Location: French Guiana
Notable Residents: Henri Charrière (convicted murderer and author)
Amenities: Your choice of tropical diseases
Sitting nine miles off the coast of French Guiana, Devil's Island was part of the famous French penal colony for over a century. The rocky island extends 40 feet above sea level. It was first used as a leper colony, then as a space to contain political prisoners. By the late 19th century, it housed some 239 republicans who opposed Napoleon III's coup d'état. It was also home to thieves and murderers.
Most of the prisoners never made it back to France. Many prisoners died due to the harsh conditions, including limited sanitary systems and a thorough mosquito infestation, which spread tropical diseases. Prisoners were deterred from escape by an intimidating body of water full of piranhas. France didn't make it easy on prisoners, passing a law that required them to stay in French Guiana for a period equal to their labor time. If their sentence was greater than eight years, they had to remain on the island for the rest of their lives. Another law ordered repeat offenders for minor crimes be sent to Devil's Island, which was previously reserved for hardened criminals and political prisoners. Some convicted women were even banished there for the purpose of procreating with freed men to sustain the society.
The government stopped sending prisoners to Devil's Island in 1938, and it closed for good in 1953, finally giving prisoners the opportunity to return to France, though some elected to remain on the island. Devil's Island had its moment in pop culture thanks to Henri Charrière's Papillon, which was adapted into a film of the same name in 1973 starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Today, the prison is closed to the public, but can be seen by charter boat.