The 10 Most Dangerous Prisons In The US
Published on October 10, 2022
I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that nobody wants to go to prison, Michael Schofield being the exception. While many prisons are infamous for housing dangerous criminals, some are even more notorious than others. On the furthest end of that spectrum are facilities so violent that the thought of being locked up in them will give you nightmares.
In this post, we’ll focus on the latter. Here are some of the most dangerous prisons in the US.
Top 10 Most Dangerous Prisons in the US
1. Rikers Island
Thanks to its violent reputation, Rikers Island in New York is widely considered to be the most dangerous prison in the US. Many reporters and investigators who’ve had the opportunity of entering this prison attest to the severe conditions and treatments inmates receive here, especially the mentally and physically ill.
Aside from its violent reputation, Rikers also became a household name in the US for its notable inmates. This prison is where convicted sex offender and former producer Harvey Weinstein was remanded before his trial in March of last year. It also housed musician Tupac Shakur, serial killer David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), and Mark David Chapman who is also known as the guy who shot John Lennon.
Even in recent times, there have been a series of deaths and beatings reported in this prison, earning Rikers Island a spot on our list.
2. United States Penitentiary, Marion
USP Marion is a former supermax prison located in Marion, Illinois. Interestingly enough, this prison was opened in 1963 to replace another infamous prison – Alcatraz, which closed down that very year.
Perhaps the most violent event in this prison’s history happened on October 22, 1983, when two guards were violently killed by members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a neo-Nazi prison gang. Because of this incident, the United States Penitentiary went into “permanent lockdown,” being utilized as a “control unit” prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Its supermax classification meant that inmates were subject to solitary confinement for almost the entire day – up to 22 or 23 hours.
3. San Quentin State Prison
The San Quentin State Prison is the oldest prison in the state of California and one of the oldest prisons overall in the United States. As such, it is often referenced in television and movies.
However, behind that popularity is a long history of violent crimes, riots, rapes, and gang activities. The fact that California’s only death row for male inmates is housed here serves as a testament to the person’s notoriety.
One of the primary reasons for this violent atmosphere is the overcrowding problem due to a large influx of prisoners. Originally designed to house only about $3,200 inmates, the prison is now occupied at 105% of its capacity. This leads to poor living conditions, inciting anger and frustration among its prisoners. Not to mention that prisoners are quickly outnumbering the number of prison guards.
With all these factors added up, violence and trouble are the only likely outcomes. The latest major event that happened here was in 2005 when 80 White and Latino inmates fought for nearly six minutes. It took 50 riot officers to stop the fighting, which resulted in the injuries of 42 inmates.
4. Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary
Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary is an all-male, medium-security federal prison that houses some of the country’s most dangerous criminals under oppressive conditions.
From 1903 to 2005, it served as the largest maximum-security prison in the country before it was downgraded to a medium-security one. It is most notably known for housing Michael Vick for 23 months for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring.
5. Louisiana State Penitentiary
The Louisiana State Penitentiary has an inmate population of 6300, making it the most densely populated maximum-security prison in the entire country. This prison also has a very bloody past, with hundreds of murders and stabbings occurring from 1960 to the 1990s.
But perhaps the most horrifying fact about this 18,000-acre facility is that it used to be a slave plantation back in the day. The plantation was named Angola, after the homeland of its original occupants. Hence why Louisiana State Penitentiary is also commonly known as “Angola Prison“.
For the most part, the prison has turned a new leaf ever since its new warden introduced an alternative approach to correctional treatment by using religion instead of force. But it still remains one of the most dangerous prisons in the US.
6. Folsom State Prison
Folsom State Prison is the second-oldest penitentiary in the state, having been built in the year 1880. Besides being the second-oldest penitentiary in California, it is also one of the country’s first maximum-security prisons.
One of the most alarming facts about this facility is that its inmate population has a yearly growth of about 68%! This growth rate was alarming enough to prompt legislators to demand a larger budget to construct more cells to house incoming inmates.
7. Sing Sing Correctional Facility
Sing Sing might sound like a completely non-threatening place to be in, but it’s actually known to have an incredibly large number of attempted escapes in the country. Actually, the phrase “attempted escapes” may be misleading, as some prisoners really manage to evade recapture. The facility is situated next to the Hudson River, close to railroad tracks, providing prisoners an easy escape route.
8. Cook County Jail
Of course, the facility that housed Al Capone and John Wayne Gacy would make a great addition to this list.
Cook County Jail is located in Cook County, Illinois, and is the largest jail in America. The major negative aspects of this jail are the apparent verbal and physical abuse wardens subject their inmates to, as well as overcrowding and rodent infestation.
If you know an inmate inside, you won’t want to visit them with the highly inefficient visitation system Cook County Jail has. Visiting someone in this facility is an absolute nightmare where the least of your worries is having to wait unjustifiably long hours.
Despite having numerous staff and employees, Cook County Jail is still one of the most poorly managed facilities and one of the most dangerous prisons in the US.
9. ADX Florence Facility
ADX Florence Facility can be found near Florence, Colorado, and is one of the most notorious federal prisons in the country, earning the moniker of “Alcatraz of the Rockies.”
This facility is the only federal supermax prison in all of the United States, known for keeping its residents under solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day in cramped 7-by-12-foot concrete cells. If that’s not enough to drive you crazy, I don’t know what will. The facility also houses some of the most violent and dangerous criminals, from terrorists to white supremacists.
10. Attica Correctional Facility
Attica Correctional Facility is found in Wyoming County, New York. Like the other prisons on this list, it houses some of the most dangerous criminals in the country.
What’s unique to this facility is that it is home to inmates who have had disciplinary problems at other facilities, too. The most notable event in its eerie history is a riot that occurred in 1971, where 30 inmates and 10 correctional officers lost their lives. Due to this and a string of other riots, the facility was then equipped with a tear gas system to subdue residents within the mess hall and industry area.
How Dangerous Are Prisons in the US?
As home to people who’ve had run-ins with the law, prisons are generally considered dangerous. Even white-collar prisons, where most of the inmates are considered non-violent, have a certain degree of danger to them.
When compared with the rest of the world, prisons in the US have generally better living conditions. But that’s not to say it’s not dangerous.
According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US state and federal prisons have seen an uptick in inmate deaths in recent years. The data shows that, in 2018 alone, more than 4,000 inmates have died while in custody. More than 300 of them died from suicide while more than 200 died from drug or alcohol intoxication. Most inmate deaths in both federal and state prisons were attributed to illnesses.
If you look at the data from 2010 to 2018, however, the numbers can be worrying. During that period, the number of suicide deaths increased by about 20%, while homicide rose by 6%. This includes homicides committed by other inmates and incidents resulting from excessive use of force by prison staff.
The numbers also suggest that state prisoners are more likely to die than adult US residents. The rate of homicide among state prisoners is also twice that of US residents aged 18 and older.
There are lots of factors that contributed to these statistics reaching such disheartening proportions. This includes overcrowding, lack of proper medical care, and punitive living conditions. In some prisons, the lack of prison staff and the proliferation of violent prison gangs also contributed to the rising death rates.
With these, it’s safe to say that US prisons are becoming increasingly dangerous in recent years. And it’s high time that we do something about it.
(Related: What Are US Military Prisons Like?)
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a professional writer for the GlobalTel blog. She works hard to ensure her work contains accurate facts by cross checking reputable sources and doesn’t settle for less. Her passion for telling stories about true crime and criminal justice has allowed her to create hundreds of articles that have benefited millions of people.