Jail trees

In the United States, prisoners used to be chained to trees. In Australia, prisoners used to be put inside trees.

Prison tree
Djambalawa / CC BY-SA

A nice short post today. In the late 19th century, there was a need for law enforcement in some rather broad open territories: Arizona, Western Australia, and the like. Jails were expensive, so trees were a cheap and plentiful alternative.

The idea was simple enough. Instead of a jail with walls and barred windows, you just handcuff the prisoners and chain them to a big old tree. In the United States, oak trees or mesquite trees seem to have been the most popular choices. The prisoners didn’t have any shelter apart from the tree’s own shade, which I imagine the law considered a feature rather than a bug.

Western Australia took tree jails to the next level: there’s at least one boab tree near Wyndham which was large enough and hollow enough to actually serve as a prison – a real one, I mean. Prisoners were lowered into the tree’s hollow centre and kept overnight, then transferred to the town jail in the morning. It sounds like this was mostly used for Aboriginal prisoners… charming, Wyndham, real nice.

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