Europe, often revered for its rich history, stunning architecture, and delectable cuisine, also harbors a dark secret: some of the most notorious prisons in the world. In this deep dive, we'll explore the ten worst prisons in Europe, shedding light on the appalling conditions that persist within their walls.
To determine the "worst" of the worst, we've considered factors such as overcrowding, lack of basic amenities, abuse of human rights, and overall living conditions. By understanding these harsh realities, we hope to raise awareness and spark conversations about the importance of prison reform, human rights, and the role that prisons should play in society.
So buckle up because we're about to embark on a chilling journey through the continent's most infamous correctional facilities!
Top 10 Worst Prisons in Europe
Here are the top ten worst prisons in Europe:
- La Sante Prison, France
- HM Wormwood Scrubs, United Kingdom
- Mamertine Prison, Italy
- Lukyanivska Prison, Ukraine
- Piotrkow Trybunalski Prison, Poland
- Carabanchel Prison, Spain
- Diyarbakir Prison, Turkey
- San Vittore Prison, Italy
- Salaspils Prison, Latvia
1.La Santé Prison, France
La Santé Prison, situated in Paris, France, has a rich history dating back to its inauguration in 1867. Built with an initial capacity for nearly 1000 prisoners, the prison housed both notorious criminals and political prisoners, including members of the French Resistance during WWII.
Throughout its history, La Santé has witnessed several infamous incidents, such as the 1944 mutiny among 3,800 criminal prisoners that resulted in the execution of 28 alleged ringleaders. Additionally, the prison was the site of public guillotine executions until 1939, and the last execution by guillotine was in France in 1972.
After the exposure to dire living conditions within La Santé by the prison's chief doctor in 2000, the prison underwent renovations between 2014 and 2019, reopening with a reduced capacity of 800 prisoners. La Santé remains an enduring symbol of crime, punishment, and justice in France.
2. HM Wormwood Scrubs, United Kingdom
HM Wormwood Scrubs, a Category B men's prison in West London, has a rich history dating back to its construction in 1874-1891. The prison has faced numerous challenges, including overcrowding, poor living conditions, violence, and staff shortages.
With over 1,000 inmates, some prisoners have been confined to their cells for up to 23 hours daily, enduring trash-strewn and vermin-infested surroundings. The facility has been plagued by up to 40-50 violent incidents per month, creating safety concerns for both staff and inmates.
Notable incidents include a 1979 rooftop protest by IRA prisoners, a police investigation into staff brutality in the 1990s, and the Inspectorate of Prisons' 2014 report describing the prison as "filthy" and lacking proper measures to address suicide and self-harm.
Recent inspections in 2019 and 2021 have noted improvements in safety and reduced violence levels, partially due to prisoners being locked in their cells for most of the day. Monitoring and addressing the ongoing issues at HM Wormwood Scrubs remains crucial for the future of this notorious prison.
3. Mamertine Prison, Italy
Nestled in the heart of Rome, the Mamertine Prison's history dates back to the 7th century BC. Built under the command of Rome's 4th king, Ancus Marcius, the prison's original purpose was as a cistern for a natural spring. However, it eventually evolved into a dark and dreaded prison known for its inhumane conditions and confinement of notable historical figures.
Life inside the Mamertine was nothing short of brutal. Prisoners were held in cramped, dingy cells, often awaiting execution or left to starve to death. Violence and torture were commonplace, and staff shortages only exacerbated the appalling living conditions. Despite its horrid conditions, the Mamertine Prison became the setting for some incredible stories.
Among its famous inmates were Saint Peter and Saint Paul, who reportedly performed miraculous feats while imprisoned. Today, the Mamertine Prison serves as a chilling reminder of ancient Rome's darker side, where tales of violence, torture, and miraculous occurrences intertwine, capturing the imagination of all who delve into its storied past.
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4. Lukyanivska Prison, Ukraine
Lukyanivska Prison, situated in Kyiv, Ukraine, is a historic pre-conviction detention center with roots dating back to the 19th century. Built by Guberniya architect Mikhail Ikonnikov in 1859-1862, the prison was officially commissioned in 1863. It features several distinct buildings with unique histories, such as Katenka, Stolypinka, Brezhnivka, and Kuchmovka.
Despite being designed for 2,850 inmates, the prison has often faced overcrowding issues, housing up to 3,800 prisoners. Living conditions are deplorable, with no hot water, crumbling infrastructure, and insufficient heating. Inmates endure cold, moldy walls and broken windows. The facility has also grappled with staff shortages, making it even more challenging to manage the high population.
Notable inmates at Lukyanivska have included former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Maxim Litvinov, and Felix Dzerzhinsky. The prison has a reputation for the inhumane treatment and possible torture, and some inmates have successfully sued over the dreadful conditions in European courts.
Despite the acknowledgment of these issues by the Ministry of Justice, change has been slow due to a lack of funds. However, private funding is now contributing to the reconstruction of the women's block, which may signal a move toward improvement.
5. Piotrkow Trybunalski Prison, Poland
Piotrkow Trybunalski Prison, located in central Poland, has a dark history and an infamous reputation. Established in 1940, the prison primarily housed political prisoners and Jews during World War II. Over time, it evolved into a standard correctional facility, but its troubled past still echoes within its walls.
Today, the prison population comprises a mix of low-level offenders and dangerous criminals. The living conditions in Piotrkow Trybunalski are notoriously dismal, with overcrowding, poor sanitation, and a lack of basic amenities. Inmates often suffer from inadequate medical care and are subjected to inhumane treatment.
Staff shortages and a lack of proper training contribute to a volatile environment. Reports of torture and brutal treatment by correctional officers have been well-documented, highlighting the urgent need for reform. The Prison is a stark reminder of the need for prison reform. With its long history, struggling population, and numerous incidents of violence and inhumane treatment, it's crucial that steps are taken to improve conditions and address systemic issues within the prison system.
6. Carabanchel Prison, Spain
Carabanchel Prison, built between 1940 and 1944 in Madrid, Spain, was once one of Europe's largest prisons. Political prisoners constructed it following the Spanish Civil War. The prison's design was based on Jeremy Bentham's panopticon model, making it nearly inescapable.
During Francisco Franco's regime, Carabanchel housed many political prisoners, including members of socialist, anarchist, communist, and Marxist parties and union leaders. Notable inmates included Marcelino Camacho, Nicolás Redondo, and Fernando Arrabal. The prison was notorious for its brutality, inhumane treatment, and torture, contributing to its grim reputation.
Living conditions were harsh, with overcrowding and insufficient resources for the prisoner population. Staff shortages compounded these issues, leading to increased violence among inmates. After Franco's death, the prison housed common criminals and members of paramilitary groups like ETA.
In 1998, Carabanchel Prison closed its doors. Subsequently, the building was looted, and graffiti artists covered its walls with elaborate murals. Despite residents' desire to preserve part of the prison as a memorial to Franco's victims, the complex was controversially demolished in 2008 to make way for housing, a hospital, and other facilities. Carabanchel Prison remains a stark reminder of Spain's dark past, marked by political repression and human rights abuses.
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7. Diyarbakir Prison, Turkey
The next worst Europe prison on our list is Diyarbakir Prison in Turkey. This prison's dark history dates back to the 1980s military coup. During this period, the prison was used to hold political prisoners, particularly those of Kurdish origin, who were subjected to unimaginable torture and inhumane treatment.
The prison was controlled by the military junta for many years until it was transferred to the Ministry of Justice after a switch to a civilian regime. However, even under civilian administration, the prison continued to be synonymous with torture, violence, and political repression. Over two years during the 1980s, many inmates died from torture, infectious diseases, and suicide in prison. Although no official numbers are available, it is estimated that more than 30 people died during that period.
Prisoners in Diyarbakir were subjected to unbearable living conditions, staff shortages, and rampant violence. They were not allowed to take showers for years and were forced to crawl naked on shards of ice in the courtyard. Inmates had to memorize the Turkish national anthem and other nationalist songs.
8. Osborn Correctional Institution
The Osborn Correctional Institution is a medium-security Somers, Connecticut, USA prison. It has been operational since 1963 and can hold up to 1,900 inmates. The prison also houses a high-security mental health unit for male Connecticut Department of Correction male inmates.
Living conditions for inmates at the Osborn Correctional Institution can be tough, but they do have access to educational, vocational, and substance abuse treatment programs. Inmates involved in the correctional industries program can help manufacture clothing and mattresses and may work in a print shop.
Gang violence and drug abuse are problems that have been reported at the prison, like many other correctional facilities. However, the Connecticut Department of Correction is committed to addressing these issues and providing a safe environment for both inmates and staff.
Moreover, the notable inmates housed at the Osborn Correctional Institution include Michael Bruce Ross, a convicted serial killer who was executed by lethal injection in 2005. The prison was also home to the state's execution chamber until 2015 when capital punishment was declared unconstitutional.
9. San Vittore Prison, Italy
San Vittore Prison is an operational prison located in Milan, Italy, that has been in operation since 1879. The prison was designed by the engineer Francesco Lucca and can hold up to 600 inmates, although in 2017, it held over 1000 inmates, which exceeded its capacity.
Inmates at San Vittore Prison face challenging living conditions, including violence, staff shortages, inhumane treatment, gang violence, and drug abuse. The prison has a controversial history and was used to detain political and war enemies during the Fascist and German occupations.
The notable inmates at San Vittore Prison include television host Mike Bongiorno, Italian criminal Salvatore Riina, and ex-wife of Maurizio Gucci, Patrizia Reggiani. San Vittore Prison has also been the site of riots and unrest, including a recent incident in March 2020, where inmates climbed onto the roofs and set fire to cells amid chaos in prisons sparked by the government's new restrictions.
10. Salaspils Prison, Latvia
Salaspils police prison was a Nazi concentration camp in Salaspils, Latvia, established in 1941. It was built to confine people arrested by the police and house Jewish people deported from Germany and other countries. The living conditions were inhumane, and prisoners were subjected to violence and brutality from both fellow inmates and guards. Staff shortages exacerbated the already terrible conditions, and inmates were subjected to torture, beatings, and other forms of abuse.
The camp held approximately 2000 people, and prisoners were forced to work long hours with insufficient nourishment, poor sanitation, and extreme weather conditions, resulting in high mortality rates. The population consisted of political prisoners, work avoiders, convicted soldiers, and civilians from Belorussia, Russia, and Latgale. The barracks were arranged in a horseshoe form in three rows, and each barrack held around 200 people, with some indications that sometimes they housed over 600 people.
The camp became a symbol of the atrocities committed during the Nazi regime and had a lasting impact on Latvian and Russian culture. The tragic stories of the high number of children who died from diseases and the arrival of the first rail transport of German Jews who were forced to work building the Salaspils camp serve as reminders of the horrors. Salaspils police prison is a stark reminder of the terrible deeds committed during World War II, and we should always remember the suffering there.
Worst Prison In Europe Conclusion
So there you go, the 10 worst prisons in Europe, and it's evident that they are among the worst in Europe. These correctional facilities have a history of violence, inhumane treatment, and poor living conditions. Staff shortages, drug abuse, and gang violence are common challenges these prisons face, making them unsafe for inmates.
Despite some efforts to improve the conditions in these prisons, they remain controversial and continue to face criticism. These prisons need reforms and better rehabilitation programs for inmates.
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