There are a number of crimes that in the real world result in short-term jail sentences. For instance, driving under the influence in California results in a minimum 48-hour jail sentence (or a license restriction). Other crimes may also have short sentences that are a matter of days.

The only jail that I know about in Harry Potter is Azkaban, and sending someone there for flying a broomstick under the influence seems…harsh. Is there any evidence that such short-term jails exist? If not, are there alternative punishments for less severe crimes that prevent the need for such short-term jail time?

4 Answers 4


Probably not.

Pottermore tells us that Azkaban was set up as a replacement for smaller prisons, suggesting that these were shut down when Azkaban became the main wizarding prison:

Once the International Statute of Secrecy had been imposed, the Ministry of Magic felt that the small wizarding prisons that existed up and down the country in various towns and villages posed a security risk, because attempts by incarcerated witches and wizards to break out often led to undesirable bangs, smells and light shows. A purpose-built prison, located on some remote Hebridean island, was preferred, and plans had been drawn up when Damocles Rowle became Minister for Magic.

Rowle was an authoritarian who had risen to power on an anti-Muggle agenda, capitalising on the anger felt by much of the wizarding community at being forced to go underground. Sadistic by nature, Rowle scrapped the plans for the new prison at once and insisted on using Azkaban. He claimed that the Dementors living there were an advantage: they could be harnessed as guards, saving the Ministry time, trouble and expense.

In spite of opposition from many wizards, among them experts on both Dementors and buildings with Azkaban’s kind of Dark history, Rowle carried out his plan and soon a steady trickle of prisoners had been placed there. None ever emerged. If they were not mad and dangerous before being placed in Azkaban, they swiftly became so.

And we know that minor offences such as Apparating without a licence are punishable by fines instead of incarceration, as seen in this answer, based on the following quote (emphasis mine):

"You have to pass a test to Apparate?" Harry asked.

"Oh yes," said Mr Weasley, tucking the tickets safely into the back pocket of his jeans. "The Department of Magical transportation had to fine a couple of people the other day for Apparating without a licence. It's not easy, Apparition, and when it's not done properly it can lead to nasty complications. This pair I'm talking about went and splinched themselves."


Harry had a sudden vision of a pair of legs and an eyeball lying abandoned on the pavement of Privet Drive.

"Were they OK?" he asked, startled.

"Oh yes," said Mr Weasley matter-of-factly. "But they got a heavy fine, and I don't think they'll be trying it again in a hurry. You don't mess around with Apparition."

-- HP and the Goblet of Fire

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    Thanks to whoever upvoted my "Apparate without a license" answer, for reminding me that it existed just as I was composing this answer!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 3:06
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    Actually, that was me, the question asker, since I was checking out other questions about the legal system in Harry Potter. Glad it helped answer my question! Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 3:10
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    @Thunderforge Well then, double thanks to you: both for the upvote(s?) and for the good question! :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 3:13

It doesn't seem that way, and there are a couple of pieces of evidence for this. First is Malfoy's description of Azkaban as the wizard prison:

'Azkaban - the wizard prison, Goyle,' said Malfoy, looking at him in disbelief. 'Honestly, if you were any slower you'd be going backwards.'

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - p.167 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 12, The Polyjuice Potion

The same description is given to Lily by Snape:

'They wouldn't give you to the Dementors for that! Dementors are for people who do really bad stuff. They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban. You're not going to end up in Azkaban, you're too -'

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - p.536 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 33, The Prince's Tale

And the second is that Hagrid is later sent to Azkaban purely for precautionary, preventative detention, as an interim, without any trial.

So it certainly seems to me like there's only one place you can be incarcerated. It seems like if Azkaban is too harsh a sentence, wizards would be more likely to use an alternative to incarceration than to use some kind of minimum security prison.


Well there are other prisons - one at least is Nurmengard, where Grindelwald is imprisoned after Dumbledore defeats him.

From "The Deathly Hallows":

Dumbledore: They say he (Grindelwald) showed remorse in later years, alone in his cell at Nurmengard.

Of course this is probably not a prison for short-term sentences - if anything, it's the opposite as Grindelwald has presumably been there for 50-some years before Voldemort finally offs him. But then, it might be for all sorts of sentences above fine-level, so I figured it was worth mentioning.

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    Nurmengard was the prison Grindelwald built to hold his opponents during his rise to power. When Dumbledore finally defeated him, he was locked up in a cell in his own prison. Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 7:47
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    Yes, you're right - Grindelwald was indeed imprisoned in his own jail. Ironic, yet fitting.Whether he was the only prisoner there or not is not certain - it seems unlikely (and wildly impractical) to me, but then this is a series where magic is real, so maybe not.
    – MPF
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 9:02
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    I think the implication is that Azkaban is the only one in Britain, just like Hogwarts is the only school. I think Nurmengard is in mainland Europe somewhere, guessing Germany or Austria based on the name? Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 15:26
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    @MPF Considering that Grindelwald built the prison, and was using it for his nefarious purposes, its likely that all the other prisoners would have been freed when he was imprisoned there. As to whether it was used later as a prison for others is not mentioned in the books. However, it might also have been kept empty, save for Grindelwald, since the wizarding rulers would not want to use a prison that was built by a Dark lord, in which all matter of dark events might have taken place. Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 17:53
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    @red_devil226 : A single-person prison like this has existed in the (German-speaking) muggle world: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandau_Prison . Never underestimate politics when it comes to impracticality!
    – robpvn
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 9:24

There are evidently short-term holding cells at the Ministry of Magic. The first time we see Sirius Black during his trial, he is chained up to an elevated platform which presumably leads to a cell somewhere in the Ministry. (Assuming it's not directly connected to Azkaban via some sort of magical portal - which seems like it would be a pretty serious security hole if that were the case.) If there's one cell at the Ministry, it's not unreasonable to assume there are others. Whether they would be used for petty crimes such as drunk broomstick flying or the like, I couldn't say.

  • Sirius Black never had a trial. Perhaps you're thinking of the trials in Goblet of Fire, e.g. of Igor Karkaroff. That cage is a movie only prop. In the books, people are led in and out by dementors and there's a chair with chains which often bind those who sit in it to the chair.
    – Au101
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 20:19
  • @Au101 ...Maybe? It's been a long time since I watched the movies and even longer since I read the books, so I may be mixing things up a bit. I do remember a cage that went into the - was it floor or ceiling? - of the courtroom. Either way, it would make sense that any courtroom would require some sort of holding cells for the people awaiting trial and sentencing. Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 20:30
  • There was something a bit like a holding pen in book 7, but it wasn't really a prison, I wouldn't have said
    – Au101
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 20:31

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