Strange Prison Facts

Enjoy our collection of interesting prison facts. Use arrows to navigate.

  • 11% of the nation's prison population is receiving some kind of treatment for drug abuse.
  • 458,000 of the currently incarcerated 2.3 million (about 20%), were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the crime was committed or are incarcerated due to drug violations, like selling or buying drugs.
  • 85 percent of the estimated 2.3 million prison inmates have had or still do some kind of serious drug abuse history
  • Contracts guarantee that prison occupancy rates will stay at or above a specified level, also known as "lockup quotas". If occupancy rates are not fulfilled, the government pays for the empty beds.

  • Just two companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group, made $3.3B in 2012, 75% of the private prison industry.
  • Private prisons bring in roughly $3 Billion in revenue each year with over half of this income coming from the facilitation of undocumented immigrants.
  • Many large companies such as Boeing, McDonalds, Victoria's Secret, and Starbucks outsource to prisons to take advantage of the low labor costs.
  • Solitary confinement, widely used in American prisons, is regarded internationally as torture.
  • There is a program that pairs abused, neglected or abandoned dogs with prison inmates for the rehabilitation of the dogs and the inmates.
  • The opening song sung by prisoners in “O Brother, Where Art Thou” was a recording of actual prisoners in 1959, and one of the prisoners was tracked down and paid 40 years later.
  • There is a “three generations of punishment” sentence in North Korea. This means a person would be sent to the camp along with that person’s entire family and two subsequent generations of family members would be born in prison and live their entire lives there.
  • Louisiana is the prison capital of the world – 1 out of every 86 adults is behind bars, which is the highest rate in the world.
  • Companies in America will outsource call center duties to prisons where prisoners can make up to about 90¢ per hour handling calls.
  • Some prisons serve misbehaving inmates a one-dish meal called “nutriloaf”, which was specifically designed to be bland, flavorless, and unappealing.
  • Brazilian prisons offer to reduce the sentences of their prisoners by 4 days (up to 48 days/year) for every book they read and write a report on.
  • World famous chef Gordon Ramsay challenged a prison cook to an onion cutting competition. The inmate won. Ramsay immediately offered him a job at one of his restaurants upon his release
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, helped get two falsely accused men out of prison after solving their previously closed cases.
  • A man who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for shooting with intent to kill and robbery requested that his sentence was extended to 33 years, to match Larry Bird's NBA jersey number. The request was granted.
  • Corrections (which include prisons, jails, probation, and parole) costed the U.S. taxpayers around $74 billion in 2007.
  • The average “minimum security” inmate in federal prison costs U.S. taxpayers $21,000 a year while the average “maximum security” inmate in federal prison costs U.S. taxpayers $33,000 a year.
  • Illegal immigrants make up approximately 30 percent of the total population in our federal, state and local prisons.
  • The state of Ohio has more people in prison than the entire country of Pakistan despite having less than 1/16th of the population.
  • The sagging jeans below your waist in hip-hop culture began in jail when prisoners were detained without a belt for fear they might use it to commit suicide, or kill a fellow inmate.
  • A town in Brazil powers streetlights by having inmates pedal bicycles in exchange for a shorter sentence.
  • The longest prison term ever sentenced was 2,200 years. He appealed, was re-convicted, re-sentenced, and given an additional 9,000 years.
  • Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as "Alcatraz of the South" or "The Farm", was founded as a slave plantation, and is still run as a prison farm to this day.
  • A man who spent 6 months in jail after being falsely accused of murder was set free when his attorney established his alibi by finding him in outtake footage from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" which was shooting at a Dodgers game.
  • Beloved artist Salvador Dali made a painting for the prisoners at Rikers Island in NYC that hung in the prisoner dining room for 15 years. It was later moved to the prison lobby for 'safekeeping'. In 2003, three prison guards and a warden stole the painting.
  • Nicholas Webber, a hacker who, while serving five years for hacking, signed up for a prison IT class and successfully hacked into the prison's mainframe.
  • Steven Russell escaped from prison by using laxatives to fake the symptoms of AIDS. He then called the prison, posing as a doctor, asking for prisoners interested in an experimental treatment, and volunteered. Once out of Texas, he sent death certificates to the prison stating he had died.
  • In 2009 four prison inmates rescued a correctional officer from another inmate. The heroes were in prison for assault, armed robbery, home invasion, murder, and sex offenses and saved the deputy because he treated them "like human beings".
  • The average annual cost to incarcerate one inmate in federal prison is about $29,000. Incarceration costs taxpayers almost $70 billion annually.
  • About half of the inmates in federal prisons are serving time for non-violent drug offenses.
  • The U.S. prison population has more than quadrupled since the early 1980s: when mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drugs when into effect.
  • At 5,000 jails and prison in the U.S., there are more jails than Universities and colleges.
  • The U.S. has the highest prison population in the entire world and has the highest prison rate in the world at about 724 people per 100,000.
  • A California prison inmate managed to get two boxes of staples, a pencil sharpener, sharpener blades and three jumbo binder rings in his rectum, earning him the nickname “O.D.” or “Office Depot.”
  • On March 10, 2011, Guinness World Records certified Japanese former boxer Iwao Hakamada as the world’s longest-held death row inmate for a 1966 mass murder that became known as the Hakamada Incident. He’s was in solitary confinement for 46 years. A 2008 DNA test suggested the blood on the clothing used as evidence did not match Hakamada’s. On March 27, 2014, Hakamada was released from prison.
  • Bayer, famous for producing aspirin, bought prisoners to use as research subjects for testing new drugs.
  • Thai prisoners are released early if they take part in special kick boxing matches against foreigners. Those who win will receive money and have the opportunity to meet with the warden and have their sentence reduced. The more fights they win, the more time is taken off. An inmate is also expected to display good behavior and personal development in addition to his fighting prowess.
  • In Japan, prisoners on death row are not told when they will be executed until a few hours’ notice before they are hanged, and relatives are not notified until the prisoners are already dead.
  • On August 5, 1944, one of the biggest jail-breaks in history involved hundreds of Japanese POWs attempting to escape an Australian prisoner camp. The Japanese considered the Australians weak because they treated the prisoners well. 234 of the Japanese were killed and another 108 wounded.
  • The last prisoner of war from the World War II to be repatriated was a Hungarian soldier named Andras Toma, who was taken prisoner by the Red Army in 1944, then discovered living in a Russian psychiatric hospital in 2000.

  • In 2010, two inmates simply walked out of the medium-security prison in northwestern Wisconsin by using fake prison release records. Staffers processed the paperwork and let the two go. One of those who escaped the state-run facility had as much as 50 years remaining on his sentence. The pair were nabbed just a day or two after being released. Based on a tip from another inmate, authorities caught the two when they reported to their probation agents.

  • McIntosh, a convicted con man, managed to slip away from the minimum-security Federal Correctional Institution in California in 1986 during a transfer to another prison. He returned eight days later in a hijacked helicopter and whisked away his girlfriend, who was serving 50 years for bank robbery, as inmates cheered and whistled in a recreation yard.
  • Norway has a minimum security island-prison where inmates are almost free to do as they wish. The criminals interred there are among Norway’s worst, but it has the lowest rate of re-offending in Europe, if not the world. 
  • Private-enterprise prisons have recognized that providing inmates with cable television can be a more economical method to keep them quiet and subdued than it would be to hire more guards.
  • At a prison facility in Nuuk, Greenland some inmates reportedly hold the keys to their own cells (to afford them privacy), and others may leave the premises during the day to go to work or school. Perhaps surprisingly, inmates are even allowed to go hunting with rifles to shoot birds and seals.
  • Merle Haggard was an inmate in the audience when Johnny Cash played at San Quentin. The performance inspired him to take his talents more seriously upon his release.
  • Eugene Debs was prison inmate in Atlanta, Georgia while he ran for president in the 1920 election. He received nearly one million votes. He was serving 10 years for a speech he gave in Ohio.
  • In 1995, Robert Lee Brock, a Virginia prison inmate, decided to take a new approach to the legal system. After filing a number of unsuccessful lawsuits against the prison system, Brock sued himself. He claimed his civil rights and religious beliefs were violated when he allowed himself to get drunk. After all, it was inebriation that created his cycle of committing crimes and being incarcerated. He demanded $5 million from himself. However, since he didn’t earn an income behind bars, he felt the state should pay. Needless to say, the case was thrown out.
  • Timothy Leary, upon his arrival at prison in 1970 was given psychological tests used to assign inmates to appropriate work details. Having designed some of these tests himself (including the “Leary Interpersonal Behavior Test”), Leary answered them in such a way that he seemed to be a very conforming, conventional person with a great interest in forestry and gardening. As a result, he was assigned to work as a gardener in a lower-security prison from which he escaped in September 1970.
  • Guards at New Mexico State Penitentiary had a “snitch game.” to control uncooperative prisoners. Officers would simply label inmates who would not behave as informers, let them be abused, and wait for them to turn into informants to escape their tormentors.
  • There was a fire at Ohio Penitentiary in 1930 that killed 322 and seriously injured 150 inmates. Reports say that many guards refused to unlock cells when smoke entered the cell block and left the prisoners in their cells, although some did provide help. Some inmates overpowered a guard and took his keys, which they used to rescue other prisoners. However, a riot developed and firefighters arriving to fight the blaze were attacked with rocks.
  • Joe Arridy was called the “the happiest prisoner on deathrow”. He was liked by both the prisoners and guards. He had an IQ of 46 and played with a toy train given to him by the prison Warden. Due to his lack of understanding, he was reported to have smiled while being taken to the gas chamber and was only momentarily nervous until the warden grabbed his hand and reassured him.
  • Alcatraz was once the only federal penitentiary in the U.S. that provided hot-water showers for its inmates, but the motivation was hardly humanitarian. Prisoners used to hot-water showers, the reasoning went, would find the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay almost impossible to withstand during an escape attempt.
  • In 1987, a prison inmate named Ronnie Lee Gardner broke a glass partition and knocked out the lights in a visitation area to have sex with a woman who was visiting him. Fellow inmates cheered him on while barricading the doors. He claimed it was an accident. 
  • Texas no longer offers a special “last meal” to condemned inmates. Instead, the inmate is offered the same meal served to the rest of the unit.

  • The Indiana State Prison started a cat program where inmates are allowed to adopt and keep a cat inside their cell. The cats are believed to improve the mood and temperament of prisoners and they also provide some hope behind bars
  • In 1957, an airplane crashed onto Rikers Island. 57 inmates ran to help the survivors. Most of the prisoners who helped were either set free or received reduced sentences.