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The 20 Worst Prisons in the World


One of the most common punishments for committing a crime is serving jail time, which applies to almost every country worldwide. Doing time in prison is not supposed to be a pleasant experience, as it removes freedom, choice, dignity, and life's luxuries.

However, the experience of serving a sentence varies significantly depending on the prison and its location. So, which are the world's worst prisons, and what makes them so terrible? Here are the 20 worst prisons in the world.

20. La Sante Prison, France

The English translation of this Parisian prison's name means the Prison of Good Health, yet that is far from the truth. Severe depression and even suicide are a big problem at this prison, as the inmates find the conditions unbearable.

The prison's former physician, Veronique Vasseur, wrote a book about the prison's conditions and the impact they had on the inmates. She claims that some prisoners resorted to drinking drain killers and other chemicals to end their pain.

In 1999 alone, there were 124 reported suicides. To put this into perspective, the Californian prison system holds more than 160,000 prisoners, yet the average annual suicide rate is only 24.

19. Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Kenya

Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi, Kenya, is also known as Kamiti Downs. It is in Kenya's Kiambu agricultural district, and it is infamous for overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and a lack of medical facilities.

There are around 3,800 inmates at the prison who live miserable lives in cramped and dirty conditions. Diseases are rife in this prison, and violence between the inmates is also a major issue.

18. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

Although Guantanamo Bay is in Cuba, the prison is a United States military prison. The prison first opened in 2002 and was specifically created to house Taliban and al-Queda prisoners who were captured in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attack.

When President Obama was voted the President of the United States, he stated his intention to close the prison. However, it remains in operation today. It currently houses 150 inmates over Camp Iguana and Camp Delta. Many who have served time in this prison have experienced torture.

17. Terre Haute, United States

Nicknamed Guantanamo North, Terre Haute is an Indiana prison complex with separate maximum, medium, and low-security units. The main reason it is one of the world's worst prisons is that it houses the United States federal government's Special confinement Unit, which is where death row inmates are housed until their death.

Those who are serving a death sentence live in solitary in small cages and are only allowed an exercise break three times a week.

16. United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, United States

The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Colorado is also known as Florence ADMAX and ADX Florence. According to How Stuff Works, it is nicknamed the Alcatraz of the Rockies.

It currently houses some of the world's most dangerous criminals, including the 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Those serving their time at the facility spend 23 hours a day in their cells, with windows only three feet high and four -inches wide.

15. Petak Island Prison, Russia

Petak Island Prison is also known as the Alcatraz of Russia, and it is used to detain Russia's most dangerous criminals. The authorities claim the prison is inescapable, as it is surrounded by the freezing waters of the White Lake.

Life inside the prison is dire, as the inmates are only allowed out of their two-person cells for one and a half hours a day and are permitted just two visitors per year. There aren't even any lavatories or proper washing facilities.

14. Worst Prison in the United States: Rikers Island, United States

It may surprise some people that a prison in the United States makes it onto the list as one of the world's worst. That is especially the case for Rikers Island in New York, as it is only a short-term detention center for people serving sentences under one year, those awaiting transfer, and prisoners awaiting trial.

However, those who have spent time in this prison say it is one of the worst experiences of their lives. The prison has become known for systematic abuse, and a report in The New York Times highlighted that there had been at least seven lawsuits against the Department for Corrections relating to inmate versus inmate violence sanctioned by the guards.

13. Penal de Ciudad Barrios Prison, El Salvador

A shortage of prison guards is causing major problems in El Salvador's Penal de Cuidad Barrios Prison. Although some experienced guards are working there, there are simply not enough of them. It means they are overpowered by the inmates, with a ratio of one guard for every 50 prisoners. The prisoners have created hierarchies, and those at the top of the pyramid have completely taken over control of the prison.

12. Mendoza Prison, Argentina

Mendoza Prison in Argentina is one of the smallest prisons among the worst prisons in the world, as it was originally intended for a mere 600 prisoners. The current number significantly exceeds this figure and currently stands at around 1,600.

As you would expect in a situation where there are approximately 1,000 more inmates than the facility can accommodate, overcrowding is causing a series of issues, including inhumane conditions for those detained there. Both the inmates and the guards are responsible for abusing and torturing the prisoners, so it is an exceptionally awful place to serve a prison sentence.

11. El Rodeo Prison, Venezuela

The place where many of Venezuela's most violent criminals end up serving their time is El Rodeo Prison, which houses up to 50,000 criminals at a time. Gang wars within the prison walls are one of the biggest problems.

However, there are also significant issues with violence between individuals. There are even reports of the armed forces being called in to diffuse disputes amongst the inmates that are beyond the guards' control.

10. Diyarbakir Prison, Turkey

Diyarbakir Prison in Turkey is one of the newer detention facilities on the list, as it opened in the 1980s. Therefore, you may not expect some of the issues found in many of the older prisons, such as below-par accommodation and overcrowding, as the prison is filled with more people than originally intended.

However, the prison has faced so many issues that even the most hardened prisoners have begged for the government to do something about the problems. The prison's notorious record for depriving its prisoners of their human rights has led to the inmates going on hunger strikes and even setting light to themselves to draw attention to the issues.

9. Nairobi Prison, Kenya

Nairobi Prison in Kenya was built in 1911 as a facility to imprison up to 800 prisoners. Unfortunately, it has become one of Kenya's most overcrowded prisons, with more than 4,000 inmates. It means that up to 12 people share one of the prison's cages, which are intended for only three people. Other problems at the prison include disease, violence, and systematic abuse.

8. Europe's Worst Prison: Gldani Prison, Tbilisi, Georgia

Huge issues in Gldani Prison make it an almost insufferable place to live. Some issues include overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and a lack of access to medical care. However, the biggest problem by far is the abuse the inmates suffer at the hands of the guards. Open Democracy says that in 2012, it came to light when some footage was released that the guards regularly assault, torture, and even rape the inmates.

7. Black Beach Prison, Malabo, Equatorial Guinea

There is a long list of reasons Black Beach Prison on the island of Bioko in Equatorial Guinea's capital, Malabo, is such a terrible prison. Some of the main issues include rat infestations, overcrowding, malnutrition, and disease. The notorious African prison also has a negative reputation for systematic neglect and abuse of its prisoners.

6. San Juan de Lurigancho, Peru

When San Juan de Lurigancho in Lima was built, it was for 2,500 prisoners, but the overcrowded facility holds anything from 7,000 to 11,500 prisoners at any given time. The facility has badly deteriorated over the years and now has crumbling walls.

There are not enough guards to control what goes on in this prison, so the inmates break every rule in the book, and there is very little those supposedly in charge can do. The inmates spend their time taking drugs, cockfighting, and receiving visits from prostitutes.

5. Africa's Worst Prison: Gitarama Central Prison, Rwanda

Gitarama Central Prison has one of the world's most serious cases of overcrowding. Despite the prison being fit for just 400 people, more than 7,000 inmates are packed into the tiny facility. Due to the cramped conditions, the prisoners are forced to stand all day huddled together.

The situation is so bad that some prisoners have had their toes, feet, or legs amputated due to standing on dirty floors for so long. Overcrowding first became an issue at the facility in the 1990s and has worsened ever since.

4. Bang Kwang Prison, Thailand

All That's Interesting lists Bang Kwang Prison in Bangkok, Thailand, as one of the worst prisons in the world. It has been given the ironic nickname of the 'Bangkok Hilton,' which makes a joke of the contrast between the luxury hotel chain and the dire conditions within the prison. It is a maximum-security facility that suffers from severe overcrowding and a chronic lack of funding.

The prison was intended for only 3,500 inmates when it was built in the 1930s but now has more than 8,000 inmates housed within its walls. For the first three months, inmates wear shackles on their ankles. Those who are on death row wear the shackles until their death.

3. The Worst Prison in Asia: Camp 22, North Korea

The conditions in many Asian prisons are dire, but the worst is Camp 22 in North Korea. It is an unusual prison as most of the 50,000 prisoners are serving life sentences for criticizing the government.

Once someone ends up in this prison, it is unlikely they will experience freedom ever again. It is a huge prison that spans 87 square miles with electric fences and armed guards surrounding it. During prison sentences, the inmates are subjected to hard labor, minimal food, and regular brutality.

2. Black Dolphin Prison, Russia

Russia's prison system is known for being tough, but some of the country's prisons are worse than others. Amongst the worst is Black Dolphin Prison, which lies on the Kazakhstan border. It is where some of Russia's most dangerous criminals are spending time, including terrorists, pedophiles, and even cannibals.

A strategy used by the prison to reduce the number of escape attempts is to handcuff and blindfold the prisoners. They do this the first time prisoners arrive onsite. Unlike other jails where prisoners have outdoor exercise time and eat in a dining hall. However, Black Dolphin's inmates are forced to complete all activities in their cells. The prison is in Orenburg Oblast, a city that lies directly on the border between Europe and Asia.

1. The World's Worst Prison: La Sabaneta Prison, Venezuela

According to, the worst prison in the world is La Sabaneta Prison in Venezuela. It is one of the world's most lawless, violent, and overcrowded prisons. Despite being built to accommodate just 700 inmates, more than 3,700 people currently serve their prison sentences at the facility. It means the ratio of guards to inmates is 1:150 due to understaffing and a lack of funding. With so few guards to control so many inmates, they can't enforce any order. Instead, the violent gangs rule the roost.

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Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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