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Rikers Island

Source: Andrew Lichtenstein / Getty


In our continuing series focusing on the prison system in America, we bring you a list of the 10 most notorious jails in the country.

Many of these prisons on the list are familiar by name to many like Folsom, San Quentin, and ADX in Colorado to name a few.

Check out the list below.

10. United States Penitentiary Marion

Location: Marion, Illinois

Size: 1,000

Famous Inmates: Pete Rose, John Gotti, Thomas Silverstein

The U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois opened in 1963 and in 15 years became the United States highest control security prison. It became the nation’s first control unit when violence forced a long-term lockdown.

While the prison is no longer a “SuperMax,” it is one of only two prisons to have a “Communication Management Units” which is mostly comprised of mostly Arab inmates.

9. Rikers Island

Location: Queens, New York

Size: 14,000

Famous Inmates: Lil Wayne, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, Tupac Shakur, Plaxico Burress, DMX, Sid Vicious

Rikers Island is New York City’s main jail complex. It consists of ten jails and closes to 12,000 inmates with 8,000 officers monitoring them.

The jail mostly holds local offenders, those who couldn’t post bail, and anyone serving a sentence of one year or less or waiting for a transfer.

8. Louisiana State Penitentiary

Location: Angola, Louisiana

Size: 5,000

Famous Inmates: The Angola 3

Also known as the Alcatraz of the South, the Louisiana State Penitentiary aka Angola is the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S. holding 5,000 offenders with 2,000 officers watching over them.

The State of Louisiana’s death row for men and the state execution chamber are there.

The 18,000-acre complex was once a slave plantation.

7. Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary

Location: Leavenworth, Kansas

Size: 2,000

Famous Inmates: Bugs Moran, Michael Vick, George “Machine Gun” Kelly

Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary is more than just the prison that Michael Vick served his dogfighting sentence in.

The prison is an all-male, medium-security facility committed to carrying out the judgments of the Federal Courts.

The prison consists of close to 2,000 inmates.

6. Folsom State Prison

Location: Folsom, California

Size: 1,813

Famous Inmates: Suge Knight, Charles Manson, Rick James

Folsom State Prison opened in 1880 and is the second-oldest prison in the state of California. It was also the first in the country to have electricity. Folsom was one of the first maximum security prisons.

It’s most known for having two concerts at its facility by musician Johnny Cash in the late 1960s.


5. Attica Correctional Facility

Location: Attica, New York

Size: 2150

Famous Inmates: Tupac Shakur, Mark David Chapman, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz

As you can see from the list of famous inmates to stay at this prison, the supermax penitentiary has seen its share of celebrities turned bad guys and vice versa.

The prison now holds many inmates who are serving various types of sentences (short-term to life), and who are usually sent to the facility because of disciplinary problems in other facilities.

In 1971, the prison had a riot which resulted in 39 deaths after 10 guards were taken, hostage. This brought the installation of a tear gas system for any violence that came in the future.

4. United States Penitentiary Atlanta

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Size: 2,000

Famous Inmates: Michael Vick, Big Meech, Bernard Madoff

A medium-security prison for males in Atlanta, Georgia, USP it is primarily used as a transfer prison.

It once held many Cuban refugees from the Mariel Boatlift.

As of 2006, the prison was housing 3—5 in-transit prisoners in each approximately 56-square-foot (5.2 m2) isolation cell for up to eight weeks at a time.

3. Sing, Sing

Location: Ossining, New York

Size: 1700

Famous Inmates: Charles “Lucky” Luciano

Ossining’s original name, “Sing Sing”, came from the Native American Sinck Sinck (Sint Sinck) tribe from whom the land was purchased in 1685.

Sing Sing houses approximately 1,700 prisoners. There are plans to convert the original 1825 cell block into a museum.

Sing Sing was the third prison built by New York State.

2. San Quentin State Prison

Location: Marin County, California

Size: 3,302

Famous Inmates: Stanley “Tookie” Williams

California’s only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States, is located at the prison. It has a gas chamber, but since 1996, executions at the prison have been carried out by lethal injection. It opened in July 1852 and is the oldest prison in the state.

1. ADX Florence Facility

Location: Florence, Colorado

Size: 490

Famous Inmates: Ted Kaczynski, Larry Hoover, Timothy McVeigh

The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility is a supermax prison for men that is located in unincorporated Fremont County, Colorado, United States, south of Florence. It is unofficially known as ADX Florence, Florence ADMAX, or The Alcatraz of the Rockies. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. ADX, a part of the Florence Federal Correctional Complex (FCC), houses the prisoners who are deemed the most dangerous and in need of the tightest control of all the prisoners within the United States Federal Prison System.


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