Stanley Prison, Hong Kong
One of the six maximum security facilities in Hong Kong built in 1937, it was a popular place of execution before the Hong Kong government lifted capital punishment in 1990. Between 1946 and 1966, about 122 criminals were executed in the gallows of the prison. It also became part of the Stanley Internment Camp during the Japanese occupation, as a place of torture and execution where 600 prisoners were killed. Refugees from China who tried to cross the border were also imprisoned there making its population grow to 3,000, well over its limits.
Attica Correctional Facility, New York
Constructed in 1930, this maximum security/supermax has held a number of the most dangerous criminals in the world. However, it became infamous due to the Attica Prison riot on September 9, 1971 as the prisoners demanded better living conditions and political rights. An estimated 2,200 inmates rebelled and seized the prison taking its 33 staff as hostage. The four-day negotiations led to the deaths of 39 people including 10 guards and civilian employees.
Montelupich Prison, Cracow, Germany
One of the worst Nazi prisons in Poland, it was used by the Gestapo all throughout World War II to house political prisoners, victims of the Gestapo street raids, deserters, and British and Soviet spies. From 1940 to 1944, an estimated 50,000 prisoners had passed through the prison walls where ’medieval torture’ was employed as the principal interrogation method. After WW II, it became a Soviet prison where Polish soldiers from the Home Army were murdered and tortured by the NKVD.
Camp 1391, Northern Israel
Camp 1391 is an Israel Defense Forces prison camp for “high-risk” prisoners in northern Israel, run by Unit 504 and less than an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv. The existence of the prison was unknown to the public before 2003, and most information about it remains classified, though Israel’s supreme court ordered the release of some information about the jail.
Vladimir Central Prison, Russia
Built in 1783, it became infamous for housing political prisoners during the Soviet Union era. Nowadays the overcrowded and disease-infested prison is known for the sadistic abuse that the inmates receive from the guards. Prisoners are forced out of their cells, ordered to put their hands on the wall and given beatings so severe that they have to be dragged back to their cells, while others result in deaths. As if this isn’t enough, they are also ordered to beat each other.
Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Nairobi, Kenya
Situated on a 1,200 acre lot, this prison has gained notoriety due to the unspeakable squalor that the prisoners are subjected to. The prison, which holds a number of political prisoners, has earned a reputation for instances of sodomy, beating of inmates to death, and epidemics where malnutrition, cholera, and ulcers were normal occurrences.
Butyrka Prison, Moscow, Russia
The largest central transit prison of Moscow is known for its brutality. It held 20,000 inmates during the Great Purge and thousands of them were executed after investigations. Its administration also resorted to violence every time the inmates tried to protest against anything. Besides the problem of overcrowding, as there could be up to 100 inmates in cells intended only for 10 people, it is extremely hot in the summer and also has problems with epidemics such as AIDS and tuberculosis.
Nairobi Prison, Kenya
Built in 1911 for 800 prisoners, which boomed to 3,000 in 2003, this prison is one of the most congested in the world. This congestion not only resulted in overcrowding, but also in problems with hygiene, sanitation, and general living conditions where it would be a struggle to be physically and mentally healthy. The prison cells reek of sweat, human waste, and filth with the stench of garbage hanging in the air.
Black Beach Prison, Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
Notorious for human rights offenses, this prison has become synonymous with guard brutality, malnutrition, overcrowding, and rat infestations. It has been common for prisoners to die from chronic disease, if not complete disappearance from the prison. Inmates are in constant fear of torture and prolonged beatings, which cause a number of deaths.
Petak Island Prison, White Lake Russia
This is the Russian version of Alcatraz, as it was isolated by the White Lake and was built to hold the most dangerous prisoners. Though they never have to fear violence from the guards or their inmates, the restricted life of living in cages and in isolation with no lavatories nor washing facilities surrounded by freezing cold water and snow leaves the prisoners to deteriorate and become psychologically devastated.
San Juan de Lurigancho, Lima, Peru
The toughest prison in South America, it was built to housed 2,500 inmates but now has 7,000 prisoners within its dilapidated walls. Lurigancho has a very lax environment where inmates can sell anything – from gadgets, DVDs, and everything marketable including drugs. Cockfighting is a common sight as well as visiting prostitutes known as ‘nurses.’ Prisoners are not segregated and are left to their own devices, wandering around the facility, committing murder and other acts of violence.
Rikers Island Prison, New York
One of America’s most notorious prisons, it was characterized by beatings, stabbings, and brutal treatment not only from the guards but also from inmates who were deployed as ‘enforcers’ by the guards. A hotbed for violence and aggression, it gained media attention in 2007 when an 18-year-old prisoner was beaten senseless with a billy club by other teenage inmates as the guards looked on. It is also known for its cruel treatment of mentally ill prisoners, who often turn to suicide.
San Quentin Prison, California
The oldest prison in the state, it opened in July 1852 where both male and female inmates were incarcerated. Nowadays, it is the largest death row for male inmates in the United States. During the 1930s, corruption was rampant in this prison where inter-racial riots became a normal occurrence and were encouraged by the guards.
Gldani Prison, Tbilisi, Georgia
With its zero-tolerance approach, Georgia may have the lowest crime rates in Europe, but it comes at the cost of tuberculosis epidemics, savage treatment of inmates, and violent sexual assaults in prison, specifically in Gldani.
La Sante, Paris
Ironically, La Sante, which means ‘health,’ is not a good place for prisoners’ mental and physical well-being as they were forced to live in deplorable conditions in overcrowded concrete cells with rats and lice. A virtual hellhole, this understaffed torture chamber of violence can make any person lose his sanity with the harsh daily realities of life. Out of sheer desperation, 122 prisoners committed suicide in 2002 and 73 more by 2003 as many swallowed drain cleaners to end their misery.
Alcatraz, San Francisco, California
‘The Rock’ or ‘Devil’s Island’ is a prison hell that was built in the 1920s and was designed in such a way that escape was improbable. As the inmates lost contact with the outside world, they were subjected to abusive and arrogant guards who imposed complete silence as prisoners were not only disallowed to converse with each other, but to show their emotions as well.
Gitarama Central Prison, Rwanda
Described as hell on earth, all prisoners were doomed to eat, sleep, live, rot, and die squeezed together with four men per square yard in the roofless brick box called the Gitarama Prison. Designed to house 400 people, the population boomed to 7,000 in the mid-1990s in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, and prisoners were left for dead there. Amidst dysentery and despair, prisoners stand cramped together under all weather conditions, choking on the smoke of cooking fires, and suffering from gangrene. They even resorted to eating each other’s flesh out of sheer desperation.
Diyarbakır Prison, Turkey
The world’s most sadistic and forbidding penal institution has been referred to as having the greatest number of human rights violations per prisoner. Known for a great number of instances of physical and mental torture, it also gained notoriety for its unlivable conditions, sexual abuse of inmates, and for incarcerating even children for life. To escape their situations, inmates attempted hunger strikes, committed suicide, and even set themselves on fire.
ADX Florence Supermax Prison, Colorado
This maximum security prison was built in response to the attacks committed against the guards and staff of other prisons in America. Since prisoners are isolated from the staff and they cannot go anywhere, inmates suffer from psychological torture, leading some to commit suicide.
El Rodeo, Guatire, Venezuela
During the presidency of Hugo Chavez, crime rates soared and overcrowded the Venezuelan prisons with 50,000 prisoners, two-thirds of which were still awaiting sentencing. On June 12, 2011, a visitor day at El Rodeo erupted into a bloodbath between rival gangs and resulted in a siege that lasted for an entire month.
La Sabaneta, Venezuela
In one of the most brutal penal facilities in South America, violence is a daily occurrence. Besides being at the mercy of diseases, insufficient food and care, little to no medical services, and underpaid staff, inmates were also left to their own devices as they fashion weapons to kill one another.
Bang Kwang Prison, Thailand
The ‘Bangkok Hilton’ housed the ‘napinya chained’ inmates, many of whom went crazy due to the stress of the first month in detention. The most violent prison in all of Thailand houses many foreign prisoners and handles death row inmates. It is known for being overcrowded, understaffed, and having deplorable living conditions.
Tadmor Military Prison, Syria
Dubbed by Amnesty International as the most oppressive prison in the world with every aspect of it designed to dehumanize its populace, it became more infamous in June 1980 when President Hafez al-Assad ordered the killings of all prisoners as retaliation for the attempted assassination on his life by the Muslim Brotherhood. The clean-up massacre that lasted for 2 weeks killed some 800 to 2,400 inmates.
Carandiru Prison, Brazil
The site of the Carandiru Tragedy in 1992, where riots triggered the mass execution of inmates by the guards, became notorious for having an insanely high body count of 1,300 deaths in the course of its 46 years in history. It was closed down in 2002 due to the campaigns of Amnesty International amidst reports of gross human rights violations that the Brazilian government could not answer for.
Camp 22, North Korea
The notorious Hoeryong Concentration Camp, which has gained international attention in 2012 after its warden defected to China, was an isolated prison for political prisoners and has been in operation since 1965. A large compound that holds 50,000 prisoners, it was claimed that three generations of dissident families have been imprisoned there to completely remove the ‘roots.’ In addition, the death camp has subjected inmates to extreme torture and human experimentation where they become lab rats for biological weapons like anthrax, bomb testing, and other brutalities.