Denying people their freedom is to strip them of the very essence of being human – the power to determine one’s life. Without it, we’re glorified pets. From that point of view, prisons start to make sense. They’re meant to act as deterrents for crime, and for the most part, they work.
Think about it for a second. It’s your first night in jail for whatever crime (dealing pot, tax evasion or littering) and when the lights go out at night, you take a moment to realise you are now locked in the same building as vast swathes of robbers, murderers and rapists. You’ll be locked in with them for however long your sentence is, possibly less depending on how well-connected your lawyer is.
I bet that moment would be enough to ensure you’d never commit another crime for as long as you lived. Unfortunately, not everyone is that lucky. Either due to nature or nurture, some people just seem to be unable to escape a life of crime. Those who can’t leave that life behind will progressively end up serving longer sentences, in harsher prisons.
What do you get when you lock the worst of the worst in the same building? An endless pit of violence, brutality, and human misery – hell on earth.
In this article, we’ll look at the 15 most violent prisons in the world.
15. Brazil’s fortress of evil
Carandiru Prison has stood for 80 years, and it has experienced a steady increase in violence since its inception. This jail has seen an AIDS epidemic which affected 20% of its population while 1,300 inmates have lost their lives over the last 46 years, presumably since they first bothered to start counting.
Riots in 1992 led to the local police forces joining up with the prison’s guards in massacring Carandiru’s inmates, most of which had already surrendered and were executed in cold blood in their tiny cells. Amnesty International has repeatedly tried to have this prison shut down, but Carandiru is here to stay.
14. Frozen and isolated from the rest of the world
Russians are known for their fearlessness, so what correctional facility can authorities come up with that will inspire fear in their hearts and act as a deterrent for crime? Well, Petak Island Prison is the result of a very decent effort by Russia’s authorities.
They’ve built this maximum-security prison in the middle of one of the country’s largest lakes and stuffed with the country’s worst criminals. Prisoners are in solitary confinement for over 20 hours a day, and they only get visitors two days per year. Most of them go mad before the end of their sentences due to the isolation and the severe cold they experience – an average temperature of 10 degrees Fahrenheit which can reach -40 in January.
13. Sheer brutality under the sun in Nairobi Prison
Kamiti Maximum Security prison is famous for its brutality. Located in Nairobi, it’s only meant to house 1,400 detainees, but it houses more than 4,000. There is no water supply in the buildings, so the prisoners have to haul it every day in under the sun’s unforgiving, scorching heat. Kamiti’s G-block is a bottomless pit of endless violence, ruthless rape and sadistic sodomy.
With the proliferation of smartphones, several videos displaying the prisoner’s cruelty have surfaced. A 2008 police raid to capture all mobile phones ended up in a massive beating by the guards being recorded on camera by Kamtiti’s residents. Outbreaks of cholera and other preventable diseases are frequent.
12. A Syrian nightmare
The guards of this Syrian jail are evil personified, and Tadmor Prison itself is a “kingdom of death and madness.” With zero books or TVs, torture is the only form of entertainment which the correctional officers have perfected over the years. Non-violent criminals are left to starve, quickly becoming skeletons while guards go to work on the more violent offenders with axes and blades.
Given the country’s authoritarian leadership, several political prisoners find themselves at Tadmor for the crime of having a different opinion. When the president survived an assassination attempt in the 1980s, the regime’s obedient guards butchered 500 Tadmor inmates in their cells.
11. Prisoners live like corpses in a morgue
Not most people have heard of Benin before. This small West African nation is located between Togo and Nigeria, and it holds one of the world’s most dangerous prisons. Abomey Prison was only meant to hold 400 inmates, but it is now home to 2,400 men, women and children.
The overcrowding situation is so dire that prisoners are forced to sleep in shifts, with deaths due to suffocation being highly prevalent. You’d think such a brutal place exists to house the world’s most violent criminals, but the truth is over 90% of Abomey’s inmates are awaiting trial, sometimes for several years. Due to Benin’s slow judicial process, they risk dying in their sleep.
10. The other “Bangkok Hilton”
Those familiar with this the brutality experienced by Bang Kwang prisoners have nicknamed it the “Bangkok Hilton”, a highly ironic denomination given the squalid conditions its residents endure. In the first few months of their 25-year stay (the minimum sentence of every Bang Kwang inmate), all detainees have to wear iron shackles on their legs.
Torture is an everyday occurrence in this overcrowded environment where there is no clean water, the sewage system barely works, and there is only one daily meal of rice and vegetables. Those awaiting their lethal injection will wear leg irons until they receive it, sometimes with a warning of just a couple of hours.
9. Venezuelan paradise
It’s painfully by this point that Venezuela isn’t the socialist’s paradise some media outlets have proclaimed it to be over the last two decades. For the more attentive readers, it’ll come as no surprise to find a Venezuelan establishment in our list of most violent prisons in the world, as socialism and ruthless savagery often go hand-in-hand.
La Sabaneta is severely overcrowded with 25,000 inmates occupying a space meant for 15,000. Mass murder is common here, with a 1995 occurrence where 200 prisoners lost their lives while 600 were wounded. A 2013 raid found an underground tunnel for drugs to be smuggled into the prison as well as 22,000 rounds of ammo, pistols and rifles.
8. San Quentin, what good do you think you’re doing?
The suffering of the inmates of the oldest prison in Californian has been immortalized by the late, great Johnny Cash. Most will be unaware of the fact that San Quentin has a gas chamber, which has never been used as lethal injection is the state sanctioned way to die in a correctional facility.
The state’s most violent offenders end up here, and the ways that landed them in San Quentin are amplified in their stay as only the toughest survive and guards usually take part in the brutality. A racially-motivated incident in 2006 resulted in two deaths and hundreds of wounded prisoners. Just another day at San Quentin.
7. Rwandan hell on Earth
This Rwandan prison takes the problem of overcrowding to, not just a whole new level, but to a different dimension. Initially meant to detain 700 inmates, Gitarama Central Prison now houses an unbelievable 7,000 as a result of the genocide that took place in Rwanda.
Media outlets often describe Gitarama as “hell on Earth”, and you can easily understand why as men are forced to live, eat, sleep, die and rot in a cramped four by square yard area in a roofless brick house. Some resort to cannibalism, eating recently deceased flesh to stay alive. There is no clean water and prisoners die every day of preventable diseases.
6. A shocking American institution
Although President Barack Obama tried to shut it down, Guantanamo Bay still stands with a reduced population, although no less brutal than it used to be. Opened in 2002, this American prison on Cuban soil was devised to hold and interrogate the most dangerous criminals and terrorists in the world.
It quickly became a highly perverted institution, with some people being thrown in there purely for having the wrong skin colour and religion. According to reports by released inmates, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are drugged against their will, suffer sexual degradation, barbed wire assaults and sustain several broken glass and cigarette burn related injuries.
5. Rikers Island of violence
Rikers island has ten jails with a capacity to hold 12,000 inmates. Those who have walked through its gates and lived to tell the tale have often compared it to the city’s most brutal streets, where the latter come off as a tropical paradise when compared to Rikers Island Prison.
With the help of SWAT teams, the authorities have been able to reduce the 1,000 stabbings per year to a mere 70, but there are still reports of guard-sanctioned fight clubs in spite of increasingly stricter regulations. Abuse, assault, rape and murder are all part of everyday life at Rikers as gang activity is ripe in this prison.
4. A place of permanent solitary isolation
ADX Florence Supermax Prison inspires terror in the hearts of every criminal in the United States. Inmates at this Colorado correctional facility are in complete isolation from other prisoners and guards, as they are the country’s most violently dangerous criminals. This jail is design to inflict “misery and pain” and those who’ve been there often describe it as a cleaner version of hell.
The constant solitary confinement to an empty, barren cell for 23 hours a day proves too much for some, as suicides are very frequent at this institution. A few prisoners try to kill themselves by refusing to eat, but the guards promptly force-feed them to keep them alive against their will to endure a lifetime of suffering.
3. An ironically-named prison
“Santé” means health in French, so it’s curious to witness La Santé is the name of the country’s most violent prison, proving once and for all the French have an impeccable (and dark) sense of humour. There is a hierarchical structure in place which represses the weakest prisoners, and violence is always around the corner.
Much like ADX-Florence Supermax Facility, La Santé witnesses several suicides per year, with 127 in 1999 the current standing record for most self-inflicted deaths in a year. With only three recorded prison breaks since 1987, this Parisian jail is an authentic fortress, which criminals are desperate to leave, either over the wall or in a body bag.
2. Record-breaking Turkish nightmare
Diyarbakir Prison in Turkey has the highest number of human rights violations per prisoner. Most people know about it due to its brutal and harsh sentences where children are incarcerated for life (a regular practice in Turkey where over 350 boys and girls aged 13-17 are in jail).
Diyarbakir is severely overcrowded, and violence is highly pervasive here. Due to Turkey’s highly repressive, authoritarian regime, the population of this facility is made up of regular criminals and political prisoners alike. Hundreds have been tortured to death by the vicious guards while dozens have preferred to set themselves on fire to be free of this hell.
1. Another relic of Soviet suffering
It’s a well-established fact the Soviet Union brought lots of misery to many parts of the world. One of its former republics, Georgia is a prime example of that proliferation of suffering. In 2008, it suffered a quick defeat in the Russian-Georgian War, but it has recently been in the news for even more horrible motives.
The Georgian government was forced to intervene in Gladni Prison after videos showing the mass beating, rape and torture of prisoners carried out by sadistic guards emerged online. The investigations resulted in several guards tried, but there’s simply no way of guaranteeing all those guilty were stopped. The events uncovered at Gladni prison have shown the worst about humanity’s use of technology.
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