Azkaban is a fortress on an island in the middle of the North Sea. It serves the magical community of Great Britain as a prison for convicted criminals. Azkaban was built in the 15th century and it has been in use as a detention facility since 1718. Using certain Charms, Azkaban is hidden from the Muggle world, and is Unplottable.
While other wizarding prisons exist, such as Nurmengard (which was used exclusively to hold its creator Gellert Grindelwald), Azkaban is the only known fortress to be the "official" holding ground for wizarding criminals.
Because of the impracticality of using small wizarding prisons which could result in bangs, smells and light shows if victims escape, plans for a purpose-built prison for wizards on some remote Hebridean island were made. However, when Damocles Rowle was elected Minister for Magic in 1718, he insisted on using Azkaban instead, seeing the Dementors as a potential asset: putting them to work as guards would save expense, time, and lives. This plan was eventually put into motion and, despite protests, Azkaban remained the prison of the wizarding world until the Second Wizarding War, mostly because of its zero breakout rate. From that point on, the Dementors served the Ministry as the guards of Azkaban, as the arrangement allowed them to feed on the emotions of the prisoners within its walls. Somewhere between 1733 and 1747 Minister Eldritch Diggory visited Azkaban, and was horrified at the sheer despair and insanity that the Dementors induced within the prisoners. He formed a committee to find alternative solutions, the least of which was to remove the Dementors, which met opposition from those who feared a mainland invasion by them if they were deprived of their food source. Diggory died of Dragon Pox while in office, and thus the campaign to find an alternative to Azkaban's Dementors stalled. When Minister Hesphaestus Gore took office, the prison was renovated and reinforced. No one else seriously considered closing the prison until the Ministry of Kingsley Shacklebolt began major reforms in 1998.
Azkaban gained a reputation as a horrific place, mostly due to the prison's guards: Dementors. Because of these creatures, most of the prisoners eventually went insane and slowly died under the Dementors' depressive influence. Since 1717, using any of the three Unforgivable Curses on another human being has carried the punishment of a life sentence in Azkaban (unless there is sufficient evidence that the caster did so under the influence of the Imperius Curse, or legal exceptions made by the Ministry of Magic as in the case of Aurors in the First Wizarding War).
Azkaban was guarded by Dementors until most of them revolted and joined Lord Voldemort in summer of 1995. As a result, Voldemort's Death Eaters escaped en masse to rejoin their master in both 1996 and 1997.
There is most likely an Anti-Apparition jinx on Azkaban; if there were not, wizards and witches could simply Apparate from the prison to the outside world. However, since it is debatable that most witches and wizards need a wand to Apparate, this may be irrelevant, as none of the prisoners maintain possession of their wands. Before 1995, most of the prisoners would barely have had enough strength to Apparate anyway, as the mere presence of Dementors, particularly in large numbers, inhibits the use of magical powers.
Before the Dementors' revolt, the only people ever to escape the prison were Barty Crouch Jr and Sirius Black, in 1982 and 1993, respectively. Barty Crouch Jr was smuggled out by his father, Barty Crouch Snr, and replaced by his dying mother using Polyjuice Potion, while Sirius was able to escape by changing into his Animagus form of a dog. The revolt has severely compromised the security, as multiple escapes were made with no more Dementors guarding the prison; the Ministry continued omitting certain facts to maintain their facade of having everything under control, including keeping one breakout a secret.
There is a graveyard on the island outside the wall of Azkaban where the Dementors buried prisoners who died. However, if the dead prisoner has a relative who is not a criminal, the relative in question has the right to pick up the corpse for a proper burial, as Barty Crouch Snr had the right to pick up the body that was disguised as his son, though he chose not to due to fear of being exposed of committing a jailbreak.
Although the prison is in the middle of the ocean with iron walls protecting it, it was unnecessary to keep prisoners inside, as Remus Lupin stated, because the prisoners were already trapped in their own heads due to the intense depression caused by the Dementors. As Sirius indicated, most prisoners went insane after a short while, and some even stopped eating, preferring death to their lives within Azkaban. Dementors fed the prisoners, indicating the prisoners might have felt depression at mealtimes.
Visits to the island are heavily restricted, as only respectable Ministry officials were noted to be allowed to visit any possible relatives. An example is when Barty Crouch Snr and his wife were allowed a deathbed visit to their imprisoned son due to the former's high status in the government; they took advantage of this privilege to smuggle Barty Jr out of prison. The Minister for Magic is also allowed to visit the prison, as to check out on certain prisoners for their conditions, as Cornelius Fudge did on Sirius Black. Arthur Weasley visited Azkaban on business once.
After the war
- "Under Kingsley Shacklebolt, Azkaban was purged of Dementors. While it remains in use as a prison, the guards are now Aurors, who are regularly rotated from the mainland. There has been no breakout since this new system was introduced."
- —Azkaban after the Second Wizarding War[src]
After the end of the Second Wizarding War and Kingsley Shacklebolt's appointment as Minister for Magic in 1998, dementors were no longer employed as guards of Azkaban. This was likely because they had proven to be untrustworthy, and because the depression and madness their presence caused in prisoners was considered inhumane.
Ever since they were removed, Aurors have been guarding the prison, taking turns so that a certain number of Aurors are assigned to stand guard, before leaving to return to fieldwork, with other Aurors taking their place. It is unknown how many surviving Voldemort supporters and Death Eaters were imprisoned in the aftermath. Them aside, any Ministry officials who knowingly and willingly went with Voldemort's ideologies during the time when the Ministry was under his control, mainly the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, were sentenced to Azkaban, the most prominent being Dolores Umbridge, for her crimes against humanity (and, more specifically, Muggle-borns).
Known Azkaban inmates
- "We have confirmed that ten high security prisoners, in the early hours of yesterday evening, did escape. And of course, the Muggle Prime Minister has been alerted to the danger. We strongly suspect that the breakout was engineered by a man with personal experience in escaping from Azkaban; notorious mass murderer Sirius Black, cousin of the escapee Bellatrix Lestrange."
- —Cornelius Fudge interview to the Daily Prophet, January 1996[src]
|Framed: falsely imprisoned for the murder of three Muggles and breaking the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.||Life Sentence, was proved to be innocent after six years and was released in 2006.|
The name Azkaban is inspired by the Hebrew word Abaddon, meaning 'place of destruction' or 'depths of hell' and also draws inspiration from the Prison of Alcatraz off the coast of San Francisco. It may also derive from the name of the Russian town Abakan, which has historically been occupied by various groups of exiles.
- Azkaban escapes
- Azkaban Security Officials and Very Important Wizards
- Unforgivable Curses
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