The Shocking Contrast Between Prisons Around the World

Don't get banged up in the Philippines.
The Shocking Contrast Between Prisons Around the World Newsweek

It can be easy to ignore life behind bars when you're free on the outside. Yet the prison experience isn't such an uncommon one—there are over ten million inmates around the world, according to the World Prison Brief, more than the entire population of Michigan.

It's widely known that a fifth of these incarcerated people are in the U.S. America locks up its population at a higher rate than any country in the world, surpassing the violence-hit nation of El Salvador and the oppressive regime in Turkmenistan, which come in at second and third place respectively.

Inmates have vastly different experiences, depending on where they're locked up. Prisons in Russia and Thailand make the U.S. system look like a holiday camp—accounts from the inside detail forced labor, decrepit living conditions and casual violence.

How a country treats inmates says a lot about the government's values in general. Nations that mistreat prisoners often have recorded human rights abuses against the wider population.

On the other hand, Nordic prisons insist on nurturing prisoners into becoming "better neighbors," indicating their socially liberal values that place a premium on the humane treatment of all people.

It's open to debate which country has the most effective prison systems, but all signs point towards one of these Nordic countries—Norway.

Although many Americans may bristle at the idea of free-range murderers enjoying the luxuries of computers, swimming in the sea and tending horses, it seems to be working. Norway has an extremely low rate of recidivism, even though they only lock up the most serious criminals, who are more likely to re-offend.

We've collected photos of prisons around the world showing the vastly different living conditions, as well as their country's attitudes towards justice and rehabilitation. From the excruciating overcrowding in the Philippines to the beautiful facilities in Sweden, see for yourself how the world treats its criminals.

Philippines — Incarceration rate (per 100,000 people): 172. Intentional Homicide Victims (per 100,000 people): 11. Max penalty: 40 years in prison (although extrajudicial killings now occur). Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images