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What Is a Prison Hotel?

By Britt Archer
Updated May 23, 2024
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A prison hotel is a hotel whose building once housed a genuine jail or prison. The attraction for hotel guests is the opportunity to stay in a unique location. A prison hotel usually has been renovated with many modern amenities in comfortable rooms. These prison-themed hotels can be found all over the world, from the United States and Great Britain to Australia, Latvia and Sweden.

Some hotels not only offer rooms in former jails, but they extend the distinct atmosphere to other parts of their establishments. The Liberty Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts, for example, which once was the Charles Street Jail, has named its restaurant the Clink, and has their staff dress in faux prison uniforms. The distinctive atmosphere in a prison hotel can be attributed in many cases to architects who took care to retain original features during remodeling. At the Liberty Hotel, tiers of catwalks that once allowed guards to oversee prisoners now are used as balconies. In keeping with the theme, architects even retained the contours of wall holes that once anchored the prison bars. In Sweden at the Langholmen prison hotel, the original cell doors remain.

At the Karosta prison in Latvia, creature comforts are the last thing on hoteliers’ minds. This prison hotel aims to give guests an approximation of what it really felt like to be held in custody, offering real prison mattresses and benches. The Karosta, constructed in 1905, was once used by the KGB, Russia’s intelligence agency, to house Russian sailors who had run afoul of the authorities. In Australia, the guests at the former Mount Gambier Jail also stay in cells that have few updates.

There are also hotels that give their guests a choice between comfort and realism. In New Zealand, for example, the Napier prison hotel offers lodging in a dormitory, a refurbished cell or in a cell that remains in its original state with no extra comforts provided. A prison hotel in Germany, the Alcatraz, offers a modicum of comfort in the cells, with bathroom facilities sitting openly in the cell, just as prisoners experienced them.

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Discussion Comments

By Sporkasia — On Nov 19, 2014

If I were going to spend the money to stay in a hotel that was once a prison then I would want to have enough of the old decor and old furnishings around so that I would definitely know that I was staying in a former prison and not just some other hotel. Otherwise, what's the point in staying there instead of some other hotel with similar accommodations and for less money?

Besides, if the prisoners could put up with the living conditions for years and years then I'm sure I could handle them for a night or a few nights.

By Animandel — On Nov 19, 2014

@Feryll - Yes, Alcatraz all renovated with the modern comforts is something I would consider paying for. Just the chance to say you spent the night on the grounds of one of the most famous prisons in U.S. history would be impressive. If those walls could talk, they would have some interesting tales to share.

However, did you read the final paragraph of this article where it talks about some prison hotel accommodations being virtually the same as they were for the prisoners who were housed there? This I would not pay for. I draw the line at having an open bathroom in the middle of or in the corner of my cell/hotel room.

By Feryll — On Nov 18, 2014

What is it about old prisons that we find so fascinating? I've never stayed in a prison hotel, but I do like to visit old prisons and tour them when I get the chance. I think a complex like Alcatraz prison in San Francisco would make a great hotel. People would pay a fortune to stay in a place like that if it were renovated and offered a few more amenities.

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