The 10 Most Dangerous Prisons In The US
Published on August 25, 2023
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, there will always be a most dangerous prison in the US that is 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.
MOST DANGEROUS PRISON IN THE US: TOP 10
1. RIKERS ISLAND, NEW YORK
Thanks to its violent reputation, Rikers Island in New York is considered widely as 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. It housed Harvey Weinstein, Tupac Shakur, David Berkowitz, and Mark David Chapman.
Even recently, a series of deaths and beatings have been reported in this prison. In 2020, the rate of self-harm spiked. In 2021, there were a total of 419 incidents of slashings and stabbings involving both inmates and corrections officers in the complex. According to reports, 16 men died inside the prison in 2021, 19 in 2022, and 7 this year as of this writing.
2. UNITED STATES PENITENTIARY-MARION, ILLINOIS
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 members of the Aryan Brotherhood, a neo-Nazi prison gang, violently killed two guards. 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 inmates were subject to solitary confinement for almost the entire day – up to 22 or 23 hours. In 2006, USP Marion became a medium-security prison.
The facility is calmer now compared to before. During the late 1970s, USP-Marion witnessed a troubling and violent period. In 1978 and 1979, there were over 200 major incidents that occurred, ranging from the discovery of weapons and explosives, inmate murders, fires, assaults on staff, the stabbing of an associate warden, and attempted escapes. That makes it one of the most violent prison in America.
3. SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON, CALIFORNIA
The San Quentin State Prison is the oldest in California. It’s also 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 is 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 3,100 inmates, the prison now has over 4,000 inmates. This leads to poor living conditions, inciting anger and frustration among its prisoners. Not to mention that prisoners are quickly outnumbering the number of correctional officers.
With all these elements added up, trouble and violence are the likely outcomes. In 2005, 80 inmates (consisting of Whites and Latinos) fought for nearly six minutes. It took 50 riot officers to stop the fighting, which resulted in the injuries of 42 inmates.
In Oct 2018, a death row inmate tragically lost his life after being fatally stabbed by another inmate. The assailant used an improvised weapon to stab the chest and neck of the victim.
4. LEAVENWORTH FEDERAL PENITENTIARY, KANSAS
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 country’s largest maximum-security prison before being downgraded to a medium-security one. It is most notably known for housing Michael Vick for 23 months for his involvement in a dogfighting ring.
Some say that the penitentiary’s walls have witnessed an overwhelming amount of death and destruction, leading to rumors of haunting. Numerous reports of “shadow people,” cold spots, and mysterious noises echoing through the prison have only added to its eerie reputation.
5. LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY, ANGOLA LOUISIANA
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 dark past, with hundreds of stabbings, if not murders, occurring from the 60s to the 90s.
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, Louisiana State Penitentiary is also known as “Angola Prison. “
Another flashback: inmates assaulted other inmates and staff a total of 1,346 times in 1992. The number was 343 in 2014. Now, for the most part, the prison has turned a new leaf since its new warden introduced an alternative approach to correctional treatment by using religion instead of force. But it remains one of the most dangerous prisons in America.
6. FOLSOM STATE PRISON, CALIFORNIA
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.
Folsom Prison faced its most alarming challenges during the 1970s and 1980s when the prison gang violence reached its peak. The issue of overcrowding exacerbated the situation, as Folsom often held more prisoners than it was originally designed for.
Notably, one of its cellblocks gained the infamous reputation of being the most densely populated in the country. Even as recently as 2010, a riot involving 200 prisoners required intervention from guards, resulting in seven inmates being hospitalized.
7. SING SING CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, NEW YORK
Sing Sing might sound like an utterly non-threatening place to be in, but it’s known to have many attempted escapes in the country. The phrase “attempted escapes” may be misleading, as some prisoners manage to evade recapture. The facility is situated next to the Hudson River, close to railroad tracks, providing prisoners an easy escape route.
This prison is known as one of the deadliest institutions in the United States. Sing Sing’s electric chair, affectionately called “Old Sparky,” has been responsible for executing more than 600 individuals, including infamous figures like Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, convicted of espionage, and notorious criminals like Albert Fish, a serial killer and cannibal. Sing Sing also housed other infamous inmates such as the Son of Sam, Ruth Brown Snyder, Gary Evans, and bank robber Willie Sutton.
There have been discussions about transforming Sing Sing’s original cellblock, constructed in 1825, into a museum. However, caution is advised, as one cannot predict the potential haunting of that place by restless spirits.
8. COOK COUNTY JAIL, Chicago, Illinois
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. Some alleged violations that have led to sanctions and/or class action lawsuits are:
- Systematic physical abuse by corrections officers.
- Unnecessarily long waiting times for release upon sentence completion, bond payment, or dropped charges.
- Poor food quality for inmates.
- Presence of rodents infesting the facilities.
- Mandatory and painful tests for male STDs.
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, COLORADO
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 and is one of the toughest prisons in America. It is known for keeping its residents under solitary confinement for up to 23 hours daily 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.
At ADX Florence, violence and corruption extend beyond the prisoners to involve the guards as well. Unfortunately, the guards frequently fail to take adequate measures to prevent violence, and there have been reports of them even encouraging it. Disturbingly, instances have been reported where ADX guards deliberately place rival gang members in confined spaces to fight.
10. ATTICA CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, NEW YORK
Attica Correctional Facility is found in Wyoming County, New York. Like the other prisons on this list, it is “home” to 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 in 1971, where 30 inmates and ten correctional officers died. Due to this and many other riots, the facility was equipped with a tear gas system to subdue residents within the mess hall and industry area.
In January 2023, an inmate injured 11 officers.
HOW DANGEROUS ARE PRISONS IN THE US?
Prisons are generally considered dangerous as home to people who’ve had run-ins with the law. Even white-collar prisons, where most 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 generally have better living conditions. But that’s not to say it’s not dangerous.
Currently, there are 1.9 million people confined in the US due to various crimes, and more than half of it is violence!
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 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.
However, the numbers can be worrying if you look at the data from 2010 to 2018. During that period, 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 we do something about the most dangerous prison in the US.
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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.