No prison is a good prison, it goes without saying. They’re known for violence, corruption and questionable-at-best living conditions. As places of punishment (and ideally of rehabilitation), it’s understandable that they’d be less than luxurious, but sometimes things get taken way too far. You might not be too sympathetic to the incarceration of a violent repeat offender, but when you consider that a lot of nonviolent offenders end up in places like this, sometimes unjustly, it may give you pause.
Here’s a chilling look at fifteen of the world’s worst prisons. Some of them are right here in the US, too. Their horrific natures are typically due to abuse, violence and overcrowding.
1.) Rikers Island, New York, New York, USA
Rikers Island, staple of the Law and Order franchise, has been in the spotlight multiple times for instances of violence, including stabbings and beatings, as well as for the particularly bad treatment of inmates with mental illnesses. In 2007, an 18-year-old prisoner was beaten to death here.
2.) Gitarama Central Prison, Rwanda, Africa
Originally built to hold 400, this prison’s population numbered at about 7,000 during the 1990s, when the country was embroiled in a civil war. Due to the horrific conditions, prisoners have had to resort to cannibalism to stay alive.
3.) Camp 22, Hoeryong, North Korea
Officially known as Kwan-li-so, Camp 22 is a mysterious concentration camp said to be populated with political prisoners, and sometimes their families as well. They are held here for life, and though there’s no official documentation, the estimated population is about 50,000.
4.) El Rodeo Prison, Guatire, Venezuela
With a population of 50,000, this is known as one of the most violent prisons in the world, and is home to major gang activity. A gang war erupted here in 2011, and was so severely violent that the country’s armed forces had to be called in.
5.) Bang Kwang, Bangkok, Thailand
Referred to as “the Bangkok Hilton,” this prison is famous for torture as well as overcrowding. Prisoners on death row are sometimes given as little as two hours warning before execution.
6.) Supermax, Florence, Colorado, USA
Inmates here are kept in their cells, which are without any natural light, for 23 hours a day, interacting with the guards very little and not at all with each other.
7.) Tadmor Prison, Tadmur, Syria
This prison was closed in 2001, following a 1980 massacre that saw about 800 dead. It was reopened in 2011, though, and an American inmate described that beatings and hangings were a daily occurence
8.) Maracaibo Prison, Sabaneta, Venezuela
When this prison was built in 1958, it was meant to house 900. Today, though, 2,400 inmates live here. In 1994, this prison also saw an uprising that left about 100 people dead.
9.) Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, Louisiana, USA
This is a farm prison, which means that the 5,000+ prisoners work year-round picking cotton, as shown here in this picture from 1997. The prison received some bad publicity over allegations of cruel and unusual punishments.
10.) Gldani Prison, Tbilisi, Georgia
This prison gained notoriety in 2012 when a video surfaced showing what appeared to be wardens and guards torturing and sexually assaulting inmates. One guard came forward and reported that he had seen many atrocities like this since 2005.
11.) La Sante, Paris, France
Besides inmates, this prison is also filled with rats and lice. And besides being overcrowded, the guards here have a reputation for being some of the most violent. Conditions are so bad that 73 prisoners committed suicide in 2002 by drinking drain cleaner.
12.) San Juan De Lurigancho, Lima, Peru
Built for 2,500, this prison, considered to be the worst in South America, currently holds over 7,000. This prison is slightly unconventional in that it allows inmates to form their own economy, where they can sell handicrafts and other items. The downside it that it can cause all kinds of problems between competitors, usually leading to violence and murder. The prison is also known for cockfighting.
13.) Black Beach Prison, Equitorial Guinea, Africa
This prison is known for it’s facility-wide rat infestation, as well as for its frequent lack of food. The conditions lead many inmates to die of various diseases each year, as well as from beatings by the violent guards.
14.) Butyrka Prison, Moscow, Russia
Butyrka Prison has been used as a detention center since the 1600s. Most of the prisons on this list are known for being overcrowded, but this one is one of the worst offenders, with rooms holding as much as ten times the expected capacity. This causes the place to be filthy, with diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS spreading quickly and easily.
15.) Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Nairobi, Kenya
This prison is known for being incredibly filthy, leading to epidemics of diseases like cholera. Malnutrition and starvation are also killers here, as are violent outbursts. Built for 800, it houses 3,000.
Prisons are ideally places where people who have committed offenses can learn from their mistakes and, if possible, return to society with better skills and knowledge. With conditions like these, though, it would be miraculous if they could survive, let alone come out a better person. But is there even a solution to the problem of criminal behavior?