Prisons are known for violence, gang activity, riots, and harsh conditions and are often portrayed in popular TV shows and movies. Are prisons as brutal as we think they are? Or are they worse? This list contains ten of the world’s worst and notorious prisons that show humanity at its lowest.
1. Black Dolphin Prison, Russia
The Black Dolphin prison is a correctional facility in Sol-Iletsk, Orenburg, Russian. It’s one of the oldest facilities in Russia and one of the first to take in life-sentenced prisoners. It’s the home of 700 of the most dangerous criminals in Russian. It houses child molesters, murderers, terrorists, cannibals, and serial killers.
Prisoners are kept in isolated cells and are forbidden to rest or sit on their bunks for the 16 hours they are awake during the day. They are also only fed soup four times a day. What is most unusual about this prison is the methods it takes to keep inmates from escaping. The guards blindfold the inmates when they transport them between buildings and are made to bend at the waist while a guard holds their handcuffed hands behind their backs
2. Bang Kwang Central Prison, Thailand
Bang Kwang Central Prison is a men’s prison in Nonthaburi Province, Thailand. It was not built to be a regular prison, but to hold the worst offenders, inmates who were sentenced between 25 years and to life, and death sentence prisoners waiting for their executions. All prisoners are required to wear leg irons. Death-sentenced inmates have their leg iron permanently wielded until their execution, which was performed by either lethal injection or a firing squad. This practice ended in 2013.
Excluding food, which consists of a bowl of rice and vegetables, everything else in prison has to be purchased. Wealthy prisoners employ other inmates to work for them in exchange for better food. As of 2018, the jail holds about 6000 inmates.
3. Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Kenya
Kamiti Maximum Security Prison is located in Nairobi, Kenya. It is most known for housing many political prisoners such as Hussein Onyango Obama, Kenneth Matiba, Raila Odinga, Koigi Wa Wamwere, and many more. Like many other prisons, overcrowding is a major issue. Though built for 1400, Kamiti now has over 3600 prisoners who live in horrible conditions. From no reliable water supplies that force inmates to haul buckets of water daily to being paid only 10 cents (Kenya shilling) a day. Most famously, a mobile phone video was filmed in “G” block part of the prison of a brutal beating during a search for mobile phones. The video was given to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and shown on Kenyan TV.
4. Petak Island Prison, Russia
Also known as the Alcatraz of Russia, this Russian prison is surrounded by the water of White Lake, similar to the original Alcatraz. No one has ever escaped from it. The cruel routine the inmates follow leaves no room for the usual violence and rape in prisons. They are trapped for 22.5 hours a day and are allowed an hour and a half to stand outside in a small cage. Only two visitors a year are permitted.
The punishment for misbehaving is to be confined to a small, dark room with a metal bucket and a fold down bed. During the day, they have to stand as the bed is taken away, or to sit on a tiny wooden perch. It is said that half of the inmates have tuberculosis. If they die, they get buried in a small graveyard nearby in the presence of a couple of guards. No other prisoners are allowed to attend the funeral.
5. La Sabaneta Prison, Venezuela
The Maracaibo National Prison (Sabaneta Prison) was located in Maracaibo, Venezuela in the state of Zulia. The prison was run by the inmates themselves and was known for its severe violence. It was built initially to accommodate 700 prisoners but held 3700, about 192 of them were children of the inmates. In addition to its overcrowdedness, it had limited access to medical care, food, and clean water. On January 3, 1994, a riot broke out. A group of inmates started a fire, and then shot or stabbed those who tried to escape the fire. An estimated 150 were killed when security tried to take back control of the prison. It is regarded as one of the deadliest prison incidents in history.
It’s also said that fires, murders, and beheading also occurred regularly. Prisoners stitched their own wounds. Cases of AIDS, tuberculosis, and typhoid weren’t uncommon. During a raid, guards discovered a collection of jungle animals housed in prison, including a few endangered species. The death rate was also high, as 69 prisoners were killed in 2013 alone. After 55 years, the government closed the prison down. It is now being converted to a museum so that citizens can visit the sites of famous massacres and learn about the historical running of corrupt prison systems.
6. ADX Florence, United States
The United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility, or just known as ADX is an American federal prison located in Fremont County, Colorado. It’s classified as a Supermax or ‘control unit prison,’ as in it provides a higher level of security than a normal maximum security prison. It houses males whose escape would cause a serious threat to national security. It’s nicknamed as the Alcatraz of the Rockies, as it is described the last thing you see before you go in is the Rocky Mountains.
The grueling routine the prisoners go through consists of 23 hours a day in a single soundproof cell, 24 hours supervision, and limited entertainment allowed. The one hour the prisoners get a day is used for showering, exercise, and phone calls for those who have the privilege. Due to fear of suicide and inmates possibly harming the guards, the facilities in the cells are made of concrete to deter self-harm, and only certain types of food are served so it can’t be used to harm themselves or to create unsanitary conditions in their cells.
Since ADX opened in 1994, there have been at least six suicides. Most of them were performed using bed sheets to hang themselves. It’s said that inmates have “delusional conversations with voices they hear in their heads.” Some spread feces, other human waste and body fluids over their cells or hurl it at correctional officers. Over the past, ADX housed some of the most dangerous criminals. Some of those names include Ramzi Yousef, who plotted the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and Richard Reid, “the shoe bomber.”
7. San Quentin State Prison, United States
SQ is a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prison for men in San Francisco. It’s the oldest prison in California and is currently the state’s only death row for men. Initially, the prison was under private management and subjected its inmates to inhumane conditions and punishments. Some of the disciplinary actions taken were flogging and shower baths, where the prisoners were stripped and sprayed with a high-pressure water hose. Lousy management also leads to multiple escape attempts. In 1854, more than 80 prisoners escaped. Later, corporal punishment was replaced by solitary confinement.
The inmates published a newspaper called the Wall City News, the only newspaper in the world published within the walls of a prison, though it was discontinued. In 1938, a gas chamber was built, but as of 1996, lethal injection was used for execution instead. Johnny Cash, the country singer, performed at San Quentin a couple of times. The band Crime also performed, wearing the same uniforms worn by the correctional officers. One of San Quentin’s most notorious inmates is Charles Manson.
8. Tadmor Prison, Syria
Tadmor prison was located in the deserts of eastern Syria. It was notoriously known for its inhumane and harsh conditions, human rights abuse, torture and summary executions. A report by Amnesty International called the prison a source of “despair, torture, and degrading treatment.” It was built during Hafez al-Assad’s 30-year rule between 1971 and 2000 and gained its current reputation during that time. Thousands of political dissidents were reported to have been humiliated, tortured, and summarily executed there.
Inmates were not allowed to raise their heads, look up or look at each other. “I have not seen the eyes of any of my inmates, and none of them saw my eyes until after we left the prison. Eye contact was forbidden,” Syrian writer, Yassin Haj Saleh, said in his article, The Road to Tadmur. He was there from 1995 to 1996. Syrian writer, poet Faraj Bayrakdar, described it as “a kingdom of death and madness. The fact that such a place existed is a shame, not only on Syrians but on all humanity.”
Tadmor prison is also the site of what is known as the Tadmor Prison massacre that occurred on June 27, 1980. During that time, the Syrian branch of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood failed to assassinate president Hafez al-Assad. In retaliation, under the orders of his brother, Rifaat al-Assad, members of the units of the Defense Brigades entered the prison at dawn and killed an estimated number of 500 to one thousand prisoners in their cells in just a few minutes. In May 2015, when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took over Palmyra, they destroyed the prison.
9. Penal de Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador
The Ciudad Barrios Prison is a maximum security prison in Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador. It houses the dangerous gang, Mara Salvatrucha, or known as MS. It’s one of the most violent prisons in the country, as there is one guard to 50 inmates ratio. Overcrowding is another dangerous issue. The initial capacity is supposed to be 800, but now the prison houses 2500 men.
The strangest thing about this prison is that the inmates run it internally. Both soldiers and police officers work as guards, but they stay outside. The inmates have organized a bakery, basic rehabilitation and run the hospital themselves. When photographer, Adam Hinton, went in to take portraits of the prisoners, he described that the guards only stay outside and let the gang run the place. The men have nothing to do but kill time and stand around aimlessly.
10. The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, United States
Possibly the most famous of prisons everywhere, as it is mentioned in numerous pop culture references. Also known as United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island, or simply known as Alcatraz or the Rock. The famous facility is a maximum high-security federal prison located on the unusual island of Alcatraz, San Francisco, California.
It’s now closed, but it operated from August 11, 1934, to March 21, 1963. Previously, it had been the site of a citadel since the 1860s. Alcatraz was thought to be impenetrable with its high security and the freezing water surrounding it. The thought was to build a prison capable of holding prisoners who caused trouble in other jails. One thousand five hundred seventy-six of America’s most dangerous criminals were held there. Some of the notorious men include Al Capone, Robert Franklin, Stroud (the Birdman of Alcatraz), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Arthur R. “Doc” Barker, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis.
Some 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts. Most memorably, the 1946 “Battle of Alcatraz” escape attempt that resulted in the death of two correctional officers and three inmates, along twelve additional injuries, and the impressively successful “Escape from Alcatraz” made by Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin. Alcatraz was thought to be the world’s toughest prison of the time. One writer described Alcatraz as “the great garbage can of San Francisco Bay, into which every federal prison dumped its most rotten apples.” Eventually, the prison closed due to high maintenance costs.