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What are The World's Toughest Prisons?

Everything you need to know about the prisons explored in Netflix's Inside the World's Toughest Prisons.

Raphael Rowe in Inside the World's Toughest Prisons
Published: Wednesday, 29th July 2020 at 2:58 pm

Netflix docuseries Inside the World's Toughest Prisons has returned to the platform with its fourth season, which sees host and falsely convicted ex-prisoner Raphael Rowe explore four more dangerous detention centres.


Over the past few series, Rowe has visited ruthless jails in Papua New Guinea, Ukraine, Columbia, Costa Rica and the Philippines, as well as rehabilitation centres in Belize and Norway – but what about the slammers of season four?

Here's everything you need to know about the toughest prisons explored in the docuseries' fourth season

Tacumbu prison, Paraguay

Tacumbu prison, situated in the Paraguay neighbourhood of the same name is considered to be one of the most dangerous prisons on Earth, with Rowe even commenting before entering, "I'm quite nervous about going in there, because it is the most dangerous place in this country."

Home to 3,000 inmates despite being built to store just 800, Tacumbu is severely overcrowded, with hundreds of prisoners forced to sleep in the open.

According to the series, "deadly violence and drugs are a way of life" in Tacumbu, resulting in a huge disparity between the poorest prisoners, who search through the prison trash for food scraps to cook and sell, and the rich drug lords who run cartels from their cells and live a life of prison luxury.

Police have previously raided cells to find drug lord Jarvis Chimenes Pavao living in a three-room cell, containing a conference room, plasma TV, library and kitchen. The drug lord was charging rent for prisoners to stay in the unit.

Schwalmstadt, Germany

Raphael Rowe in Inside the World's Toughest Prisons

Based in northern Hesse in Germany, Schwalmstadt prison holds some of the country's most dangerous men, but through a radical therapeutic approach, they force their inmates to confront the issues that led them down their path.

The prison, which focuses on rehabilitation, aims to transform their prisoners, who have committed some of the most heinous crimes, into people "you'd be happy to live next door to".

Melrose, Mauritius

Melrose Maximum Security Prison, which is one of eight prisons in Mauritius, is one of Africa's most ruthless detention centres and holds some of the country's worst criminals.

However, these dangerous inmates live in fear of the "extreme new regime" enforcing harsh punishments for the smallest infringement of rules.

"If you get out of the rules, punishment is going to come to you. There's no way no one can help you," one prisoner says in the documentary.

Equipped with 550 cameras and walls 7 metres high, convicts are watched all hours of the day, with murderers and drug smugglers worried about the consequences of committing minor rule violations.

Although notoriously strict, Melrose does give prisoners the chance to change their ways and learn valuable skills – with the series' third episode looking at the inmates gaining culinary experience in the prison kitchen.

Maseru prison, Lesotho

Inside the World's Toughest Prisons

Based in the South African country of Lesotho, Maseru prison is an impoverished detention centre, filled with inmates doing time for rape. "Many are HIV positive and sexual assaults are a way of life inside the prison," the docuseries says.

"One of the things that's striking me is the level of poverty," Rowe says whilst visiting Maseru prison. "This is quite a crazy bit of space, it's a bit like a bombsite. It's like rubble everywhere. Bricks piled up."

Due to the squalid conditions within the prison, rape, gang violence and sexual assault are a common occurrence.


Season 4 of Inside the World's Toughest Prisons is now available to stream on Netflix. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best TV series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide.


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