Crime doesn’t pay. Those who have been proven guilty of breaking the law end up in prisons that are quite modern now and certainly a lot better than before. A lot of us are not aware that these places took on many forms as the centuries and decades passed. There were isolated islands and underground dungeons. In these penitentiaries, inmates experienced harsh and brutal treatment. They also had to contend with overcrowding and gang violence. Situations in these prisons could be described as another form of hell.
Here are some of the worst prisons in history.
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Sabaneta Prison, Maracaibo, Venezuela
Sabaneta Prison was designed to house 15,000 prisoners but at one point its population reached over 25,000. It was greatly understaffed, with approximately one guard for every 150 inmates. It was also infamous for violent incidents. For instance, a 1994 gun battle killed 108 prisoners. The following year, 196 prisoners were killed and 624 wounded due to violence. Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez described Sabaneta as “the gateway to the fifth circle of hell.”
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Pitesti Prison, Romania
This prison, which operated from 1949-1951, served as one of the extermination sites used by the communist regime in its violent and total occupation of Romania. Inmates were reportedly malnourished and subjected to intentionally humiliating punishments. According to Ranker, a digital media company located in Los Angeles that features polls on entertainment, brands, sports, and culture, Pitesti Prison was also known for its intense and brutal brainwashing experiments aimed to “reeducate” wealthy intellectuals, political dissidents, religious rebels, and bourgeois landowners through psychological torture.
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Tadmor Military Prison, Syria
Located in Palmyra, Tadmor Military Prison is known as one of the most oppressive prisons. Amnesty International reported that “every aspect of it was designed to dehumanize its inhabitants.” The most notorious event in the prison’s history happened in June 1980. The Muslim Brotherhood attacked President Hafez al-Assad, who managed to survive. After that, he ordered soldiers to execute every prisoner in sight in retaliation for the attack. It was reopened in 2011 after closing down in 2001. It is no less brutal today.
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Camp Sumter Military Prison, Georgia
Camp Sumter Military Prison was built in February 1864 specifically to house Union soldiers and was known as the largest Confederate prison during the Civil War. Just like other notorious prisons, it had a serious death record. Out of the 45,000 people imprisoned there during the war, over 13,000 died. It was reported that nearly 1,000 inmates perished due to malnutrition, poor sanitation, disease, and overcrowding.
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The prison at Urga, Mongolia
In 1918, explorer Roy Chapman Andrews, the future director of the American Museum of Natural History, went to the prison in Urga. The situation there truly shocked him. Andrews saw that prisoners were confined in what can be described as oversized coffins, four-foot by three-foot boxes. Inmates received their food rations or blankets in the winter through a single six-inch hole. The boxes were only cleaned every few weeks. This cruel method was practiced before 1920 and was implemented on Mongolian prisoners, who were facing death sentences.
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Petak Island Prison, Russia
Known as the “Alcatraz of Russia,” Petak Island Prison housed the most dangerous criminals in the country. According to All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they saw on the news or read in history books, the prison was surrounded by the freezing waters of White Lake. Inmates experienced mental torture every day. Svetlana Kiselyova, a prisoner psychologist, stated that this prison destroyed people. After three or four years, the personalities of the prisoners began to deteriorate. The prison had no proper washing facilities and no lavatories. Inmates spent their entire sentence inside their cells.
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Devil’s Island, French Guiana
Devil’s Island prison, which was established in 1852 and operated until 1953, was the remnants of an infamous French penal colony. It welcomed 60,000 prisoners but only 2,000 made it out alive. The prison was built on this island because it was nearly impossible to escape. Inmates built unending roads to nowhere and cleared trees, working nearly to death. Cells were no larger than a typical bathroom and mostly overcrowded. Other inmates were isolated in a totally dark room with no one to talk to for months.