I have a world in which several countries use, as an alternative to rotting prison for the rest of your life, the deprivation of citizenship from one's home country and deportation to a desolate island with a bunch of other misfits (like yourself.) My world is technologically modern and this alternative punishment is being used by a number of first world countries (such as the USA, France and the UK.)

The said convicts would be deported to Islands such as the Queen Elizabeth Islands without any tools - even a knife.

Is this a viable option? Is there the chance that these convicts might make it back to the mainland and cause chaos?

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    $\begingroup$ If they're not expected to survive on or escape from the island, wouldn't it be easier to just shoot them? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ While not an island, Stalin's gulags in tundra could be relevant here as well. A lot of snow and ice instead of water, but essentially the same principle. I believe the only exile that kind of worked economically. Thucydides answer briefly touches upon that. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ I read Queen Elizabeth Island as the roundabout on the A38 in Birmingham, UK. Thought it was a bit brutal to be honest. Edit: After reading the comments I think you should move the story to Birmingham. Write a Tom Holt style story. :) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ What's the point of this? Are we deliberately shipping them somewhere out of sight to die in short order, or is that just the inevitable result you somehow overlooked? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 22:15

14 Answers 14


Let's look at some case studies

Case Study #1: Alcatraz

During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed that no prisoner successfully escaped. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught alive, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five are listed as "missing and presumed drowned". The most violent occurred on May 2, 1946, when a failed escape attempt by six prisoners led to the Battle of Alcatraz.1

Why did Alcatraz close? Because it was expensive. Your island will have the same problem. Imported food, staff, ships to blockade and ensure private crafts don't swoop in to rescue prisoners. It isn't a cheap solution by any stretch of the imagination.

On the other hand...

Case Study #2: Escape from New York

This movie is iconic, and not just because it's a cheap action flick. Its imaginative solution to crime has driven people to wonder why it can't work for a long time. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problem: cost. The wall around the island would exceed the cost of normal prisons by whole orders of magnitude. And you're still having to ship in food.

Both case studies also suffer from inhumane treatment. You'd have activist groups seeking to redress government wrongs against the prisoners all the time. This is because you can't guarantee healthcare, safety, or that the punishment (from a U.S. perspective) isn't "cruel and unusual."

Our last case study is really the only viable solution, and it didn't work out as expected.

Case Study #3: Australia

Rather than an island with limited resources and a horrible lack of tools: ship them to something large enough (e.g., a continent) that they can make a new home for themselves — and then control all the shipping.

For a brief period of time this might have worked great for Britain. All the inconvenient people were shipped off to Australia. Out of sight, out of mind.

And in the end what they created was a perfectly viable nation with art, science, industry, philosophy, an accent the rest of the English-speaking world loves to listen to... in short... a competitor. IMO, the odds of Australia continuing as a member of the commonwealth after Queen Elizabeth passes away are a bit long.


An island is a long-term solution to a short-term problem. While a small percentage of your prisoners deserve to go away for life, the vast, vast, majority do not. That makes this a very expensive, difficult-to-maintain solution that has every chance of coming back to bite you (Snake Plisskin! Hugh Jackman! Adrienne Barbeau! Wait... she's just a really good reason to watch Escape from New York Oh well... you get my point.)

And one more point: imprisonment is about bringing something that is out of control, under your control. A case could be made for the (enormously oversimplified) suggestion that because Australia was intrinsically out of Britain's control, that it was destined to become a competing nation. I suspect that a review of prison culture, procedures, and technology will reveal that the goal is to provide for the humane needs of prisoners while never letting them out of your control. If you think about it, the price for betrayal is a loss of trust self-determined control.

These solutions make good fiction, and they're realistic to a degree, but they come with consequences. If you don't want to deal with the consequences, then they're unrealistic. Let's call them impractical.

1One guy is known to have made the swim to shore, lending a lot of credence to the possibility that Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin successfully escaped. However, this was not the reason Alcatraz closed.

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    $\begingroup$ My impression is that the OP isn't interested in shipping food to the island, or any other form of supervision. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth, if that's the case, then the prisoners will quickly find their way back to the motherland. The cost is still high, since the consequence is tantamount to execution - and few things are cheaper than a bullet. Activists would freak over the absolutely inhumane treatment of the prisoners. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ Given the number of Brits emigrating to Australia, it's not just a competitor in the international market, either. Australia has its challenges to be sure, but given that I live on the outskirts of Canberra and my biggest challenge getting home is not hitting any kangaroos on the road along the way, what's not to love? Thanks Britain for giving my ancestors an all expenses paid lifetime vacation. Worked out great IMHO. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B II
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 4:05
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    $\begingroup$ Also Australians generally are quite jaded against the concept of a republic, because of America. The US system, to most Australians, is considered hopelessly flawed. The prospect that we could turn out like America, would be enough to sway most anti-monarchists, that the Commonwealth isn't so bad. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 5:11
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to have confused Australia's status as a Commonwealth Realm, and membership of the Commonwealth itself. If Australia chooses to become a republic (which seems about 50/50 by most polling) it will cease to be a Realm (as it has an elected head of state) /but will still be a member of the Commonwealth/. Most Commonwealth states (almost 40 out of the ~55) are republics or have a different monarch, and very few states leave because there's little-to-no downside. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 17:16

Assuming you want the state to bear the least possible cost while still making the criminals "go away", you may want to consider handling the mechanics of your exile in a slightly different way.

Your question implies that it's the government's problem to find you an island to live on and a way to get there. While the United Kingdom used "transportation" as a punishment, that's not the only way to do it. Republican Rome used the concept of being declared "hostis"; this put you outside the protection of the law as of a certain date within a certain distance from the city. Because that's an incredibly precarious state of being, people declared "hostis" would do their best to be outside of the radius of their sentence by that date. Often the distance chosen left you just shy of Athens - which as a result filled up with aristocratic Roman exiles and political refugees.

So your world could work the same way. The courts pass the sentence - then it's the defendant's problem to find a country that will let him travel there, and his problem to get there. People who fail to "get out of Dodge" end up killed, or robbed, or otherwise abused by the non-exile population.

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    $\begingroup$ Ooooh. +1 for an insightful and informative alternative. However, -1 because you don't actually answer the OP's question, making this a comment. I'm willing to walk away from that -1 if you present your answer in the context of "this is why your solution isn't viable... so let's consider an alternative!" $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ OK give me a second $\endgroup$
    – tbrookside
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ This answer conflates three different Roman (quasi-)legal punishments. (1) The word hostis means simply enemy. In certain times, a person could be declared hostis rei publicae, that is, an enemy of the state. They were said to be proscribed, and their life and property were forfeit; anybody could kill them, anywhere, and get part of their fortune. (2) There were two kinds of banishment, relegation and exile (more severe, the exile's wealth was forfeit); the legal formula was aquâ et igni interdicere, to forbid water and fire. The place of exile was specified in the sentence. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 20:02
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    $\begingroup$ AlexP - thanks for the additional info. For worldbuilding purposes, I think your additional detail helps make it clear that the concept of exile was embedded deeply enough in their legal system that they had different varieties of it for different situations and purposes. And that's just the Roman system - as I'm sure you know, there were also several Greek systems. Critically for the question, they all tend to make complying with the punishment the exile's problem and not the state's. $\endgroup$
    – tbrookside
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ Lots of other cultures / civilizations had similar concepts. It's literally where the word Outlaw comes from "outside the law". Someone who was outlawed was no longer protected by the law, they could be beaten, robbed or murdered with no recourse. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 22:45

The story is an old one: Penal colonies are common through history.

Australia is the best known. But bear in mind that Australia was a 5 month voyage from England.

Convicts were in essence sold into slavery of plantation owners.

There is a reason that we generally don't use desolate islands. Living there is difficult, and the return on investment non-existent. These have to be some of the most expensive places in the world to keep human beings alive. Go look at pictures. Tree line doesn't come into it. I finally found some pix that are either grass or lichen but the main crop here is gravel.

So you need an economic reason for people to be there. Mining comes to mind. Come up with some reason that there is a deposit of Xmium, otherwise very rare in the islands. Your convicts then are the labour to process this. However before you think about chain gangs with pick and shovel, read up on how mining is actually done. Mining is a high tech industry now. You really don't want a disgruntled prisoner driving around a mining truck that has 15 foot wheels. Or working with high explosive. Especially living in a place so dependent on technology.

A second possibility would be lichen farming. Give the lichen some pharmaceutical use, and have it take enough tons of lichen per gram of drug that growing it more southerly higher elevations isn't practical. If you want a plot twist, the drug company finds a synthetic drug that works better, and just abandons the settlement, after destroying the communications link. (For secrecy, all communication was encrypted over VPN, linked by satellite.) Now you have some managers. guards and convicts and no one is answering the phone. You have 1 year's supply of food and diesel.

Because of the remote location escape is meaningless, but someone who knows he is being sent there may be able to tell his followers, and they arrange to retrieve him. This is non trivial. You either arrive by boat during the very short open water season, or you fly in. Flying in requires an aircraft with long legs, and probably still means fuel drops. This is not a task for your average Cessna. At least you would need something like a twin Otter, one of the workhorses of the north.

There are inhabited points up there: Grise Fjord, Coral Beach, Alert. They have regular air service so they have fuel. But once you have picked your guy up, it means that the authorities don't have many places to check.

By the way: This is polar bear country.


The way this is worded you are effectively sentencing the prisoners to death, either by starvation, exposure, cannibalism (as they realize there is nothing to eat except each other) or suicide (many prisoners will look at their hopeless situation and simply go for a long, one way swim). If that is truly the case, then simply locking them in a large warehouse and filling the space with nitrogen gas and painlessly asphyxiating them is probably both cheaper and more humane.

I suspect the true intent is to house people in an "escape proof" prison. Some attempts have been made over the centuries, two fairly well known ones were Alcatraz, a former fortress in San Fransisco bay, and Devil's Island off the coast of French Guiana. Soviet era Gulags were essentially escape proof as well, being located in isolated locations where prisoners could be used as slave labour in mines, logging and other hard, physical work.

As noted in some other answers, the rational for these sorts of enterprises was very poor, it was expensive to maintain these facilities, since food, equipment and staff had to be brought in from long distances, and with the possible exception of the Gulags, there was no return on the rather large investment.

Frankly, this makes about as much sense as shipping prisoners to the Moon. They are unlikely to escape from there either, but the costs for transportation and incarceration will be (ahem) astronomical.

For non violent prisoners, it may simply be more efficient to "chip" them and put them out to community service. At least they will be earning money (their wages can be garnished to pay restitution costs), while violent offenders can be housed in existing "Supermax" prisons, which are usually located at great distances from population and are effectively escape proof. Exiling people without citizenship could actually backfire-who's to say a hostile nation would not grant the prisoners citizenship and use them to carry out dirty jobs that their natural born citizens might not be able or willing to do.

There are issues with the way criminals are handled in today's society. Let's not entertain ideas to make it worse.

  • $\begingroup$ I think that the state might regard the island punishment as morally different from gassing the prisoners in a warehouse. In the island punishment, the prisoners die as a result of the difficulty of life without the benefit of the good will of a society that they have directly rejected by committing crimes. In effect, their death arises from their own action. In the warehouse scenario, the state is directly imposing death. $\endgroup$
    – tbrookside
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ painlessly asphyxiating I don't think that's painless. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG From what I've read, choking is hardly painless, and ordinary suffocation causes a distressing buildup of carbon dioxide. However, just giving a convict something without oxygen to breathe gets the oxygen out of their bloodstream and they apparently die fairly comfortably. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ Also, if there is no (expensive) official presence on the island, nothing will stop other people from sailing there and collecting prisoners, for whatever reason. The island isn't automatically escape-proof. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ David - as long as the prisoners don't return to their country of origin, should the sentencing authorities really care if they escape? If you view the purpose of incarceration as "paying a debt to society", maybe they should. If you view the purpose of incarceration as "removing people from society so that the rest of the public can be safer" then as long as the prisoners never return, you've achieved your end. $\endgroup$
    – tbrookside
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 20:16

Are you aware of the climate there?

Maybe I don't understand the question but I doubt a person would survive their first night there.

The climate in the Queen Elizabeth Islands is unlike the islands mentioned in other answers (e.g. Alcatraz, Australia) -- e.g. the temperature is freezing even in mid-summer:

enter image description here

Climate Queen Elizabeth Islands

Survival there requires specialist knowledge and equipment -- for hunting (seals, walrus, whales, and polar bears, maybe migratory birds too), and cold weather -- I doubt that people without training could find food even with tools (i.e. hunting weapons and cold-weather gear)1.

A not-dissimilar punishment would be to maroon someone on an iceberg in the middle of the ocean. The "chance that these convicts might make it back to the mainland and cause chaos" is slim to none, IMO, unless they were rescued and promptly.

1 An already-trained population/society, with tools, was able to survive.

New communities -- High Arctic relocation

Eventually, the Inuit learned the local beluga whale migration routes and were able to survive in the area, hunting over a range of 18,000 km2 (6,950 sq mi) each year.

I imagine that (i.e. hunting beluga) means building and using boats -- rather than only hunting on the sea ice as you might with seals.

IMO that (hunting from boats) couldn't be done in your case, not only because they lack the skill but can't even build the equipment, because there's a bootstrap problem, i.e. you can't build ...

... without already having the skins and so on (bone, maybe wood, maybe metals or shaped stone, and stuff to tie things with) to build them from.

Also I don't know what that quote means by "eventually", i.e. whether the transplanted community starved and/or was resupplied before that eventuality.

Also the vegetation is tundra -- so no wood, I reckon.

I think that is rather the point! No convict deportee can survive, let alone escape a place like Ellesmere Island!

No I don't know what point the OP intended. The OP said, "as an alternative to rotting prison for the rest of your life" -- but transporting all that way seems overly complicated if it's intended as an immediate death sentence.

A more suitable island might be somewhere like Easter Island

  • Climate adequate for survival
  • Island big enough for agriculture (also fishing and wild birds)
  • Hard to escape, especially if no trees grow (no wood exists) on the island

Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land (around 50 residents in 2013) is Pitcairn Island[citation needed], 2,075 kilometres (1,289 mi) away.

I understand inhabitants migrated there (over the Pacific, in canoes) but became trapped there (unable to build more boats) when they deforested the island.

I guess that even with a boat, an escapee would find it difficult to navigate 2000+ km.

Another possibility, because it's more-or-less habitable but uninhabited, if the militaries would give it up, is Diego Garcia.

  • $\begingroup$ Good grief. I mean, I saw it was cold and desolate, but that really puts it in perspective - that even in midsummer it routinely freezes overnight. I'm amazed people can live there even with specialist equipment. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ With due respect to the people who live there now, the area "shows evidence of being occupied sporadically by the Dorset culture (Tunit) and later the Thule people from as early as 1500 BCE until 1000 CE. However, modern Inuit did not occupy or use the area until the 1953 High Arctic relocation." $\endgroup$
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ Even in Ottawa (some 3000 km south of there) it never goes above freezing in the daytime, for months, in winter. I don't know (I doubt) that anyone would survive even there, without some infrastructure/society/know-how. $\endgroup$
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 13:10
  • $\begingroup$ I think that is rather the point! No convict deportee can survive, let alone escape a place like Ellesmere Island! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I added to the answer. $\endgroup$
    – ChrisW
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 0:10

Let me start by stealing Alexander's comment, for the case it gets deleted:

If we focus on "economic viability", it may be even more viable to drop those convicts halfway to the island.

That said, if you are not making a profit out of your prisonal system, you're doing it wrong. Take a page from the US, the world leading country when it comes to private prisons. Do you seriously think someone would go through all the trouble of building and maintaining a prison, investing their own time and money, just out of an altruistic wish to protect society against criminals?

Take a look at this:

A private prison, or for-profit prison, is a place in which individuals are physically confined or incarcerated by a third party that is contracted by a government agency. Private prison companies typically enter into contractual agreements with governments that commit prisoners and then pay a per diem or monthly rate, either for each prisoner in the facility, or for each place available, whether occupied or not. Such contracts may be for the operation only of a facility, or for design, construction and operation.

If you don't want to go that way, you can do it like China, where inmates have to play some MMORPG and farm a minimum amount of gold per day for you to resell, otherwise they get less food and no cigarretes.

If you are not into making easy cash and just want the cheapest way to deal with the convicted, a bullet is always cheaper than a cruise ticket.

Last but not least, what crimes are those people comitting? If you exhile someone who has stolen precious data (from the government, the military, companies or the people at large), or if they are important to the drug and weapons trade, you may be sure that someone even worse is going to that island to rescue them - rendering the whole exercise useless in the very first place.

  • $\begingroup$ There are two kinds of profit: economic and moral. A Western society without Christian morals, such as that proposed by the OP, does not care whether or not monetary gain is made on the labour of its prisoners. Slavery requires at least revognising the basic humanity of its victims: the need for housing, clothing, tools, work and some kind of rest. Vindictive punishment is a net profit all its own, and for a society that holds these criminals absolutely valueless, no amount of mere economic benefit will matter. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Oct 2, 2018 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas 'a western society without christian morals' kinda describes every single country with private prisons in the wiki I linked to. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 0:04

In the modern world there's a number of issues you'd encounter.

Lets imagine they do it, the USA, France and the UK team up and start exiling all prisoners found guilty of serious crimes to a remote island.

Issues important to how it will turn out:

Does international law get changed to allow countries to make citizens stateless?

Do any of these nations claim the island as their territory? who's law applies there?

Do any of the nations do anything to stop other nations from claiming the land as their territory?

Do they do anything to stop citizens from other nations from visiting the island?

Do they do anything to stop people from other nations from taking someone away from the islands.

People can be citizens of multiple countries. I've known someone to legally hold 4 different passports. As such, if someone is a citizen of Australia and also the USA do they get deported to this island if they commit a serious crime in the USA?

What happens if Australia objects to the treatment of their citizen.

Does international law apply to the people who have been stripped of citizenship? If someone on this island attempts to claim refugee status, for example if someone else on the island is trying to murder them for their political beliefs, do the USA, france and UK make any attempt to comply with international law.

What happens to babies born on the island?

Are they stateless? they're going to have grandparents in the USA, France and the UK who are deeply upset and they'll also be subject to international law as it relates to stateless children.

If children from the island get in a boat and try to sail away, do you let them? Does one of the navies of the countries involved sink the boat? What if there's an adult with them.

If the red cross or the UN attempt to access the island to assess the conditions of children imprisoned on the island what do you do?

If children or other people on the island manage to get hold of a radio or similar and manage to contact the government of another country and attempt to claim asylum, what do you do?

Do you forcefully separate children born on the island from their families?


Exile and outlawing have both been practiced throughout history, to various degrees of success.

While exile is merely expelling people from the bounds of your land, Romans put a real spin on the idea of outlaws. See, outlaws are people outside of law: they are not merely lawbreakers, they are stripped of all protection provided by law. No rights, no representation, nothing. Which literally makes them fair game for any assault from anyone. That is a really good motivation for the outlaw to run away as fast and as far as possible and not get within sight of any living person. This is also cheap for the government, because the government does not have to expend resources caring for anything regarding this person, killing them off, or otherwise. The downside is that people can be "mistaken" for outlaws and there are always bystanders and stuff. Besides that, outlaws know their situation, so with pretty much nothing more to lose, they are liable to just murder everyone on sight anyway.

Shipping people is kind of expensive: you need transport, you need crew, you need guards, it's cheaper to let them run away on their own or to turn them into compost.

It is more profitable, however, to organize people into forced labour. Even though you need housing, guard duty and infrastructure, a properly organized economic undertaking can pay for itself and might be a useful tool in rehabilitation of... antisocial behaviours. If managed with decency instead of being designed to degrade people as a punishment. All depends on your goals and the staffing you have available.


The chances of escape are quite good

As described, the island is not monitored in any way, making escape by anybody with boat owning friends fairly simple.

If you then choose to guard the island and regularly patrol the waters surrounding it, it becomes less economically viable than simply putting them in a conventional prison.

As the island is remote, food and lodging for the guards becomes a cost that is not born in conventional prisons, not to mention the fuel required to constantly patrol such a large area. Also, without the usual resources afforded in a civilized area, the risk to guards from armed jail breakers becomes compounded.

On top of all of this, you have to consider the increased costs of prisoner transport.

In short, what you save in real-estate (arguable, as island real-estate is not cheap), building/gorunds maintenance, and prisoner care (food, health care, entertainment), you more than expend in the above mentioned other areas.


This happens right now, the USA, New Zealand and Australia deport 100's of people each year to the Pacific Islands where they are literally dumped at the airports and become the islands problem. The crux being if they're from that nationality, regardless of whether they grew up there, know the language or anything else.

Getting citizenship of a third World country is not usually very hard if you have at least one parent or grandparent from there, if the alternative is decades in prison people's families can easily manage it in a day or two. If you have absolutely no connection to a third World country you can still get citizenship, just costs more.

Some deal is struck where serious criminals only do a tiny portion of their sentence and then get sent overseas and not allowed back.

In your scenario you could easily do the same thing, take their travel documents and prevent them re-entering at border control.

Best part is they cease to be a burden of any sort, no feeding them, no rehab expenses, nothing. The problem has been passed entirely to the Island Nation. Don't even have to inform them first.

  • $\begingroup$ "the USA, New Zealand and Australia deport 100's of people each year to the Pacific Islands". Citation? Because given how many people (one million) are in US jails, I'm suspecting there's something more to the story. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn quick google gives plenty like this article but if I were to walk on the main street in the capital late at night I would expect to hear several death threats and demands for money in American accents by groups of these chaps. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ The first line of that article states "More than 400 people have been deported for a criminal offence in the past five years - the majority from Samoa, China and Tonga". IOW, Samoans, Chinese and Tongans commit crimes in NZ and then -- shock of shocks -- are deported from NZ. That's about as far from "literally dumped at the airports and become the islands problem" as I can imagine. Shame on you for writing such a completely deceitful answer. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 12:07
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn nothing deceitful intended, google around a bit on your own. I see them on the streets every day. What you're missing is the ones who suddenly became citizens so they could get deported instead of jail time, it's not difficult to do, and if you have a legal passport no one questions how you got it. Over here we have Chinese enrolling their kids in school complete with birth certificates and everything as citizens. Kids don't even speak English let alone Polynesian. Yet they're perfectly legal documents $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ "and become the islands problem" is about as deceitful as can be, since it implies about as strongly as possible that NZ is deporting native New Zealanders instead of native Samoans and Tongans. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 12:30

The issue with the human mind is always occupying it with meaningful activities. After you send them to the island, what can they do?

In your context, having only the clothes on their bodies and no other people enforcing their behaviour in that said island, criminal minds or not, they will all either think about finding a way to:

  • get back to society (the same one or a different one);
  • survive in the island and build their own society.

JBH's Australia mention is the most literal widely-known example of this happening, so you can look into the history behind it for more ideas to your story.


If the criminal was part of a gang, the non captured gangmembers might try to rescue their buddy from the island and recruit some others while at it. In the modern day there are lot of criminal organisations with the resources to pull this off. They'd be hired as drugs runners for example.

Making it a competition might be a 'solution' to this problem and might work out just fine. Send of a whole batch of them (25, 50?) and the survivor (singular!) after a year will be rewarded with citizenship and a small start-up budget. Since the island if very poor in resources, the criminals will fight over every bit of grass killing off each other. If there are multiple survivors, tell them you come back next year to check again :).

Make sure you ship them only when no/one living soul is on the island! This prevents them taking over the ship and you can collect your criminals in the mean-while for the next batch.



For a given definition of "viable", yes this system will work. But it will only work if, in your alternate-history world, we change just about everything about the moral & ethical history of the West, starting with the extirpation of Christianity and all its sequellae.

In order for abandoning fellow human beings upon an entirely desolate and adverse landscape with no survival tools and presumably no guards, no housing, no amenities and no hope for outside assistance, the mindset of your alt-Americans & alt-French has to be one of extreme moral, ethical and cultural depravity and dehumanisation the like of which Messrs Hitler & Stalin would find constitutionally revolting. (At least these two "governments" built some kind of lodging for their undesirables! As far as I can tell, you propose nothing of the sort.)

That leaves us with a strict economic equation, and I believe that your proposed system will in fact constitute a net per convict savings of hundreds of millions each year in the alt-USA.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, incarceration costs an average of more than £31,000 per inmate, per year, nationwide. In some states, it's as much as £60,000. So, let's call the basic figure £45,000 per year per convict.

ABC News a couple years back reported that 206,268 people were serving life sentences or sentences of sufficient duration that the prisoners would likely die in prison.

Net cost: £9,282,060,000.oo per year.

Under your proposed system of exile, the cost is much reduced.

Expedia.com says I can get a round trip ticket from JFK to Iqaluit Airport (in Nunavut) for about £2,000.oo, so call it £1,000.oo for each of your guests of the State. Would suggest perhaps a military~police escorted flight in stead, non-stop from JFK to Ellesmere landing strip might be a better option. Just stop the plane, pop open the back door and shove everyone down the gangway. Bring up the door and thunder on down the runway.

Costs per convict: £500.oo for the flight + £20.oo for a loosely knit jumpsuit + £5.oo for disposable wrist & ankle ring components for use in-flight = £525.oo, one time cost per exiled convict.

Charged against the convict's estate or assets and the basic cost to the State = $0.oo.

When implemented, the first year cost will be £108,290,700.oo. 400 to 500 flights will be required in order to dispose of all convicts currently incarcerated. Thereafter, the total number of convict deportees will be reduced dramatically. (In the Federal system, not even 200 life sentences are handed down in a year. One flight per month should be more than sufficient for the State at large.)

Benefits of your proposal are several:

  • Out of sight, out of mind. You can't get much more out of sight than an inhospitable Arctic island where Summer temperatures rarely get much above freezing.
  • The local populations of polar bears and arctic wolves will be (slightly) better fed. In fact, look for semi-permanent populations of large predators to inhabit the neighbourhood surrounding the landing strip.
  • Reduced overall costs: reduced need for maximum security prisons coupled with the lack of costs associated with appeals (there obviously will be no appeals) equates to billions of dollars saved, even taking into account sorting current maximum security prison employees into jobs training programmes and different lines of work.

Detriments to your proposal are non-existent:

  • In this culture, there are no moral or ethical roadblocks preventing the immediate implementation of your proposed system.

I can guarantee that NO convict deportee will ever be able to make it back to anything like civilisation. Ellesmere Island is about 500 miles long, rocky with sparse vegetation, unfriendly wildlife (wolves, polar bears, musk oxen, caribou), no infrastructure and no opportunity for agriculture. You provide your convict deportees with no tools, though I assume they will have some kind of Bureau of Punishment issued jumpsuit. You obviously don't care about their welfare, which is indicated by a First World culture that does not value human life at all. The chances of a convict deportee wearing nothing more than a light jumpsuit and slippers walking 500 miles with no food, no water in a hostile & cold environment to the southern coast have to be extremely tiny. Almost nil.

If one should arrive at the coast, he will be greeted by a twenty mile swim through the frigid waters of Baffin Bay down to Devon Island, a fifty mile trek across that island and a fifty mile swim to Baffin Island... The point is, no one (who is not a special forces trained super-soldier and who grew up off-the-grid and is a specialist in surviving Arctic conditions) can even hope to endure the trek half way to civilisation! Keep in mind that most of your convicts will be ordinary street thugs, domestic violence & sexual deviants who also commit murder, burglars who also commit murder. Basically, your average urban low-life scum with no Arctic wilderness survival skill set.

Can some survive on their island prison? That's a different question, but it may just barely be possible for some individuals to survive. For a time...


Devils island (from the book Papillion) and Australia spring to mind... Devil's Island system received convicts deported from all parts of the Second French Empire, and was infamous for its harsh treatment of detainees, with a death rate of 75% at their worst, In its 99-year existence as a penal colony, an estimated 70,000 criminals were sent to suffer the "dry guillotine." Only 2,000 returned until it was closed down in 1953...

as a random trivia - The last prisoner of the island refused to be repatriated when the penal colony was officially abandoned in 1953. He was last seen by some shipwreck victims who made it to the island in January 1958. The final band of prisoners from the Devil's Island group was repatriated into France on Aug. 22, 1953.


there is also a memoir (Papillion) by Henri Charrière, a former prisoner who escaped. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Charri%C3%A8re

René Belbenoît's book Dry Guillotine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_Guillotine



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