The worst prisons in the United States (2024)

Exposing Parchman is an investigative docuseries that follows the efforts to reform the Mississippi correctional system. In December 2019, Parchman began to make national headlines for its large death toll attributable to violence and neglect. Exposing Parchman is available to stream now on Crime + Investigation Play.

The United States of America is a prison nation with just shy of two million American citizens behind bars. The complex interconnected penal system is wrought with large-scale issues that see widespread corruption, innocent people in jail, poor living conditions, violence, suicide and murder. Given that this is the reality, it’s no surprise that some of the nation’s prisons and jails come with a really rather terrifying reputation.

These are America’s worst prisons:

Exposing Parchman Exposing Parchmanis an investigative docuseries that follows the efforts to reform the Mississippi correctional system by the inmates of Parchman Prison

ADX Florence

The ‘administrative maximum facility’ USP Florence ADMAX, generally known as 'ADX Florence', is a giant facility in the mountainous state of Colorado. Spread over almost 50 acres of land, it was the first example of what's now called the 'supermax' prison and was built to house the USA's most dangerous inmates. As of summer 2023, the facility is home to 316 prisoners (although it can take 551), all of whom are confined to 23 hours of cell time a day under 24-hour supervision.

Visitors to 'The Alcatraz of The Rockies' report an almost eerie level of quiet inside ADX Florence. That's because it is now, arguably, the single most secure prison facility on the face of the planet. This wasn't always the case, however. In 2012, several of the prison's inmates filed a lawsuit citing that the place fostered and encouraged a culture of torture and abuse.

Over the years, notorious figures such as Mexican drug lord El Chapo, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, jihadist Abu-Hamza and Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been imprisoned there. Along with a litany of other high-profile criminals including spies, serial killers, terrorists and mobsters.

The most dangerous prisons in the world When many hardened criminals are herded together and made to share a roof, that building becomes an incredibly perilous place to be…


Parchman Farm, aka Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), is a dangerous place to be. Not just for its 4,840 inmates, but for the staff at the facility too. ‘The problems at Parchman are severe, systemic and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision,’ said the US Department of Justice in a 2020 report. They summed up their assessment by concluding that Parchman's conditions are so bad that they actually violate the United States Constitution.

A large part of the problem is that those supposedly in charge of MSP, are not. Instead, the gangs inside run the place. Prison gang control leads to shocking violence, attacks and murders. Guards and staff have, according to the DoJ report, long since given up on protecting inmates or attempting to prevent assaults, killings or suicides. Prolonged isolation is commonplace. Mental health treatment and rehabilitation is not.

Such issues are hardly new. Parchman Farm has had a reputation as one of America's worst prisons for decades. Insufficient staffing, poor investigative practices and lax contraband controls all play their part. Murders and riots have been commonplace in recent years. Prison reform advocates have been calling for the place to close down for years.

Locked up: Britain's most dangerous prisons Whether they’re housing serial killers, sex offenders, or the criminally insane: here are four of Britain’s deadliest prisons


It was the worst, most deadly, prison uprising ever. Across five days in September 1971, 39 people (29 inmates and 10 prison guards) died in what’s gone on to be labelled variously as ‘The Attica Prison Uprising’, ‘The Attica Prison Riot’ and ‘The Attica Prison Massacre’.

The unrest was brought about by inmates who had reached breaking point with the New York State prison’s dreadful living conditions. Though the riot came with a heavy toll, it did bring about change. The Attica Correctional Facility of today is not the Attica Correctional Facility of old. That’s not to say that it’s a bed of roses, though.

There may well be improved cells, learning programs and new facilities at Attica, but there are also heightened security measures. Chief among them is a high-tech tear gas deployment system throughout the facility which is able to quell any organised rioting.

British prisoners still serving whole life sentences There are currently just 11 inmates serving entire life sentences: Who are they? | Image: Shutterstock

Rikers Island

Rikers Island is a 413-acre site on its own little island in New York City’s East River. It has an annual budget of almost $900 million and a staff of nearly 10,000 officers. Rikers Island is known for violence and the abuse and neglect of its inmates by guards and frequent assaults by inmates on uniformed officers and other civilian staff.

Not only does Rikers see inmate violence and staff brutality, there’s also rape, maltreatment of mentally ill inmates and one of the worst rates of solitary confinement in the country. Rikers, which houses 10 different prisons, has been the subject of countless exposés and lawsuits in its time.

The biggest prisons in the United States Los Angeles County Jail is the largest prison in the whole of America with inmate population of just under 20,000

Leaked photographs show cramped cells littered with inmates in what amounts to truly hellish conditions. What makes matters all the worse is that those locked up in Rikers Island aren’t the most feared, dangerous or violence-prone felons in the USA. In fact, most haven’t even been found guilty of a crime. A whopping 85% of inmates are pre-trial, having not yet been convicted.

The worst prisons in the United States (2024)


What prisons are worse federal or state? ›

State prisons predominantly detain individuals convicted of violent acts like assault, rape, murder, or gun-related offenses. Federal prisons predominantly house inmates convicted of drug-related or white-collar crimes, and are generally considered safer than state prisons.

Which state has the best prisons? ›

  • New Hampshire. #1 in Corrections Outcomes. #2 in Best States Overall. ...
  • Hawaii. #2 in Corrections Outcomes. ...
  • Vermont. #3 in Corrections Outcomes. ...
  • Maine. #4 in Corrections Outcomes. ...
  • Washington. #5 in Corrections Outcomes. ...
  • Massachusetts. #6 in Corrections Outcomes. ...
  • Utah. #7 in Corrections Outcomes. ...
  • New Mexico. #8 in Corrections Outcomes.

What state has the most murders in prisons? ›

BY BETH SHELBURNE, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, CAMPAIGN FOR SMART JUSTICE. 16 people were victims of homicide inside Alabama prisons in 2019, the highest number on record. 14 of the killings were the result of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. Two victims were killed by correctional officers in “use-of-force” incidents.

Are there secret prisons in the United States? ›

United States

CIA controlled black sites have been used by the U.S. government in its War on Terror to detain enemy combatants. US President George W. Bush acknowledged the existence of secret prisons operated by the CIA during a speech on September 6, 2006.

What are the most violent federal prisons? ›

ADX Florence, also known as the Florence Supermax, is a formidable symbol of maximum security in the American federal prison system. Located in Fremont County, Colorado, it operates under the Federal Bureau of Prisons, offering an unparalleled level of custody designed for the most dangerous and high-profile inmates.

What are the safest US prisons? ›

The most secure federal prison in the United States is the Administrative-maximum security prison (ADX) at the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado. Prisoners confined in that institution have very little contact with others.

What state is toughest on criminals? ›

For crimes against persons, states were generally much harsher in sentencing. Virginia ranked up top with 13.1 years of jail time on average, followed closely by Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

Where are the worst inmates kept? ›

Florence houses male inmates in the federal prison system deemed the most dangerous and in need of the tightest control, including prisoners whose escape would pose a serious threat to national security.

What state has the most inmate deaths? ›

Louisiana has the highest prison mortality rate in the U.S. The state's prison mortality rate is 42.7 per 100,000 people, according to the study.

What states have no AC in prisons? ›

Roughly three-quarters of Florida prisons lack AC, according to Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon. Over two-thirds of Texas prison beds don't have air conditioning throughout the facilities as of 2024, with many prisons in Georgia and Alabama also without complete air conditioning.

Who owns most US prisons? ›

Overview. Founded in 1983, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) owns or operates jails and prisons on contract with federal, state and local governments.

Are there any US prisons that allow conjugal visits? ›

State prisons

For prisoners in state custody, the availability of conjugal visits is governed by the law of the particular state. The four states that currently allow conjugal visits are California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington.

Who goes to low level federal prisons? ›

Federal inmates at the low-security level span virtually all backgrounds and crime categories. These include drug offenders, white-collar offenders, and others. Federal correctional facility inmates typically have less than 20 years remaining on their sentence.

Are private or federal prisons better? ›

When it comes to the safety and security of prisons, it was thought that privatizing prisons would make them more secure. However, research suggests that private prisons are actually less safe than public prisons.

What are most federal prisoners in for? ›

Most Common Type of Crime
Crime TypeNumber of Individuals
Drug Trafficking65,096 65,096 65,096
Firearms20,701 20,701 20,701
Sexual Abuse9,396 9,396 9,396
Robbery9,255 9,255 9,255
7 more rows

What are some of the worst prisons in America? ›

ADX Florence, located in the United States, has earned its reputation as one of the world's worst prisons due to its exceptionally high-security measures. Commonly known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” ADX Florence houses some of the most dangerous and notorious criminals.

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