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Distant or overseas settlement established to punish criminals with forced labour and isolation from society. Such colonies were developed mostly by the English, French, and Russians. Britain sent criminals to its American colonies until the Revolutionary War; Australia was principally a penal colony from its colonization until the mid-19th century. French Guiana, site of a French penal colony, was infamous for its inhumanity; Devil's Island was still operating during World War II. Russian penal colonies were established in Siberia under the tsars but were most widely used during the Stalin era. Notorious for their harsh punishments and underfeeding, most penal colonies have now been abolished.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on penal colony, visit Britannica.com.
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