Written by Alleah

Modified & Updated: 30 Dec 2023

Jessica Corbett

Reviewed by Jessica Corbett

Just the thought of going to any kind of prison is already horrifying. This should be enough to deter you from ever stepping on the wrong side of the road when it comes to the law. Imagine getting locked up in a cell where your movement would be so limited. There will be no family and friends, no freedom, no hope for a future. But there’s more to it and the suffering does not stop there. There are prisons in the world that will make you repent all the wrong decisions you have ever made. If you think that the prisons in movies are depressing, wait until you hear about these worst prisons in the world. You might find yourself trying your best to do good to avoid being in any of these places. 

Table of Contents

Venezuela, La Sabaneta Prison

Venezuela’s prison is one of the worst prisons in the world. It’s also one of the most lawless and violent places you can ever be in. In a facility designed for only 700 prisoners, you can find 3,700 inmates crammed there. This goes to show the lack of funding and chronic understaffing is a problem, too. The ratio for guard and inmates is at 1:150 and so enforcing order is next to impossible. Gangs overpower the prison cells. It’s a hellish prison controlled by bloodthirsty and violent gangs.

Russia, Black Dolphin Prison

Russia Black Dolphin Prison
Photo from Adobe Stock

Russia is a country that’s known for its brutal and rough prison system. You know it’s borderline bad when it gets its reputation for one of being the worst prisons in the world. Black Dolphin is near the Kazakhstan border and it houses the country’s most hardened and dangerous criminals. They include pedophiles, cannibals, and terrorists. When the prisoners arrive, they are blindfolded with handcuffs behind their backs. This is a strategy to prevent these prisoners from mapping out the area of the prison, in turn reducing their chances of escape. 

Prisoners do everything in their cells- eating, exercise activities, and comfort room trips. With all these conditions, prisoners will break down and all hope gets lost. They are like robots but with beating hearts. They have come to accept that reality.

Rwanda, Gitarama Central Prison

You may have never known overcrowding like that of the prison cells in Gitarama. In a facility where it can only house 400 inmates, 7,000 prisoners are squeezed in together. With that, they have the choice to stand up all day or they can huddle together whenever they have the chance. This is the chronic lack of prison space that is Gitarama’s biggest issue. The height of the issues when it comes to overcrowding started in the 1990s. Many prisoners have died from diseases and suffocation. Some even had to amputate their toes, legs, or feet because of standing on dirty floors for very long periods.

North Korea, Camp 22

It’s one of the political prisons in the world. Camp 22 is nothing like a concentration camp. It’s cut off from the rest of the world and the prisoners have lifelong detention. The facility is big and it’s sprawling with over 87 square miles. It has electric fences and it’s overseen by armed guards. There is an estimate of 50,000 prisoners and most of their cases are due to criticizing the government. The majority of these inmates will spend the rest of their life in horrible and near starvation state. All the prisoners need to work, carrying out physical tasks using primitive tools. Aside from this, prisoners experience extreme brutality.

Tbilisi, Georgia Gldani Prison

gldani prison
Photo from Getty Images

It’s normal to hear prisoner to prisoner fights and assaults. But it’s a different story in the Gldani prison. There’s a reason why it’s also one of the worst prisons in the world. Instead of putting order and peace, the prison guards there are the ones who carry out torture, assaults, and even rapes. These prisoners are completely defenseless and their lives are at the mercy of their jail guards. After a video footage got released to the public in 2012, the horrors of these prison walls came into the picture for the whole world to see. On top of all these, Gldani Prison also has problems with poor medical care, unsanitary conditions, and overcrowding.

Lima, Peru San Juan de Lurigancho

The inmates here spend their days playing with all the latest technology in the black market, cockfighting, and drugs. They even have the occasional visit from “nurses” and “attorneys” of their choice. It’s one of South America’s harshest prisons as there are hardly any guards in the area to control the 7,000 overcrowded inmates there. The facility is for only 2,500 prisoners but now it holds 11,500 inmates in its crumbling and dingy walls.

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, Black Beach Prison

You should be ready for what’s to come if you are one of the unfortunate few who gets to spend your sentence in Black Beach Prison. Inmates are subject to overcrowding, chronic disease, malnutrition, guard brutality, and torture. There are also rampant cases of rat infestation. Now, would you like to stay on the safe side of the lane if you knew this is where you’d end up? That’s a big and resounding yes!

Kenya, Nairobi Prison

The Nairobi Prison was established in 1911. It was intended to house at least 800 prisoners back in the day. Surprisingly, the facility became capable of hosting more than 4,000 prisoners without any expansion. A report on BBC 12 says that in a “prison cage” intended for only 3 people, 12 inmates get to share the space with the best of their ability to survive. According to the facility’s governor, David Mwania, the Nairobi Prison is one of Kenya‘s most congested prisons. Not only that, disease, systemic abuse, and violence are also common problems in the area. If this does not qualify as one of the worst prisons in the world, we wonder what does.

Russia, Butyrka Prison

Butyrka Prison, worst prisons in the world
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Butyrka Prison is a facility in the Tverskoy District. It is located in Central Moscow and during the Soviet period, it housed many political prisoners. Russia is not known for having a sympathetic approach to criminals and this prison facility is its prime example. With a 10-person prison cell that holds 100 prisoners, overcrowding is an understatement. As expected, diseases, tuberculosis, and AIDS are particular concerns in the area.

Turkey, Diyarbakir Prison

Turkey has a notorious record when it comes to human rights. But wait until you get to see what’s inside their prison cells. Opened in the 1980s in the Southeastern part of Turkey, Diyarbakır Prison is a hell on earth for prisoners. The conditions of the inmates are extremely depressing and inhumane, that even the most lawless criminals in the country tried to do something about it. Prisoners have tried to do hunger strikes just to draw attention and to show that they are in dire need of help. Inmates even tried to set themselves on fire to put an end to the atrocities that they are experiencing. Up to this day, the Turkish government has not done anything yet to improve the bleak existence of the prison facility.

Venezuela, El Rodeo Prison

This facility houses at least 50,000 of Venezuela’s most violent criminals. Gang wars are very common. Prison guards could not contain the terrible conditions that the inmates put upon themselves. Rape, brutality, and even murder occur within the walls of the facility. The administration of the facilities can only do so much. There was even an incident where the Armed Forces offered help as gang wars are becoming worse day by day.

El Salvador, Penal de Ciudad Barrios Prison

You would think that the most experienced prison guards would be in one of the country’s notorious prison facilities. That’s partly true but what can experience do if the inmates overpower you? Penal de Ciudad Barrios has a problem of shortage when it comes to prison guards. The ratio for a guard to an inmate is at 1:50. This leaves the prisoners free to do whatever they want to do in these prison walls. They create their hierarchies and as expected, this does not turn out well for everyone.

Argentina, Mendoza Prison

Mendoza prison is synonymous with inhumane conditions, torture, and death. The facility houses 1,600 inmates in a facility that’s only for 600 inhabitants. In 2005, Amnesty International condemned the conditions in the facility. They said that those inmates who are not yet sentenced or tired may come out even worse than when they first came into those prison walls. Even the prison guards are part of the issues as they are notorious for abusing not only the inmates but also their families.

New York, Rikers Island

According to inmates, Riker’s penitentiary is even worse than the roughest streets in New York. Prisoner violence is widespread and legendary. In the hopes to reform the conditions inside the prison, city officials made Riker’s Island as the country’s strictest prison. With this, SWAT Teams then became in charge of curbing the murders and violence including riots. They search prisoner cells daily and the teams confiscate hundreds- and even thousands of makeshift weapons. Surprisingly, it brought down the stabbing rate to around 70 from its 1,000 cases as compared to the previous year.

Syria, Tadmor Military Prison

Tadmor Prison was located in the Syrian Desert, 200 km Northeast of Damascus. This facility was infamous for summary executions, torture, and harsh conditions. Faraj Beraqdar, a poet and a political prisoner in the facility said that it was the “kingdom of madness and death.” A brutal massacre once took place in the penitentiary in the 1980s, where the Defense Brigades of the Commando Forces slaughtered roughly a thousand inmates. Up to this day, it’s still unknown how many more died or hanged after that fateful day. According to prisoners, the prison guards use brutal methods to torture and make the inmates suffer. This prison was blown up in May 2015. 

Paris, France, La Santé Prison

La Santé Prison, worst prisons in the world
Image from Wikimedia Commons

You can find a lot of articles about the Parisian Prison of Good Health but the good things are little to none. A prison physician, Veronique Vasseur, wrote a book about the penitentiary’s horrible conditions. In her book, she stated that suicide and depression are common there. Inmates opt to swallow drain killers and chemicals to relieve the pains they are experiencing. The California Prison system holds 160,000 inmates but reported suicides are only at 24. But it’s surprising to know that La Sante has 124 suicides. That’s just for the year 1999 alone and we probably don’t know how worse the conditions have become through the years.

Colorado, United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility

It’s an American federal prison in Florence, Colorado. Although it’s unlike most of those that are on the list of the worst prisons in the world, this one’s described as hell’s cleaner version. There’s no infestation of diseases, brutality, overpopulation, or riots of any sort. The facility employs a technique of sensory deprivation and isolation. Inmates will have limited time in a week where they can see the sun or go outdoors. They have little to no human interaction- not even with the prison guards. It’s like being in a clean hellhole until you complete your sentence. And that alone is proof that brutality does not need to involve violence for the prisoners to suffer.

São Paulo, Brazil, Carandiru Penitentiary

Carandiru penitentiary got shut down because of a massacre that took place there in 2002. Since then, it has been a subject for many movies and studies. According to sources, the 2002 massacre left 111 prisoners dead. This was after the military police stormed the penitentiary. The event opened the doors for the world to see the institution’s staggering cruelty. Even before the massacre, slaughter, and chaos are already brewing inside. At least 1 in every 5 inmates had HIV and some say that prisoners there underwent surgery without having anesthesia. When it was open, the facility was a place of rampant suffering and torture. These worst prisons in the world just give us the chills.

Nairobi, Kenya, Kamiti Maximum Security Prison

Originally called the “Kamiti Downs”, the Nairobi prison is in Kiambu’s agricultural district. This prison facility is a breeding ground for violence and diseases due to many factors. Unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, and lack of medical assistance are the main issues. It was only for 800 inmates however, there are already 3,800 inmates sharing the space now. Prisoners there said that there is nothing else in the penitentiary but misery.

Vologda, Russia, Pyatak Prison

Inside the prison walls of Russia’s Alcatraz, you can find the country’s most dangerous criminals. With the state of the prison facility in Pyatak, they’d come out even worse than how they came in- that’s if they even came out. A prison psychologist said that the place destroys a person’s hope and the person itself. During the first 9 months of staying there, the inmates begin to adapt to the solitary and psychological torture. After 4 to 5 years, an inmate’s personality would begin to deteriorate. According to the psychologist, no one can survive being stuck there for 25 years. You would not come out without becoming psychologically destroyed.

California, San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin State Prison, worst prisons in the world
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Infamous for its harsh and violent conditions, this facility is home to California’s most hardened criminals. Some of those who spent their sentences here were Charles Manson, a cult leader and a criminal, and Sirhan Sirhan, a Christian militant who was responsible for the assassination of the late senator, Robert F. Kennedy. Since it’s California‘s oldest prison, the facility has slowly improved its reputation when it comes to interracial riots and corruption.  Still, there is no denying that it’s still one of the worst prisons in the world.

New York, Attica Correctional Facility

Attica Correctional Facility, worst prisons in the world
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Attica’s maximum-security prison has had a long history of conflicts since its doors opened in the 1930s. It’s known for multiple riots and one of the worst was in 1971 when around 2220 inmates took hostage 42 staff members. It ended after 4 days but the riot killed 39 people including 10 personnel. Today, the prison population is at 2,000 and it houses some of New York‘s most dangerous criminals.

Argentina, Mendoza Prison

You’d be able to picture how the inmates live in the cells when you peek inside a can of sardines. That’s how cramped they are- with little to no room for space and air. But this is not the worst. The facility lacks septic tanks and proper comfort rooms so the prisoners deposit in plastic bottles and bags. Plus, they even do not have access to proper shower areas so you can just imagine the stench. Even without the overcrowding issue, there’s no surprise that it would smell like hell in those cells. If they’re defecating just about anywhere without a water supply, then that’s a big problem.

California, Pelican Bay State Prison

The facility has been open since 1989 and it sits on a 275 acre land in the county of Del Norte. The prison has two sections- the general population and the other one is the Security Housing Unit (SHU). If you were able to watch Orange Is the New Black (drama series), you’d know how depressing it is to be in the SHU. Even the most difficult inmates try their best to do good so that they don’t get to spend their time on that side of the facility. 

You cannot find any windows there and you spend solitary confinement for long stretches with only the fluorescent lights accompanying you. It’s like a special division that’s intended to break your spirits down and destroy you psychologically. Now, that’s one creepy way to describe one of the worst prisons in the world.

Thailand, Bang Kwang Prison

About seven miles in the north of Bangkok, you will find the Bang Kwang Prison. It’s a place for those with long term-sentences and in line for death row. All the prisoners wear shackles on their legs during the first three months of their stay. Those on death row have it even worse as they have irons welded in their legs. Just like most prisons, you can expect to find an internal social hierarchy. Poor prisoners will do the chores for the wealthy inmates. And did we mention that it also houses foreign inmates? Yes, Lebanese and British prisoners get extra money through charities. Also, the British Embassy provides its prisoners with vitamins and food.

Tibet, Drapchi Prison

It’s the largest prison facility in Tibet, China. It’s known for its strong management and brutality reports are popping up now and then. Prisoners don’t get to look at guards the wrong way or they’d risk getting beaten or shot. The facility was originally a military garrison but it was later refashioned to what it is now after the 1959 Tibetan uprising. If inmates participate in any kind of protest, they’re beaten to death, that’s why it’s Tibet’s most feared prison.

Cuba, Guantanamo Bay Prison

In 2002, the Bush Administration opened the facility to house the prisoners from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since most of the inmates are members of the al-Qaeda, prisoners can expect to experience all kinds of psychological and physical torment you can imagine. Those who managed to get out of the prison said that they have experienced sleep deprivation, beatings, sexual degradation, forced drugging, and cold cell confinement. Because of the worst conditions, suicide attempts have been rampant among minors that have been detained in the facility.

California, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, worst prisons in the world

You might have heard about Alcatraz Prison in books and movies. It’s one of the most frightening and famous prisons in the world. One cannot deny as well that it is also one of the worst prisons in the world. Alcatraz is a place where inmates causing problems in other prisons are brought. Since it’s in the middle of San Francisco Bay’s frigid waters and strong currents, this facility is inescapable. However, there were still prisoners who tried to escape. All of them were unsuccessful as most of them got caught. Some drowned or just listed as missing.

Mississippi, Parchman Farm State Penitentiary

This facility is the oldest and the lone maximum security prison for men in Mississippi. With a capacity of holding 5,000 inmates, the penitentiary takes up at least 18,000 acres of land and it also has several buildings. It has several units or prison camps spread all over the area and each unit serves a specific purpose. It’s surprising to know that Parchman State Penitentiary has received public attention through the years, because of its appearance in movies and TV series. 

Arizona, Tent City or Maricopa County Prison

Arizona has a hot and humid climate. It’s fun to bask in the sun for a few minutes or hours in a day but it’s a different thing when you have to stay out in the heat of the sun all throughout the day. This prison is an outdoor concentration camp where inmates live in tents. For additional security, the area gas perimeter stun fences and K-9 units. No wonder why Tent City Jail is one of the worst prisons in the world. Can you imagine being in the sun for long hours and it’s 118 degrees? The administration of the facility received unwanted comments from onlookers. According to sources, the conditions are unsuitable alternatives for housing inmates. 

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