HMP Addiewell in Lothian, Scotland
Some prisons are focused on simply housing inmates under the lowest-quality conditions they can get away with while they serve the length of their sentence. Instead of focusing solely on punishment, HMP Addiewell in Lothian, Scotland is set up as a learning prison.
Here, inmates don’t spend their time just sitting around in plain cells. Instead, they participate in counseling and learning, and there’s a significant focus on familial contact and spending time in nature.
Black Dolphin Prison in Sol-Iletsk, Russia
Not every prison is as focused on offering inmates ways to grow as they’re incarcerated, preparing them for the outside. Black Dolphin Prison in Sol-Iletsk, Russia is one of the harsher prisons on this list.
The prison is made to house the offenders with the harshest crimes. Black Dolphin Prison was covered by National Geographic where it was made pretty clear that the inmates housed there weren’t there to be rehabilitated and released.
Bastøy Prison in Horten, Norway
When you think of the term “prison cell,” you probably think of a single room that the person incarcerated can’t leave except under certain, strict conditions. That’s not quite how Bastøy Prison in Horten, Norway is run.
Instead of a prison as you might think, the facility is set up as its own small community. While these conditions are often criticized by some as “too cushy,” if you look at the reoffending rates here versus the rest of Europe, you’d be impressed.
Halden Prison in Halden, Norway
Maximum security prisons make many people think of harsh conditions, barbed wire-topped fences, and other intense security measures to keep prisoners in place.
That’s not quite what it’s like at Halden Prison in Halden, Norway. Instead, they try to make it as much like life outside of the prison as they can. The focus here is heavily on rehabilitation, not just the punishment of inmates. It’s received rewards for both its interior design and humane practices.
Penal De Ciudad Barrios in Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador
If there’s one prison where the term overcrowding just doesn’t seem to begin to cover it, it’s Penal De Ciudad Barrios in Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador.
A 12-foot by 15-foot space isn’t a lot of space for one person, much less 30 or more people! The prison wasn’t originally meant to hold prisoners for more than 72 hours but some have spent over a year in these nearly unimaginable conditions.
Norgerhaven Prison in Veenhuizen, Netherlands
You might not think of a prison cell having some of the amenities you have at home. For instance, the average prison cell in the movies doesn’t have a private bathroom, fridge, furniture, or TV.
That’s what prisoners in the Norgerhaven Prison in Veenhuizen, Netherlands have access to in their cells. This is partly thanks to the low crime rates in the Netherlands, which also led to some Norwegian inmates serving their sentences in Norgerhaven.
San Diego Medium-Security Women’s Prison in Cartagena, Colombia
This is another case in which we aren’t talking about your typical cell. In fact, this is actually a restaurant where the women incarcerated there work near the end of their sentences.
The idea here is to house the women in a new less cell-like area and help them transition back into life outside of the prison. At the restaurant, named Interno, they serve as the entire staff for both back-of-house and front-of-house functions for the restaurant.
Aranjuez Prison in Aranjuez, Spain
When incarcerated in Aranjuez, Spain in the Aranjuez Prison, there are certain conditions in effect to consider incarcerated people with family on the outside.
No matter what their parent may have done, the idea here is that the child doesn’t need to know when they’re young. So, some rooms are equipped to be more child-friendly with Disney designs, a nursery, a playroom, and a playground outside. That way, families can stay together easier through a sentence.
Luzira Prison in Kampala, Uganda
The degree of responsibility incarcerated people are given can vary depending on which facility you’re at. Luzira Prison in Kampala, Uganda is noted for the key roles it gives the people incarcerated there.
This includes helping run the units, handling food growth and preparation from start to finish, and more. On top of that, there’s a big push to teach inmates new skills, often taught to each other. The result is a lower rate of recidivism than both the U.S. and the U.K.
Onomichi Prison in Onomichi, Japan
In Japan, there’s a large elderly population. That means, in turn, there’s been a response to a larger elderly population incarcerated in the country as well.
As a matter of fact, the Onomichi Prison in Onomichi, Japan is a dedicated prison that houses only senior inmates. The prison is equipped to accommodate older inmates, including doing so by offering accessibility features and low-impact activities popular among the older generation to fill their time.
Champ-Dollon Prison in Geneva, Switzerland
The Champ-Dollon Prison in Geneva, Switzerland is only meant to house inmates until they have the chance to go to trial and receive a sentence if found guilty.
The prison has been in operation since 1977 and despite the fact that these inmates haven’t been found guilty yet, the conditions aren’t comfortable by any means. The prison has been noted for having a horrible overcrowding problem that seems to only grow.
Skien Prison in Oslo, Norway
In Norway, the approach to prisons is a bit different from what people in the United States might expect. They’re made to house inmates and mimic life outside of the prison.
This is meant to help people who are incarcerated better prepare for life after they’re released from Skien Prison. They have access to three rooms rather than a single cell. These spaces are for studying, living, and working out. Plus, there’s access to a computer, TV, and video games as well.
Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee, California
This facility doesn’t use the term prison in its title like many that we’ve looked at so far. That might have to do with their approach, which isn’t as common in the United States.
The facility uses the name Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility. This facility in Santee, California is trying to change the game in the United States by offering the people incarcerated there access to both behavioral and environmental therapy.
Landsberg Prison in Landsberg Am Lech, Germany
There are some prisons around the world that have been around for quite some time. During that time, there have been some memorable criminal names passed through the halls.
The Landsberg Prison housed one of the worst people in history. Today, the prison is still open and operates in Landsberg Am Lech, Germany. Now, it offers a variety of courses to help train inmates for jobs once they’re released.
CPDRC in Cebu, Cebu Province, Philippines
You may have seen this prison online for surprising reasons. Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center — often shortened to CPDRC — is located in Cebu, Cebu Province, Philippines.
This facility is a maximum security prison, so you might not expect dance classes to play a major role in their daily exercise. The prison often posts videos of the routines online for people to see. However, the prison is now also noted for problems with overcrowding and a lack of resources.
ADX Florence, Colorado, United States
We’ve looked at quite a few prisons so far that have been focused on rehabilitation as well as incarceration. The goal here is so that when back in society, the people released have a chance to stay out of the system. That’s not the case at ADX Florence in Colorado, United States.
It’s also known as the ADK Supermax, a reference to its super-maximum security level. The cells here are single-person and prisoners spend 23 hours a day in here. When they’re let out of the cells, it’s only in restraints.
Otago Corrections Facility in Milburn, New Zealand
In Milburn, New Zealand, Otago Corrections Facility, the focus is on making sure that inmates still feel like they’re still a part of society while they serve their sentence. As such, the prison is known for having rather good conditions.
It even has a nickname thanks to those conditions — “The Milton Hilton.” Other than more comfortable cells than some of its contemporaries, the prison also offers access to both a library and health facilities for its inmates.
The Maula Prison in Lilongwe, Malawi
In Lilongwe, Malawi, the conditions aren’t nearly as nice compared to somewhere like the Otago Corrections Facility. This is largely due to severe overcrowding.
If a cell is made to hold 60 inmates here, odds are you’ll probably see up to 200 people trying to coexist in a minuscule space. Alongside sleeping space, this also means sharing basic amenities like toilets and taps — which leaves hundreds of people to share just one.
Haiti’s Civil Prison in Arcahaie, Haiti
Speaking of overcrowding in prisons, it’s a problem in a lot of prisons, all around the world. By nature, overcrowding leads to horrendous conditions.
This is the case in Hait’s Civil Prison which is found in the town of Arcahaie, near the coast. The prison is noted as horrifically overcrowded and, in 2016, it came to a head in a riot that left one fatality and 174 escapes.
San Pedro Prison in La Paz, Bolivia
The first thing that is often noted about San Pedro prison is that the hierarchy inside is strict and violent. That includes officers working as guards to an internal hierarchy among the prisoners there.
There are some more luxurious cells featuring cable, TVs, and private bathrooms but you have to be able to buy your way into them. For those without money, more cramped conditions await. Somehow, the area still attracts tourists.
The Justice Center in Styria, Austria
The Justice Center is located in Styria, Austria and it’s made strictly for nonviolent offenders. This also means there’s a lower level of security than a prison for violent offenders.
The European prison has notably better conditions than some of the prisons we’ve looked at so far. Each inmate has access to a cell with a private bathroom as well as a TV to watch and a kitchenette to make their meals in. The outdoor exercise facilities have also been praised.
Rikers Island Prison in New York, United States
If there’s one prison that’s pretty famous — or, rather, infamous — it’s Rikers Island. This prison is located in the United States, in New York, specifically.
This prison often ranks as one of the worst prisons in the world but, as of 2018, talk started to close the prison’s tarnished legacy. This comes as the prison’s population starts to fall for the first time in a quarter-century. Plus, wave after wave of increasing criticism against conditions there has pushed this decision along as well.
JVA Fuhlsbuettel Prison in Hamburg, Germany
The JVA Fuhlsbuettel Prison in Hamberg, Germany is made to house inmates who are serving long sentences. The prison puts livable conditions on its list of priorities, too.
When serving a sentence in this Hamburg prison, the inmates are offered larger-than-average cells as well as a separate bathroom. Their cells even include a sofa and a healthy supply of natural light. Outside of their cells, they can use amenities like conference rooms and leisure areas.
Neve Tirza in Ramla, Israel
There’s only one women’s prison in Israel and it’s located in Ramla. This prison is called Neve Tirza and conditions aren’t roomy by any means.
Here, cells only measure about 13 square meters — or about 43 square feet — in total. With less space than the average bedroom, these cells are shared by an average of six women who are left to share access to a toilet, shower, and sleeping space.
Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California
Pelican Bay State Prison is a high-security facility in Crescent City, California, in the United States. However, it houses a mix of both minimum and maximum-security inmates.
Almost half of the inmates here serve life sentences and the facility is designed to handle violent offenders who are sentenced to maximum security. As for the minimum security offenders, they’re often put to work in outdoor maintenance and firefighting.
Pondok Bambu Prison in Indonesia
In Indonesia, the Pondok Bambu Prison is a women’s facility with a number of amenities that most people would be surprised to hear about in a prison.
There are, of course, some basic things to make living conditions better such as refrigeration and air conditioning. On top of that, there are a variety of recreational options from structured programs to nail salons and even gardens with art.
El Buen Pastor Women’s Prison in Bogota, Colombia
Another women’s prison that has quite a different reputation is El Buen Pastor Women’s Prison. You’ll find this prison in Bogota, Colombia.
In this Colombian prison, conditions are harsh and corruption and violence are something that inmates often deal with. Overcrowding is a problem as well as 10 or even 20 women are forced to share a cell originally made for two. We’re not sure a beauty pageant would fully make up for this.
Bordeaux Prison in Montreal, Canada
The stay for most inmates at this prison isn’t long. Those housed at Bordeaux Prison in Montreal, Canada are only there to serve two years or less.
In all, the prison houses between 1,000 and 1,500 men at any given time. This makes it the largest provincial prison that you’ll find not just in Montreal but in all of Quebec. The prison has been criticized after a 2022 incident where an inmate passed away.
Quezon City Jail in Quezon City, Philippines
In Quezon City in the Philippines’ capital city of Manila, people who break the law may find themselves in Quezon City Jail. This is another prison with an overcrowding issue.
In a cell that’s meant to hold 20 inmates, there are often between 160 and 200 vying for space in them. This leads to horrific living and sleeping conditions that inmates do their best to try and make more space in.
Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, United States
Another prison in the United States is in North Carolina. Butner Federal Correctional Complex is a low-security federal prison that’s received praise.
Business Insider once said that Butner Federal Correctional Complex was “considered the ‘crown jewel’ of the prison system.” This was a particular reference to their advanced medical and cancer centers. As for the cells, they don’t offer a lot of room or privacy.
HM Prison Dartmoor in Princetown, England
To some, Dartmoor is known as a high-security prison that prisoners have no hope of escaping. Yet, it mostly houses white-collar criminals who aren’t guilty of violent crimes.
This prison in Princetown, England is dedicated to trying to rehabilitate prisoners through a plan thanks to HMP Whatton. The program is one that multiple prisoners have voluntarily undergone during their time at HM Prison Dartmoor.
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Georgia, United States
One look into life on death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in, of course, Georgia, came from Brandon Astor Jones.
Jones was once known as the oldest inmate on death row in the facility. He wrote an essay about his experience there that was briefly summed up here by a reporter named Liliana Segura. The idea of this much sensory deprivation is unimaginable.
Petak Island Prison in Vologda, Russia
Alcatraz is a rather notorious prison. While that prison may not be functional anymore, one compared to it is Petak Island Prison in Vologda, Russia.
The cells are small and made to house two men that inmates spend most of the day in. To be exact, 22.5 hours a day are spent in these cells. As if this isolation wasn’t enough, the inmates are only allowed two visits per year. Much like Alcatraz, this prison is on an island as well.
Sark Prison on the Island of Sark in Guernsey
This is another prison that is situated on an island. You can find Sark Prison on, as the name suggests, the Island of Sark in Guernsey.
If you blink, though, you could almost miss Sark Prison. This prison is famous for its size — it’s the smallest one in the world! Sark Prison is built for exactly two prisoners with a cell each. One cell is six feet by eight feet while the other is six feet by six feet.
Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran
Evin Prison is infamously awful to be housed in and violence is a part of the bill. In addition, just existing in the prison is hard enough thanks to its sweltering conditions.
This leads to inhumane living conditions in more ways than one. Even clean water and edible food seem hard to come by here and there’s not a lot of help available if you need medical care. Any outside contact is completely forbidden as well.
Bois D’arcy Detention House in Yvelines, France
In Yvelines, France, the Bois D’arcy Detention House isn’t made to hold people serving long sentences. Rather, inmates here are housed for a year or less and it serves as a pre-trial detention center.
However, the conditions here aren’t really ideal. Like many prisons, this one has an overcrowding problem, which naturally brings down the quality of living for inmates housed here. As we’ve seen, this puts a huge hurdle in open access to resources and even space.
Mendoza Prison in Argentina
Speaking of overcrowding, that’s something that this Argentinian prison is known for. The capacity here makes living conditions for inmates downright abysmal.
Mendoza Prison is at about triple the capacity it was built to hold. This leaves five inmates vying for space in a cell that’s only 43 square feet in total. Without proper sewage systems or enough resources for all the inmates, the conditions are nothing short of awful.
Desembargador Raimundo Vidal Pessoa Penitentiary in Manus, Brazil
We’ve seen so far that there aren’t many prisons that are “safe” to be in. This one is a particularly unsafe place for people to serve their sentence, though.
Desembargador Raimundo Vidal Pessoa Penitentiary in Manus, Brazil has a reputation for the violence that inmates face. Some of this has happened during uprisings in the prisons, which happened at other prisons around the city of Manus as well.
Sollentuna Prison in Sweden
Another Swedish prison to make the list is Sollentuna Prison. As the name suggests, you’ll find this prison in Sollentuna, Sweden.
The prison is often praised for its better-than-average conditions for inmates. The inmates inside can watch TV as well as have access to a gym in the prison and a kitchen to cook their food. As you can see, there are rec spaces in the prison as well.
The Federal Correctional Institute in El Reno, Oklahoma
The Federal Correctional Institute is located in El Reno, Oklahoma. All in all, the medium-security facility houses about a thousand men.
The thing that really stands out about this prison is that it’s one of the few farm facilities still run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. If you aren’t familiar with this term, it’s when inmates are used for farm labor during their sentence.
Kashimpur Central Jail in Gazipur, Bangladesh
Kashimpur Central Jail is in Bangladesh, in Gazipur to be exact. This central jail is home to about 1,200 inmates at any given time.
As you can see in this image, the cells in question don’t offer a lot of privacy. It seems like prisoners share a large communal room rather than having individual rooms or cells.
San Quentin Prison in San Quentin, California
We’ve talked about a few infamous prisons in the United States at this point but we’d be remiss not to take a minute to discuss the San Quentin Prison in San Quentin, California.
The maximum-security prison has long been noted for its famous prisoners and a long list of death row inmates. This is because it serves as the only death row prison in the state for men. It’s also the largest in the country.
UN Detention Unit Just Outside The Hague, Netherlands
This prison stands out a bit from the others because it’s a UN Detention Unit — not just a state or federal prison. The UN-administered jail has been in the Netherlands since 1993.
As you might guess, this jail is made to house criminals who have committed international crimes. They’re only housed here until their trial. Here, they have access to a cell with some washroom amenities and access to a personal computer, given to inmates to work on their cases before trial.