Alcatraz Island, also known as ‘The Rock,’ a rocky island in San Francisco Bay, off the coast of California, in the United States. From 1934 to 1963, a facility on the island served as a federal prison for some of the most dangerous civilian prisoners. Learn more about the history of Alcatraz Island here.
Families lived on Alcatraz during its prison years: The guards and officers lived on the island with their spouses and children. There's even an Alumni Association for folks who grew up there. Prisoners actually did escape from Alcatraz: While it was a prison, 36 tried to get away. Of those, 23 were captured, six were shot, and two drowned.
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Each cell in B & C block was 5 feet by 9 feet. Cells at Alcatraz had a small sink with cold running water, small sleeping cot, and a toilet. Most men could extend their arms and touch each wall within their cell. The cells in D Block (segregation) were more spacious, but still the least popular. In D-Block, inmates were confined to their cells 24-hours per days, with the exception of one visit per week to the recreation yard, and these visits were alone.
There were 336 cells in B & C Block. NPS states that there were originally 348, but 12 were removed when stairways were installed at the end of each cellblock. There were 36 segregation cells, and 6 solitary confinement cells (actually known as confinement chambers by many inmates) in D-Block. Two cells on the end of C-Block were used as restrooms for the guard staff. The cells in A-Block were only used a few times for (rare) short term lock-up periods when an inmate did not require full solitary confinement seclusion, but needed to be fully isolated from other inmates. Records indicate that Clarence Carnes, Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson were all imprisoned in A-Block (separated by multiple cell lengths) following the 1946 Riots and while standing trial for the deaths of two Alcatraz Guards from the 1946 Escape Attempt. Otherwise, A-Block was used for materials storage.
Yes. Inmates were granted one visit per month and each visitation had to be approved directly by the Warden. No physical contact was allowed and rules dictated that inmates were not allowed to discuss current events, or any matters concerning prison life. Inmates talked with visitors via intercom and a correctional officer monitored the conversations during each the majority of the time (Alcatraz Captain Phil Bergen stated that they didn't always have time to monitor the conversations, but the vast majority were). Inappropriate conduct during visits would result in a loss of visiting and/or other privileges.
At any given time, there were about 300 civilians living on Alcatraz that included both women and children. The primary living areas for families were Building #64, three apartment buildings, one large duplex, and four large wooden houses for senior officers. Families enjoyed their own bowling alley, small convenience store, and soda fountain shop for the younger island residents. Families did most of their shopping on the mainland since the prison boat made twelve scheduled runs to the Van Ness Street Pier each day. The Warden lived in a large house adjacent to the cell house and actually used inmates with good conduct records for cleaning and cooking.
Actually, yes. Willie Radkay (he shared a cell next to Machine Gun Kelly), indicated that having your own cell was a great advantage over other federal prisons. By having your own cell, it reduced the chances of being sexually violated and the privacy aspect was also a cherished benefit. He also stated that the staff (the majority of the time) treated the inmates respectfully though they rarely spoke to one another. Furthermore, the food was the best within the entire prison system and considered his time at Alcatraz to be better than at any other penitentiary.
The common theme expressed by most inmates was the rule of silence which was discontinued in the late 1930's. In the earlier years of Alcatraz, inmates were not allowed to talk to one another except during meals and recreation periods. Some inmates commonly emptied out the water from their toilets and created a primitive communications system through the sewage piping. This rule was considered harsh and inmates were disciplined for even minor violations of this code. Inmates also state that the island was always cold. Most agree that cells on their higher tiers with window views were more popular since they tended to be warmer than the ground level cells.
There were eight people murdered by inmates on Alcatraz. Five men committed suicide, and fifteen died from natural illnesses. The Island also boasted it's own morgue but no autopsies were performed there. All deceased inmates were brought back to the mainland and released to the San Francisco County Coroner.
The highest number ever recorded was 302, and the lowest number 222. The average number of inmates during the 29 years of service was around 260. There were approximately 1545 total men imprisoned there and the NPS indicated that while 1,576 number were issued, over thirty convicts were returned to Alcatraz with different numbers issued. On average, the time of residence was about eight years. Men were never directly sentenced to Alcatraz and usually had to earn their way. There were only two men ever paroled directly from Alcatraz to the free world.
See the escape info link on this site that provides brief descriptions of each attempt. The NPS records indicate that 36 prisoners were involved in various attempts. Two inmates actually successfully made it off the island but were quickly captured. Seven inmates were shot and killed trying to escape. Two drowned and 5 inmates have been unaccounted for presumed drowned. The most famous escape was that of Frank Morris and the Anglin Brothers. All three were successful in swimming off Alcatraz, but all three are believed to have drowned. See the escapes links and also the Alcatraz short history narrative for more detailed information. The book ALCATRAZ - A Definitive History available for purchase on this web site has one of the most detailed accounts of this attempt ever written.
Primarily because of rising costs and deteriorating facilities. Operationally, Alcatraz was the most expensive prison of any state or federal institution. It was determined that other institutions could serve the same purpose for less cost.
None. Stroud had bred and studied birds at the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. Stroud was imprisoned at Alcatraz from 1942 until 1959. It was determined that Stroud was abusing his research privileges and sent to Alcatraz. Stroud was widely disliked by many fellow inmates and correctional officers. See other links for more detailed information. See his short biography in the Famous Inmates section here on AlcatrazHistory.com.
The cellhouse had been built on top of a 19th century fortress that was used by the military to protect the Bay. Below A-Block was a set of cells that were know as the Spanish Dungeon. These cells had been used primarily during the military prison era. In the late 1930's it is alleged that the dungeon cells were occasionally used for unmanageable inmates. Many correctional officers have agreed they had heard, or were aware that some extremely unmanageable inmates were handcuffed to bars in the dungeons for short periods of time. A-Block was used frequently as the segregation unit before D Block had undergone the transformation into a lock-down unit.
- Early Years as a Military Prison. In 1775, Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala (1745-97) mapped and named rugged Alcatraz Island, christening it La Isla de los Alcatraces, or Island of the Pelicans, due to its large population of sea birds.
- Doing Time as a Federal Prison: 1934-63. In 1933, the Army relinquished Alcatraz to the U.S. Justice Department, which wanted a federal prison that could house a criminal population too difficult or dangerous to be handled by other U.S. penitentiaries.
- Famous Inmates. Among those who did time at The Rock was the notorious Prohibition-era gangster Al “Scarface” Capone, who spent four-and-a-half years there during the 1930s.
- Escape Attempts from Alcatraz. Over the years, there were 14 known attempts to escape from Alcatraz, involving 36 inmates. The Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that of these would-be escapees, 23 were captured, six were shot and killed during their attempted getaways, two drowned and five went missing and were presumed drowned.
- Alcatraz Prison, "The Rock"
- Indian Occupation
- More History
From 1934 to 1963, Alcatraz housed many famous prisoners—or people who became famous due to their ties with it. When the prison first opened, the US government asked prison officials from around the country to provide a list of the worst of the worst prisoners in their facilities. From there, they created a list of the first inmates that would be shipped here. Since it was deemed inescapable, the US government thought it was the perfect place to house the worst convicts in the system. All of the cells here were single occupancy. The infamous "Rock" was never at capacity; on average, there were around 250 detainees here at any given time. Here is a photo of one of the small cells that the residents lived in. The part I love about visiting Alcatraz is hearing all the stories the guards used to tell the inmates to get them to behave—like that there were sharks living in the bay that would eat them if they tried to swim away. FUN FACT: Sharks dolive in the bay. However, they are smaller...
While the US government was thinking about a new plan for the island, a group of Native American activists occupied the island three times. They first tried to take it over in 1964, but only stayed for a few hours. A small group came back in 1969. After eleven days on "The Rock," a full-scale takeover occurred, which lasted for 19 months. At first, press coverage supported the takeover. They thought it was a great way to raise awareness about Native American issues at the time. However, support dwindled as the occupation continued. The group was not able to continue to raise money to supply themselves with food and other necessities. Finally, the US government removed the protesters in 1971. The legacy of this time period is still evident on the island today. During their occupation, the Native American occupants burned down a number of prison buildings and defaced a number of others. After they were removed, the US government stepped in to tear down some of the buildings they destr...
Alcatraz then became, and is still part of, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This group maintains several of the large parks throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. Next to Alcatraz is another larger island called Angel Island, another very interesting historical landmark in the San Francisco Bay.
If you are looking to learn even more about the history of Alcatraz, there are a few great books on the market. My favorite is Letters from Alcatrazby Michael Esslinger. He's written a few other books on the topic, but this is one of my favorites. It includes personal letters from the inmates that illustrate first-hand what life was like on "The Rock." Another great book, by the same author, isAlcatraz A Definitive History of the Penitentiary Years. This one has a broader range of information and does a great job of covering the high points of the history of the island.
The best way to learn more about Alcatraz is to visit. One of the most popular visiting options is the Alcatraz and San Francisco City combined tour. This six-hour tour includes the ferry ride to and from Alcatraz and the audio walking tour around the island. It also includes a narrated tour of San Francisco that hits all of the top city attractions, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, the Presidio, the Palace of Fine Arts, and more. Tickets for this tour—and for Alcatraz in general—sell out quickly during the peak travel season in San Francisco (April - October). Make sure you book your tickets at least six weeks in advance to secure your spot on this tour. Learn more about this tourand book your seat today! Want to learn more about what it's like to visit Alcatraz before booking? If so, then head to the Tours page to find out what to expect from a visit to this popular SF attraction.
It was active from 1934 until 1963 and nowadays, Alcatraz Island is open for public visitors. It is one of the most infamous places to visit in the United States and the island receives more than one million visitors every year. The guided tours showcase the old prison cells and tell the full history of Alcatraz Island.
Facts about Alcatraz Island 9: Juan Manuel de Ayala. In 1775, Juan Manuel de Ayala was the first Spaniard who documented the island. He called the island La Isla de los Alcatraces. The meaning is the Island of the Pelicans. Facts about Alcatraz Island 10: a federal prison. Alcatraz was a home to a federal prison. It was used for 29 years.
- Spanish explorers discovered Alcatraz Island in 1775. They named it La Isla de los Alcatraces, which means “Island of the Pelicans.” Prisoners later called it “The Rock.”
- In 1850, President Millard Fillmore (1800–1874) reserved Alcatraz Island for military use. A fortress was built on it and about 100 cannons were placed around the island to protect San Francisco Bay.
- The largest group of Native Americans imprisoned at Alcatraz was 19 Hopi “hostiles.” They were imprisoned because they refused to farm the way the U.S. government wanted them to.
- The "Escape from Alcatraz Marathon” is held every year to show that it is possible to escape from Alcatraz and live. Created in 1980, it includes a 1.5-mile swim to San Francisco, an 18-mile bike ride, and an 8-mile run.
Mar 31, 2019 · “The Rock: A History of Alcatraz Island, 1847-1972”, Erwin N. Thompson, United States Department of the Interior “A History of Alcatraz Island: 1853-2008”, Gregory L. Wellman, Arcadia Publishing (May 28, 2008) “Alcatraz”, James Barter, Lucent Books (September 2000)
Mar 31, 2019 · Today serving as a tourist destination and endemic in modern popular culture, the history and importance of Alcatraz Island goes beyond merely serving as a prison for adverse members of society. Alcatraz Island as seen from the East. Wikimedia Commons. Here are 20 important facts and events regarding Alcatraz Island that you should know: