No prison is safe, but some of the prisons around the world are so dangerous, they would even make Chuck Norris pee his pants. Even with the closing of North Korea’s Camp 22, long considered the most horrendous jail on the planet, the list of runner-ups still deserves honorable mention. Although unconfirmed, there are rumors that half of the labor-intensive penal colony’s political prisoners died due of the severe conditions at the North Korean camp. After the incident, they transferred the remaining detainees to another labor camp. A former employee of the camp, testifying under a false name, detailed human experimentation and other unmentionable forms of torture of men, women, and children at the camp outside the city Haengyong. Accounts and observers at these correctional facilities have reported years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of other inmates, as well as the guards. All these prisons are overcrowded. Most are dirty, unsanitary, placing prisoners in deplorable living conditions. Sure, no one expects prison to be the Ritz-Carlton or Hilton, but these particular prisons are the very definition of hell on earth. It’s easy to think, “They committed a crime, now they have to do the time.” However, they are still human beings. Consider that many of the men, women, and children locked away in these wretched buildings are not all convicted criminals. Many are awaiting trial and many will never see a trial or their freedom again. Children are not criminals, but in some countries, prison colonies include the spouse and children of the prisoner.The prisoners at Rikers in the U.S. are pretrial or serving short sentences. Anyone held in Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Thailand, Rwanda, and Benin prisons are pretrial, convicted felons, or political prisoners.
10. Rikers Island New York, NY
The famous island has 10 jails that hold an average of 12,000 inmates daily, with the room to lock down 17,000. For those arrested in New York City, Rikers Island is the last stop before the state penitentiary. Rikers has a long list of assaults, rapes, and murders by the prison guards, as well as other inmates. A guard sanctioned “fight club” provides entertainment, puts inmate versus inmate. Despite two guards becoming state prison inmates over the fights, former inmates report it hasn’t stopped. The guards have been cited dozens of times in just the past decade for excessive force. Federal investigations into the reports filed by guards revealed some falsified the records to cover up abuse, leaving exact numbers difficult to determine. While the inmates are watching out for abusive guards, they have to watch their back for problems with each other. Gang activity runs wild through the cell blocks of Rikers, leaving no one safe.
9. La Sante Prison, Paris, France
Nestled in the heart of Paris, a few miles from the Seine River, sits La Sante Prison in France. One stroll through the history of the maximum-security facility will make visitors have trouble believing they are in the city of love. Paris, home to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Mona Lisa, and the Notre Dame Cathedral also hosts one of history’s most notorious prisons. Opening in 1867, the prison has a long history of abuse. During World War II, it held prisoners of war and regular criminals. An impenetrable fortress still today, only three escapes have been recorded in the prisons history.
8. Petak Island Prison, Russia
Safe prisons don’t exist in Russia. Petak Island on White Lake is a maximum-security detention center for the country’s worst prisoners. All inmates are isolated, spending 20 or more hours a day in solitary confinement. Compounding the isolation is the location of the large, drafty fortress in Northwest Russia-White Lake is one of the 10 largest lakes in Europe. Prisoners receive visitors two days a year. The isolation and lack of basic facilities, many of the islands residents lose their minds before they complete their sentence. The frigid winter temperatures in the region average 10 degrees Fahrenheit can reach lows near -40 in January. Here, Mother Nature can shorten a prisoner’s life span.
7. Bang Kwang Prison, Thailand
Located a few miles from Bangkok is one of the toughest prisons in Thailand. The Bang Kwang Maximum-Security Prison holds a large population of foreign prisoners. For the first three months of an inmate’s sentence, they wear shackles. About 10 percent of the inmates are awaiting execution; those on death row wear iron shackles welded to their legs. All prisoners are serving a minimum of 25 years. Nutrition comes in the form of one bowl of rice with vegetables to eat once a day. A canteen is available for prisoners to purchase additional food or items needed. Many suffer from malnutrition and preventable diseases. The prison has no running water, a barely functioning sewer system, and is severely overcrowded.
6. La Sabaneta Prison, Venezuela
Venezuelans incarcerated at the infamous La Sabaneta Prison have a greater chance of dying in prison then they do on the streets of Caracas. Described by the late President Hugo Chavez as “The gateway to the fifth circle of hell,” it’s overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed. Gangs run the prison, rape is a part of the culture of fear, where those who aren’t in control, know that death is always near. Riots are regular. Murder is common. In 2012, 591 prisoners were killed. A raid at the prison in September of 2013 following the deaths of 16, inmates yielded a huge cache of weapons. Guards confiscated 22,000 rounds of ammo, pistols, rifles, and an underground tunnel for storing marijuana and cocaine.
5. Diyarbakir Prison, Turkey
Turkey’s maximum-security prison opened in 1980, and has long been a place of hell for the Kurdish population of the region. A detention center for criminals and political prisoners, it is overcrowded, and has a history of bloodshed that haunts the walls. Since its opening, hundreds have been tortured to death; dozens of inmates have set themselves on fire to escape the brutality. Today, over 350 boys and girls aged 13 to 17 are serving sentences in Turkey’s prisons, including Diyarbakir.
4. Gldani Prison, Georgia
Technology brought the horrors of this Georgia prison. The former U.S.S.R. State was forced to investigate treatment at its most notorious prison after video appeared online showing the rape, beatings, and torture of inmates. Recorded footage showed guards systematically sodomizing prisoners with nightsticks and broom handles. Because of this worldwide exposure, conditions have improved at Gldani. The government arrested, prosecuted, and convicted the guards witnessed on the recordings.
3. Contonou Civil Prison, Benin
Benin is a small country in West Africa next to Togo and Nigeria. Cotonou’s facility has about 2,400 men, women, and children living in an area built to hold no more than 400. It is so overcrowded, some prisoners sleep in shifts, and others have died from suffocation while sleeping. Over 90 percent of the prisoners are awaiting trial, a process that takes several years because of backlog in the judicial system. Conditions at the prison are not intentional, the republic has limited funds to care for the inmates. Despite international assistance, many prisoners still die from preventable diseases.
2. Tadmor Prison, Syria
So much blood has spilled at the Syrian prison that nothing short of burning it to the ground will clean the soulless desert lockup. Incarcerating both political prisoners and criminals, all have been tortured equally. The facility closed in 2001, but it reopened a decade later, with more prisoners and few improvements. Guards have free reign there, and with no books, TV, or radio, torture is regular entertainment.
1. Gitarama Central Prison, Rwanda
Rwanda knows horror. Twenty years after the genocidal war tore apart the country; horror is still alive in the Gitarama Central Prison. Overcrowded, underfunded, prisoners that aren’t beat to death die of disease or starvation. Desperate to survive, some Gitarama inmates kill and eat other inmates. As unbelievable as it sounds, basic primal instinct and survival of the fittest has taken over. There are no cells, and many are forced to sleep underneath beds, on the open floors, and in corridors. Built for 500, the prison holds more than five times that many on average.