Travel Health

10 Countries Where You Don't Want to Go to Jail


Of all the threats to a traveler’s health and sanity, the risk of going to jail abroad must rank pretty high on the list.

The world can be a scary, dangerous place where the life of the traveler is threatened on all sides. There are killer diseases, muggers, natural disasters and terrible karaoke music that all represent perils to the traveler’s health and sanity.

But while most travel guides assume that responsible travelers will never be on the wrong end of the law, Road Junky knows that the police of most countries in the world are just the criminals in uniform and make no bones about extorting money from you, beating you up or, if all else fails, putting you in jail.

So here are ten of the worst places in the world to go to jail. Travel there by all means but memorise the number of a good lawyer before you go.

1. China

China is the world’s largest police state and punishes people who do the wrong kind of Tai chi by sending them to labour camps to harvest their internal organs for sale. Really. Check out the wiki on China’s non-existent human rights.

Practitioners of Falun Gong are tortured in water dungeons, their nails are removed – whatever it takes to get them to renounce their morning exercises and pledge allegiance to one of the world’s most evil governments.

The traveler in China would do well not to speak too loudly about things like bathroom breaks for sweatshop workers or radical concepts like poor people have human rights too. Otherwise he might end up being shot in the back of the head somewhere if the local police chief can’t be bothered to have him deported.

2. The USA

America has the largest prison population in the world and treatment of prisoners is as bad as anything you’ve seen on the news about Guantánamo Bay or Abu Graib. Prisoners are routinely beaten up, electrocuted around the genitals with stun guns and strapped tightly into chairs where you’ve got a fair bet of dying from suffocation or lack of blood supply to the brain.

And that’s not even counting what the other prisoners might do to you.

Going to jail in America is pretty easy as there’s a law for everything and if you happen to be black, Arabic or smoking a joint in the wrong Southern state, you might find yourself singing that old Jailhouse Rock in no time.

Check out the BBC reportage on American jails

3. Thailand

For all the smiling benevolence of the Thais and their slightly feminine male population, Thai jails are about as bad as things get. You can end up sharing a cell with another 30 drug addicts and murderers for overstaying your visa, smoking dope or being as dumb as the Swedish backpacker who drew a mustache on a picture of the king. Only the mercy of the monarch saved him from being beaten to death in jail.

4. India

Most foreigner prisoners in Indian jails are there for being caught with drugs on buses or in the airports but there’s good news, the Indian government recently set a new target for trials of foreign nationals – the trials must now reach a conclusion within 2 years of the initial arrest. Way to go, Indian justice!

There’s almost no food available inside and even if you do get any money sent in from friends, you’ll need most of it to pay off the protection rackets.

5. Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia etc

Get this, in most South American jails you’re required to rent your own cell and bed. Nothing is given to you for free whatsoever and many prisoners actually resort to selling crack inside the jail just in order to survive. The guards limit themselves to making sure there are no major riots and allow the criminal justice system to work itself out in prison corridors with knives and clubs.

Check out the excellent movie Cairandiru if you don’t believe us.

6-10 Just about anywhere else outside Europe and the First World

We were too spoilt for choice to continue – just about all you’ve read above could apply to almost any country in Africa, Central America or South East Asia. Human rights aren’t a given in most of the world, they’re a concept that rarely sees light of day in mainstream society, let alone the prison system.

Moral of the story?

Before you get too casual about taking drugs abroad, even smuggling them or getting involved in any dodgy moneymaking activity in the developing world, you’d better either be as hard as nails or else the son or daughter of the ambassador in residence.

More about foreign jails.

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Road Junky

Road Junky specialises in provocative, off-the-cuff travel writing that isn't meant to be taken too seriously. Come and meet us in Morocco each winter for our Sahara Retreat.