In addition to the real fascination with crime, there is a contemporary curiosity about corrupt and neglected prison systems around the world. To rehabilitate the worst of society, prisons turn into nightmarish hell landscapes that do more harm than reform. The documentation of the horrors is widespread. National Geographic Channel's Locked Up Abroad tells real stories of people trapped in international prisons. There are documentary series that go to the world's toughest prisons and show viewers what prisoners can endure. Overcrowding, poor sanitation and violence are common. Torn from the headlines here are seven of the worst prisons in the world.
La Sabaneta Maracaibo, Venezuela . In a country with overcrowded and violent prisons, La Sabaneta is the worst. The risk of murder from guards and other inmates is constant. Prisoners crammed into cells carry homemade knives to protect them. They are only served for breakfast and lunch and receive water from rotting bathroom pipes. At any given time, only 12 guards are on duty for the 1,600 occupants. ( x )
Rikers Island New Yor k. Rikers is scheduled to close by 2026 and has become representative of all problems in the American judicial system. In the 1990s there were 23,000 inmates, today 7,000 live in prison every day. The violence of other prisoners and guards is constant, and long periods in solitary confinement are by heart. ( x )
Bang Kwang Central Prison Thailand . Known as the Bangkok Hilton, this prison is known for poor sanitary conditions and violence between prisoners and guards. A former prisoner described the prison as "no purgatory, just hell". In 2000, an Australian woman, Bang Kwang, escaped from her girlfriend after being arrested for buying drugs. She described conditions such as overcrowding, maggot-filled meals, bathing together and regular beatings. ( x )
Petak Island Prison Vologda, Russia . On an island, this prison is a former monastery that houses some 200 of the most dangerous criminals in Russia. Few expect to leave the island alive. There are stories of prisoners swallowing nails and utensils to be taken to the hospital to recover from isolation. Breaches of the law can put inmates in solitary confinement for 6 months each, and the visiting time for all prisoners is 4 hours a year. ( x )
ADX-Florence Supermax Florence, Colorado . ADX-Florence, the safest Super Max prison in the country, has been home to high-profile criminals such as the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, a September 11 conspirator, the Unabomber, and the shoe bomber. A former warden described the prison as "much worse than death". Once inside, the prisoners spend 23 hours a day alone and will never see outside the prison walls again. Many prisoners destroy themselves or commit suicide in these conditions of intense isolation, which are described as worse than Guantánamo. ( x )
San Quentin California . This hundred-year-old Super Max prison is still analog, with each cell being closed by hand only. It houses California's death row inmates, some of the state's most dangerous and notorious criminals, including serial killers Wayne Adam Ford and Scott Peterson. Before conditions improved, mental illness was widespread on death row, and inmates spent their days with maggots in clothing and hair while spreading human waste on their cell walls. ( x )
La Sante Paris, France . La Sante was closed from 2014 to 2019 for renovations and updates, but the terms of detention before that were in stark contrast to the sophistication of Paris. Shortly after she started in prison, Dr. Veronique Vasseur to keep a diary, which she later turned into an exposure book. It describes overcrowded cells filled with lice, insects and rats. Prisoners housed there had the highest suicide rate among European prions and suffered from skin diseases, lack of medical care, and swallowed utensils and rat poison. ( x )
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