Penal colony

An Englishman wishing to visit Australia fills in an application form. He comes to the part asking whether he has a criminal record. So he writes: No - do I need one?

Suppose a country decides to do away with its prisons, and instead fences in a large (say a 30%) section of fairly fertile land with natural water supplies. The fenced in area is declared lawless. The country now only has to guard the perimeter against breeches, and no more, as no additional enforcement is necessary. All current and future convicts - male and female alike (a co-ed penal colony, see) - are transferred here for the duration of their term, and left to their own devices. At the end of their sentences, they are granted the option to leave the colony, if they are still alive. Nobody is allowed to enter the colony unless they are convicted of a crime.

What is likely to happen? Will at least some law and order spontaneously re-emerge in the enclosure, or will chaos and bloodshed reign forever?


I think it will quickly become a dictatorship with the strongest and his (it will be a him) and his cronies at the top. If it is big enough you will have more than one.

Yup, that’s my guess too. It will in fact become like civilization has been for several thousand years before the modern era. Might be an interesting experiment…

Humans being the social creatures they naturally are, it’s very unlikely that total anarchy will ensue. Some sort of social order and structure will emerge, even if it is primitive, e.g. “tribal” factions forming rather than a “global” community. Such congregated order and structure is a prerequisite for a formalised legal system: Too few people and a legal system becomes a costly impediment to the group’s more pressing needs. Moreover, the people who are sent there are already familiar with laws, society and social norms, so it’s not like they’ll need painfully to learn a whole brace of new tricks. The necessary memes are already in place and will largely drive appropriate behaviour towards establishing liveable conditions.

There will likely also be outsiders, rogues, recluses and outcasts who fend for themselves alone, perhaps more than one finds in ordinary society.

Of course, if you limit the population of the penal colony to convicted D-grade flawless psycho- and sociopaths only, the result will be much less predictable.

Finally, 30% of a country like Australia is a huge area (roughly twice that of SA) and could support hundreds of millions of people, so rivalries would be about limited resources and it’s not clear what those might be.


Sounds like the plot of Escape from New York and Escape from LA

Some sort of social structure with rules would emerge. Then they waould have to fence off 30% of their 30% to accommodate those who chose to disobey the laws of the new society, and so on, until the most lawless oke (it will be an oke) will be confined to a porta potty in the middle.

This is why George Carlin was a genius way ahead of his time:

(Lots of coarse language. Hilarious though)
4 Groups that Gotta Go - George Carlin

Anyway, what’s to stop your new colony from developing aircraft and just leaving? Or forming an army… and leaving. Or digging a tunnel, and leaving… and so on and so forth.

Ok but lets assume, the get enough stuff to get them self reliant, and the don’t just eat each other out of hunger.

Certainly factions will form and battle for control of the resources, then the winning group would most likely in slave the loosing group.
To do the work while the winning group would probably have some sort governance and law much like the vikings.

So in fact repeating human history.

The improbability of coming up with high tensile steel, the ingredients of which is (are?) sourced internationally. Of course if the inmates do invent a clever alternative, we can always shoot 'em down and nick the new technology. :wink:

My main concern with such a colony will be that the punishment will not necessarily fit the crime. It seems a bit harsh for someone who merely fiddled with his income statement to be chucked in with armed robbers without supervision.

And as soon as the poets re-evolve, I think it may be time to call the new corrective system an utter flop.


As an avid aviation fan, I can tell you a lot can be done with wood and canvas.

As used in two-cycle engines, or four?


Fair point, I counter with Pulsejets, or if possible rockets. All you’re trying to do is get far enough the other side of the fence to get away.

Or of some other movie, the title of which now escapes me, with a similar theme. Inmates were confined to an island, where they quickly broke into two groups, one of which was fairly civilized, and the other of which fell into complete barbarism.

I’m sure this is not what you’re referring to, but HG Wells’ “The Time Machine” fits the bill, kinda.

Also reminiscent of the first Johnny English movie in which English (Atkinson) stops Savage (Malkovich) from becoming king and turning the Isles into a prison.