Top 10 Most Dangerous Prisons in the United States

Script written by Liam Hillery.

Some of the most notorious murderers, terrorists, and other criminals are housed in some of the worst prisons in America. Whether it’s Folsom State Prison – made famous by Johnny Cash; Rikers Island in New York or San Quentin State Prison, these are some of the most dangerous correctional facilities in the United States when it comes to inmate violence, prison health concerns, the notoriety of inmates and their crimes, and more. WatchMojo counts down ten of the most notorious American prisons.

Special thanks to our users EmJay, Mama toro, thenewjord50 and tandee82 for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%20Ten%20Most%20Dangerous%20Prisons

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Script written by Liam Hillery.

Top 10 Most Dangerous Prisons in the United States


You’ll have trouble finding redemption in these Shawshanks. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Dangerous Prisons in America.

For this list, we’re looking at all around danger in correctional facilities, detention centers, and jail penitentiaries. In addition to violence between prisoners, we’re also considering guard behavior, prison health concerns, the notoriety of inmates and their crimes: the whole picture. We’re also only considering active prisons, so you won’t be seeing Alcatraz on this list.

#10: Holman Correctional Facility

Located in Escambia County, Alabama, Holman is blessed with two horribly frightening nicknames: “The Slaughterhouse” and “House of Pain.” And Escambia’s famous prison deserves its nicknames, with regular stabbings doled out to both inmates and correctional officers. In terms of Holman’s most high profile prisoner that distinction goes to the late Bobby Frank Cherry, a member of the Ku Klux Klan who carried out the horrific 1963 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing that killed four African-American girls.

#9: Orleans Parish Prison

The Big Easy isn’t the most populous city, and Louisiana isn’t the most populous state. However, this jailhouse has as many violent prisoners as any other. Violence reigns supreme at Orleans Parish Prison, the city correctional institution for New Orleans. That’s partly because of divides among prisoners, but also because its guards are notorious for ignoring incidents. In one year alone, 23 inmates were reportedly sent to the emergency room. But that number tends to fade into memory when you look at another statistic: between 2006-14, Orleans Parish Prison saw 44 inmate deaths.

#8: Pelican Bay State Prison

The California prison system is heavily criticized. However, there’s no denying the state experiences some of the worst gang violence in America, and some of the most notorious gang members are sent to Pelican Bay to carry out their sentences. Many think that’s one reason why Pelican Bay has an ongoing problem with violence. But the set-up of the prison is also to blame. Pelican is divided in two, with the most dangerous inmates kept in the disreputable Security Housing Unit. This building has no windows and prisoners stay in their cells 22 hours a day. Psychologists report that those in the cells frequently suffer from a condition similar to PTSD.

#7: Rikers Island

Certainly one of the most notorious prisons in the world, Rikers is located on an island near the Bronx. Its roster of notable inmates includes Sid Vicious, Tupac Shakur, DMX, Lil Wayne, the “Son of Sam” serial killer, and John Lennon’s murderer. And while the prison may have a reputation for housing tough inmates, we’ve actually included it on this list because of its poor conditions. Many claim the Rikers’ guards victimize their inmates, with the New York Times being at the forefront of those allegations. Some of the stories that have been discussed are truly horrific and unrepeatable. One thing’s for sure: this is not a place you want to spend a single minute.

#6: Louisiana State Penitentiary [aka Angola]

Louisiana State Penitentiary is one of America’s most storied prisons, but not for good reasons. Nicknamed the Alcatraz of the South as well as The Farm, it’s the largest maximum-security prison in the nation. This institution is the epitome of a classic chain gang prison, so much so that it inspired “The Green Mile.” The prison has been steeped in violence; from riots to regular escape attempts that end in inmates being shot to death. Interior conditions are similarly dangerous; on more than one occasion, judges have labeled the Angola “in a state of emergency” for its awful living standard.

#5: San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin is the oldest prison in the state of California. It’s also Cali’s only prison to house a death row for male prisoners. San Quentin has its own gas chamber, though since 1996 all executions have been carried out by lethal injection. Many infamous criminals have called San Quentin home, including Charles Manson and the “Freeway Killer” William Bonin. Its death row inmates and serial killers may give San Quentin a certain distinction. Unfortunately, it suffers the same problems as so many other California prisons: gang violence, racial tension, and chronic overcrowding, as well as understaffing.

#4: Folsom State Prison

Way back in 1955 Johnny Cash knew of Folsom’s big problems, but even though he brought them into the public eye, things never seemed to change. In fact, they got worse. Folsom’s problems were at their most terrifying in the ‘70s and ‘80’, when the prison gang violence scene was at its worst. Overcrowding doesn’t help, and Folsom regularly has more prisoners than it was designed to hold. One of its cellblocks holds the dubious distinction of being the most populous in the country. As recently as 2010, seven inmates were admitted to hospital after guards had to break up a 200-prisoner riot.

#3: Sing Sing Correctional Facility

Don’t let Sing Sing’s oddly upbeat name fool you. This prison’s one of the most death-ridden institutions in America. Sing Sing’s electric chair, nicknamed “Old Sparky”, has executed over 600 men and women, including convicted espionage criminals Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, as well as serial killer and cannibal, Albert Fish. To name a few others, the Son of Sam also called Sing Sing home, as did Ruth Brown Snyder, Gary Evans, and bank robber Willie Sutton. Some have tossed around the idea of turning Sing Sing’s original cellblock, built in 1825, into a museum. We say be careful - you don’t know what ghosts will be haunting that place.

#2: Attica Correctional Facility

Attica’s known for it all: poor conditions, riots, terrifying inmates: everything. The supermax prison in New York was home to one of the worst prison riots in history. In 1971, a full-blown fiasco saw 43 people die, including 10 officers/civilians. Violence inside the prison is so bad that the state installed a tear gas system that covers several of the largest areas of the prison, to be used when things get out of hand. Some of Attica’s most notorious inmates include El Sayyid Nosair, the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing terrorist, Sam Melville aka the Mad Bomber, and New York mobster “Eddie the Butcher.”

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth
- United States Penitentiary, Beaumont
- Cook County Jail

#1: ADX Florence

There was never a question which prison was going to take our top spot; ADX Florence is by far the most notorious and dangerous prison in America. Colorado’s United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility is home to the worst of the worst and the most deranged of the insane. Let’s take roll call: Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh, he was here; Soviet Spy who sold out FBI agents Robert Hanssen, here; 9/11 Al Qaeda architect Zacarias Moussaoui, here; Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, here; Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, yep, he’s housed here too. ADX has also been accused of chronic abuse of its prisoners and many are kept confined for 23 hours each day.
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