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The biggest prisons in the United States

Barbed wire in front of a US flag at a prison

It’s well known that the USA has the largest prison population in the world. 25% of the world’s prisoners are held in jails in America and to keep such a large number of prisoners incarcerated requires some pretty big prisons. Here we’re looking at the biggest prisons in America, where you’ll find thousands of inmates serving time for a variety of crimes.

Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility

Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility is a county prison in Philadelphia. It was named after two prison guards, Patrick Curran and Robert Fromhold who were killed on 31st May 1973 while working at Holmesburg Prison.

The facility officially has capacity for around 2,800 inmates but figures suggest the total number of prisoners at this jail is closer to 9,000. It has a fair reputation despite the overcrowding and the cells are split into pods, each with 32 cells.

Louisiana State Penitentiary

The Louisiana State Penitentiary is a maximum-security prison farm commonly known as the ‘Alcatraz of the South’. It is spread across 28 square miles and is the largest maximum-security prison in the whole of America. At full capacity there are 6,300 extremely dangerous prisoners within the confines of its walls at any one time.

Maricopa County Jail

One of America’s older prisons, the Maricopa County Jail was founded in 1871 in Phoenix, Arizona. The prison is managed by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and has space for up to 9,200 inmates.

The prisoners are grouped dependent on several factors including their perceived security threat, mental health, and addiction levels. The jail is most famous for a protest that took place in 2017 which saw inmates complaining about the poor food quality.

Harris County Jail

Harris County Jail is the main prison complex for Harris County in Houston, Texas. It has a population of 10,000 and is almost always at complete capacity. The county jail comprises several sites including three separate county jails and the state jail, Joe Kegan State Jail. It is split across different sites with the largest, the 701, known as one of the biggest detention centres in the whole of the country.

Cook County Jail

Cook County Jail is a sprawling prison in Chicago, Illinois. It is the largest single-site jail in America and houses 10,000 inmates. Cook County Jail continually struggles with overcrowding and there are often more inmates than there should be in the facility. It also has a history of executions, the most common method being electrocution. Most of these executions took place between 1928 and 1962 with around 67 inmates electrocuted during this period.

Rikers Island

Rikers Island has a notorious reputation as one of the most dangerous prisons in the USA. It is part of the New York City jail system and is spread across 10 different facilities in a 40-acre complex. Rikers Island can house around 15,000 inmates and is usually close to capacity.

The multiple facilities ensure prisoners of different kinds, with facilities for sentenced males, a detention centre for juveniles and a jail for detained and sentenced women. The island has many additional facilities for its inmates including separate facilities for those with communicable diseases, a power plant, as well as a bakery and tailors for the prisoners to work in.

Los Angeles County

Los Angeles County Jail is the largest prison in the whole of America. The inmate population is just under 20,000. The huge size of Los Angeles County Jail means it requires a lot of care and management. Its budget is over $700m and there are 1,500 inmates transported to court each day.

LA County Jail is spread across seven different facilities and 4,000 square miles. The inmate population is mainly nonviolent individuals and there are extensive on-site facilities including rehabilitation and educational programs.

Five interesting facts about American prisons

1. Oklahoma is the prison capital of the world

Louisiana has always been the prison capital of America and the world, but this changed recently when Oklahoma took over. Oklahoma has a prisoner rate of 1,079 people per 100,000, a figure that is both the highest incarceration rate in America and the world.

2. Ohio State Penitentiary faced the worst prison disaster in US history

One of the worst prison disasters in American history took place at the Ohio State Penitentiary in April 1930. A fire broke out at the jail and resulted in 322 inmates killed and 150 injured. Guards were said to refuse to let prisoners out of their cells.

3. Black youth more likely to be found in juvenile detention centres

The inequality in the justice system in America is well documented and statistics suggest black youth are more than four times as likely to be detained and held in juvenile detention centres than white youth.

4. Only 23% of released prisoners stay out of prison

Recent studies found that 77% of state prisoners who were released in 2005 were rearrested by 2010. 43% of them ended up back inside prison within the first 12 months.

5. 200,000 people in US prisons are serving a life sentence

1 in 7 of the prisoners in the USA are serving a life sentence. Many activists argue the justice system is unfair and doesn’t give prisoners the chance to reform or rehabilitate and with many serving life sentences for crimes such as robbery, it’s easy to see why they think this.