10/14/2013 02:01 pm ET | Updated Oct 14, 2013

6 Bizarre Prisons Around The World


Steel bars, harsh wardens, cinderblock beds, overcrowded cells and disgusting food. These are the popularized images of jail and for many, their experience behind bars amounts to near torture, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

But, for a handful of prisons around the world that is not the case.

As just two examples, Norway's progressive prison system focuses on teaching and rehabilitation, through education and farming-skills, while Italy's high-security Fortezza Medicea Prison, houses an Italian restaurant run by murderers serving life sentences. Here are more of the world’s most bizarre and unconventional prisons.

  • 1 Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center
    You may remember this Philippine prison for their incredible dancing skills. In 2007, over 1,500 dancing inmates, who utilize their allotted exercise time to practice dancing, choreographed a dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," garnering over 53 million views on YouTube and landing a spot on TIME's top 5 list of most viral videos of the year. Fast-forward to 2010, Jackson’s long time choreographer and two trusted dancers arrive at Cebu to teach over a thousand inmates a choreographed dance to "This Is It." Talk about smooth criminals.
  • 2 Bastoey Island
    SVEINUNG U. YSTAD/AFP/Getty Images
    Norway is home to some of the world's most progressive prisons. A country with no life sentences or death penalty means each prisoner will return home one day, so the penal system stresses rehabilitation. While Bastoey Island's low security prison is home to some of the country's worst criminals -- who come here to serve the last part of their sentences -- you wouldn't know it from the digs. With no jail bars, the "cells" look more like cozy dorm rooms, for which inmates hold their own keys. "It's the holiday version of Alcatraz" wrote CNN reporter John D. Sutter. Deemed the "human ecological prison," Bastoey offers educational and skill-building programs to re-integrate inmates back into society, including a farm where prisoners can tend to cows and chickens. The same progressive rehabilitation method is shared throughout Norway's prisons, which may explain why the country also has the lowest reoffending rates--30 percent--in Europe.
  • 3 San Pedro Prison
    Flickr/Danielle Pereira
    Located just outside La Paz, Bolivia, San Pedro Prison may be one of South America's most notorious and unique penitentiaries. Though the prison features food stands, hairdressers and even a hotel, there's one catch: inmates have to pay for their cells, which range from $1000-$1500 for the entirety of the inmate's sentence. The cells range from posh living quarters complete with a TV and kitchen amenities to shared cement cells. That means, to keep up rent, the prisoners must earn their rent money through various day jobs inside the jail marketplace, including shoe-shiner, hairdresser and street vendor. "If you have money you can live like a king," an inmate told the BBC.
  • 4 San Antonio Prison
    Located on Venezuela’s Margarita Island, San Antonio allows its prisoners to cook their own food and watch TV. Many hold jobs inside, ranging from barber to drug dealer to manager of the local cock fight club. Entertainment for prisoners and visitors is ubiquitous. It is "a relatively tranquil place where even visitors can go for sinful weekend partying," New York Times journalist Simon Romero reported. Prisoners allegedly owe their good fortune to fellow prisoner “El Conejo” (The Rabbit), who controls the heavy arsenal of guns inside.
  • 5 Fortezza Medicea Prison
    Flickr/Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup
    The Fortezza Medicea Prison, located in Volterra, Tuscany, Italy houses 150 inmates and one of the most exclusive restaurants in the country. A team of convicts, many serving life for murder, prepare classic Italian fare for customers who all must go through extensive background checks. Diners are serenaded by a pianist doing life for murder, while head Chef Egidio commands his team in the kitchen as they churn out killer Alfredo, all using plastic cutlery and under the watchful eyes of guards, according to The Telegraph.
  • 6 Justizzentrum Leoben Prison
    Daniela Ebner
    Housing just over 200 inmates, the completely booked Justice Center Leoben in Austria is touted as a '5 Star Prison'. Designed by architect Josef Hohensinn in 2004, the sleek glass and wooden interiors mimic the outside world. In pursuit of re-socializing its inmates, the modern prison looks more like a modern-day college dorm, chock-full of Ikea-inspired decor. Inmates can move freely among the spacious cells or multiple outdoor communal spaces (enclosed by bars). “Maximum security outside; maximum freedom inside,” Hohensinn told the New York Times.

Subscribe to the Weird News email.
Truth is stranger than fiction. Step into the world of weird news.