If you’ve ever stayed up until 3:00 AM watching old episodes of Locked Up Abroad, you probably imagined yourself in the situations of those being incarcerated in a foreign land. It’s not a pleasant thought, but some places are much worse than others. The fact remains that while it’s difficult to accidentally commit a crime to the point of being thrown into prison in another country, there are some truly hellish places to serve your time. If the best country to be incarcerated is Norway, which has “prison cells” that residents of New York City might look upon with envy, the prisons in these destinations are the complete opposite — so it’s probably best to pay real close attention to the local laws before your trip.
Bang Kwang Prison a.k.a. The Bangkok Hilton, Thailand
No prison in Thailand is humane by international standards, with new inmates being forced to wear shackles morning, noon, and night for their first months in prison. But Bang Kwang Prison is awful for a number of reasons. First, the facility is extremely overcrowded, housing more than double than the 3,500 it was designed for. However, the main reason it’s particularly terrifying for foreigners is the penalty for drug charges: Drug offenders can receive sentences of decades.
Fuchu Prison, Japan
As the world’s third-largest economy and quite the overdeveloped nation, it may come as a surprise that Japan makes the list. This is not due to the fact that Japanese prisons have a crumbling infrastructure (though lack of air conditioners and heating is a big problem) but rather its standards of behavior. Prisoners, both foreign and domestic, are required to adhere to a code of conduct that would drive anyone insane in a matter of days: You can’t shift one inch in your sleep; you must stay in precisely one place when sitting in your room; and there’s no speaking or excessive noise allowed with the exception of a few minutes a day, assuming the guards are feeling generous. On top of all this, prisoners are required to march in a pattern that would make the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics look sloppy. Any violation whatsoever will be met with punishment or loss of what few privileges prisoners have.
La Sabaneta Prison, Venezuela
If Thai prisons are crowded, Venezuela’s practically have inmates on top of each other. Thousands of men, most of them violent offenders, inhabit Sabaneta, a facility designed for a maximum of 700 prisoners. Because there are too few guards to handle such a population, attacks, murders, and riots are far too common. The prisoners are so closed off from the outside world that an internal order has evolved, complete with a ringleader and subservient prisoners, left mostly to their own devices by the prison guards. If you were to find yourself here, you’d be at the bottom of the rung.
Muhanga Prison, Rwanda
When it comes to overcrowding, Rwanda’s Muhanga is the worst of the worst. Here, over 7,000 people are crammed into a prison designed for 400. This means that prisoners quite literally do not have the room to all sit or lie down at the same time at any point throughout the day. Basic sanitation — while not the problem it once was — used to be all but impossible, and prisoners regularly had limbs amputated due to infection from raw sewage on the floor. That said, the cleanliness and sterilization situation is still very grim.
Camp 22, North Korea
The number of foreigners who have been held in North Korean labor camps is few and far between, but there certainly have been cases of US citizens being detained and punished for non-violent offenses: stealing a poster, taking photos, attempting to convert others to Christianity, etc. Otto Warmbier died as a result of his time in North Korea. North Korean labor camps, particularly the infamous Camp 22, are the literal embodiment of hell for their inmates with a lack of food, daily beatings, torture, forced physical labor, burns, and the witnessing of executions. Couple all that with the fact that you have no hope of contact with the outside world, and it doesn’t get much worse.