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    Jake, a 4-year-old golden retriever, swims from Alcatraz towards San Francisco with Jeff Pokonosky, of San Diego, during the 10th Annual South End Rowing Club Alcatraz Invitational. (File)

    Prison-Break Impossible: Most Famous Penitentiaries Around the World

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    There are many prisons around the world full of criminals, some petty, some very dangerous. However, there are some prisons that inspire fear and awe just with their name. Legends surround their existence, one such prison was Alcatraz and it was closed on March 21, 1963. Sputnik takes a look at some of the most famous prison-islands in the world.


    The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was a maximum high-security federal prison on Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, which operated from 1934 to 1963.

    Alcatraz was designed to hold prisoners who unceasingly caused trouble at other federal prisons. It was one of the world's most notorious and best known prisons over the years. It housed some 1,576 of America's most ruthless criminals.

    In the beginning it was a defensive fort; after that it was transformed into a military prison and then turned into a prison for especially dangerous criminals.

    The prison was located on an island in the middle of the bay surrounded by strong sea currents, which provided it with natural isolation.

    Over the 29 years of its existence 14 attempts to escape from it were made. Seven prisoners were shot, two drowned at sea and five disappeared without a trace –  perhaps they managed to escape successfully. 

    Fog lingers behind Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. (File)
    © AP Photo / Eric Risberg
    Fog lingers behind Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. (File)


    Rikers Island is New York City's main jail complex, as well as the name of the 413.17-acre island on which it is situated on the East River between Queens and mainland Bronx.

    In addition to 10 prison blocks the complex includes gyms, playgrounds, hairdressers, chapels, power stations, car washes and other household rooms. In 2009, the permanent population of the island, mostly prisoners, was 11,350 people.

    Design wise the complex can hold up to 14,000 prisoners. In its history of existence there were only four attempted prison breaks from Rikers.

    Over the years there were several major scandals connected with Rikers. In particular, in 2007, inmates beat an 18-year-old prisoner to death in front of the guards.

    Following inspection it was found out that such an incident was not the first of its kind.

    Rikers Island jail complex stands in the foreground with the New York skyline in the background. (File)
    © AP Photo / Seth Wenig
    Rikers Island jail complex stands in the foreground with the New York skyline in the background. (File)

    Vologodskiy Pyatak

    Vologodskiy Pyatak is situated on Ognenny Ostrov (literally: Fiery Island) which is a small lake island in the central Russian Vologda region. It is a high security prison for formerly condemned and other dangerous inmates.

    Ognenny Ostrov is located about 400 kilometers north of Moscow, on Lake Novozero. Initially, it was Kirillo-Nenogorsk, a male monastery, but after October 1917 it was turned into a prison for “enemies of the revolution.”

    In the 1950s it was turned into a strict security camp. The prison in the form in which it exists today was formed in the late 1990s.

    On the inmate’s cell doors there are tablets listing the crimes for which they are serving. It is believed that such tablets remind the guards not to lose their vigilance and avoid from establishing any kind of emotional contact with the prisoners.

    ITK-5 corrective labor cell prison of maximum security for handicapped is situated in Krasny (Ognenny) Island, Novoozero village, the Belozersky District. (File)
    © Sputnik / Vladimir Vyatkin
    ITK-5 corrective labor cell prison of maximum security for handicapped is situated in Krasny (Ognenny) Island, Novoozero village, the Belozersky District. (File)

    Bastøy Prison

    The Norwegian prison on the island of Bastøy fell into this list for one reason: it is perhaps the only correctional facility for especially dangerous criminals from which hardly anyone wants to escape. Paradoxically, prisoners dream of coming to this prison.

    The Norwegian penitentiary system is famous for its humanity. It is just an hour's drive from Oslo. The complex is situated in a beautiful area with beaches and sports fields. Although the criminals who come here are some of the most dangerous — murderers, rapists and drug dealers, their “correction” is far from brutal.

    They work in a forest, in kitchen gardens and spend their time caring for pets. There are no brick walls and tight cells in the complex. The prisoners live in wooden houses and move freely around the island. The guards do not carry weapons and at night prison staff is reduced to just five people.

    The prisoners can also read books in the library, use the Internet, watch TV, play sports and even listen to music.


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