The theoretical purpose of prisons is to rehabilitate a person enough to allow them to enter back into society after they’ve served their time. But when the prisoners are so dangerous that they must be locked away for the rest of their lives in almost round-the-clock solitary confinement, things get intense. When you look at some of the most violent prisons in the world, certain similarities appear:
- They’re usually overcrowded, holding many more prisoners than originally intended.
- They’re understaffed, with sometimes as few as one guard per every 150 inmates.
- They’re remote, in places hardly ever visited by family or the press.
Prison violence isn’t something that can be avoided, when you cram people into cells together and force them to live with each other, but it can be lessened. Some countries around the world have found that better living conditions, even for the most violent offenders, decreases the likelihood of future incidents.
While the perfect prison system is still yet to be determined, we’ll take a look at some places that are almost literally “Hell on Earth.” Here are 14 of the most violent and brutal prisons from around the world.
1. Bang Kwang Central Prison, Thailand: At the maximum security prison in Bangkok, prisoners must remain in leg chains for a minimum of the first three months of their sentence. Irons are welded onto the legs of death row prisoners, never to be removed.
Known by some as the “Bangkok Hilton,” the prison feeds its prisoners just one bowl of rice per day. Prisoners are told only two hours before they are taken to be executed, and they live in perpetual fear.
2. Petak Island Prison, Russia: Violence has been curbed in this prison because of 22.5 hours a day spent in solitary confinement with no toilet or sink. It’s said that the inmates begin to lose all signs of personality within one year.
The island prison is surrounded by ice and snow for most of the year. The only time the prisoners get to leave their small cells is when they’re allowed to enter a smaller cage located out in the cold. Men hold a rag between pens and pull against each other for a simple form of exercise, or pace back and forth the few steps it takes to cross their area.
3. Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Kenya: Designed for 1,400 inmates, more than 3,600 people now inhabit the prison. It has no fresh water supply, so the prison forces prisoners to haul large buckets every day.
The prison’s notorious “G-Block” is known for its rampant violence and predatory sodomy. Inmates are raped daily and murders happen frequently. It sits in the middle of a 490-hectare property that is left untended.
4. Tadmor, Syria: Destroyed in 2015, Tadmor was described once as a “kingdom of death and madness.” Prisoners were regularly killed using knives and axes and carved up for political display.
After an assassination attempt on the Syrian president in 1980, more than 500 prisoners were slaughtered by hand in the courtyards. It took over two weeks to clean up the bodies.
5. La Sabaneta, Venezuela: The South American prison holds over 25,000 prisoners watched over by fewer than 200 guards. There aren’t enough cells for everyone, with prisoners herded together instead.
Many riots have broken out in the prison, including one in 1995 that left over 200 inmates dead and another 600 wounded. The prisoners often sleep elbow-to-elbow on the floor, or in makeshift hammocks strung above their heads.
6. Pelican Bay State, California: The only supermax penitentiary in California, Pelican Bay is known for its maddeningly lonely cell structure that is completely sealed by concrete. The inmates are left in their cells for 22 hours a day, and are allowed to exercise in a yard just three cells wide.
With barely any time seeing the outside world, prisoners have often gone insane or taken up hunger strikes in protest. The prison once held Charles Manson for 14-months in its isolation block.
7. Camp 1391, Israel: A prison which Israel has tried to keep hidden for years was only revealed to the public in 2003. The regular cells are only 6.5 by 6.5 feet, with solitary confinement cells even smaller.
No natural light is afforded to the prisoners, who are led there in secret and not allowed to have any visitors. While much of what goes on there is still classified, numerous reports of torture and sexual assault have come out.
8. Gitarama Central Prison, Rwanda: Known as the most overcrowded prison in the world, the facility that was built to house 400 inmates at one point held over 7,000. Men literally slept on top of one another, and hundreds died of suffocation.
The prison was known to hold many of the Hutu soldiers who carried out the genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans in 1994.
9. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: Established just a few months after the events of September 11th, “Gitmo” has been criticized over the years for its liberal use of torture and violence in interrogation procedures.
Though at one point it held up to 245 prisoners, the number has been reduced greatly in recent years down to an estimated 41 inmates. Amnesty International has repeatedly tried to get the United States to close the prison, but their requests have been denied.
10. Carandiru Penitentiary, Brazil: Another overpopulated facility, Carandiru once held as many as 8,000 prisoners. 20 percent of its population was once wiped out by an AIDS epidemic that spread like wildfire throughout the prisoners, before eventually closing in 2002.
One of the most brutal incidents, termed the “Carandiru Massacre” happened in 1992, when police opened fire during a prisoner riot and killed over 100 inmates. More than 50 of the officers were given lengthy prison terms (with some sentenced to more than 600 years) for killing dozens of prisoners who had already surrendered or were still in their cells.
11. Rikers Island, New York: One of the most violent prisons in the United States, the number of assaults committed in 2015 reached almost 10,000. Though murders are very infrequent, gang beatings and rapes are commonplace.
There have been countless reports of corruption among the officers at the facility, especially in regards to the treatment of mentally ill or homosexual prisoners. Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to try and clean up the prison in recent years.
12. Louisiana State, Louisiana: The largest maximum security prison in the United States, Louisiana State houses over 6,000 prisoners. Known as “The Farm,” inmates are forced to work all day in order to tire them out and reduce violence at night.
There have been reports of rampant slavery from inside the prison, with weaker inmates being bought and sold as sex slaves or commodities. One former inmate said of the slave-culture, “the slave’s only way out was to commit suicide, escape or kill his master.”
13. Camp 22, North Korea: This high-security facility imprisons not only criminals but their families as well within its walls. Torture is common, including being placed inside a cell that is too small to stand or lie down in.
Some reports have surfaced that the prison is also the location for some human experimentation, including the reaction to certain chemical gases. Female prisoners are often killed if they refuse the sexual advancement of officers.
14. ADX-Florence, Colorado: Inmates in this supermax facility are not only kept separate from each other, but even from the guards themselves. This prison is used for only the most dangerous criminals in the country, and confirmed terrorists.
Some of the current inmates include Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (one of the Boston bombers), Theodore Kaczynski (the Unabomber) and Thomas Silverstein, the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood and for whom the facility was created.