20+ Controversial Photos Of Prison Cells Reveal How Differently Countries Treat Their Criminals

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More and more people are behind bars. According to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, over 10.35 million individuals are being held in penal institutions throughout the world, either as pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners or having been convicted and sentenced.


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In comparison to the year 2000, the total number of women serving time has increased about 50% while the male prison population has grown by about 18%. But prison population rates vary considerably all around the globe. For instance, the United States have 698 inmates for every 100,000 citizens while Denmark has 61. And there are more differences, too. A prisoner in one place might have access to musical instruments and video games but might be fighting over a roll of toilet paper in another.

Bored Panda has collected photos of cells from all over to show how different countries treat their criminals, and the contrast is eye-opening. The prison cells in this list vary from low security to max security, and while they can’t be all compared directly, it gives us a pretty good sense how different countries deal with criminals. It might be due to economic reasons or the way societies value life, but if you found the information above a bit grey, the images below will definitely grab everyone’s attention.

Bastøy prison is the largest low-security prison in Norway. The prison is located at Bastøy island in the Oslo Fiord, belonging to Horten municipality. The prison uses the whole island, but the northern part with the beach Nordbukta is defined as open to the public.
The prison is organized as a small local community with about 80 buildings, roads, beach zones, cultural landscape, football field, agricultural land and forest.
In addition to… Read More

Bastøy prison is the largest low-security prison in Norway. The prison is located at Bastøy island in the Oslo Fiord, belonging to Horten municipality. The prison uses the whole island, but the northern part with the beach Nordbukta is defined as open to the public.
The prison is organized as a small local community with about 80 buildings, roads, beach zones, cultural landscape, football field, agricultural land and forest.
In addition to the prison functions, there is a shop, library, information office, health services, church, school, NAV (government social services), dock, ferry service (with its own shipping agency) and a lighthouse with facilities to let for smaller meetings and seminars. On Bastoy prison island, the prisoners, some of whom are murderers and rapists, live in conditions that critics brand ‘cushy’ and ‘luxurious’. Yet it has by far the lowest reoffending rate in Europe

Marco Di Lauro , Bastøy prison Report

Aranjuez Prison, Aranjuez, Spain

Spain’s Aranjuez Prison lets parents and children stay with their incarcerated family members. With Disney characters on the walls, a nursery, and a playground, the goal is to prevent kids from realizing, as long as possible, that a parent is behind bars

Associated Press , usatoday30 Report

Penal De Ciudad Barrios, Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador

These cells are just 12 feet wide and 15 feet tall, but they’re usually packed with more than 30 people. They were initially constructed to serve as 72-hour holding cells, but many inmates stay for more than a year. Most of their days are spent pulling apart their clothes and using the thread to sew together hammocks, where they sleep stacked on top of one another like cords of wood.

Giles Clarke Report

Haiti's Civil Prison, Arcahaie, Haiti

Haiti’s Civil Prison, on the coastal town of Arcahaie, is notoriously overcrowded. In 2016, 174 inmates escaped during a riot that left one guard dead and others injured.

Dieu Nalio Chery , Telegraph Report

The Maula Prison, Lilongwe, Malawi

The Maula prison in Lilongwe, Malawi, is severely overcrowded — in 2015, almost 200 people were crammed into one 60-person cell. Prisoners there, many of whom are Ethiopian migrants, must share one toilet per 120 people and one tap per 900 people. Prisoners are fed just once a day, due to the small budget of the Malawian government. One of a few highlights for the inmates is sports. Men are… Read More

The Maula prison in Lilongwe, Malawi, is severely overcrowded — in 2015, almost 200 people were crammed into one 60-person cell. Prisoners there, many of whom are Ethiopian migrants, must share one toilet per 120 people and one tap per 900 people. Prisoners are fed just once a day, due to the small budget of the Malawian government. One of a few highlights for the inmates is sports. Men are permitted to play football and women can play basketball.

Luca Sola , The Guardian Report

Norgerhaven Prison, Veenhuizen, Netherlands

Inmates at the Norgerhaven prison in Veenhuizen, Netherlands, have a bed, furniture, a refrigerator, and a TV in their cells, as well as a private bathroom. The crime rates in the Netherlands are so low, that they faced an “undercrowding” crisis. To solve this “problem”, the country struck a deal with Norway in 2015, to take on their prison overflow. Now part of Norwegian inmates serve their sentences in Norgerhaven.

ANP , Norwegian Correctional Service Report

Black Dolphin Prison, Sol-Iletsk, Russia

At Russia’s notorious Black Dolphin Prison on the border of Kazakhstan, inmates share small 50-square-foot cells that are set back behind three sets of steel doors. Inmates live in a “cell within a cell”, with 24-hour surveillance. Black Dolphin houses the most brutal criminals, including serial killers, cannibals, and terrorists. A prison lieutenant told National Geographic, which did a documentary on the facility, that the only way to escape is… Read More

At Russia’s notorious Black Dolphin Prison on the border of Kazakhstan, inmates share small 50-square-foot cells that are set back behind three sets of steel doors. Inmates live in a “cell within a cell”, with 24-hour surveillance. Black Dolphin houses the most brutal criminals, including serial killers, cannibals, and terrorists. A prison lieutenant told National Geographic, which did a documentary on the facility, that the only way to escape is by dying. If you combine all the crimes of the inmates, they have killed about 3,500 people. That’s an average of five murders per inmate.

The Sun , Business Insider Report

ADX Florence, Colorado, United States

US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, also known as ADX Florence, the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” and “Supermax,” is a modern super-maximum security federal prison located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Florence, Colorado. Opened in 1994, the ADX Supermax facility was designed to incarcerate and isolate criminals deemed as being too dangerous for the average prison system.
The majority of prisoners are kept in administrative segregation. They are confined to… Read More

US Penitentiary Administrative Maximum, also known as ADX Florence, the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” and “Supermax,” is a modern super-maximum security federal prison located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains near Florence, Colorado. Opened in 1994, the ADX Supermax facility was designed to incarcerate and isolate criminals deemed as being too dangerous for the average prison system.
The majority of prisoners are kept in administrative segregation. They are confined to a specifically designed single-person cell for 23 hours a day. Prisoners are moved around under strict restraints (handcuffed, shackled or both), for their 1 hour time out, which includes showers, exercise, and with privileges, phone calls. Served in their cell, their meals are restricted to foods that can’t be used to harm themselves, or create unhygienic conditions.

Lizzie Himmel , thoughtco Report

Landsberg Prison, Landsberg Am Lech, Germany

This is the prison where Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf,” and 278 Nazis were executed for war crimes. Nowadays, the conditions are considerably better at Landsberg. The progressive prison provides 36 courses in their central training centre for occupations such as bakers, electricians, painters, butchers, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, heating & ventilation workers and bricklayers.

Matthias Schrader , The Local Report

UN Detention Unit, Outside The Hague, Netherlands

The United Nations Detention Unit (UNDU) is a UN-administered jail. It was established in 1993 as part of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The facility now serves as the International Criminal Court detention centre, where individuals are prosecuted for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The jail houses the detained suspects during their trial and those convicted by the court serving prison… Read More

The United Nations Detention Unit (UNDU) is a UN-administered jail. It was established in 1993 as part of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The facility now serves as the International Criminal Court detention centre, where individuals are prosecuted for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The jail houses the detained suspects during their trial and those convicted by the court serving prison sentences. Each cell has it’s own toilet and washing area. Inmates have access to a gym and a PE instructor, they can also cook for themselves. A personal computer is provided in each cell, where inmates can view material on their cases.

European Pressphoto Agency , Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Report

Evin Prison, Tehran, Iran

Although the Iranian regime has continuously denied it, Evin Prison is known to be a virtual torture factory, where countless numbers of inmates have met their fate. Due to the number of intellectuals imprisoned within its walls, the prison has been nicknamed Evin University. The prison is extremely overcrowded, hygiene is poor and in Iran’s sweltering hot summers, the temperature can reach up to 45 degrees Celsius. There is no… Read More

Although the Iranian regime has continuously denied it, Evin Prison is known to be a virtual torture factory, where countless numbers of inmates have met their fate. Due to the number of intellectuals imprisoned within its walls, the prison has been nicknamed Evin University. The prison is extremely overcrowded, hygiene is poor and in Iran’s sweltering hot summers, the temperature can reach up to 45 degrees Celsius. There is no form of air conditioning, and the air within cells becomes rank with sweat and human waste. Water quality is bad and barely edible food comes in meagre portions. Medical facilities are virtually non-existent. The whole process is designed to break the resolve of political prisoners, where pressure for a confession continues until the captive breaks their silence. To add to all the anguish, contact with the outside world is completely cut off. Family visits and telephone calls are forbidden, and even the guards are ordered to be silent.

Reuters , Sky News Report

Champ-Dollon Prison, Geneva, Switzerland

Opened in 1977, the main function of Geneva’s Champ-Dollon prison is to hold prisoners before trial and sentencing. The numbers of inmates is constantly increasing, which has lead to a chronic problem of overcrowding. 115 different nationalities were represented in the prison in 2010 with just 7.2% Swiss.

swissinfo Report

San Diego Medium-Security Women’s Prison, Cartagena, Colombia

Inmates at the San Diego Women’s Prison in Cartagena get a taste of freedom every night as they morph into cooks, waitresses and dishwashers at “Interno,” a colorful restaurant now open in one of the facility’s indoor patios.
25 of the nearly 180 inmates housed here were selected as part of a program looking to help women near the end of their sentences transition back into society. Women at this low-security… Read More

Inmates at the San Diego Women’s Prison in Cartagena get a taste of freedom every night as they morph into cooks, waitresses and dishwashers at “Interno,” a colorful restaurant now open in one of the facility’s indoor patios.
25 of the nearly 180 inmates housed here were selected as part of a program looking to help women near the end of their sentences transition back into society. Women at this low-security prison are serving time for crimes such as theft, drug trafficking and extortion.

Jan Banning , foxnews Report

Halden Prison, Halden‎, Norway

Halden Prison is a maximum-security prison in Halden, Norway. It has three main units and receives prisoners from all over the world, but has no conventional security devices. The second-largest prison in Norway, it was established in 2010 with a focus on rehabilitation; its design simulates life outside the prison. Among other activities, sports and music are available to the prisoners, who interact with the unarmed staff to create a… Read More

Halden Prison is a maximum-security prison in Halden, Norway. It has three main units and receives prisoners from all over the world, but has no conventional security devices. The second-largest prison in Norway, it was established in 2010 with a focus on rehabilitation; its design simulates life outside the prison. Among other activities, sports and music are available to the prisoners, who interact with the unarmed staff to create a sense of community. Praised for its humane conditions, Halden Prison has received the Arnstein Arneberg Award for its interior design in 2010 and been the subject of a documentary, but has also received criticism for being too liberal.

Knut Egil Wang , The New York Times Report

Luzira Prison, Kampala, Uganda

In Luzira, inmates are assigned more responsibility that would be in similar prisons in the United Kingdom or the USA. Inmates assume responsibility for maintenance of harmony and functionality of the units where they live, including the growing and harvesting of food, its preparation and its distribution within the prison. Learning is encouraged, with many men learning and teaching carpentry skills to others. The guard to prisoner ration in Luzira… Read More

In Luzira, inmates are assigned more responsibility that would be in similar prisons in the United Kingdom or the USA. Inmates assume responsibility for maintenance of harmony and functionality of the units where they live, including the growing and harvesting of food, its preparation and its distribution within the prison. Learning is encouraged, with many men learning and teaching carpentry skills to others. The guard to prisoner ration in Luzira is about 1:35, compared to 1:15 in the UK. Aggression among inmates is the exception and not the rule. The recidivism rate in Luzira is less than 30 percent, compared with 46 percent in the UK and 76 percent in the United States

NTVUganda , Wikipedia Report

San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, California

San Quentin State Prison is the oldest prison (Opened in July 1852) in California. It’s a maximum-security facility that once housed Charles Manson. Men condemned to death in California must (with some exceptions) be held at San Quentin. It’s the state’s only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States. In 2001, San Quentin’s death row was described as “the largest in the Western Hemisphere”; and in… Read More

San Quentin State Prison is the oldest prison (Opened in July 1852) in California. It’s a maximum-security facility that once housed Charles Manson. Men condemned to death in California must (with some exceptions) be held at San Quentin. It’s the state’s only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States. In 2001, San Quentin’s death row was described as “the largest in the Western Hemisphere”; and in 2005, it was referred to as, “the most populous execution antechamber in the United States. The “death row” prison count, as of December 2015, was 708 male inmates.

Reuters , wikipedia Report

Quezon City Jail, Quezon City, Philippines

Inside Quezon City jail in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, there is a relentless and constant battle for space, water, and food in an unhygienic facility. With 160 to 200 inmates crammed into a cell built for 20, men take turns sleeping on the cracked cement floor of an open-air basketball court, the steps of staircases, underneath beds and hammocks made out of old blankets

Adam Dean, National Geographic , dailymail Report

HMP Addiewell, Lothian, Scotland

HMP Addiewell is a learning prison, where residents can address their offending behaviour and the circumstances which led to their imprisonment through Purposeful Activity. Purposeful activities include education, counseling and work. Nature and family contact whilst in prison is also a fundamental element of the rehabilitation process.

Lorenzo Dalberto , hmpaddiewell Report

Oslo's Skien Prison, Oslo, Norway

Prisons in Norway are meant to mimic outside conditions as much as possible to prepare inmates to reenter society. At Oslo’s Skien prison, inmates have private bathrooms, a TV, video games and access to a gym and yard. Mass murderer Anders Breivik is currently serving his 21 year sentence there. He tried to sue the state over “cruel” conditions in 2016, however, this man’s prison life would seem luxurious to… Read More

Prisons in Norway are meant to mimic outside conditions as much as possible to prepare inmates to reenter society. At Oslo’s Skien prison, inmates have private bathrooms, a TV, video games and access to a gym and yard. Mass murderer Anders Breivik is currently serving his 21 year sentence there. He tried to sue the state over “cruel” conditions in 2016, however, this man’s prison life would seem luxurious to most people – his cell has three rooms, “one for living, one for studying, and a third for physical exercise — as well as a television, a computer without internet access and a game console. He is able to prepare his own food and do his own laundry.”

Reuters , Splinter News Report

Otago Corrections Facility, Milburn, New Zealand

It has been dubbed the “Milton Hilton” – a place where prisoners can relax in ultimate luxury while they do their time. The Otago Corrections Facility in New Zealand looks more like a teenager’s bedroom than a prison. There are health facilities and a library designed to keep people feeling like members of society.

Stephen Jaquiery , Otago Daily Times Report

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