“Orange is the New Black” has given viewers an idea — albeit, not always an accurate one — what goes on inside American women’s prisons.
But what incarcerating women looks like can vary significantly from one place to the next.
Here’s a close look at women’s prison conditions in six other countries outside the U.S.:
Scandinavian countries are known for their progressive prison systems, and Norway is no exception. For women, as for men, the maximum sentence for any crime is 21 years — although dangerous prisoners can be held in preventive detention longer.
The largest women’s prison in the country is Bredtveit Prison in Oslo, according to the human rights organization Dui Hua.
Bredtveit holds about 200 women, who are staying an average of four years. Unlike in the American prison system, almost half the women in Bredtveit are foreigners.
The biggest difference is the prison culture, though. Bredtveit inmates don’t wear uniforms and guards aren’t armed. Every woman has her own room — a space that looks more like a bedroom than a cell — and is allowed personal belongings including jewelry and CDs. The four-story building has common areas, a kitchen, sofas and a television.
However, visiting time is scant — just one hour of visiting per week. That’s even less than many American prisons; in New York State, prisoners can have visits that last six or more hours at a time.
Chinese prisons are, predictably, not a great place to be, but according to one expert, women have a slightly easier time of it than man.
“For example they have more hot water to wash themselves, their lower bodies. There are fewer people in each room, about four to six or six to eight, while the men are, say, six to eight or 10,” Chinese sociologist Wang Jinling told the New York Times. “They get more space to keep personal possessions.”
Even if women get slightly cushier conditions, they aren’t immune to horrible abuses.
“Chinese prison officers encouraged inmates to tie each other up and fight,” according to a piece in The Independent about women in prison.
The Guardian reported on a Human Rights Watch release which detailed some of the other abuses occurring in Chinese jails, including the use of so-called tiger chairs, a form of restraint.
“I sat on an iron chair all day, morning and night, my hands and legs were buckled,” one woman said. The report alleged that torture is still routinely used during interrogations.
As in the U.S., the female prison population is on the rise in China. Overall, there’s been a 10% increase in the prison population in the past ten years, but in the same time frame the female prison population has swelled by 46%, according to BBC.
The Jewish state has just one female prison, Neve Tirza. Built in 1968, the prison houses up to 226 prisoners — in conditions that don’t even resemble a prison by U.S. standards.
MSNBC’s “Lockup” found the facility equipped with a petting zoo, a meditation room and glow-in-the-dark fish tanks. There are conjugal visits and vacation programs where eligible prisoners can get three-day furloughs.
In 2014, the prison made international headlines when it hosted its first fashion show, complete with gowns, hairdressers, intricate make-up and a runway.
Israel has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, though — somewhere around 20% lower than in the U.S., according to The Times of Israel.
South African prisons hold less than 4,000 women, according to the Mail and Guardian.
There are eight women’s prisons spread out over a country a little less than twice the size of Texas. Also, some women are held in the women’s section of five co-ed prisons.
The nation’s prisons are notoriously harsh for men, and one female inmate — identified by the pseudonym Jamila Jacobs — described similarly awful conditions in the facilities where she was held.
Jacobs told the Mail and Guardian that women would put razor blades in other inmates’ food and sometimes, at the behest of their gangster boyfriends, rape the girlfriends of rival gang members using objects like hair rollers and brushes.
One might not expect Canadian women’s prisons to be a really terrible place as far as prisons go, but the Kanuck correctional system earned itself a really bad reputation after the 2007 death of Ashley Smith.
In 2007, the 19-year-old New Brunswick native strangled herself with a piece of cloth while on suicide watch in solitary confinement. A rebellious teen, she lashed out and fooled around and one day in 2003, chucked a few crabapples at the mailman, according to The Toronto Star.
She was already on probation, so that incident landed her behind bars in a youth facility. When she got older, she was transferred to an adult facility and repeatedly held in solitary confinement, despite mental health issues.
When she died, Smith was being held at Grand Valley Institution in Ontario, an adult women’s prison. In solitary confinement, she tied a piece of cloth around her neck and the guards watched as she killed herself. They’d been ordered by higher-ups not to go in the cell and interfere as long as Smith was still breathing, according to CBC.
In theory, Smith’s experience shoudln’t be typical for Canadian prisons — but some ex-cons say it is.
“What happened to Ashley Smith is horrific, but it’s not as unusual as people would like to think,” former inmate Ann Hansen told CTV Kitchener.
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