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Worst Prisons in the World: A Nightmare for Criminals 

Exploring the worst prisons in the world uncovers a troubling aspect of our society: the existence of penitentiaries where conditions are extremely challenging and often dangerous for inmates. These prisons are notorious for overcrowding, violence, and harsh treatment. Each one represents a dark chapter in the history of incarceration, highlighting the urgent need for improvements to ensure the well-being and safety of inmates. This article will delve into the disturbing realities of these prisons, shedding light on the challenges they pose and the ongoing calls for reform.  

Top 10 Worst Prisons of All Times 

  • La Sabaneta Prison, Venezuela
  • Black Dolphin Prison, Russia 
  • Gitarama Central Prison, Rwanda 
  • Camp 22, North Korea 
  • Gldani Prison, Georgia
  • Peru San Juan de Lurigancho, Peru 
  • Nairobi Prison, Kenya
  • Diyarbakir Prison, Turkey
  • Mendoza Prison, Argentina 
  • Rikers Island, New York 

1- La Sabaneta Prison, Venezuela

Venezuela’s prison ranks among the world’s worst, with severe overcrowding at 3,700 inmates in a facility built for 700. Chronic understaffing, a 1:150 guard-to-inmate ratio, and limited funding make maintaining order nearly impossible. In La Sabaneta, violent gangs dominate, turning the prison into a lawless and dangerous place.

Necessities such as food are insufficient, and the living conditions are beyond contempt, with cleanliness and hygiene taking a back seat. Inmates endure a daily struggle for survival in an environment that lacks the fundamental elements required for normal living. 

Violence is never going to end within La Sabaneta, with frequent clashes among inmates due to the unbearable stress and frustration stemming from the harshest living conditions. The combination of overcrowding, lack of resources and heightened levels of violence makes La Sabaneta Prison a dangerous and challenging setting. The prison system’s inability to maintain control contributes to an atmosphere of lawlessness. 

Read More: What Is Crime and Its Different Types

2- Black Dolphin Prison, Russia 

Black Dolphin Prison, situated near the Kazakhstan border in Russia, has gained notoriety as one of the world’s second most notorious penitentiary. Housing some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, including pedophiles, cannibals, and terrorists, highlights the harshness of Russia’s prison system.

Upon arrival, inmates are subjected to blindfolding and handcuffing to prevent them from mapping out the prison layout, minimizing their chances of escape. This illustrates the extreme measures taken to maintain control within Black Dolphin.

Inside the prison, conditions are terrible. Overcrowding worsens the already harsh environment, with prisoners thrown into cells meant for far fewer occupants. Inmates are limited to their cells for nearly all activities, from eating to exercising to using the restroom. This constant isolation and lack of freedom can lead to profound psychological distress, as inmates experience a sense of being like lifeless robots. 

The understaffing and limited resources make enforcing order nearly impossible. Gangs wield significant power within the prison walls, perpetuating a culture of violence and lawlessness. Black Dolphin Prison symbolizes the brutality and inhumanity within the global prison system, where individuals are stripped of their dignity and left to suffer in a devastating environment.   

3- Gitarama Central Prison, Rwanda 

Gitarama Central Prison in Rwanda stands out as a nightmarish prison globally, primarily due to its staggering levels of overcrowding. With a capacity for only 400 inmates, the prison finds itself burdened with an astonishing 7,000 detainees, highlighting a huge lack of space that defines the institution’s biggest challenge.

Prisoners endure unimaginable conditions, forced to make the agonizing choice between standing upright for hours on end or gathering in packed quarters whenever possible. This overcrowding reached its peak in the 1990s, resulting in a humanitarian crisis within the prison walls.  

The consequences of such overcrowding are heartbreaking. Many prisoners have succumbed to diseases and suffocation due to the unbearable living conditions. Some have been forced to stand on filthy, unhygienic floors for extended periods, pushing them to have their toes, legs, or feet chopped.

In Gitarama, the lack of space translates into a loss of discipline, health, and ultimately, lives. It’s a place where human suffering knows no bounds, and the cruelty of the conditions makes it even more harsh for inmates. 

4- Camp 22, North Korea 

Camp 22 in North Korea is a horrifying political prison globally, characterized by its extreme isolation and brutal treatment of inmates. Unlike typical prisons, Camp 22 is more like a vast, sheltered compound, spanning over 87 square miles and surrounded by electric fences, closely monitored by armed guards.

The camp holds an estimated 50,000 prisoners, many of whom face lifelong detention for daring to criticize the government. Once inside, inmates bear unimaginable suffering, living in near-starvation conditions and facing constant brutality. They’re forced to perform exhausting physical tasks using primitive tools, adding to their misery. 

Criticism of the government is met with severe punishment, and those imprisoned are condemned to a life of anguish and despair. In Camp 22, the harsh reality of political dissent is met with relentless cruelty, with inmates subjected to physical and psychological torment.

Camp 22’s reputation as one of the worst examples of human rights violations in the world is reinforced by the facility’s vast size, stringent surveillance, and cruel treatment of captives. It serves as an eyewitness account of the horrors carried out in the name of political dominance, where people’s basic rights and dignity are frequently taken away.

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5- Gldani Prison, Georgia

Gldani Prison in Georgia stands out as the fifth most horrific correctional facility in the world. While fights among inmates are very common in many prisons, Gldani takes brutality to a whole new level. Instead of maintaining order, the guards themselves engage in torture, assaults, and even rapes against helpless prisoners.

Imagine being in a place where those meant to protect you are your worst nightmares. That’s the reality for inmates at Gldani, who are left defenseless and at the mercy of their jailers. The release of video footage in 2012 exposed the world to the shocking truth of the horrors within those prison walls.

On top of that, Gldani Prison faces numerous more issues. Medical care is extremely inadequate, leaving prisoners to suffer without proper treatment. Unspeakably unsanitary conditions contribute to the spread of disease, while severe overcrowding only intensifies the already worst situation.

Gldani Prison represents the darkest depths of the prison system, where cruelty and abuse reign unchecked. It serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for reform and justice within the global prison system.

6- San Juan de Lurigancho, Peru

San Juan de Lurigancho prison in Peru is also the most notorious correctional facility worldwide, and the reasons are deeply unsettling. Instead of rehabilitation, inmates spend their days engaging in illicit activities like playing with black-market technology, participating in cockfighting and dealing drugs. It’s like a lawless city within the walls. 

The overcrowding here is beyond belief. Originally built to house 2,500 prisoners, it is now overcrowded with 11,500 inmates in its tiny and dirty confines. This overcrowding increases an already dire situation.

Adding to the chaos is the alarming lack of guards. With hardly any authority figures to control the massive inmate population, the prison operates like a free-for-all. Inmates roam unchecked, making their own rules and alliances, further fueling the lawlessness. The state of affairs is so bad that it is normal for them to get visits from claimed “nurses” and “attorneys” of their choosing, which emphasizes the complete absence of supervision and control.

San Juan de Lurigancho prison represents a harrowing example of the failures of the prison system, where overcrowding, lack of supervision, and criminal activity combine to create an environment of chaos and despair. 

7- Nairobi Prison, Kenya

Nairobi Prison, established in 1911, has evolved into a torturing example of the harsh conditions. This prison was designed to accommodate 800 prisoners, it now houses over 4,000 without any expansion. The overcrowding is so severe that “prison cages” meant for three people end up crammed with 12 inmates, struggling to survive in the limited space.

Governor David Mwania describes Nairobi Prison as one of Kenya’s most congested, with conditions that go against belief. Disease, systemic abuse, and violence run within its walls increasing the already hopeless situation.

Imagine living in a place where every inch is packed with bodies, where necessities are scarce, and where violence and disease take cover around every corner. Nairobi Prison is a stark reminder of the failures of the justice system, where human rights are often violated and the basic dignity of inmates is ignored.

In the face of such appalling conditions, it’s evident that Nairobi Prison stands among the worst in the world. It’s a place where suffering is the norm, where survival is a daily struggle, and where hope seems like an unapproachable dream. 

8- Diyarbakir Prison, Turkey

Since its establishment in the 1980s, Turkey’s Diyarbakır Prison has gained an unsettling reputation as one of the worst prisons in the world. It is situated in the Southeastern region of the nation and has been compared by its prisoners to hell on earth. The interior circumstances are incredibly horrible and shockingly cruel.

Prisoners experience extreme depression and hopelessness, which pushes some of them to take extreme actions to raise awareness of their situation, such as hunger strikes and even committing suicide. These crimes provide horrifying evidence of the terrible conditions that exist behind these walls. 

The Turkish government has not responded significantly to the horrors taking place in Diyarbakir Prison, despite the outrage and pleadings of prisoners. A cycle of pain is maintained by the absence of help, leaving prisoners imprisoned in a frightening existence.  

9- Mendoza Prison, Argentina 

Argentina’s Mendoza Prison has come to be associated with unimaginable horrors: it is a place where humiliating treatment, torture, and death are common. It was designed to house 600 convicts, but it today houses 1,600, causing extreme overcrowding and a shortage of essential supplies.

In 2005, Amnesty International condemned the unforgivable conditions within Mendoza Prison, highlighting the sad reality faced by inmates. Many prisoners, especially those who are awaiting trial, leave its confines having endured cruel treatment and abuse, and in worse shape than when they arrived. 

Tragically, even the prison guards contribute to the suffering, known for their violence not only of inmates but also of their families. This culture of violence and cruelty extends a cycle of desperation and depression. Mendoza Prison stands as an example of the failures of the Argentinean justice system.

It is an upsetting reminder of the pressing need for change to guarantee that these horrors are stopped and that everyone is treated with respect and decency, regardless of their situation.

Read More: Worst Torture Methods in History

10- Rikers Island, New York 

New York’s Rikers Island is known for being one of the world’s most deadly prisons—it’s even more dangerous than the roughest streets in the city. Violence among inmates is very common, making it a nightmare come true. 

In response to the situation, city officials implemented strict measures to reform conditions within Rikers Island, transforming it into the country’s strictest prison. SWAT teams were deployed to combat the widespread violence, including riots, which had plagued the facility.

These teams conduct daily searches of prisoner cells, seizing hundreds and even thousands of weapons. Remarkably, these efforts have resulted in a significant decrease in the killing ratio, from around 1,000 cases to approximately 70 compared to the previous year. 

Despite these measures, Rikers Island remains a symbol of the failings of the American prison system, where violence and brutality are pervasive, and the safety and well-being of inmates are often disregarded. 


The list of the worst prisons of all time reveals the reality of inhumane conditions, violence, and systemic failures within the global prison system. From the overcrowded and lawless confines of La Sabaneta Prison in Venezuela to the brutal regime of Black Dolphin Prison in Russia, each facility represents a dark chapter in the treatment of inmates. These prisons, spanning continents and cultures, serve as reminders of the urgent need for reforms to ensure that the basic rights and dignity of all individuals are upheld.


What is the Biggest Problem in Prisons?

Overcrowding is the biggest problem in prisons, leading to strained resources, increased violence, and inhumane living conditions for inmates.  

Which Country has the Safest Prisons?

The prison system in Norway is now being used as a model by several U.S. states, and it has become an inspiration for the rest of the world. Norway currently has a far lower conviction rate and its jails are more disciplined and safe. 

Which Country has the Highest Jail Rate?

El Salvador had more than 50 murders per 100,000 people last year, making it the nation with both the highest jail rate and the deadliest murder rate globally.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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