life that would be cruel and unusual punishment. Harsher punishments include starvation, dehydration, or being fed nothing but poisonous dishes, culminating in being chopped up and fed to the local wildlife.
  • Present in Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V's Synchro Dimension City: the protagonists are sent to the "Facility", a place whose populace consists of mostly wrongly arrested Commons (low class citizens) and a handful of dangerous criminals. Both guards and inmates are Jerkasses; the only way to receive decent treatment as a human being (being given enough food, not being bullied by prisoners or personnel, not being forced into inhumane labor...) is by continuously bribing others with rare cards, hence the phrase "Here, your deck is your life". Also present Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds's Facility.

    Comic Books 
  • Such a prison plays a major role in the first cycle of the French comic Balade au bout du monde. It's a medieval prison in the 20th century.
  • Batman:
    • Arkham Asylum is not technically a prison, but still fits this trope to a T. Though intended to just be a mental institution for the criminally insane, the asylum de facto became one of these due to being the only place available for Gotham's Supervillains, even some who aren't insane. As such, the place is a Hellhole Prison both for the inmates AND the staff. For the inmates, the place is cold, dark, underfunded and many of the staff are abusive. For the staff, they're surrounded by some of the most notorious murderers to ever walk the planet, some of whom have incredibly deadly superhuman powers, and killing sprees occur virtually bi-weekly as security measures inevitably fail at some point.
    • Blackgate Prison is a more traditional version of this trope, being home to Gotham's rank-and-file murderers, rapists and drug dealers. During Batman: No Man's Land, Blackgate was operated by Lock-Up. Batman remarks that it was never a pleasant place, but Lock-Up's sadism and obsession with punishment made it Hell on Earth.
    • Peña Duro, the prison where Batman foe Bane was born and raised. Referred to by many of its inmates as 'the armpit of the Earth', Peña Duro was a prison island used to house Santa Prisca's most dangerous criminals. Many considered it as the world's most dangerous prison.
    • Nightwing (Infinite Frontier) reveals Bludhaven has Bludhaven Private Prison. With Bludhaven already a Wretched Hive that makes Gotham look like Metropolis, this is expected. According to the Electrocutioner, one barely gets any food or sunlight there and Brutale claims he had friends who died there. Upon learning Blockbuster was the owner of the prison, they both vow to let others know so they never work with Blockbuster ever again.
  • Space prison "Thinktwice" in Doctor Who Magazine. Its population is kept docile through memory-wiping, which leaves them with no sense of identity to fuel any kind of resistance. The Warden enjoys acting like some kind of Family-Values Villain, but is transparently a sadist and control freak.
  • The Flash has Iron Heights, a prison for metahuman criminals in Keystone City. Originally it was about as good as you can expect a maximum security facility for superpowered killers to be, but it was turned into this trope by an overzealous warden who had a pathological hate against metahuman criminals. Superpowered convicts are made to wear their costumes inside the prison, are kept locked up in the prisons sub-basement known as "the Pipeline", denied food and water, suffered constant beatings by the guards, and even kept a nuclear-powered villain imprisoned in a generator to power the prison.
  • Fort Charlotte, the Union POW camp Jonah was confined to in Jonah Hex.
  • The punishment for judges found guilty of corruption in Judge Dredd is twenty years of hard labor on Titan. The guards take pleasure in personally tormenting each inmate, and they're subjected to severe Body Horror so that they can survive in the frozen vacuum of the moon without space suits.
    • The prisons used for civilian criminals aren't quite as bad, but they're still well-within Hellhole range. The most common punishment is the Iso-Cubes, which is a tiny, cramped cell made of transparent material, where you'll spend your ENTIRE TERM. No breaks, no outside exercise, nothing. And everyone goes in here if they're sentenced for a crime, even children. The only advantage this system has is that it makes gang formation impossible.
    • Mutants are not subject to baseline human laws, but their sentences aren't much better. Due to lacking any real rights, all mutants who are caught are automatically deported to the hellish Cursed Earth. Mutant CRIMINALS are sentenced to forced labor on one of the many plantations out in the wasteland, which on top of basically being slave plantations surrounded by radioactive desert, are also not reviewed much, leading to the prisoners suffering a lot of abuse at the hands of the jailers due to the Judges being too busy with the cities to look after them.
  • The Punisher MAX: In The Cell, Riker's is shown to be one, with beatings, murder and Prison Rape being commonplace. The chief guard is even part of an Aryan gang, something Frank uses to spark a murderous riot that he uses to distract from the fact that his main goal is actually the five mobsters who Might as Well Not Be in Prison at All and were behind the deaths of his family.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942): Uvo consigns the women who oppose him to imprisonment in his walled in model cities, which he then tests nuclear weapons on.
    • Wonder Woman (1987): Diana and Natasha are imprisoned and enslaved on a desert planet without enough oxygen in the atmosphere to be comfortable for a human, where food is questionable and served in a sloppy shared trough, and where the slave drivers are cruel and trying to work the prisoners to death.

    Comic Strips 
  • The main prison fortress in Mungo City that Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov are brought to at one point in the Flash Gordon comic strips, is implied to be this with Prison Rape, at least of the female prisoners, appearing to be common place. Fortunately for Dale, Flash and a group of rebels manage to come to the rescue just in time before she is subjected to a Fate Worse than Death at the hands of the warden.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Greatest There Was or Ever Will Be, the world's most vile criminals (though that metric is rather subjective) are sent to DeadHeat Prison, a facility on the edge of a volcanic island in which all inmates are kept in solitary confinement continuously, and are forbidden to speak with anyone. The volcanism also blots out the sky, so that the prisoners never see the light of day. Everybody in Kanto knows that being sent there is a Fate Worse than Death, even if one is lucky enough not to receive a life sentence.
  • How the Light Gets In features a hellish prison run by the good guys. Black Siren tells Dean (her Earth-1 counterpart's husband) just how terrible the Flash's pipeline prison is.
    Siren: Those white knights forget to turn those bright, fluorescent lights off in our cells at least half the time. Do you know what it's like to be under those lights 24 hours a day? You think we get any sleep? We get food once a day. Sometimes twice. If they remember. They don't always remember. We don't get fresh air. We don't get to bathe. We get a bed, a toilet, and a shitty meal once a day.
    • Dean, for his part, apparently had the same opinion even before she told him this. He remembers telling Team Flash their prison violates the Geneva Convention and that they're treating the prisoners like pet rocks. He also notes that this isn't a result of them being deliberately malicious or indifferent to the prisoner's plight, it's just that they don't have the staff to run it properly but are unwilling to let anyone else do it.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic Prison Island Break, Prison Island is a dreadful place where to save himself time, the sadistic Head Warden Mephiles encourages prisoners to make life unpleasant for each other. And they do. Oh boy they do.
  • In Swinging Pendulum has the Muken where Ichigo is jailed in total darkness with no contact with the outside world, not allowed to speak to anyone.
  • The King Nobody Wanted: The salt mines of Saltcliffe are staffed by unwilling workers and are viewed with horror throughout the Iron Islands.
    Urrigon Greyjoy: Let me put it simply. Our tales hold that the Iron Isles were made by our Drowned God, harsh but livable, to make us hearty and strong. Save for Saltcliffe. That was made by his enemy the Storm God, in mockery of the Drowned God's work, to be the most grim place imaginable ..The other islands have iron, and lead, and tin. Saltcliffe has salt. The men who work those other mines become stooped, crippled, die in accidents…and every damn one of them thanks whatever power they believe in they do not work in Saltcliffe ...[King Balon Hoare IV] declared that no thrall could be forced to work in Saltcliffe, save for criminals. And this was not a soft-hearted man - he's generally called "Balon the Bloody", for, well, the reasons you'd expect. But he found the conditions there so horrible, that he could not send men down there simply to die. Because that is what they do. They mine salt, and they die. Slowly, and terribly. Three years at the outside, and those that do, men debate whether they are lucky or unfortunate.
  • If you thought Impel Down was bad enough in canon, This Bites! somehow manages to make it even more terrifying with all the upgrades it receives. Let's have a look, shall we?
    • Level 2 gets canals installed so that Sea Kings can roam the floor.
    • Level 3 becomes even drier and more inhospitable, but also new mechanisms that the wardens can use to shift the geography.
    • Level 4 gets the stone replaced with metal, which literally cooks the prisoners when they walk on it. It also gains reflective mirrors which can concentrate the heat into incinerating beams.
    • Level 5 gets thin ice pit traps that lead into freezing waters and is also the new home of Hiuo Hiruno, the wielder of the Cold Cold Fruit, who is given special treatment in exchange for using her powers to make the level even colder than before.
      • As if things weren't bad enough with the new-and-improved Impel Down, there also exists a prison that is even worse. Said prison is Serpent, the Seventh Hell of Darkness, which is where the World Nobles send all who have ever dared to openly challenge the iron grip the they have on the world; political prisoners, dissidents, and revolutionaries of all kind. It's a massive labyrinthine fortress full of traps and monsters, overseen by the most ruthless and heartless guards the World Nobles can get. Prisoners are thrown in and left to rot, devolving into feral, cannibalistic beasts. It's a place so foul that the World Nobles didn't trust Impel Down to enact it: let that sink in. The only people who know it exists are the guards and the denizens of Mariejois, who actually broadcast the suffering and degradation of the prisoners from the island to their city as entertainment for the World Nobles.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alien³ takes place on Fiorina-161, a/k/a 'Fury', a maximum-security Penal Colony with no weapons of any kind because without a functioning starship, escape is impossible anyway. The wardens as a result are nearly powerless against the apocalyptic cult that has gained control over the population, to say nothing of the Xenomorph that hitchhiked aboard the escape pod from the Sulaco. Interestingly it actually was a better prison in the past when it was properly staffed before Weyland-Yutani abandoned it; a facility built for 3,000 inmates has been reduced to housing 20 inmates with a 3-man staff.
    Ripley: This is a maximum security prison, and you have no weapons of any kind???
    Andrews: We have some carving knives in the abattoir, a few more in the mess hall. Some fire axes scattered about the place - nothing terribly formidable.
    Ripley: That's all?
    Andrews: We're on the honor system.
    Ripley: Then we're fucked!
  • Artemis Fowl has Howler's Peak, the most notorious and dangerous prison within Haven City. Get sent there and you can enjoy a stay in a cell filled with goblins who are capable of breathing fire and who are generally in a very mean mood. Mulch Diggums's stay in the prison is said to be his third time there, his first time having been a 164-year term.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) has Crematoria, where the (Russian) guards occasionally release mutant dogs to eat anyone who's not quick enough to get out of the way. Oh, and the guards don't bother keeping the prisoners in line. They're up there in their rooms above the prison and never come down. See also the video game example below.
  • "The Pit", the foreign prison in which Talia was born and raised in The Dark Knight Rises is a literal hole: a giant pit into which prisoners are thrown. What makes it especially terrible is that there aren't even any guards; the prisoners can walk out any time they want...if they can make it to the rim of the pit. But in all of known history, only one has ever managed it.
    Bane: There's a reason why this prison is the worst hell on earth... Hope. Every man who has ventured here over the centuries has looked up to the light and imagined climbing to freedom. So easy... So simple... And like shipwrecked men turning to sea water from uncontrollable thirst, many have died trying. I learned here that there can be no true despair without hope.
  • In Death Race and Death Race 2, Terminal Island is just a regular supermax. Sure, there's Death Race, but prisoners volunteer for that (well, in most cases). Kalahari Prison in Death Race 3 however, is in the middle of the desert and has stone age conditions. The heat alone is maddening, but the guards keep hyenas as guard dogs, and prisoners work backbreaking hours in a mine.
  • Escape Plan has The Tomb. The aptly-named maximum security prison where those held there never see the light of day again. Prisoners are blindfolded and drugged as they are transported to the prison. The guards wear black face masks with a blank expression for intimidation. They also regularly brutalize prisoners for so much as looking at them the wrong way, and they are helmed by their sociopathic captain, Drake. The cells are plexiglass boxes where the guards can see what a prisoner is up to at any time. And the worst part, Solitary Confinement involves confining prisoners in a small oubliette where a set of high-powered halogen lights are used to torture prisoners held there with sensory overload and sleep deprivation from the brightness and heat. When Breslin was thrown into solitary after he fought Rottmayer, the scene with his stay in solitary looked like that the guards were essentially cooking him in an oven.
  • The Escapist: The atmosphere is terrifying gloomy and claustrophobic, and the guards are dangerously apathetic, leaving total control of the prison to Rizza and Tony.
  • Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore features Erkstag, a prison that the German Ministry of Magic utilizes to hold important prisoners. When his brother Theseus gets sent there after being captured, Newt is forced to make his way through the prison without his wand or his magical creatures, discovering there are no bars on the cells of the prisoners which surround a massive and seemingly bottomless stone pit. Instead, they are tied up and held upside down, with a single magical firefly as a source of light. Worse still, these lights serve a secondary purpose: they ward off the massive manticore that's hidden in the heart of the pit, and whenever the light gives out on a cell, the manticore uses its massive and lethal pincer to stab or wrap around a prisoner, and then it drags them into the darkness, where it consumes part of them and leaves the rest of the body for the baby manticores to consume. Had it not been for Newt's knowledge of magical creatures and a Portkey Dumbledor had left for them, they wouldn't have made it out alive from there.
  • Fortress (1992): The titular Fortress, built inside a mining facility with No OSHA Compliance and massively overcrowded. Petty criminals are thrown together with murderers and rapists, and prisoners routinely suffer physical and mental torture for the most trivial things, such as having a wet dream.
  • Gamer is of a similar vein, with prisoners being used in wargames for the amusement of millions of people. Even aside from that, the movie goes out of its way to depict the prison being as horrible as possible, with an inmate going mad and ripping his own throat out eliciting nothing more than an annoyed shrug from the guards.
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has an infamous sequence where Blondie and Tuco are captured by Union soldiers and brought to a particularly nasty camp. What follows soon after is the brutal torture of Tuco by Angel Eyes and another soldier — okay, in this case they want information, but he openly admits that "the talking won't save you" (in other words, he tortured Tuco even further after he'd told him everything). To make matters worse, it's heavily implied that this is a normal occurrence in the camp, and most of the prisoners probably didn't even have information worth torturing them for. Fortunately, Blondie gets out of there quickly before anything can happen to him.
    • To make it even more depressing, they're actually going entirely against regulations- the commandant actually does want the prisoners treated fairly, but he's powerless to stop them because he's dying from gangrene.
  • The prison in the 2008 film Hunger which is based upon the 1981 Irish hunger strike. The IRA prisoners, refusing to conform to the prison's rules, are forced to live naked, routinely beaten, forcibly searched in all orifices, and beaten some more.
  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang doesn't sugarcoat the novel writer's ordeal in prison. 15 hours of backbreaking labor 6 days a week, a diet of pig fat with a dough ball made of flour and lard, and of course lashes with the strap if the guards think you didn't work hard enough.
  • The House of Particular Individuals in Idiocracy. Filthy and overcrowded conditions, inmates are fed slop poured in from a funnel, and large, overweight prisoners establish dominance by sitting on smaller ones. Fortunately for the hero, the guards are so stupid you can escape simply by telling them you're supposed to be getting out of prison.
  • The convicts in Mad Dog Morgan and The Outlaw Michael Howe are transported to Australia in a cramped, hot and filthy prison hulk. Similarly, there are scenes in Ned Kelly, Van Diemen's Land, and Captain Thunderbolt featuring prisoners working in chain gangs.
  • Based on events of what happened at Unit-731, in the movie Men Behind the Sun the inmates, nicknamed ''marutas'', or logs, were kept alive long enough to be used on a number of horrifying and sickening human experiments.
  • Midnight Express. Never, ever, ever try to smuggle hash out of Turkey!
  • El Hoyo a.k.a. 'the Hole', the brutal Mexican prison where Benedict recruits his crew, and where he later winds up imprisoned himself in The Revengers.
  • The Shawshank Redemption: After allegedly killing his wife along with her boyfriend after he catches her cheating on him, Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences at Shawshank, where he encounters a gang of prison rapists known as "The Sisters", the vicious leader of the prison guards Captain Hadley, and the corrupt warden Samuel Norton who wishes to use him to embezzle money. Fortunately, Andy manages to gradually improve Shawshank as the film goes on. The prison itself is a fairly mild example, especially compared to the era its set in, but the corrupt staff is definitely not.
  • The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case: Although not a lot of it is seen on-screen, everything indicates that prison in the Andaman Islands where Small was being held was one of these; especially as he was being kept in solitary confinement.

  • The Mexican prison that John Grady and his friend are thrown into in All the Pretty Horses.
  • The Yeerk Pool in Animorphs is like this, as the hosts are imprisoned in cages and scream for help while their yeerks swim in the pool.
  • Oscar Wilde's lengthy poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol details the horrors he experienced during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol. He writes of the inedible food, back-breaking hard labor, and crushing misery that makes prisoners worse instead of rehabilitating them.
  • Khayon calls the Eye of Terror a prison for traitors in Black Legion, saying that the Imperium can just thrown their heretics in and forget about them, as Warp and daemons take care of them. Bonus points for being literal hellhole.
  • In "The Borders of Infinity", the Dagoola IV prison camp is designed to be as bad as possible without violating galactic law on the treatment of prisoners of war. Due to egregious Loophole Abuse, the camp has continuous illumination, Prison Riots twice daily over food distribution, frequent Prison Rape and non-existent medical care.
  • The Chateau d'If, where Edmond Dantes is thrown following his betrayal by Fernand Mondego in The Count of Monte Cristo.
  • The Labyrinth in The Death Gate Cycle. The Sartans lock the Patryns in a prison dimension, allegedly to teach them empathy, to rely on each other, and help each other through crises. However, it turns into a Hell, supposedly from the secret desire of the Sartans, who created the prison from magic (and sundered the whole world to boot), that the Patryns would just die.
  • Dog the Bounty Hunter: In his biography Dwayne "Dog" Chapman talks about the Mexican prison he, his partner, and his son were thrown into while on the hunt for convicted millionaire rapist Andrew Luster. Apart from fearing that they would be killed as gringos in a Latino prison, the guards made things all the worse by throwing buckets of sugar water into each of their cells in order to attract an already insanely huge swarm of flies.
  • In the Dred Chronicles, the lawless Prison Ship Perdition. The "neutral zone" where new prisoners are dropped off is the worst, as there's absolutely no law there. The gang-controlled areas might be better, depending on who the local warlord is and what rules they care to enforce. (There are no human guards, just robotic ones which prevent prisoners from doing anything too damaging to the ship itself but otherwise stay impartial.)
  • In Dune, the entire planet of Salusa Secundus functions as a hell-world prison for Emperor Shaddam IV; and it is described as having a 60% mortality rate for new prisoners. The emperor recruits those tough enough to survive it for his uber-elite and highly feared Sardaukar troops. The Fremen also view Arrakis like this on a more religious level — "God created Arrakis to train the Faithful" — and conditions are similarly harsh.
  • Furnace Penitentiary from Escape from Furnace is an underground hellhole where young offenders are sent. Aside from the rowdy inmates and the sadistic guards, it is also a place where prisoners are regularly taken from their cells and subjected to cruel experimentation.
  • Fablehaven has the cells in the Great Ziggurat at Living Mirage, where Seth, Kendra, and other heroes end up being locked up in damp cells where the only water comes from leaks and the only food comes perhaps once a day and is practically inedible.
  • In Five Years To Freedom, most of the prison camps that the Vietcong keep Rowe and his fellow Marines in are this way. In fact, he sees several of his friends die because of how brutal the prison conditions are.
  • Gideon The Cutpurse has the title character thrown in Newgate Gaol, a historical English prison for those awaiting hanging. It's described as filthy, overcrowded and crawling with lice, and Gideon is beaten, starved and has his shoes and clothing stolen by other inmates before his friends manage to pay for him to be moved to a less crowded cell.
  • In The Handmaid's Tale, people that Gilead's society considers to be "undesirable" (including, but not limited to, gays and lesbians, feminists (even those of the non-Straw Feminist variety), people with disabilities, and Handmaids who have failed to conceive or who give birth to a deformed or disabled child) are sent to work camps, where their task is to clean up radioactive sludge with no protective equipment. Unsurprisingly, most who are sent to the work camps do not survive.
  • Azkaban in Harry Potter qualifies — it doesn't sound as scary on a physical level, but it's described as being emotional torture because of the Dementors being the guards, sucking all positive thoughts and emotions and forcing the inmates to endlessly relive their worst memories. One of the early signs that the Wizarding World isn't as nice as it might've looked from the beginning. Word of God says conditions improve post-series after the Dementors are removed. Then again by that time the system has improved and only real scoundrels and Death Eaters end up there so some readers may think that it is too good for them.
  • The company owning the prison featured in Hollow Places purposefully creates environments where the guards are composed of young, violent men free to abuse the prisoners. They do this in order to foster recidivism among the inmates and therefore increase profits through reincarceration.
  • Honor Harrington has the prison planet Hades, more commonly called "Hell." The climate is dreadful, the native life inedible (but the local fauna haven't figured out that they can't eat people) and if the guards decide that one of the small prison camps spread around on its surface is getting too uppity, they just stop delivering food to it.
  • The titular prison in Incarceron. Making it worse is that it's a Genius Loci and fully aware of what it's doing to people.
  • In It Can't Happen Here, the concentration camps created by the Windrip regime are hellish. Trianon was a filthy, crowded, miserable prison where guards tortured detainee with whippings and castor oil force-feeding.
  • Ysanne Isard's Lusankya has a facility to torture and brainwash people into Manchurian Agents, but there's also a prison where she sends them to recover along with all her other prisoners. It's relatively mild as evil prisons go, but they get rockbreaking duty and the guards regularly shoot new prisoners to cow them. They shoot on stun settings, yes, but that's not exactly pleasant.
    • Worth noting is that Michael Stackpole named it the Lusankya in order to evoke memories of the real-world Lubyanka prison.
  • The frontier quarters in Martín Fierro are this: the army accomplishes a punitive function there, and it's a convenient way to get rid of gauchos.
  • Matthew Hawkwood: The prison hulks holding POWs from the Napoleonic Wars where Hawkwood goes under to break up an Underground Railroad in Rapscallion. Truth in Television.
  • Downplayed in The Mental State. The prison is strict and some of the rooms are dirty, but it is little more than to be expected. Zack eventually succeeds in reversing this and transforming the prison into what is essentially a proper community.
  • The Ministry of Love from Nineteen Eighty-Four is very much one of these. And that's before we get to see what goes on in Room 101.
  • The Racketeer describes a Jamaican prison as being like this for Nathan Cooley. Every cell there is overcrowded, there's no air conditioning, and because Nathan's the only white man in the all-black prison, he's the lowest thing on the pecking order there; he has to sleep right next to the waste bucket, the other prisoners steal his food and shoes, and he's subjected to a number of violent beatings from them.
  • In Shogun, John Blackthorne ends up in such a prison. The prison is described as a room, where dozens of men are all stripped to their undergarments. The floor is covered in filth, the air is hot with a terrible stench and the men themselves only have enough room to stand in very close proximity, with those who lie down being too sick and near death to stand. Sick men die during the night and the rest are willing to kill each other for a bowl of rice. It's enough to drive Blackthorne into a Heroic BSoD.
  • Six of Crows has Hellgate. It's right in the name. The prison also has the Hellshow, where prisoners are forced to fight each other and wild animals in order to gain privileges.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • The Eyrie, a castle perched high on the slopes of a very tall mountain, has the Sky Cells, which have three walls and slightly sloped floors and are presided over by a sadistic brute. Where the fourth wall would be is empty space over a several hundred foot drop. When Tyrion angers his captor she commands that he be sent back to a cell with a more steeply sloped floor.
    • Sweetsister has cells that are halfway below high tide, so the prisoner has to keep their head above water and gets drenched.
    • King's Landing has cells of increasing Hellholines as you go down. First you have regular, run-of-the-mill castle dungeons for common prisoners, with common cells lit by small windows. Next there's individual, windowless and torch-lit cells for noble prisoners. The third level down, the Black Cells, has very little light and solid doors that ensure the cells are absolutely pitch-black. They have no beds and no buckets for waste, ensuring the bedding on the floor is always filthy with bodily waste and pests, and are reserved for the vilest criminals and traitors whom the crown wants to lock away permanently or to break psychologically. The fourth level is for torture, and is said to be best crossed in the darkness, to avoid having to see what's down there. Cersei makes all this even worse by giving a Mad Doctor/ Necromancer the run of them.
    • The Wall has ice cells, which are permanently at below freezing temperatures. Hope they let you keep your warm clothing.
    • While not seen, Casterly Rock apparently has cells too small for someone to lie down in.
  • In Worm the Birdcage is an inescapable prison whose only inhabitants are capes. There are no guards; supplies and new prisoners drop in on one-way elevators. As a result each cell block has a leader, typically the most intelligent or dangerous cape, and new prisoners either have to align with one of the leaders or end up dead. Of particular note is Teacher, who has effectively brainwashed every member of his block into loyal followers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Jack Bauer spent several years in a hellish Chinese prison between seasons of 24.
  • Andor: The Imperial prison that Cassian ends up in on the moon Narkina 5 is a hellish and soul-crushing place where the prisoners are kept in line with brutal electric torture and threats of death while being used as slave labor by the Empire to build parts for military vehicles. To give you an idea of how bad it is there, one prisoner is shown deliberately letting himself get electrocuted to death rather then stay inside any longer.
  • John Diggle has to break his ex-wife out of one in Russia in the second season of Arrow. It's full of murderers and psychopaths, and that's just the guards.
  • The A-Team: The prison in "Pros and Cons." The warden encourages fighting in order to scout out candidates for the fight program. Those that do good enough are separated, trained, and forced to fight to death. Even for prisoners who can't fight it doesn't seem to be a great place. It's not a very safe prison (thanks to the aforementioned "encouraged fighting") plus the warden apparently thinks letting the prisoners get their hair cut is "coddling."
  • Daredevil (2015): When Wilson Fisk is arrested, he's sent to Rikers. The prison at the time is largely ruled by Dutton, who controls 80% of the contraband that enters the prison and owns most of the guards. Through a series of machinations, Fisk tricks Frank Castle into murdering Dutton, and takes over the prison for himself. Following Fisk's release in season 3, Matt visits the prison to find out information about his stay...only for Fisk to remotely order the guards and inmates start a riot in an attempt to kill Matt.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The Eyrie has cells with sloping floors and a massive drop instead of a fourth wall.
    • The Black Cells beneath the Red Keep are so called because they seldom see the light of even a torch.
    • During his captivity, Jaime Lannister is kept chained to a post in a roofless pen without so much as a pail to shit in. He later points this out to his brother, Tyrion, whose cell is rather spacious and comfortable by comparison.
  • Luke Cage (2016): Seagate Penitentiary is run by the sadistic warden Albert Rackham. He and the guards have an underground fight ring where they make inmates fight each other to the death. They also do some super-shady experimentations on their inmates.
  • Novoland: Eagle Flag:
    • As a child Ji Ye was imprisoned with his mother in the prison of Da Li Temple. While there he was tortured, almost drowned, and Forced to Watch as his mother was murdered.
    • The iron mine. It's little more than scaffolding on the side of a sheer cliff. Prisoners are lowered on ropes and have to hammer away at the cliff-face. Some of them fall to their deaths and the guards couldn't care less.
  • The titular prison in the show Oz, despite a good part of it being an experiment to make it less of a hellhole.
  • Prison Break:
    • Fox River State Penitentiary. Bizarrely, however, this prison has access to things like chem labs — which kind of makes a person wonder why riots aren't a hell of a lot worse than they already are.
    • The Penitenciaría Federal de Sona in the third season fits the trope even better. Guards only venture inside the prison in the event of major riots or to collect dead bodies.
  • The Sentinel: "Prisoner X". After his high-school buddy mysteriously dies in prison, Jim poses as an inmate to uncover the cause of his—-and other prisoners'—-deaths. He uncovers a hellhole prisoner where inmates are forced to fight for the amusement of the guards and the warden.
  • Stargate SG-1 had an episode where SG-1 found themselves in one. Taken to its logical extreme as its purpose is to simulate hell itself.
  • Star Trek: Voyager:
    • The Vidiian prison in "Faces". The prisoners are forced to do hard labour, and nearly all of them will eventually have their organs harvested by the Vidiians or be subjected to gruesome medical experiments.
    • Tom Paris and Harry Kim find themselves unrightfully thrown into one of these in "The Chute" and almost kill each other during their time in there.
    • Another episode had Tuvok tell a prisoner about the completely intolerable conditions of an alien prison. He was lying his ass off.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Cardassian prisons are frequently described as this. Usually, the remarks are relatively vague on the specifics, but in "Duet", Kira describes the conditions at one labor camp in graphic detail. What's worse, it's heavily implied that even this description, graphic as it is, is nowhere near the full extent of the horrors that took place. It's no wonder that the prefect of the camp was one of the most hated Cardassians on Bajor.
      Kira: If you'd been there twelve years ago when we liberated that camp, if you'd seen the things I saw — All those Bajoran bodies starved, brutalized. Do you know what Cardassian policy was? Oh, I'm not even talking about the murder. Murder was just the end of the fun for them. First came the humiliation, mothers raped in front of their children, husbands beaten till their wives couldn't recognize them, old people buried alive because they couldn't work anymore!
    • The episode "Hard Time" has an interesting example. O'Brien is thrown into a simulated prison cell for what he thinks is twenty years. While O'Brien is never "physically" harmed, the treatment inside the simulation is between "horrific" and "execution would've been kinder". The floor is sand, the rations are handed out irregularly, a painful laser cleans the room, O'Brien is beaten by the guard, and by one throwaway line, we know there aren't any "bathrooms facilities". It's no wonder the man is barely clinging to sanity.
  • The top-secret UNIT prison that Toshiko was thrown into for life in her origin-story flashback in Torchwood.
  • On Turn Selah Strong was held on the notorious British prison ship HMS Jersey (see Real Life section). After only a few months on the ship, he is a wreck and it's clear that he would not have survived much longer. The guards care so little about the prisoners that they routinely lose track of which ones are alive and which ones died.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "Room 2426", Dr. Martin Decker is locked in a filthy, rat-infested cell and given very little food and water between torture sessions with Dr. Ostroff.
  • Walker, Texas Ranger infiltrated one of these, where the prisoners were being used in some kind of Fight Club-esque tournament in which the other guards bet on who'd win, all run by the Dirty Cop warden.
  • When They See Us: Korey suffers from being friendless, beat up and isolated while in prison. He's the only one over eighteen when the boys are convicted, so they put him in an adult prison right away, while seems much worse. After he's transferred, he spends his time in solitary to protect him from other inmates. The one thing which relieves things is a kind guard who looks out for Korey as best he can.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Parody RPG HoL (short for Human Occupied Landfill) exists as a combination Penal Colony and Landfill Beyond the Stars, resulting in a major Crapsack World. It has one of the highest body counts since Paranoia, and few players survive even their first encounter.
  • The Magitek-style setting of Rym ( shows a cluster of prisons called Fear, Agony and Grief. These are "prisons used by the Spiral [alien necromancers] to gather information on the suffering of mortal beings... staffed by the more intellectual Spiral priests, who go to great lengths to arrange for proper conditions, acquisition of prisoner groups, and the orchestration of the hideous little 'plays'..."
  • Scion has Durance Vile, a dimension that embodies this trope by taking on the features of the most notorious prisons in history. The sample adventure in the core book God deals with taking the avatars of the Titans there to be imprisoned as part of a plan to end the war between them and the Gods. Unfortunately, said Titans end up breaking free of their chains.

  • Les Misérables opens with a Job Song by a bunch of prisoners doing hard labour who liken their conditions to slavery and long for death. The plot begins with Jean Valjean's release on parole after 19 years.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed III: Connor gets thrown into one complete with asshole guards and the occasional tortured scream, and an architecture that's somewhat reminiscent of The Dark Knight Rises' pit. The Prison Ship HMS Jersey also plays a minor part in the game.
  • Batman: Arkham City: The eponymous city. It's a walled-off section of Gotham where the prisoners are just dumped into. Because of the collapse of both the original Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Penitentiary, both criminals and psychotic lunatics are thrown into it, no matter how minor their crimes may be (or simply if they protest too loudly or learn too much). Notably, the prison also includes a number of political prisoners who did nothing wrong other than either publicly disagreeing with leader Hugo Strange or know too much about the prison, rather than being in either of the prior facilities. The food drop-offs are scarce, the guards are abusive, and if you don't align yourself with a gang, you're probably going to be killed. Not that your chances of survival will improve much even then, considering the supervillains who run said gangs, to say nothing of Arkham City actually being built for the purpose of gathering all of Gotham's criminals in one place so that they can be exterminated en masse; the plot to secretly supply the gangs with weapons so that a mass break-out can be fabricated and used as an excuse for said massacre, along with simply not caring for the lives of those already doomed to slaughter, is what justifies the incredibly poor living conditions there. Oddly, if you choose the wrong option in the final Catwoman section, it's revealed that even without Batman stopping it, the extermination plan is a brutal failure, with a cured Joker leading a mass armed escape and putting Gotham to the torch.
  • Persephone Penal Colony in BioShock 2, a place built by the opportunistic businessman Augustus Sinclair to house those who speak out against the hypocritical city leader Andrew Ryan. Suicide, violence and suffering were common, and many prisoners endured having to serve as test subjects, or were driven mad by the bright luminescent biomass outsidenote  preventing them from sleeping.
  • Call of Duty:
    • In Call of Duty: Black Ops, we have Vorkuta, where a very bloody uprising leads to hundreds (if not thousands) of Prisoner and Guard deaths, and the lone escape of Cpt. Alex Mason.
    • For Mob of the Dead in Nazi Zombies, take Alcatraz, fill it with post apocalyptic decor, such as razor wire, sheets of metal, and the dead bodies of zombies coated in razor wire and perforated with wooden planks. This is essentially the entire setting. It's even a literal example, as the mobsters are in fact trapped in Hell/Purgatory.
    • In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, TF141 breaks into one to kidnap the prisoner inside for information on Makarov. The entire gulag exists to punish one guy: Captain Price.
    • In Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the Atlas Prison Camp in the level Captured is a high-tech example of this. As you and your captured team are marched through, you witness guards in Powered Armor tossing around and beating up prisoners, executing prisoners in a trench by the mass, prisoners locked up in tiny metal boxes they can't even stand up in or chained to a post to bake in the hot desert sun, and even worse, subjecting prisoners to gruesome medical experimentation against their will for Atlas's superweapon Manticore. Needless to say, this is practically an errant violation of the Geneva Convention and Nuremberg Code, but since Atlas is a Private Military Contractor and its leader the Big Bad, they can almost get away with it, provided that the world hasn't caught on to Atlas's ulterior motives until the 2nd half of the campaign.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay takes place in the eponymous maximum-security prison, housing the most notorious criminals in the galaxy. It's divided into three levels, each one more hellish than the previous: the first level is pretty much a "normal" prison (although madness-inducingly horrible and violent), the second is a series of tunnels infested by murderous alien bugs where the prisoners must mine for precious ores under terrible conditions, and in the last (saved only for the very worst of the worst) the prisoners are simply kept frozen in cryostasis for the rest of their lives (except for a two minutes long exercise period per day in an extremely well secured area).
  • Dark Souls might call it "the Undead Asylum", but it's really this trope. It's a set of cages where those with the Undead Curse are thrown to spend the rest of their existences until they either die permanently or go Hollow, overseen by a massive demon.
  • Dwarf Fortress: If the player wants it, then his Jails will be essentially this trope.
  • Enzai: Falsely Accused takes place in a Victorian-era prison. A 14-year-old boy has been sent there for a crime he didn't even commit, and it's absolutely riddled with Prison Rape.
  • Bargate prison from Fable where the player and his mother are tortured for several years.
  • Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force has the Human Ranch in the Vile God timeline. Assuming what Apollonius says is true, they work the prisoners 22 hours a day and give them only meals of water and moldy bread. That would kill someone within days at most. In the Evil Goddess timeline, the Justice Society Camp serves the same purpose.
  • While the Fortress of Meropide in the present-day in Genshin Impact is no longer this, thanks to the efforts of Duke Wriothesley, however, back before he took over, the prison used to be a hellhole for the prisoners under the previous administrator who is wholly corrupt and mistreated the prisoners so harshly that not even its guards are safe from him. The unused section, where Dougier used it as the Beret Society's true headquarters, is a more obvious example; it features traditional holding cells, hanging cages (with some being found partially submerged implying the use of torture), and manacles and hooks hanging on the ceiling used to suspend inmates in the air. The oppressive nature of the area is the likely reason why the current Duke, Wriothesley, decided to abandon it to make the fortress much more accommodating and welcoming to the inmates sent there.
  • Grim Dawn has the Steps of Torment, a prison complex built by the fallen kingdom of Arkovia. Each level deeper into the prison has a new name; Pain, Misery, Suffering, and in the deepest part, Anguish. This is where the Arkovians attempted to torture the secret to immortality out of arch-Necromancer Uroboruuk, and were given a flawed process that bound their spirits and let their bodies decay. In the present day the Steps are a Bonus Dungeon full of skeletal and spectral undead.
  • Half-Life 2:
    • Nova Prospekt. Prisoners are kept in metal sarcophagi until the surgery block is ready to turn them into Stalkers. That's not covering the chronic Antlion problem and the massive, sinister network of machine gun bunkers and searchlights along the coast leading to Nova Prospekt.
    • That's the shiny new Combine-built wing; the original prison looks like it used to be (and depending on what the guards do for recreation, maybe still is) a more standard example of this trope.
  • Jagged Alliance 2: Tixa is a torture facility for political prisoners. Looking around will find blood covered shackles. The basement is even worse.
  • Koudelka's Nemeton Monastery had a stint as a prison before the events of the game. It's stated that thousands of people were tortured to death within its once holy walls. The complex not only housed criminals but also people that needed to disappear for the sake of those in power, the best example being Charlotte D'Lota, the illegitimate daughter of a queen and her lover who was sent to the monastery to cover up the scandal and was eventually executed on her 9th birthday. Charlotte's hostile ghost now roams the abandoned place fueled entirely by hatred. A scene has Koudelka channeling the restless spirits of the place to find an answer of what could have happened there. The result is truly bloodcurdling.
  • The Legend of Dragoon: Hellena Prison. Despite its name, the prison itself is pretty decent in regards to living conditions. But it's run by a sadistic Fat Bastard named Fruegel, who not only excessively enjoys hurting and killing others (including his own men) but has a tendency to feed people to his pet monster, Jiango. Many of his subordinates seem to be cruel as well, but they look downright decent next to Fruegel.
  • Lost Odyssey:
    • The Lottery of Life story is about a juvenile prison like this, in a country where the people have been brought up for generations to believe that attempting to rehabilitate even petty criminals is pointless — once you commit any kind of crime, you're officially considered subhuman for the rest of your life. When the prison gets set on fire, the guards order Kaim (who's been hired as extra security during a rebellion) to abandon the prison, leaving the 'losers' inside to burn to death. He refuses to go along with it, knocks another guard unconsious and steals their keys, letting the most rebellious prisoner free first and giving him the keys, but not before telling him that they should return the following morning since if they tried escaping in their weakened condition, they'd only end up being captured and executed as a punishment as well as proving everyone that they're the untrustworthy losers that everyone thinks they are. After the prisoners prove themselves by saving numerous people in the fire and giving their lives for them, a more organized rebellion takes root in a few years and the most rebellious prisoner ends up becoming the country's new leader.
    • Kaim himself also ends up in one of these in the story They Live In Shells, where the titular "shells" are basically isolated cells without any windows or bars, making them pitch black from the inside. Being immortal, Kaim naturally makes out eventually. Most of his cellmates aren't as lucky, with the luckiest of them ending up burning out his retinas with sunlight after finally getting out of the complete darkness.
  • Mass Effect 2:
    • Zaeed Massani states that Batarian prisons are hellholes where the only choices are "bash head open against wall" or "kill everyone between yourself and exit".
    • The Purgatory prison ship is a mercenary-run Protection Racket, which governments only tacitly recognize, much less held to any humanitarian standards. Needless to say, the inmates suffer terrible living conditions and abuse from guards. It's hard not to feel bad for the prisoners, even though killing 20 people and destroying a habitat is apparently at the low end of the crimes that can land you there.
  • Max Payne 3 has the abandoned Imperial Palace Hotel. The level deals with the titular hero infiltrating the hotel and finding several imprisoned and beaten favela residents, that were rounded up by an overly aggressive SWAT Team who then sold off some of the captives to a paramilitary organization that profited from selling their organs on the black market. In a later level, Max infiltrates a police station run by the UFE; the conditions are filthy, and there's a cell with a hung prison that makes one wonder exactly how he died.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes: Despite its relatively mundane appearance, Camp Omega, an Expy of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base's Camp Delta, is far more sinister than it appears. It's rife with prisoners locked in animal cages, land mines, summary executions, and heavily armed US Marine corps guards, and Skull Face's presence and methods only make things worse. Even the Marines find him disturbing.
  • Mortal Kombat:
    • The franchise has a lot of arenas that are meant to serve as dungeons or prisons, and they all qualify, many of them also serving as places where torture and executions are carried out. The Dead Pool and the Evil Tower are both used like this in Mortal Kombat 9 (the first one used to hold Sonya after she's taken prisoner and the second used to hold Kitana, with Sheeva acting as a jailer in both cases; Sonya sarcastically asks her, "What is it with you Shokan and underground cesspools?"). Goro's Lair is also used for this purpose, although, as its name implies, it's also Goro's lair. (He's not always home, but it's always where a Boss Battle involving him is fought. It's implied given his intro that being put there is akin to being sentenced to death by being eaten alive.) The worst is likely the Dark Prison from Mortal Kombat: Deception. The eight prisoners in the cells are randomly selected from the nonplayable characters in the Konquest Mode (it changes each time the arena appears) and if an opponent is knocked against a cell door, the occupant grabs and hold him or her for a chance for a free hit or combo. It also has a nasty Stage Fatality, with a spiked wall compressor that activates when the loser is knocked into it.
    • One notable aversion is in X, where the cellblock the Earthrealm warriors are kept seems like an average jail. (Kotal Kahn clearly isn't the type of ruler his father is.)
  • Nexus Clash has the demonic Black Prison, which is literally a prison in Hell and is about as wholesome as it sounds. The Angels aren't much nicer and their lands are dotted with zero-privacy Panopticon prisons for mandatory re-education. Fortunately, both of these locations are found empty when the player characters come across them and it takes some impressive levels of Gameplay Derailment to actually imprison anyone there.
  • Prison Architect: As players are given the ability to build their own prison, one such prison can be achieved, though it can lead to massive consequences in-game. You won't get very far being a monster in a proper game - the actual game challenge is very much built to encourage a modern, clean, reform-oriented operation - but a sandbox setup presents plenty of options to neglect, buse, and murder. Food? Optional! Beds? Optional! Toilets? Optional! Turning off 'free fire' for the armed guards? Optional!
  • Quake II: The third unit is mostly a prison (including a torture chamber level) where the imprisoned human soldiers have been tortured to the point of madness, and can only be mercy killed.
  • Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction: Zordoom Prison, run by Emperor Tachyon. People can be thrown in for slightest disobedience to his authority (and making fun of his Embarrassing First Name or stature actually warrants a death penalty), the pardons are extremely few and far between, the prison announcer mentions torture chambers and sensory deprivation tanks, the guards are numerous, sadistic, and armed to the teeth... overall, it's considered to be the worst prison in the universe.
  • Rimworld: Given the fact you can take prisoners and actually need a prison to keep them in, given the kind of game it is hellholes were inevitable, though the game does take multiple angles of discouraging such behaviour. Either way, they go from the neglectful and hurried "sleep on the floor in the middle of a bunch of workshops" sort to truly horrible torments where they lock you up in a cramped dark room, feed you with the other prisoners that didn't make it, and probably steal your organs.
    • Regarding discouragement: Any colonists who aren't officially psychopaths will get mood negatives from prisoners dying, being organ harvested, being unjustly executed, or dying from having vital organs removed and releasing prisoners alive and well gets major positive relation boosts with their home faction and a positive mood for your colonists. Or to mix things, heal them up and keep their bits attached for the best slave price.
  • Salt and Sanctuary: The Red Hall of Cages seems to consist almost entirely of cramped jail cells and horrible torture devices, including racks, flamethrowers and the infamous Tree of Men, where the prisoners are hanged from chains, left to wither. The staff is even worse, with guards that relish in torturing the prisoners, executioners that take their time, monstrous gaolers and the Red Lords occasionally stepping in to mangle prisoners with their wicked sickles. Or at least, it used to be this way; decades have passed, and in this island the prisoners and staff have all become undead, with their roles fading away into "a black milieu of pain" that leads them all to attack you with the same ferocity they reserved for each other. Including the Tree of Men itself, which as an inanimate object should not even have a will of its own, let alone a desire to make you specifically suffer. Presumably, the original Red Hall of Cages back in Askaria, of which this one is a mere copy, is still running in its usual, heretic-torturing manner, as this one seems to be the most recent of the island's "acquisitions".
  • Possible to make in Stellaris, if you want to do so. Simply designate a planet as a Penal Colony, and voila, your other colonies see a decrease in crime rates as their criminals are summarily dumped onto a planet that is essentially an open-air prison with one way on and no ways off. Absolutely nothing is stopping the player from picking a Death World full of hostile fauna and flora or home to constant storms, or even a lifeless desert or frozen tundra with little to no soil suitable for agriculture.
  • The main setting of The Suffering is Abbott State Penitentiary, a maximum-security complex situated on an island ten miles off the coast of Maryland. According to in-game lore, this is where the Maryland Department of Corrections carries out the majority of its executions; it also has the worst safety record of all the prisons in the Department, along with the highest homicide rate and the highest suicide rate. It's not hard to see why: along with harsh conditions, gang activity, abusive guards and rape, Carnate Island has a supernatural tendency to bring out the worst in people, resulting in inmates being left buried alive in rubble, corrections officers developing a fetish for the Gas Chamber, and wardens driven to hideous excesses of religious mania. And this was what the place was like before the earthquake!
    • The second game introduces Eastern Baltimore Correctional Facility, a place only marginally better than Abbott - but only because it doesn't have executions or a corrupting influence. The officials are notoriously vicious around here, the most infamous being Warden Elroy: instituting a brutal regime of forced labor at the machine shop, he deliberately overlooked malfunctioning equipment and paved the way for an accident that resulted in an entire crew of inmates being incinerated. Any signs of unrest were put down by specially-hired Emergency Response Teams, resulting in the hospitalization or deaths of several inmates. And for any inmates who needed to be punished further, they were sent to solitary confinement - where they'd be kept in lightless soundproofed cells for six months at a time - usually resulting in madness and suicide. And once again, this was what the place was like before the monsters showed up.
  • The Dungeon maps in Warcraft III feature charming little things like cages, torture racks and iron maidens, not to mention the skeletons that are still chained up on the wall...
  • Yakuza 4 has Okinawa Penitentiary No. 2, which doesn't officially exist. It's where the worst of the worst yakuza are sent, and is full of corrupt guards who can beat inmates to death with impunity.

  • Weapon Brown has "Id" (as in The Wizard of Id). Even before the Last War, it was pretty bad, but After the End, the Syndicate transformed it into a serious Hellhole Prison, ruled over with an iron first by the "King" Of Id. The prisoners are all physically and psychologically tortured, and invariably become agoraphobic, to the point that instead of an isolation chamber, prisoners are punished by being put in the excersize yard, where they'll grind their fingers to the bone trying to dig through the concrete to escape the open space. On top of everything else, Id is also home to the notorious black magician and serial killer "Wizard", originally an inmate of the prison, but now serves as the Syndicates go-to guy for magic.

    Web Original 
  • The Chronicles of Taras: Red Dementia is set in a girl's prison camp in the middle of a pitch-black, sub-freezing desert where the Guards unleash mutated creatures called Rakes on the unwitting teenagers.
  • Invoked and deconstructed with Pandora's Vault, the resident Alcatraz on the Dream SMP, in particular its main, maximum-security holding cell, where the prisoner is locked inside 24/7, unable to see the light of day, and is forced to eat raw potatoes. A lore stream in mid-Septempber 2021 reveals Sam, the builder and Warden of the prison, initially had a courtyard where prisoners could have some leisure time under the sun, and had plans for a cow farm so they could be served steak. However, Dream shot all of this down and insisted that the conditions inside the jail be as inhumane as possible. This backfires on Dream, however, when he's the one locked up in Pandora's Vault in the end. When he complains to Sam about the horrible conditions, Sam reminds him that he's the one responsible for the prison's conditions in the first place.
  • The prison within Hell does not qualify in Void Domain, however one demon among the cast has her own private prison which definitely fits in.

    Western Animation 
  • Arcane: Stillwater Hold is the sort of place one can be dumped into without any criminal charges and locked away for years without anybody caring. Vi is implied to have been beaten by the warden himself countless times, which she treats as normal. Oh and the food is disgusting.
  • In the animated version of Beetlejuice, after BJ is set up and arrested for "shoplifting" (as in, lifting the entire shop) he's sent to the rehabilitation of the Nether-Netherworld, which is Hell for someone like him; the place is a Sugar Bowl full of rainbow, sunshine, and sugar plums, where the warden and the guards dress like kewpie dolls. Unable to escape from this horrid -- to him -- place, it gets worse; the rehabilitation works, and he becomes so polite and courteous that Lydia finds him more annoying than ever. Then, even worse; when Lydia decides to go there to give them a piece of her mind, she finds it just as inescapable for her as he did. It takes the veteran Mad Scientist Dr. Prankenstein — and something he had been saving for a special occasion — to get BJ back to normal in time.
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons (1983) cartoon, Venger had the Prison of Agony, which was built over the crater of an active volcano. One of the big reasons it was escape-proof is because the winch to operate the drawbridge that was the only way in or out was so heavy, only the giant who guarded it could turn it. The giant actually wasn't a bad guy; Venger was blackmailing him by threatening to destroy his homeworld. (Apparently, he was in the same situation as the heroes. Naturally, when Venger sent the heroes to this awful place, the giant proved a valuable ally when they launched a mass-jailbreak and destroyed the whole facility.
  • Subverted in Futurama with the Hal Institute for Criminally Insane Robots. It's not so bad for robots - it even manages to cure them - but when Fry spends time there in Insane In The Mainframe he completely loses his mind, largely because the doctors assume that if he's in there, he has to be a robot, all evidence to the contrary be damned.
  • In Justice League Mister Miracle was raised on Apokalips by Granny Goodness, a New God whose main role is to torture and brainwash children into becoming suicidally loyal slave soldiers for Darkseid. Miracle, being originally from Apokalips' good counterpart New Genesis, didn't break under her normal methods, so she placed him in a Hellhole Prison known as the X-Pit, which combined this trope with a death trap and an isolation chamber. This also failed, and Miracle eventually escaped.
  • Cape Doom in The Legend of Tarzan. Described by Colonel Staquait as a "Fate Worse than Death".
  • The titular prison in Superjail! was designed to fit this trope. Not a day goes by without a thousand gallons of blood being spilled.


Video Example(s):


The Turkish Prison

A foreboding outpost on the edge of a desolate coastline, the place decorated with caged inmates being caged and left to be eaten alive by crows. Nobody knows what goes on inside, but the prison produces more than its fair share of corpses - all of which are unceremoniously flung into the sea (including a live Jack Sparrow).

How well does it match the trope?

4.9 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / HellholePrison

Media sources: