All prisoners who serve time at maximum-security prisons (or high security in the US federal system) are confined in individual cells, secured with electronic sliding doors controlled from a remote office.

Prisoners are allowed to get out of their cells once a day for just one hour – some states are more generous by giving an additional 30 minutes – and spending the remaining 23 hours inside.

Even when they are out of their cells, prisoners remain inside a block or exterior cage. Every movement in and out of the block is excessively restricted. Restraints and escorts by correctional officers are not out of the ordinary.

High-security institutions typically have secured parameters with walls and reinforced fences, close control of inmate movements, and a high staff-to-inmate ratio.

Although the vast majority of inmates incarcerated at high-security prisons are male, a small percentage is made up of dangerous women who committed violent crimes such as murders and aggravated assaults.

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10 Rebecca Jane Butterfield

One of Australia’s most dangerous female prisoners, Rebecca Jane Butterfield, is both violent and suicidal. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is currently pleading for a transfer to a mental health facility by the end of 2020.

Butterfield has spent the last 20 years behind bars at the Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre, a maximum-security facility for female offenders.

Initially convicted in 1996 for unlawful entry, malicious damage, and drug offenses, Butterfield has remained in prison ever since.

The string of violent crimes she committed while serving time includes stabbing a fellow inmate 33 times to death in 2003.

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9 Renee Acoby

At the age of 21, Renee Acoby started her federal prison sentence on the assault and drug trafficking charges. It was initially a three-and-a-half-year term.

Before that term ended, however, Acoby had become something the Canadian authorities refer to as “dangerous offender” – a title given only to the most violent killers and sexual predators in the country.

A copy was regarded as such for the crimes she committed within the penal system. She has been convicted in at least five hostage-takings and assaults on prison staff and other inmates. In Canada, dangerous offenders have an indefinite prison sentence.



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8 Beverley Allitt

Over 59 days from February to April 1991, Beverley Allitt murdered four children, attempted to murder three others, and caused grievous bodily harm to six more.

She committed all those crimes when working as a State Enrolled Nurse at the Grantham and Kesteven Hospital in Lincolnshire, England.

All her victims had been brought to the hospital for minor illnesses, but their condition worsened for no apparent reasons under her care.

Allitt was found to be the only nurse on duty when all the attacks happened. She is incarcerated at the Rampton Secure Hospital, a high-security psychiatric hospital in Nottinghamshire, serving 13 life sentences for her crimes.

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7 Rosemary West

Convicted in 1995 for the murders of ten women, Rosemary West was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Together with her husband Fred, they tortured and killed at least 12 women; Rosemary had no involvement in the first two victims’ deaths. Among all the women murdered, one was their daughter. 

Fred committed suicide in prison while awaiting trial. Rosemary is now serving her time at the HM Prison New Hall, a high-security correctional facility located in West Yorkshire, England.

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6 Sylvia Seegrist

On October 30, 1985, Sylvia Seegrist opened fire at a shopping mall in Springfield, Pennsylvania.

During the rampage, she killed three people and injured seven others. Among the individuals, she shot and killed with a Ruger 10/22 that day was a two-year-old boy.

At the sentencing trial, she was found guilty but insane. That said, Seegrist was sentenced to three consecutive life imprisonments and seven successive 10-year terms.

She was admitted to Mayview State Hospital for evaluation and then transferred to the State Correctional Institution, a close- and a maximum-security prison.

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5 Pamela Smart

A 15-year-old William Flynn became a person of interest in investigating the murder of Pamela Smart’s husband, Greggory Smart, on May 1, 1990. At the time of the murder, Pamela and Flynn were having an affair.

It was later discovered that Smart threatened Flynn that she would stop having sex with him unless he killed her husband.

On March 22, 1991, she was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, being an accomplice to first-degree murder, and witness tampering. She is now serving a life sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York.

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4 Nicole Addimando

Domestic partners Christopher Grover and Nicole Addimando first met in 2008. In 2003, Grover became violent and would often force Addimando to have sex with him; if she refused, he would attack her. From the turbulent relationship, they have two children.

As it turned out, Grover had been filming the abuse and uploading the footage to an adult website without Addimando’s consent.

On September 27, 2018, Grover was found dead in his home. Addimando admitted to killing him in defense against her abuser.

She was sentenced to 19-year-to-life imprisonment and is incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women.

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3 Joanna Dennehy

The perpetrator of a series of killings in Cambridgeshire – a county in the East of England – in March 2013 was a woman named Joanna Christine Dennehy, who stabbed five male victims; two of them survived. Dennehy claimed she wanted to kill nine men to be like Bonnie and Clyde. 

Dennehy was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole on February 28, 2014, and is now incarcerated at the Low Newton Prison in County Durham.

When she first arrived at the facility, she threatened to kill Rosemary West, who had been transferred to another prison.

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2 Katherine Knight

The title for the first Australian woman to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole goes to a mother of four, Katherine Knight, who was convicted for the murder of John Charles Thomas Price.

Sometime between February 29 and March 1, 2000, Knight stabbed Price 37 times with a butcher’s knife, skinned him, and hung the skin on a meat hook.

She also decapitated him and cooked parts of his body. Knight served up the meat at a dining table. She is now incarcerated at Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre in New South Wales.

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1 Kristen Gilbert

From late 1995 to early 1996, four patients admitted to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Northampton, Massachusetts died of cardiac arrest; all of them were under Kirsten Gilbert’s care, and in each case, ephedrine was the suspected cause.

She was found guilty of first-degree murder in three of the cases, second-degree murder in the fourth, and attempted murder in the case of two other patients.

She was sentenced to four-lifetime imprisonment without parole and is now incarcerated at Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

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