While you wouldn’t want to find yourself in any prison, the ones found on this list are on a completely different level of human suffering. The reports of brutality by guards and inmates alike are common. Disease runs rampant in the poor and unhygienic conditions of these prisons. Many governments turn a blind eye to these living hells as inmates are forced to waste away within their walls. While each prison has its own stories, the common theme of brutality can be seen in each entry.
10. La Sabaneta Prison, Venezuela
La Sabaneta Prison in Maracaibo, Venezuela, is one of the largest and most dangerous prisons on the list. Prisoners outnumber guards up to 150 to 1. The prison itself was first built to only hold a maximum of 15,000 inmates, but it has been jammed packed with up to 25,000. Conditions in the prison are not only crowded with some inmates having to sleep in hammocks, but they were incredibly unhygienic as well. Diseases like cholera run rampant in La Sabaneta due to the unsanitary conditions. The corrupt prison system allows wealthier inmates to pay off the guards and basically run the prison. They are able to buy themselves favors and larger cells, while the poorer inmates suffer. In 1994, an incident in the midst of a fight that broke out between two competing gangs resulted in over 108 prisoners getting burned and hacked to death with machetes.
9. ADX Florence Supermax, United States
Known as the largest max security prison in the United States, the Administrative Maximum Facility in Colorado houses only the most dangerous criminals in America. The facility itself isn’t in bad condition, affording inmates a concrete desk, stool, bed, a toilet, shower, sink, a light, radio, and a black and white TV with a few beneficial programs. In order to keep inmates from escaping, they spend up to 23 hours a day in their cells under constant surveillance. The windows are small and located in the ceiling. Inmates are allowed only 5 hours a week of recreation in a large concrete room. But don’t let these better-than-normal conditions fool you into thinking ADX is a pleasant place to be. The prison is known to drive inmates crazy with the severe lack of sensory information. The prisoners are kept isolated basically their whole stay and the prison remains creepily quiet, except for the occasional screams of other prisoners. The sheer psychological torture of the prison is enough to be regarded to be just as inhumane as any other prison on this list.
8. La Sante, France
Prior to the reports of the horrible conditions by Veronique Vasseur, most of the atrocities at La Sante went unreported. Vasseur worked as a doctor in the prison and began writing her experiences in a diary to record the unbelievable conditions that the inmates were kept in. She claimed that four inmates were jammed into a cell for up to 23 hours a day. They were forced to sleep on dirty mattresses, crawling with bugs, and had to fill cracks in their cells with clothing to keep rats from flooding their cells. Suicides by inmates were unsurprisingly common, with the ingestion of rat poison or drain cleaner being the preferred method. Weaker prisoners became the slaves of their stronger counterparts. Vasseur saw many prisoners begin to go insane in the inhumane conditions they were forced to live in. The hygiene was unbearable, allowing only 2 showers a week despite the extreme 100-degree conditions that the inmates endured. The French government largely ignored the goings-on at the prison as brutal beatings, rapes, suicides, and self-mutilations were commonplace within the cells. Like most prisons on the list, La Sante was overpopulated by 300 more inmates than the original 600 it was built to house.
7. Bang Kwang Central Prison, Thailand
Bang Kwang, nicknamed the Big Tiger, is a prison in Thailand that is most notorious for the brutal atrocities committed against its overcrowded prison population. Prisoners are served only one meal of white rice a day, and the poor inmates are forced to work for richer inmates or guards if they wish to receive more food. For the first three months, all prisoners wear iron leg shackles. If you find yourself on death row, you will be having the rusty shackles permanently welded to your legs. Being that most of the Thai judicial system upholds the phrase “guilty until proven innocent,” Bang Kwang is home to over 7,000 prisoners despite being built for only a few thousand. The overcrowding forces prisoners to lie side-by-side in cramped conditions, with most prisoners having to trade off the ability to stretch out. Prisoners are routinely beaten to death, tortured, and sexually assaulted by the guards despite the guards being outnumbered 50:1. Thanks to Thailand’s severely harsh punishments for drug trafficking, Bang Kwang is home to many foreign prisoners and if you find yourself within its walls, you will be serving no less than 25 years. If you manage to survive the prison life itself, you could end up on death row anyway, with over 10% of the prison population awaiting execution.
6. Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Guantanamo Bay is a detention center located in Cuba used to house the most dangerous terrorists and other threats to United States security from the war in the Middle East. While denial by the prison officials and U.S. government has been upheld, the detainees tell stories of harsh punishment, torture, and humiliation. Prisoners are only afforded the most minimal of human rights with some being given no rights at all. Along with the inmate complaints of being beaten, sleep deprived, and locked in cramped quarters, there have also been many complaints about the guards’ attitudes toward the inmates’ religions. They claim that guards ruin copies of the Q’uran by flushing it down the toilet, denying inmates a copy of it, as well as tearing out and writing foul comments on its pages. Stories of torture have included inmates having their head smashed into concrete, being burned with cigarettes, forcibly drugged, chained in unnatural positions for up to 24 hours, exposed to dangerous temperatures, deprived of sleep, pepper sprayed, as well as being harmed with pieces of glass and barbed wire. Along with the physical torture that most inmates experience, the psychological and mental torture inflicted upon them has proven equally as damaging. It’s reported that prisoners are humiliated about their culture and sexually mocked. They are intimidated, exposed to loud noises, hooded for long periods of time, forced to listen to American music, forced to look pictures of 9/11 victims and salute the American flag. Despite being built in 2002, there were 23 reported suicide attempts in 2003 alone with the number continuing to rise as conditions continue to worsen. Prisoners decided to partake in a hunger strike as protest to their treatment only to have feeding tubes shoved down their throats. The tube was administered without any sort of pain blocker and the same tube was used on multiple inmates.
5. Tadmor Prison, Syria
Located in the barren desert of Syria, Tadmor prison was home to thousands of political and criminal Syrian prisoners during the 1980s. In addition to the torture, executions, and brutality that occurred there, Tadmor was also notorious for its extreme climate conditions. Without warning or motive, prisoners would be subjected to brutal tortures that regularly resulted in their deaths. In order to receive confessions during interrogations, inmates faced regular beatings from guards with metal pipes, cables, whips, and wooden boards. Suspected Islamic prisoners faced the harshest treatments as many were hooded, brought to the courtyard, and dismembered with axes or drug around the courtyard until they died. In an attempt to stand up against the horrible treatment they received, the inmates came together to form their own version of a democracy; a behavior uncommon for most prisoners. Guards deployed many tactics of brutality against the prisoners in order to keep them from banding together. Inmates would be singled-out for horrific beatings by other inmates and each morning an inmate would be selected to rat out 10 others that hadn’t slept on their side in the correct position. If the prisoner refused to give the names, he would be severely beaten, but if he did supply the names, the ten other men received the beatings. In June of 1980, a massacre occurred in the prison as soldiers stormed the cells and killed 500-800 prisoners. Thankfully, after various reports of brutality and torture, the prison was shut down in 2001.
4. Carandiru, Brazil
Thankfully this is prison you can no longer end up in because it was shut down in 2002 due to the reported atrocities that were committed there. Known by many as the worst prison in all of South America, and possibly the world, Carandiru was located in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The conditions of the prison were absolutely deplorable, as it was overflowing with both prisoners and diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and ringworm. Despite up to 20% of inmates testing positive for a terminal illness, medical care within the prison was basically non-existent. Inmates reported the prison as being completely unsanitary with their cells regularly filling up with human waste as the septic systems clogged. Guards subjected inmates to tortures like electric shocks, beatings, plastic bag suffocations, and sexual abuse. Following a prisoner revolt in 1992, guards flooded the inmates’ cells to suppress the riot and allegedly shot inmates that had already surrendered. This incident resulted in the massacre of 111 inmates altogether. Unlike most prisons on this list, the guards weren’t the people you should have been most worried about harming you. The immense overcrowding of 7,000 inmates in a prison only built for 3,000 led to daily uprisings, beatings, sexual assaults, and murders by other inmates. Many claim that the prisoners ran the prison and policed themselves with the guards only being there to make sure no one escaped. All together, over 1,300 inmates died at the hands of guards, other inmates and disease, deeming it one of the deadliest and most dangerous prisons in the world.
3. Diyarbakir, Turkey
Diyarbakir is a prison most notorious for a period in the early 1980s where prisoners were subjected to severe torture interrogations and executions. Located in the southern part of Turkey, Diyarbakir was home to hundreds of Kurds that participated in the Turkish coup d’état when it became a marshal law military prison in 1980. Diyarbakir hosts a long and seemingly endless list of tortures that were reported to have been committed against the inmates. Physical tortures included things like ripping out inmates’ hair, severe beatings, falaqa, Palestinian hangings, forcing prisoners into unnatural positions for long periods of time, forced exercise in dangerous temperatures, electric shocks to their genitals, constricting and crushing of extremities and genitals, burns, suffocation, and extractions of healthy nails and teeth. The psychological and mental tortures at the prison were no less damaging. Prisoners were blindfolded, hosed, stripped, insulted, intimidated, constantly surveyed, deprived of food, water, sensory information, and sleep, forced to perform mock executions, rape, humiliate, beat, or urinate on each other. In addition, inmates themselves were sexually humiliated, forced to bathe in the prison’s septic water, and thrown into piles on top of each other. Almost 300 people died from the unsanitary and inhumane conditions of the prison in the early 1980s. A not-so-shocking 43 people were reported to have committed suicide at that time as well. Testimonies from inmates about the barbaric actions committed against them were plenty. It was even reported that inmates were forced to salute the Captain’s dog that was trained to bite naked inmates in the genitals. Oddly enough, there has been talk about converting the closed prison into a school in 2009.
2. Gitarama Prison, Rwanda
It’s clear that the conditions in the prisons presented above on this list are some of the worst in the world, but Gitarama prison in Rwanda definitely tops the list for worst facility conditions. Unlike others where the tortures come from guards and other prisoners, the tortures in Gitarama come from the facility itself. The prison is so grossly overpopulated at 6,793 inmates that many are forced to stand until their feet develop gangrene and literally rot out from under them. Finding a place to sleep is nearly impossible, as most sleep on the ground, on wooden planks, or even on the septic tanks. Only built to house 400 inmates, most of the prisoners are stuck here because of their participation in the Rwanda genocide. Though most prisoners are murderers, they are forced to exist in a hell that is regarded as the epitome of human suffering. The conditions of the prison are so severely unhygienic that most inmates die from disease. Trash, human remains, and human waste litter the prison with no distinction between them. Little to basically no food is provided for prisoners, which has resulted in cannibalism between them just to survive.
1. Kwan Li So No. 22, North Korea
Full reports of the tortures that occur in this detention camp aren’t publicized due to the secrecy of the North Korean government. The camp doesn’t appear on any maps and the government even denies its existence. This hasn’t stopped some of the guards’ stories regarding the conditions there from leaking out. If you find yourself in this prison, you will be there for life. Inmates, singularly and whole families, are sent to this camp for permanent detention. Little food is given to the prisoners as they must work all day to receive 6 oz. of corn and any other source of meat, like creatures crawling around the prison that must be caught on their own. Prisoners live in rags and squalor, with up to 2,000 dying from poor nutrition and starvation alone. One-third of the prisoners are reported to be disfigured after having their noses smashed, ears chopped off, eyes gouged out, scars or other facial injuries. All inmates are required to work starting at age six regardless of any injuries or deformities they have, including missing limbs. Prisoners work up to 15 hours a day in the coal mines or agriculture fields without breaks or food. With safety not being the guards’ utmost concern, mine fires and collapses are a common occurrence. If accidents occur while inmates are working, prisoners are left to die and their bodies are later gathered up to be incinerated in the furnace. Beatings are also a common occurrence for prisoners not working hard enough or fast enough. Methods of torture included water torture, hanging, box-room, kneeling and pigeon torture. Many prisoners are raped and humiliated in addition to the normal beatings. Human experimentation with chemicals, gases, and surgery techniques are commonly tested on prisoners at the camp as well. Following their long days of working, prisoners are also forced to attend self-criticism and ideological classes. While this isn’t a new concept to North Koreans, any sort of contact with the outside world is strictly forbidden. Over 400,000 deaths are reported to have taken place at this and other labor camps like it, yet mourning for the dead is not allowed. Camp 22 currently houses an estimated 200,000 prisoners, though these claims aren’t substantiated or recognized by the government.