The walls of ESMA in Buenos Aires - a military prison used during the 1976-83 Dirty War



A database of some of the world’s most famous and infamous prisons



Dartmoor – Victorian prison in remote part of Devon. 

Category C prison, which has a population of up to 640 men. 

Was due to close in 2023 but the Home Office has decided to keep it open because of the burgeoning prison population.

Long Lartin – Category A prison in Worcestershire. 

Full Sutton – Category A prison in North Yorkshire. 

Parkhurst – famous prison on the Isle of Wight. 

In 1995, three prisoners escaped Parkhurst and spent four days on the run, having hid in a shed in Ryde. In 2010, murderer Brian Lawrence’s plan to escape prison by helicopter was foiled.

Whitemoor – Category A prison in Cambridgeshire, which was home to Jack Whomes for much of his 25 years behind bars after being wrongly convicted of the Rettendon murders in Essex.

Holloway – Britain’s most famous women’s prison, which closed in 2016. During its 164 years it saw the force-feeding of suffragettes on hunger strike, the UK’s last execution of a woman – Ruth Ellis – in 1955 and the imprisonment of economist Vicky Pryce – wife of government minister Chris Huhne – for perverting the course of justice. In 2019 the site was sold by the Ministry of Justice to the housing association Peabody for £81million.


Barlinnie – Glasgow’s notorious prison. Colloquially known as ‘The Big Hoose’. In 1958 serial killer Peter Manuel was executed at Barlinnie and two years later another convict, Anthony Miller, was also hanged.

Saughton – officially known as HMP Edinburgh.

Northern Ireland

The Maze, formerly Long Kesh – A former RAF base on the outskirts of Belfast, it was converted into a detention camp in 1971 at the beginning of internment. As the Troubles worsened it became a proper prison, the Maze, with its infamous H blocks. It was here that Bobby Sands died on hunger strike. In 1997 loyalist killer Billy Wright, aka King Rat, was murdered in the Maze by an INLA gang. The prison was largely demolished in 2006 and all that remained was one of the control towers. The site was set to become the home of Northern Ireland’s new national football stadium but that has not come to fruition. In 2019, multi-million pound plans for a peace centre on the site near Lisburn were “set aside” by developers after the EU withdrew an £18m funding offer for the development following a disagreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

Maghaberry – currently Ulster’s only high security prison. During The Troubles several Maghaberry prison officers were assassinated or assaulted. In 2016 serial killer Robert Black died in his cell at Maghaberry. Black was serving a life sentence for the murder of schoolgirl Jennifer Cardy.

Republic of Ireland

Mountjoy – in Dublin. It acts as the main committal prison for Dublin City and the overall county of Dublin, too. Mountjoy Prison is commonly nicknamed as “the joy” and currently contains the largest prison population in Ireland. Mountjoy has a long history as it was opened in 1850 and was first used as a place to hold men who were sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. Mountjoy Prison has a dark and bloody history as a total of 46 prisoners, including a woman, were executed within its walls by hanging before the abolishment of capital punishment.

Portlaoise – in County Laois. The Republic’s only high security prison. Housed many notorious republican terrorists, including Dessie “The Border Fox” O’Hare.


La Santé – traditional Victoria prison, built in Paris in 1867. Its name ironically means “Health” in French. It held among others notorious criminal Jacques Mesrine who broke out in 1978 using a gun and a grappling iron. Another notorious prisoner was Carlos the Jackal.

Bastille – one of the most infamous prisons of all time. The storming of the Bastille in Paris saw the start of the French Revolution in 1789. It was destroyed subsequently and few ruins remain. It is nowadays site of the Place de la Bastille.

Varces – in 2008 an armed robber, Sghair Larimi, was shot dead by a sniper in exercise yard at Varces prison, just outside Grenoble. He is thought to have been about to give evidence in a trial involving the murder of nine men in Grenoble in 2007. Those killings were said to be in revenge for the murder of his brother Lassad.


Stammheim – High-rise prison in Stuttgart, its most notorious prisoners were the Baader-Meinhoff gang who were put on trial in a special court complex within the prison. In 1976 Ulrike Meinhoff committed suicide. In October 1977 Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe were also found dead. A fourth member of the gang, Irmgard Moller, survived her injuries.

Spandau – Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess was held in this prison in west Berlin until his death in 1987. It was then demolished. The site was later used to build a shopping and cinema arcade for British military families.


Nieuw Vosseveld – this high security prison in the town of Vught is most famous as the place where British criminal Curtis “Cocky” Warren killed Turkish gangster Cemal Guclu in a fight in 1999. Warren was convicted of manslaughter but was released in 2007, only to be later convicted and jailed for drugs offences in Jersey. The jail currently houses Mohammed Bouyeri, who is serving life for the murder of film maker Theo Van Gogh.


Nivelles – serial killer Marc Dutroux is being held here in solitary confinement.


Leoben – The Justice Centre at Leoben stands out from the rest because it is a beautiful work of architecture, not just an unusually attractive prison. The prison, which holds groups of up to 13, and courthouse were built by architect Josef Hohensinn in 2004. Prisoners are able to move freely through their cells and shared spaces, and each prisoner has his own bathroom, kitchen area, and floor-to-ceiling window that opens up onto a balcony.


Rebibbia – high security prison in Rome, which once housed Mehmet Ali Agca, the Pope’s failed assassin.


St Vincent de Paul penitentiary – Laval, Quebec. Closed in 1989. Was scene of famous escape by Jacques Mesrine in August 1972 as seen in the film Mesrine.

Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario is one of the oldest prisons in the world (opened in 1835) but in early 2012 Canadian govt announced plans to close it. It suffered serious riots in 1954 and 1971. It is a National Historic Site in Canada.


St-Jerome – high security prison 40 miles NW of Montreal. In March 2013 two inmates escaped by climbing up a rope into a hovering helicopter. Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau, 36, and Danny Provencal, 33, were later recaptured. Before Hudon-Barbeau was re-arrested, he reportedly called local media outlets saying he was “ready to die”. The jail holds 480 prisoners but was reportedly overcrowded at weekends when prisoners arrive to serve short sentences.

The Don jail – a former jail in Toronto, which closed in 2003 and was converted a decade later into a private hospital. It was the site of several executions.

United States

Alcatraz – the infamous island prison in San Francisco Bay. It closed in 1963 and is now a tourist attraction.

Attica – scene of the 1971 riot, which was broken by order of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. 39 people, including 10 prison officers, died. Prison has housed David Berkowitz and Mark Chapman.

Angola – huge plantation-style penitentiary in Louisiana. 

Clinton – This prison in Dannemora, New York has held Michael Alig, Hell Rell, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Maino, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Tupac Shakur, Shyne Has its own inmate-built church, the Church of St. Dismas, the Good Thief. Sometimes referred to as the “New York’s Siberia” due to the frigid weather in Dannemora, Clinton Correctional Facility is an intimidating place. Built in 1844, it’s the largest maximum security prison in New York, and the third oldest prison in the state. Its prisoners were initially used for mining.

It was expanded in 1887 when it was given menacing 60-foot concrete walls. Capital punishment at Clinton began in 1892 when the first execution was carried out using the electric chair. In 1899, a mental health institution was built at the prison for inmates who went insane during their incarceration. Some were forced to stick around if they were still considered “insane” after their time was up.

There was a riot at Clinton in 1929, which proved key to prison reform in New York. Schools were built inside of the prison, and significant renovations were made to make the place appear more modern. Also, from 1939 to 1941, construction took place on the Church of St. Dismas, the Good Thief. The church was built by prisoners, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. Towards the end of the 20th century, the mental institution was turned into annexes to house more prisoners.

Florence – ADX supermax prison in Colorado. The most secure facility ever built. Houses numerous terrorists.

Folsom – state prison in California where Johnny Cash famously recorded a live concert album. He also wrote the song Folsom Prison Blues. It was the site of 93 executions before the Death Chamber was relocated to San Quentin.

Huntsville – Texas (home of the state’s execution chamber)

Leavenworth – notorious jail in Kansas, known as the Hothouse. It was where Aryan Brotherhood leader Tommy Silverstein was kept in solitary confinement for 36 years after he murdered prison guard Merle Clutts. Silverstein died in 2019.

Lompoc – medium security prison in Santa Barbara, California. Among its most famous inmates was Nixon’s former chief of staff H R Haldeman, who served time there for Watergate crimes, and Huseyin Yildirim, a Turkish national who spied for East Germany during the Cold War.

Pelican Bay – supermax facility in northern California. Among its most famous former inmates were Charles Manson and Suge Knight.

Raiford – Florida State Penitentiary is in Raiford and houses the state’s Death Row. Among those executed there were serial killers Ted Bundy and Aileen Wuornos. Another serial killer, Ottis Toole, died in the prison awaiting execution.

San Quentin – high security prison near Oakland, California. Home to Death Row. Among its most famous prisoners were Richard Ramirez and Stanley “Tookie” Williams. Totalcrime editor Chris Summers visited Williams on Death Row here in 2003. Williams was executed two years later.

Sing Sing – maximum security prison in upstate New York which opened in 1826. Former inmates included serial killer Albert Fish, who was executed in 1936, and the spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953.

Utah state prison – where Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad on 17 Jan 1977. It is located in Draper, 20 miles SW of Salt Lake City and replaced Sugar House prison which closed in 1951. Ted Bundy was sentenced to 15 years in the jail in 1976 but was later extradited to Colorado.


Altamira – in Tamaulipas state. 31 inmates killed in gang fight in Jan 2012.

Altiplano – high security prison from where Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel, escaped in 2015.

Apodaca – near city of Monterrey. 44 prisoners – members of Gulf Cartel – killed by members of the Zetas who were allowed out of their cells by guards in Feb.

Topo Chico –  In February 2016 two gangs began fighting in Topo Chico prison in Monterrey, northern Mexico. A fire broke out and spread throughout the prison, killing at least 52 people, mainly inmates but including some prison guards. The fight was reportedly between the Zetas cartel gang, led by Juan Pedro Saldivar Farias, aka Z-27, and a Gulf Cartel gang led by Jorge Ivan Hernandez, aka El Credo. It was not clear if they survived the fight.


El Infiernito – in southern Guatemala. The jail’s director, Amilcar Corado, was murdered in July 2012.

El Pavon – police accused of extra-judicial killings of prisoners at the jail, just outside Guatemala City. In July 2016 a beautiful model was one of 13 people killed in a Guatemalan prison riot in which four people were decapitated. The free-for-all claimed the life of Argentinian beauty Joanna Birriel, 24, as well as the Pavon jail in Guatemala City’s most influential prisoners Bryon Lima, who she is understood to have been meeting. She was caught up in gang violence when a fellow inmate threw a hand grenade at Lima, imprisoned for the murder of a bishop bludgeoned to death with a concrete block in 1998, and supporters protecting him attacked their rivals with guns leaving 12 inmates dead in total. Officials have blamed the violence on feuding between Byron Lima’s gang and a rival gang led by drugs trafficker Marvin Montiel Marin, sentenced to 820 years in jail for the 2008 murders of 15 Nicaraguans and a Dutchman on a bus said to be carrying cocaine

Pavoncito – 7 prisoners killed – 5 of them beheaded – in a fight between rival gangs at Pavoncito prison, south of Guatemala City.


Comayagua – 355 inmates killed in fire in Feb 2012. Among the dead were some wives who were in the jail on conjugal visits. Most inmates were locked in their cell. There were 857 prisoners in the jail at the time of the fire. 475 escaped, mainly onto the roof. The authorities claim it was started by an electrical fault but another report suggests an inmate started it by setting fire to his mattress and shouting “We will all die here”.

La Paz penitentiary – much smaller than Comayagua. 201 inmates in a unit built for 130.

San Pedro Sula – 107 inmates killed in a fire in May 2004

El Salvador

Ilobasco – 16 died in this juvenile prison in Nov 2010


Santiago – 81 killed in a fire in Dec 2010. Fire started during fire between rival gangs.


Aracaju – 400 prisoners rioted at the jail in NE Brazil in April 2012. Eventually all hostages were released.

Carandiru – Built to house 3,500 it became ridiculously overcrowded with over 9,000 inmates at its peak. Scene of infamous massacre in 1992 in which 111 inmates were killed by riot police quelling a riot. There was another riot in 2001 and the prison was finally closed and demolished in 2002. In April 2013 a total of 26 police officers went on trial accused of involvement in the massacre. Prosecutors say most of the inmates were shot dead inside their cells – many of them at point-blank range. No policemen died in the operation. The massacre allegedly led to the creation of Sao Paulo’s most powerful criminal faction, the PCC. It emerged after prisoners began organising to demand their rights and is now a criminal organisation that dominates prisons in the state.–33

Bangu – Carandiru was eventually replaced with the Bangu Penitentiary Complex (in the Rio suburb of Bangu) – a maximum security prison, composed of 17 penal units. Nine of them are penitentiaries (only the Talavera Bruce is a women’s prison), one is a penal institute, four are safehouses, one is a penal sanatorium and there are two hospitals. Fernandinho Beira-Mar, a Brazilian drug lord, was held in the Bangu Penitentiary Complex from 2001 to 2003, before being transferred.Bangu, famous for bloody gang violence featured in Brazilian movies including “Tropa de Elite,” Esteves is in a unit called Bangu 8 that is reserved for inmates with college degrees. Unlike the men and women in the 26 other units, he might be alone in his cell, which has more than 12 beds. There are typically no more than 60 inmates in Bangu 8 at any one time, according to prison officials, and the facility was built for more than 200.

Pedrinhas – 18 inmates killed after fighting broke out between rival gangs at the jail in Sao Luis in Maranhao state in Nov 2010

Pinheiro – inmates attacked and beheaded one of Brazil’s most hated inmates, Jose Agostinho Pereira, who was serving a 30 year sentence for keeping his 12 year old daughter as a sex slave.


Villa Devoto – inmates rioted at this prison in Buenos Aires in 2020, fearing they were going to die from the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia

Riyadh – 67 inmates killed in a fire in Sep 2003.

South Africa

Johannesburg Central – main prison. 3 prisoners were killed when a bomb exploded in a prison van returning 36 prisoners to the jail in Oct 2012.

Pollsmoor – prison in a suburb of Cape Town built in 1964. It featured in a 2001 BBC documentary about two gangsters – members of the 28 Gang – who were preparing for release. A report in 2012 suggested conditions inside Pollsmoor were worse than ever.

Robben Island – island prison, most famous as being the home of Nelson Mandela.


Arthur Road jail in Bombay. Now known as Mumbai Central Prison. Built in 1926. Featured in Gregory David Roberts’ book Shantaram, which goes into details about squalid conditions.

Sri Lanka

Welikada – in Colombo. In 1983, during the Black July pogroms, 35 Tamil prisoners were attacked and killed by Sinhalese inmates, with the connivance of prison guards. Two days later another 18 Tamils were killed in a second massacre.


Klong Prem prison – in Chatuchak, near Bangkok. Among its most famous inmates were Russian “Lord of War” arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was later extradited to the US.

Bang Kwang prison in Bangkok – home to Thailand’s execution chamber.


Changi – a former prisoner of war camp for the Japanese, it is an infamous prison where dozens of drug dealers have been held pending their execution.


Fuchu – One of Tokyo’s biggest prisons, with 2,500 inmates. It is where foreign prisoners are held.

Tochigi – women’s prison.

Tokyo Detention House – this is where the death penalty is carried out, by hanging

South Korea

Pohang – this prison trialed robot wardens in 2012


Pentridge – Victorian-style prison in Melbourne. Made famous by Chopper Read.
Closed in 1997.


Evin – famous prison in Tehran where executions are carried out.



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