Prisons are NOT fun! They’re menacing institutions full of desperate, sometimes dangerous people barely kept in line by an indifferent system of violence.
But how much worse would prisons be if they existed on alien worlds? In alternate realities? With superpowered inmates?
These sci-fi prisons show what could happen if we added superhuman and alien variables into the incarceration equation.
Can metahumans be contained without wiping them all out? Can Arkham Asylum keep anyone from escaping? With all of the technology available in the Star Trek universe, why do Klingons still enslave people for labor?
Here are some of the most intolerable sci-fi prisons ever imagined!
1. Salusa Secundas (Dune)
Salusa Secundas is a prison planet from the Dune franchise, and its harsh environment is legendary throughout the universe.
The planet has difficult terrain that’s crawling with wild beasts amid extreme temperatures. Criminals of the Corrino Empire are condemned to serve out their sentences here.
This brutal environment is suspected to be the where the infamous Sardaukar troops are bred and trained. A little more than half of these potential Sardaukar even make it to the age of 11 in this ferocious place—that’s how rough it is.
Those who do survive become some of the most feared warriors in the galaxy, second only to the Fremen of Arrakis.
2. Gulag (Superman)
The Gulag is a metahuman rehabilitation facility constructed by Superman. It was built to contain the growing rogue metahuman problem that threatened Earth in the divergent reality (known as Earth-22 from the Kingdom Come series by Elseworlds).
Fifty-one divergent realities were created following the events of the Infinite Crisis. In the Earth-22 reality, Kansas is a devastated wasteland where Superman builds The Gulag facility in an attempt to contain and rehabilitate rogue metahumans.
The rogue metahumans revolted, killed their captors, and breached its walls. Unable to contain the menace, the Justice League annihilated most—if not all—of the metahuman prison population with a nuclear missile.
Living in a large city like Metropolis under the constant threat of becoming collateral damage to superhuman battles is bad enough. Imagine being stuck in a Kansan prison with these metahuman sociopaths!
A nuke might be a quick and preferable death compared to what some of these super-weirdos are capable of. And if you’re nuked, you won’t have to hear a bad one-liner before you’re blasted by someone’s laser eyes.
3. Iron Heights (The Flash)
Iron Heights is a maximum-security correctional facility from The Flash designed to hold the most dangerous criminals from Keystone City, Central City, and Starling City.
It earned the reputation of “a living hellhole” due to the horrific mistreatment and living conditions the inmates endure.
There’s a separate section of the prison called The Pipeline where metahumans are housed in barely survivable conditions. The warden, Gregory Wolfe, has a deep hatred of metahumans and routinely abuses the prisoners.
This place is truly bleak, and normal human criminals are just as likely to end up there as metahumans are. The warden’s hatred of metahumans causes him to abuse all of the inmates—both human and metahuman. The latter get it worse, though.
4. Arkham Asylum (Batman)
Arkham Asylum houses the criminally insane of Gotham. Most of Gotham’s major villains have been incarcerated behind its walls, and even Batman has found himself there on several occasions—sometimes of his own volition.
Despite maintaining robust security measures, the facility doesn’t seem to be too good at keeping its dangerous inmates confined. Most have escaped at one point or another.
The Asylum’s stated goal is rehabilitation, but has seen more of its own staff and administration turned criminally insane than its inmates returned safely to society.
The first appearance of Arkham Asylum in the Batman universe involved one of these seemingly preventable escapes. In the 1974 issue of the Batman comic (#258), Two-Face breaks out and terrorizes Gotham—the first incident of many involving an escaped Arkham inmate.
Imprisonment in Arkham would definitely be disturbing and harrowing. Being forced to share a confined area with Gotham’s most capable, unhinged criminal minds? That can’t be a good time.
But at least you could escape with minimal effort.
5. Rura Penthe (Star Trek)
The Klingon dilithium mining prison colony Rura Penthe first appeared in the movie Star Trek VI: Undiscovered Country.
Due to its harsh conditions, colony prisoners have a max life expectancy of one year. They live and work below the planet’s unhabitable frozen surface, and the only punishment implemented in the colony is exile to the surface—a death sentence.
Thanks to these deadly conditions, there aren’t many security measures beyond the use of armed guards. A magnetic shield surrounds the facility to prevent prisoners from being beamed from the surface and escaping.
In the Star Trek universe, Rura Penthe has earned the nickname “The Alien’s Graveyard.” I guess even utopian sci-fi futures aren’t perfect. It can’t all be food replicators and holodeck vacations.