Criminals, guards, and no privacy–these things make prisons inherently creepy. An empty, abandoned jail may have fewer convicts inside, but it’s somehow still disturbing. Crumbling, isolated cells hold a history of riots, harsh labor, and sometimes torture.
Abandoned prisons exist all around the world. Some have remained open as recently as 2011, while others were built in the seventh century. Some were former hospitals, and others grew into full communities. But all are creepy and fascinating to see abandoned. Keep reading to learn about these abandoned prisons and see some photographs.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennsylvania, United States
In 1787, Dr. Benjamin Rush–named the “father of American psychiatry”–declared that crime was a moral disease. His claims, and the high amount of crime in Philadelphia, led to the Eastern State Penitentiary. In the beginning, employees locked every prisoner in a solitary cell that they would never leave.
After the public expressed concerns, Eastern State switched from solitary confinement to community-based housing. However, the conditions didn’t get much better. In the 1920s, the prison held over 2,000 inmates, despite being designed to house 300. Eastern State Penitentiary closed in 1971, and it now remains open as a historic site.
J Ward, Australia
In 1859, the Public Works Department of Australia began constructing a new prison, the Ararat County Gaol. The jail has bluestone walls that were popular in the era of gold mining, which can still be seen today. Several criminals were executed there, and the townspeople could buy tickets to watch the hangings.
In the 1880s, gold ran out. The Lunacy Department bought Ararat County Gaol, and they renamed it to J Ward. Men, women, and children were housed here in horrendous conditions. J Ward closed in 1991, and two years later, it opened for tours.
Alcatraz, California, United States
Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, also called the Rock, was a prison isolated on Alcatraz island over a mile off of the San Francisco shore. The prison was converted from a fort in 1910, and it housed inmates who caused trouble in other jails. These included Al Capone, Arthur “Doc” Barker, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.
Alcatraz is surrounded by cold, rough, shark-infested waters, which makes escape nearly impossible. Even so, prisoners made 14 escape attempts, the most bloody being the “Battle of Alcatraz.” Today, the prison is still open for tours, although many swear that it’s haunted.
Rummu Prison, Estonia
In Rummu, Estonia, a former prison is now one of the most popular beach destinations in the country. The Soviet Union constructed the jail in the 1940s on top of an isolated limestone quarry. There, inmates were forced into harsh labor. When the Soviets abandoned the site in 1991, they left running water pumps to flood and create a new lake.
Today, Rummu Prison is one of Estonia’s most beloved beach destinations. Divers from around the world visit to see underwater machinery, brick wall cells, and barbed wire. Parts of the prison can still be seen above the water, not far from the shore.
Carandiru Penitentiary, Brazil
At one time, Carandiru Penitentiary in São Paulo, Brazil, was the largest prison in the country–and the site of a terrible human rights violation. The prison was built in 1890, and by the twentieth century, it became overcrowded. Over 8,000 prisoners lived together in a building filled with disease and malnutrition, and only 1,000 guards contained them.
In 1992, the Carandiru Massacre occurred. Prisoners rioted, and the military stormed to the building to shoot on site. At least 111 prisoners died, even though most of them surrendered. After the news broke out, the commander was sentenced to 632 years in prison.
Old Changi Hospital, Singapore
Changi Hospital, often called Old Changi Hospital, is one of the most haunted locations in Singapore. The British Royal Air Force built the structure as a hospital in 1935. But in 1942, the British fled during the Japanese occupation. Changi Hospital then became a prison for British sympathizers, and anyone considered “anti-Japanese.”
Allegedly, employees subjected prisoners to torture in an infamous chamber of the hospital. After World War II, Changi Hospital became a hospital again under Britain, then under Singapore, before it finally closed in 1997. The abandoned jail still haunts people today.
Burwash Correctional Center, Canada
Unlike other prisons, Burwash Correctional Center is a community of brick buildings in a remote area of Ontario, Canada. When the original building opened in 1914, it could house 1,000 inmates. But the prisoners were allowed to construct other buildings, which eventually created a town with a hospital, school, post office, and even a skating rink.
Since Burwash only housed low-risk inmates, the prisoners were allowed to hold jobs. Some even cut the guards’ hair with sharp razors. That said, the guards still imposed harsh punishments, such as spraying convicts with a pressure hose. The residents were forced to leave in 1975 when Burwash closed.
Santo Stefano Island Prison, Italy
Santo Stefano, an island off the coast of Italy, was supposed to be the “ideal penitentiary.” English philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed watch towers that prevented inmates from knowing whether they were being watched, which he thought would encourage moral behavior.
In short, this “ideal” design didn’t work. Only two years after opening, revolts began. During the worst coup in 1860, over 800 inmates took over the prison and established a senate with their own rules. The Italian troops later regained control, and Santo Stefano prison remained open until 1965.
Prison H15, France
Prison H15, also called the Prison de Loos, began as a monastery in Lille, France. During the French revolution, the monks abandoned the site, and it became a jail in the nineteenth century. At its height, the prison could hold 1,500 inmates.
Prison H15 remained open until 2011. While it operated, the employees built a second wing for female inmates, and they housed thousands of criminals throughout history. The site is slowly being demolished, but that hasn’t stopped urban explorers from marking the place with graffiti.
Carabanchel Prison, Spain
In 1944, Carabanchel Prison in Madrid, Spain, opened to contain political prisoners. Everyone from anarchists to union leaders entered this jail under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. After Franco’s death, the inmates changed from dissenters to common criminals and terrorists.
In 1998, Carabanchel Prison was shut down and abandoned. The building remained for another ten years as the public debated what to do with it: convert it to apartments or keep it as a memory. In 2008, Carabanchel was demolished, but photos of the once-abandoned prison are still available online.
Gorgona Island Prison, Colombia
Gorgona Island Prison is sometimes called the “Alcatraz of Latin America.” The jail sits on Gorgona Island, a site in Colombia known for its many venomous snakes. In 1960, authorities opened a prison on the island, hoping that the poisonous snakes would prevent inmates from escaping.
Inmates were shoved into cramped cells and consistently mistreated by both guards and their peers. Only one person managed to escape, but he was eventually caught and sent back. In 1984, Gorgona Island Prison closed, and the island became a national park to preserve its native species.
Bodmin Jail, England
On the edge of Cornwall, England, stands a historic site called Bodmin Jail. The jail opened in 1779 and immediately looked better than other prisons. The windows let light in (unusual for jails at the time), and the inmates were well cared for. However, things started to change when the jail became cramped.
Thirty-two executions took place at Bodmin Jail. Both men and women were dropped through a trap door and hanged. The jail closed in 1927 and became open to the public in the early 2000s. Today, Bodmin is a skeleton of its former self.
Procida Island Prison, Italy
The Procida Island Prison, or Palazzo d’Avalos, started as a castle built by the d’Avalos family in 1563. In 1815, the military turned it into a training school, and by 1830, it became a prison. Although the castle originally housed the Royal Palace of the Bourbons, it turned into a political prison that contained the Bourbons.
The isolated cells of Procida Island Prison contain many stories and rumors. Fascist leaders such as Attilio Teruzzi and Junio Valerio Borghese stayed there, and tales spread of daily stabbings, fights, and suicide attempts. Today, the jail is open for guided tours.
Devil’s Island, New Guinea
Devil’s Island is one of the most notorious prisons in the world. When it opened in 1852, Devil’s Island was a French penal colony that housed political prisoners. Throughout the jail’s history, over 60,000 criminals entered; 2,000 survived. At its worst point, 75% of the inmates died.
How did this happen? For one thing, prisoners were shoved into cramped cells. They lacked food and water, and they often remained exposed to rats and bats. Military officers subjected the prisoners to back-breaking toil. In 1953, Devil’s Island finally closed. The island has since become a historical monument and receives 50,000 tourists yearly.
Tuchthuis Prison, Belgium
Built in 1779, the Tuchthuis Prison still lies in the town of Vilvoorde, close to Belgium’s capital of Brussel. Throughout the eighteenth century, Tuchthuis was converted to a military hospital, a training school, and then back to a prison.
Tuchthuis mainly housed convicted soldiers. Several buildings fell during escape attempts. In 1827, two prisoners started a fire that demolished part of the prison. In 1919, the south and west wings became damaged after a gunpowder explosion. The Belgian Army abandoned Tuchthuis in 1974, and it remains untouched to this day.
Goli Otok Prison, Croatia
Goli Otok, which translates to “Barren Island,” was converted into a prison in 1949. At the time, Croatia remained under the communist regime of Yugoslavia, and Goli Otok Prison became notorious as the most brutal jail in the country. The top-secret penitentiary housed Soviet loyalists, intellectuals, and violent criminals alike.
In an effort to “morally correct” the prisoners, employees enforced harsh labor throughout the blistering summers and freezing winters on Goli Otok. In 1988, the prison finally shut down. But the memory of the prisoners remains in the ruins and those who survived their time there.
Sinop Fortress Prison, Turkey
The Sinop Fortress, one of Turkey’s oldest prisons, was built in the seventh century. In 1887, the fortress was converted into a prison. Its 60-feet-high walls and 11 watchtowers made it the most high-security jail at the time. Oddly, Sinop also housed some of Turkey’s most influential artists.
Famous Turkish writers, including Sabahattin Ali, Zeyyat Selimoğlu, and Refik Halit Karay, served time at Sinop Fortress. Sabahattin Ali became known for writing five famous poems within these walls. Prisoners could also create jewelry and sell it to people outside. Today, visitors can tour Sinop Fortress Prison as a museum.
Garcia Moreno Prison, Ecuador
Garcia Moreno Prison in Quito, Ecuador, was built for 300 inmates. At its height, it housed over 2,600 convicts. Criminals ranging from former presidents to chicken thieves to a teenager who killed 22 people stayed at Garcia Moreno Prison. As a result, the jail carries many horrendous stories.
The small cells once contained six to eight convicts at a time. Several escape attempts ravaged Garcia Moreno. Throughout its operation, the prisoners worked with artists to paint murals on the walls, which remain today. The jail closed in 2014, and its fate is yet to be determined.
HM Pentridge Prison, Australia
To this day, HM Pentridge Prison is known as one of the most secure prisons in Australia. By 1870, 20 years after it opened, the jail contained more prisoners than it could handle. Unlike other prisons at the time, Pentridge modernized, and the quality of living improved for the convicts.
In 1967, the last prisoner execution took place. By 1984, guards were losing control of the prisoners. Riots, strikes, and deaths were commonplace. HM Pentridge Prison shut down in 1997, and few buildings remain today.
Doftana Penitentiary, Romania
Doftana Penitentiary, also called the “Bastille of Romania,” is one of Romania’s most popular ruins. The prison, with its 308 cells and eight wings, once jailed fascists and communists during the 1930s and ’40s. According to legend, the inmates would write letters on toilet paper and smuggle them out.
After the second world war, communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (who was once imprisoned there) converted Doftana Penitentiary into a museum. The relics there served as propaganda. After the communist state fell in 1989, Doftana was abandoned.