The World’s 13 Most Brutal and Notorious Prisons


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If prisons were meant to be an enjoyable experience than there would probably be a lot more people committing crimes. Sure. For some it may be a better living situation. They get three meals a day and a roof over their head. But, there are prisons that have earned a reputation for being brutally inhumane.

While some of since closed, like Alcatraz or Brazil’s Carandiru Penitentiary, their infamy will live on forever. However, there remains plenty of active prisons that push the boundaries between punishment and torture who will surely join those historical horrible prisons. With that in mind, here are the world’s 13 most brutal and notorious prisons that are still active.

13. San Quentin State Prison (San Quentin, California)

California’s oldest prison opened in all the way back in 1852, and has been featured in film and television, the subject of many books; has hosted concerts; and has housed many notorious inmates. But, it’s also infamous for it’s inhumane conditions. Prior to the reforms made by director Clinton Truman Duffy in the 1940s, prisoners made counterfeit currency, were made to shave their heads and were forced to wear numbered uniforms. But the worst was that they had to eat out of pails and endure solitary confinement in poured-concrete cells that had little air and no light. In 2005, a court-ordered report found that the prison was “old, antiquated, dirty, poorly staffed, poorly maintained with inadequate medical space and equipment and overcrowded.” Also, the prison is full of California’s most violent criminals and and the high ratio of guards to general population leaves the prison on the brink of disaster.

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12. Kamiti Maximum Security Prison (Nairobi, Kenya)

Kenya’s most famous and notorious prison sits on a 1,200 acre lot where inmates live in unspeakable squalor. Over the decades, the prison, which has held numerous political prisoners, has had instances of sodomy and the beating to death of inmates. It has also earned a reputation for a disease-filled place where cholera, ulcers and malnutrition are common occurrences.

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11. Bang Kwang Prison (Nonthaburi Province, Thailand)

Infamously known as the “Bangkok Hilton,” Bang Kwang is severely overcrowded, understaffed, poor medical conditions and full of inmates who lose their mind as the spend the first months of their sentences chained in leg irons. It also doesn’t help when you have a director, Khun Nattee, who has stated “Thai prisons are tough…you don’t want to be in Bang Kwang.”

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10. Rikers Island Prison (Rikers Island, New York)

Since it’s opening in 1932, Rikers Island has become known for stabbings, beatings and brutal treatment from corrupt prison guards. Even in the 2000s, the brutal stories from the prison persist. For example, in 2003 six inmates hung themselves with bedsheets. And, in 2007 a guard beat prisoner Charles Afflic with a billy club so violently that he needed brain surgery.

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9. Vladimir Central Prison (Vladimir, Russia)

Not much has changed since the opening of this prison in 1783. It became infamously known for housing political prisoners during the Soviet Union era. However, more recently it is overcrowded and rampant with disease. Inmates also have spoken out on the abuse that they receive from guards. Once former inmate stated “They would force us from our cells, order us to spread our legs and put our hands against the wall, and then beat us with batons until we had to help drag each other back to our cells.” There are also cases where guards forced inmates to beat each other.

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8. Camp 1391 (Northern Israel)

Even though this facility was built in the 1930s no one knew about it’s existence until 2003. In fact, the Israel Defense Force prison camp has been airbrushed from aerial photographs and removed from maps. The Red Cross and even members of the Israeli Parliament have been refused access to to the secretive prison. However, there have been claims of prisoners being raped, but the psychological abuse is what many are concerned about. Detainees are placed in solitary confinement in a black, windowless cell with a bucket and and damp mattress and no idea where they are on Earth.

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7. ADX Florence Supermax Facility (Florence, Colorado)

This penitentiary has become home for the most violent of criminals in the U.S., as well as foreign terrorists, has been described as a nightmare vision of punishment that is “meant to inflict misery and pain.” Inmates are isolated from everyone and spend 23 hours a day in barren cells. But, despite this isolation, there are still cases of violence, such as Lawrence Klaker. He was shot and injured as he entered the Supermax prison for the first time. He later killed himself within prison walls.

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6. Diyarbakır Prison (Diyarbakır, Turkey)

“The period of barbarity” actually occurred here during the first years of operation in the early to mid 1980s, after 34 prisoners lost their lives. Since then, not a whole lot has changed. The prison has received numerous human rights violations where inmates live in unbelievable conditions and sexual abuse is common. Even children can receive life sentences in Diyarbakır. Things are so bad are that prisoners have attempted hunger strikes, set themselves on fire in protest of prison conditions, and committed suicide.

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5. Black Beach (Malabo, Equatorial Guinea)

Located on the volcanic island of Bioko, an Amnesty International official described it as “a slow, lingering death sentence” for anyone sent here. Inmates can go six days without food and are routinely subjected to systematic and brutal torture, such as being burnt and raped.

Image Source: Foreign Prisoners Support Service

4. La Sabaneta (Maracaibo, Venezuela)

Venezuela may be known for violent prisons, but La Sabaneta is by far the worse. It is known for disease outbreaks, underpaid staff, little medical services, and insufficient food and care. Cholera outbreaks have killed some 700 inmates and violence amongst inmates is common. With nothing else to do, inmates fight amongst themselves, fashion shivs and other deadly weapons, and kill one another in the country’s most brutal facility.

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3. La Sante (Paris, France)

Former prison official Veronique Vasseur published a book that described the bad conditions of imprisonment, filth, illnesses that occur in the prison. Prisoners live in concrete cells with rats and lice. Stronger inmates enslave weaker inmates and rape takes place on a daily basis. The overcrowding and prison violence led to 122 self-inflicted deaths of prisoners in 2002.

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2. Tadmor Prison (Tadmur, Syria)

Originally built as a French military complex in the Syrian desert, Tadmor Prison has a since established itself as one of the most brutal prisons on the planet. In 1980, after an attempt to assassinate president Hafez al-Assad, commandos entered the facility and an killed an estimated thousand prisoners. One former inmate described the prison “The kingdom of death and madness,” and with instances of people being cut up into small pieces with an axe, being roped and then dragged to death or just being savagely beaten with metal pipes, we think he’s right about that statement.

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1. Camp 22 (Haengyong, North Korea)

Located near the borders of China and Russia is the notorious Camp 22. Camp 22 is North Korea’s largest concentration where men, women and children are subjected to various forms of inhumane torture, such as water torture. There are even gas chambers where entire families are gassed for chemical experiments. Malnutrition, beatings, sexual harassment are also common in Camp 22. It’s no surprise that physical deformities and death are rampant throughout the facility.

Image Source: North Korea, Citizens of the Isolated Country

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