If you’re guilty of binge watching Orange is the New Black and imagining what life would be like serving time in a corrections facility, you’re not alone. However, if you care to preserve that misguided fantasy, turn back now. In reality, prison doesn’t generally conjure feelings of safety or warm, fuzzy thoughts. But there are institutions that are so extraordinarily unsafe and inhumane, it defies imagination. For those who are curious about real life in some of the most notoriously dangerous prisons in the world, click on. It might make you think twice about running that next red light.
20. Attica Correctional Facility, USA
Believe it or not, we’re kicking off the list on American soil. Attica housed prisoners so dangerous that a tear gas system was installed in the mess hall to minimize carnage. In 1971, prisoners rioted, leading to 43 deaths. Overcrowding was cited as the main reason for the riot, and though conditions have improved, the prison is well over maximum capacity to this day.
If you think that’s bad, we’re just getting warmed up.
19. Vladimir Central Prison, Russia
According to human rights groups, the barbaric treatment of inmates is designed to break them, and reports of abuse continue to rise. Though prisoners have long been silenced, a growing number of videos and testimonies have begun to shed light on serious violations of human rights committed in Russian prisons like Vladimir Central.
The dangers of our next prison are more overt.
18. Petak Island Prison, Russia
Petak Island is dangerous, but not for the usual reasons. According to the prison psychologist, it destroys people in other ways: first, they lose themselves, next they lose their minds. (1) Thanks to extremely limited human contact combined with a lack of clean facilities or room to exercise, this bleak prison wreaks havoc on the mental health of its prisoners.
Ready for the next prison? Hope you’re not claustrophobic.
17. Nairobi Prison, Kenya
Nairobi prison is allegedly the most overcrowded prison in Kenya. Around 3,800 inmates are crammed into a facility designed to hold 800. Inmates must sleep pressed up against each other on the concrete floor, which purportedly leads to frequent sexual assault. Basic medical care is scarce, as well as necessities like clothing, food and clean water. How anyone can survive here is a mystery.
Click to read about the dangers in our next prison.
16. La Santé Prison, France
Considering the translation of this prison’s name is “Prison of Health,” one might be surprised to find it rife with health risks. It is home to lice and rat infestations, and prisoners are often prevented access to showers, leading to skin disease. Overcrowding, sexual assault, and suicide are common here. A book authored by the prison’s surgeon revealed 124 suicides in 1999 alone.
The danger is very real in our next prison…
15. Rikers Island Prison, USA
Rikers has famously been the subject of federal investigation for abuse of its inmates. In 2015 alone, there was a shocking 9,000 assaults under its roof, securing it as one of the most dangerous prisons in the world. The gross number of violent incidents at Rikers Island along with heavy scrutiny from the public have led Mayor Blasio to announce its future closing.
Our next prison might make you worry about that cold you’ve been fighting off.
14. Black Beach Prison, Equatorial Guinea
Illness is expected in any unsanitary, overcrowded place. When medical treatment is denied, it becomes deadly. Black Beach is already notorious for starving, brutalizing, and torturing inmates. Sources claim that at least 35 political prisoners have been refused desperately needed medical attention. (2) Yellow fever, malaria, and rats run rampant here.
The notoriety of this next prison has earned it more than one nickname.
13. Bang Kwang Prison, Thailand
Bang Kwang is often referred to as “Big Tiger” because it “prowls and eats” those on the inside. Lives are as disposable as the bowls of rotting rice inmates receive once per day, with double life sentences and even capital punishment doled out for petty drug crimes. Cells are packed with up to fifty prisoners, so violence and disease are prevalent in what is ironically dubbed the “Bangkok Hilton.”
Click on to read about the next dangerous prison.
12. Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Kenya
Unsurprisingly, prisoners here lack adequate food, healthcare, and sanitary living spaces. A culture of rape is also common in Kamiti Prison, with some inmates reporting that they were assaulted within hours of arrival. In 2008, the brutal treatment of prisoners was revealed to the masses when a video of a beating captured on mobile phone was leaked on Kenyan TV.
Up next, even civilians outside the prison walls aren’t safe.
11.Kopeisk prison, Russia
Extortions, beatings, rape, and torture are all methods of control that guards use to subvert prisoners at Kopeisk. The conditions were exposed on a visitor’s’ day in 2012, when inmates walked onto the roof carrying handmade signs, many of them painted in blood, to protest the abuses inside. In retaliation, riot police savagely beat not only the inmates but also their visiting relatives.
This next prison treats political prisoners worse than violent offenders…
10. Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, Cuba
La Cabaña has a history of brutal executions within its walls. Everyday criminals are given priority and even encouraged to assault and harass political prisoners. The result is an incredibly dangerous situation for non-violent offenders. At La Cabaña, there is no such thing as human rights.
You’re halfway there! Keep reading for the most dangerous prisons in the world.
9. El Rodeo Prison, Venezuela
Venezuelan prisons have a reputation of violence, and in June 2011, El Rodeo secured that reputation for itself. The prison has long been controlled by powerful gangs, and a massive arsenal of military weapons and narcotics enabled a standoff between rival gangs. This led to a month-long siege by the National Guard. Dozens of people died as a result.
The next prison is as notorious as it is lawless.
8. Penal de Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador
This prison is infamous for being run by the notorious M-18 gang, which lives (and dies) alongside the equally violent Barrio 18 gang. Both soldiers and police officers serve as guards, though with a prisoner-to-guard ratio of 50 to 1, they have minimal control over what happens in the dangerously overcrowded prison.
The next prison made headlines for a chilling reason.
7. Gldani Prison, Tbilisi, Georgia
In 2012, Georgian TV released videos of physical and sexual torture committed against Gldani prisoners, unveiling a culture of systematic abuse. A former guard admitted that he witnessed humiliation, beatings, and torture every day (3). The UN has reported significant improvement since 2015, but it’s unlikely that this would have occured if the facility had not been exposed in the first place.
Rival factions is the reason why our next prison is such a dangerous place to serve time.
6. La Modelo, Colombia
In a prison divided by polar political extremes, violence is imminent. When both sides have access to weapons and grenades, it’s inevitable.
Inmates at La Modelo are either left-wing rebels or right-wing paramilitaries. In April of 2000, 25 prisoners were killed in riots. More recently, body parts of at least one hundred dismembered inmates turned up in the drain pipes. Inmate violence has been so intense that the jail was investigated by the office of the General Attorney.
Fighting is the least of inmates’ concern at the next prison.
5. Gitarama Central Prison, Rwanda
The greatest danger to inmates of Gitarama prison isn’t violence; it’s extreme overcrowding. Built to house 500, the jail population swelled to 6,000 after the Rwandan genocides. Conditions are so foul that gangrene and amputations are common among the malnourished inmates, with fatal consequences: a report by Medecins Sans Frontieres revealed that one in eight prisoners died within nine months (4).
Click to read about the prison with the highest number of human rights violations.
4. Diyarbakır Prison, Turkey
A statement given by a former mayor of Diyarbakir arrested and held in this prison described frequent beatings, torture sessions that included falaka (beating the soles of the feet with a wooden rod), electrocution, sexual assault, and the psychological despair of forcing prisoners to hear their family members tortured in other rooms. (5)
In the next prison, the guards are the ones who are fearful of the inmates…
3. La Sabaneta, Venezuela
This prison is too dangerous for prison guards to manage, so the overcrowded jail is run by the most lethal inmates. Every prisoner carries a weapon for self defense, as violence is commonplace. Riots and mass gunfights have taken hundreds of lives over the years, with 108 killed in one particularly nasty 1994 riot and 196 killed in 1996.
Those death tolls pale in comparison to one massacre at the next prison.
2. Tadmor Military Prison, Syria
Tadmor was made infamous in 1980 when President Hafez al-Assad ordered the execution of up to 2400 prisoners. Amnesty International labeled Tadmor as the most oppressive prison in the world as well as a source of “despair, torture and degrading treatment”, including reports of prison guards chopping up inmates with axes and dragging them to death. Fortunately, the prison was captured and destroyed in 2015.
The final prison on our list is still up and running…
1. Camp 22/ Hoeryong Concentration Camp, North Korea
Camp 22 is a holocaust-style camp, where prisoners (many of which are children or descendants of prisoners) are forced to perform physical labor under extreme conditions like starvation, torture, and forced abortions. Prisoners are routinely forced to watch and participate in executions of fellow prisoners. Victims are subject to every form of physical, emotional and mental violence imaginable, including as subjects of disturbing scientific experiments.