10

I have been reading a few questions about Azkaban lately. They all made me wonder what security measures are implemented in/around Azkaban.

I wonder because Sirius Blacks' breakout seemed so easy, he could just slip past the Dementors in his Padfoot form ? Were there really no extra security measures besides the Dementors and the surrounding water ?

And the breakout of the Death Eaters. Now I don't quite remember how it's described in the book, I recently watched the movies again and there someone or something blew a hole into the prison walls, that seems a little easy to me. You'd think that the prison walls are somehow protected against destruction. (You can make a locket close to indestructible but not a stone wall ?)

It's often implied that Aszkaban is a high security prison, to me it seems like there's barely any protection at all besides Dementors, who don't seem to be the smartest creatures in the magical world, and a lot of water.

So are there any canon sources about the security measures in Azkaban ?

EDIT for clarification: I know there are locked bars and high walls too as a security measure. I take them for granted cause that's what you need for any prison I think. I'm looking for extra sorts of security, like the Dementors and the rough water around Azkaban. Surely there would be more than that and I'm hoping for some canon source on it.

  • The environment is dull like hell... Prisoners simply don't get motivation to bust out. – Baby Yoda Mar 4 '15 at 10:05
  • @SS - I thought about that too, but then again, that doesn't stop outsiders from helping them break out. Actually it seems to me like anyone capable of conjuring a full Patronus charm could just walk in there, blasting the dementors away and probably blow the doors off. – Dagon313 Mar 4 '15 at 10:08
  • 1
    The blowing off thing shouldn't be there. It looks like a plot hole. Wait for @DVK @Richard @Slytherincess kind of experts.. – Baby Yoda Mar 4 '15 at 10:11
  • Blowing a hole is not as unthinkable as you seem to think. Against Voldemort in charge even Hogwarts defences were not enough. And with Dementor cooperation, which death eaters seem to have, even a standing auror garrison wouldn't be enough to prevent it. That said, I am curious what quotes about it's real defences can be found. – Deltharis Mar 4 '15 at 10:22
  • 2
    See also scifi.stackexchange.com/q/59684/4918 How did Sirius escape from Azkaban? – b_jonas Mar 4 '15 at 10:56
4

We don’t really know much about the Azkaban defences.

The walls, cells and water are taken as given, but as Lupin suggests, not much else may be necessary:

“The fortress is set on a tiny island, way out to sea, but they don’t need walls and water to keep the prisoners in, not when they’re all trapped inside their own heads, incapable of a single cheerful thought. Most of them go mad within weeks.”

Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 10 (The Marauder’s Map)

J.K. Rowling has provided some more information about Azkaban on Pottermore, but it doesn’t go into specifics about defence measures.

It was originally the fortress of the dark wizard Ekrizdis, and it sounds as if he left some pretty formidable stuff there. After he died and the Ministry discovered the island, they found some dark stuff:

Those who entered to investigate refused afterwards to talk of what they had found inside, but the least frightening part of it was that the place was infested with Dementors.

No details are given, but whatever it was may play into the defensive measures. It was originally built to lure unsuspecting Muggles to their death, so I’m sure some of his enchantments were designed to stop people leaving.

There are more hints that the building itself may be partially sentient:

The very walls of the building seemed steeped in misery and pain, and the Dementors were determined to cling to it. Experts who had studied buildings built with and around Dark magic contended that Azkaban might wreak its own revenge upon anybody attempting to destroy it.

Technically that’s still walls and cells, but those still sound pretty scary (if true).


I disagree that breaking out of Azkaban is “easy”. In the two known cases:

  • Sirius using his Animagus form. The majority of people aren’t Animagi, because it’s pretty difficult to learn and get right. And you’d have to learn to do it before you get sent to Azkaban, which means that Sirius is probably the only person who could have used this escape tactic. Perhaps an oversight in the original design (then again, Muggles don’t tend to turn into animals of their own free will), but hardly a viable or easy option for most prisoners.

  • The Death Eater breakout of the second wizarding war. This coincided with the mass defection of the prison guards, who may well have assisted in the breakout. Again, not an option available to most prisoners.

And when it comes to conjuring a Patronus, I suspect sheer volume of Dementors would slow any would-be attacker. You can’t kill a Dementor, only displace them. But Azkaban is swarming with them: they bred there for years, essentially unchecked. When the Ministry first discovers the prison, they’re sceptical of their ability to contain the Dementors:

Others were afraid of what might happen to the Dementors infesting the building if they deprived them of their home. The creatures were already strong and impossible to kill; many feared a horrible revenge if they took away a habitat where they appeared to thrive.

If the Ministry can’t subdue them, I’m very sceptical of a small team attempting to break into (or out of) the prison. I think you’d be overwhelmed by Dementors, coming at you from all sides, and all sapping your energy as they do. A full Patronus is powerful, but it’s not invincible. And if you somehow get through the Dementors, you just have to deal with the prison itself (which, by the way, you probably know nothing about and may well be unequipped to face).

Frankly, I don’t fancy your chances.

  • Great answer, I didn't know the part about its history. Though I was hoping there would be some existing Canon Infos about the actual defense measures, your answer provided all intersting infos to put it into perspective – Dagon313 Mar 5 '15 at 15:45
  • @Dagon313 Glad you enjoyed it. There's more on Pottermore (transcripts are floating around the web), which go more into its history as a Ministry prison. The Ministers who decided to start using it, opposed it, etc. – alexwlchan Mar 5 '15 at 18:19
  • Does it mean you can't throw a werewolf in Azkaban ? Fenrir Greyback ? – Stephane Mathis Mar 13 '15 at 23:31
  • Worth noting- the only reason Sirius (as an Animagus) was still able to use his powers/stay sane was the fact that he was innocent, so legit criminals wouldn't have that option. – DavidS Apr 6 '18 at 8:45
  • Worth noting that Sirius was an UNREGISTERED Animagus. They very well may have ways of detaining a registered Animagus, but if they don't know you can change into a different form, nor what form that is, they can't put those safeguards into place. – vynsane Apr 6 '18 at 14:51
3

You mention the Dementors and the water. But there were also bars. Sirius mentions them:

I was thin enough to slip through the bars.

A human could probably not squeeze between the bars.

Also, the prisoners don't have a wand, which would be a crippling disability for many Wizards who are used to do everything with one.

  • 1
    Slipping through bar is same thing as Slipping through Dementors. – Baby Yoda Mar 4 '15 at 10:59
  • Sirius slipped through the doors when they were opened by the dementors and through some other bars, yes, but bars hardly seem like a solid obstacle especially with a little help from outside. I could imagine any animal under the Imperio curse could easily smuggle a wand inside, there has to be some sort of extra security measures.. – Dagon313 Mar 4 '15 at 12:32
1

The Harry Potter Wiki speculates a little, saying (emphasis mine)

There is most likely an Anti-Apparation 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.

Also,

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.

With or without wands, the prisoners would be severely impeded by the Dementors. If the prisoners can't use magic, then only security measures like in a normal prison would be necessary (alongside the Dementors). The facts that Azkaban is situated on a tiny island and is Unplottable seem to do the trick.

After the Second Wizarding War, Kingsley Shacklebolt, as Minister of Magic, removed the Dementors as guards, using the logic (correctly) that the mass-breakouts of Death Eaters in 1996-97 were due to the Dementors abandoning the prison to side with Voldemort. Accordingly, a rotating group of Aurors was given control of Azkaban, and they guard prisoners in lieu of Dementors.

This is based on information from Pottermore. Rowling also wrote this in a web chat:

Steph: Will azkaban still use dementors?

J.K. Rowling: No, definitely not. Kingsley would see to that. The use of Dementors was always a mark of the underlying corruption of the Ministry, as Dumbledore constantly maintained.

Wikipedia does claim that there were human guards at Azkaban prior to the end of the Second Wizarding War, but I can't follow up on that source.

The quote used in both answers to this question seems to imply that there were no other barriers besides the Dementors:

His knowledge of his innocence allowed him to retain his powers and sanity. 'One night, when (the Dementors) opened my door to bring food, I slipped past them as a dog. It's so much harder for them to sense animal emotions that they were confused ... I was thin enough to slip through the bars. I swam as a dog back to the mainland. I journeyed north and slipped into the Hogwarts grounds as a dog. I've been living in the Forest ever since.' Prisoner of Azkaban; chapter 'The Servant of Lord Voldemort'

So there may or may not have been human guards in addition to the Dementors, though they would, in general, want to stay away from the Dementors. An Anti-Apparition jinx is also possible, though it might not have been necessary - in fact, no other security measures would be necessary. After Kingsley Skacklebolt became Minister of Magic, though, Aurors were the primary *(if not only) means of defense.

  • Nice, thank you for the Elaborate answer :) I hope under the Aurors they will at least put a protection field around Azkaban like it was in the Battle of Hogwarts, where going through it will result in vaporization or something similar. I was really surprised that something like this was not implemented before.. – Dagon313 Mar 5 '15 at 15:43
  • @Dagon313 I wonder if there was one back when Azkaban was first built. Interesting. . . – HDE 226868 Mar 5 '15 at 15:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.