Alcatraz Island And Prison Alcatraz Island has quite a distinct history. Many people know that Alcatraz served as a federal prison, but most are reluctant to know that this island served as fort. Built before the Civil War, it served two main purposes. First, that it was to guard the San Francisco bay area from enemy ships against a foreign invasion, and second, to hold hostage prisoners of war or POW’s as they were called. In this report, I’ll show you how this fortress came to be a federal prison, why it is no longer in operation today, and most importantly, to show why it was built in the first place. When the great Gold Rush of 1849 first started, California grew from what would be considered a small, unpopulated state, into what it is now.
California is now one of the most populated states and it was mostly the gold rush that brought attention to California. As the government saw all of this happening, they realized that California was much more important than they ever realized. In their realization, they decided that California must be protected. San Francisco has one of the largest bays in all of California, and so this was where enemy countries would most likely to try to invade the country. So this is where Alcatraz was to lie, to serve as a military fort. It was supposed to serve as a secondary base in companionship to another base located on the other side of Golden Gate Bridge.
But with severe problems trying to build this other base, Alcatraz was to remain alone. Out in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, the island of Alcatraz is definitely a world unto itself. Isolation is just one of the many constants of island life for any inhabitant on Alcatraz Island. It is the most reoccurring theme in the unfolding history of Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz Island is one of Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s most popular destinations, offering a close-up look at a historic and infamous federal prison long off-limits to the public. Visitors to the island can not only explore the remnants of the prison, but learn of the American occupation of 1969 – 1971, early military fortifications and the West Coast’s first and oldest operating lighthouse. These structures stand among the island’s many natural features – gardens, tidepools, bird nests, and bay views beyond compare. (1) Fortress Alcatraz ran in operation from 1850 – 1933.
It served as San Francisco’s only major defense. It started off with only eleven cannons, that were transported onto the island in 1854. By the early 1860’s, Alcatraz had 111 cannons. Some were enormous, firing a fifteen-inch ball weighing over 450 pounds. Defenses included a row of brick enclosed gun positions called case mates to protect the dock; a fortified gateway or a Sally Port to block the entrance road; and a three-story citadel on top of the island.
This served both as an armed barracks and as a last line defense strategy. Even though Alcatraz was built to withstand a foreign invasion, its most important use was during the Civil War, 1861 – 1865. Seeing as it was the only completed fort in the entire bay, it was vital in the protecting from Confederate Raiders. Early in the war, ten thousand rifles were moved to Alcatraz from the State armory, to prevent them from being used by southern sympathizers. The crew of a Confederate privateer were among the first inmates to be held within The Rock.
Alcatraz’s notoriety as a penitentiary overshadows its earlier, and longer use by the Army. Surprisingly, this small island once was the most powerful fort west of the Mississippi River. There was some limited modernization of the island’s defenses after the Civil War. Rifled cannons were mounted. In 1854 some 450 electrically controlled underwater mines were brought to the island to protect the Bay. However, as the ships of potential enemies became more and more powerful, the defenses were increasing! ly obsolete.
In 1907 Alcatraz officially ceased being a fortress and became Pacific Branch, U.S. Military Prison. Alcatraz Island’s use as a prison began in December 1859 with the arrival of the first permanent garrison. Eleven of these soldiers were confined in the Sally Port basement. The Army recognized that the cold water (53 F) and swift currents surrounding Alcatraz made it an ideal site for a prison, and in 1861 the post was designated as the military prison for the Department of the Pacific – most of the territory west of the Rocky Mountains. The prison population grew during the Civil War with the addition of prisoners from other army posts, the crew of a Confederate privateer, and civilians accused of treason.
The Sally Port’s basement was filled, then one of the gun rooms, and a wooden stockade was built just to the North of the Sally Port. During the next three decades additional buildings were erected just north of the Sally Port to house up to 150 Army prisoners. These provided hard labor for construction projects both on and off the island. At various times rebellious American Indians were also held on Alcatraz. The largest group was nineteen Hopi, held in 1895.
The Spanish-American War of 1898 increased the size of the Army enormously, and the prison population also grew. A prison stockade, known as the Upper Prison was hastily built on the parade ground and by 1902 there were 461 prisoners on the Island. In 1904 the upper prison stockade was expanded to house 300 inmates, and the lower prison buildings near the Sally Port were used for other purposes. With modern weaponry making Alcatraz more and more unsuitable as a site for a fort, in 1907 the Army dropped plans to mount new guns, and instead designated the island Pacific Branch, U.S. Military Prison. The next year, with plentiful prison labor available, work began on the Cellhouse which still stands today. Completed in 1912 with 600 single cells, each with toilet and electricity, the Cellhouse was the largest reinforced concrete building in the world! In 1915 Alcatraz was changed from a military prison to Pacific Branch, U.S.
Disciplinary Barracks. The new name reflected the growing emphasis on rehabilitation as well as punishment. Prisoners with less serious offenses could receive training, education and an opportunity to return to the Army. Prisoners convicted of serious crimes were not given these chances, and were discharged from the Army when their sentences were completed. During the great depression of the 1930s military budgets were cut, and the Army was considering closing the Disciplinary Barracks – a perfect match for the Justice Departments desires for a super prison for incorrigible prisoners. Negotiations moved rapidly, and Alcatraz was transferred to the Bureau of Prisons in October 1933. By early 1934 eighty years of the U.S.
Army on Alcatraz had ended – except for 32 hard case prisoners, who were left to become the first penitentiary inmates. Some of the inmates included Al Capone and Robert Stroud, also known as the birdman of Alcatraz. Capone’s exact cell is not identified because records are not available. Former prisoners and Correctional Officers indicate that Al Capone’s cell is located on the outside west end of Cellblock B. Capone spent more time in the hospital than in the general population (GP).Robert Stroud (Birdman of Alcatraz) arrived in 1942, spent some 90 days in the GP. and was then transferred to D Block. Occupying more than one cell over a period of seventeen years, Stroud stayed in D block cell for approximately six years and was then moved up to the hospital in 1948, staying for eleven years, by request of Warden Swope.
Many times the prison was almost shut down, but I never thought the government would actually shut this place down. It was the best thing for the country. It lowered crime rates, because it scared the citizens of the U.S. into believing they would go to The Rock if they were even remotely bad. They shut it down, Oh God, they shut it down (2) The prison ran effectively, yet due to cost effectiveness, administrative changes in Washington, a change in BOP’s operating philosophy (reinstitution rehabilitation).
USPAZ. closed on 21 March 1963 (last prisoners removed on this day); Alcatraz was transferred to the General Services Administration (GSA) in May of 1963. Alcatraz witnessed eight murdered by other inmates (although records indicated only 7), five suicides, and 15 from illness. These were all of the deaths that took place on the island. Some people heard that many prisoners were killed in the gas chamber located on Alcatrz Island, they are wrong.
Although Federal courts do impose capital punishments, the reason why there is a gas chamber, but the actual carrying out of that sentence is attended to in the nearest State facility (in this case the death sentence was fulfilled at San Quentin State Prison). Is was rumored that no one ever escaped this island, but that is not exactly the case. Thirty-six prisoners were involved in attempts: 7 shot and killed, 2 drowned, 5 unaccounted for, the rest recaptured. 2 prisoners made it off the island but were returned, one, in 1945 (Giles) and one in 1962 (Scott). As for June 1962 escape, Morris and the Anglin brothers were successful in escaping both institution and island, but survival is very questionable. So to say that no one ever escaped the island, that is not true.
But if they survived, we may never know. Some people heard that many prisoners were killed in the gas chamber located on Alcatrz Island, they are wrong. Although Federal courts do impose capital punishments, the actual carrying out of that sentence is attended to in the nearest State facility Which in this case the death sentence would be fulfilled at San Quentin State Prison. There were several families that were housed on the island. The families were distributed in 64 Building, four wood frames houses, one duplex and three apartment buildings. Warden resided in large house adjacent to cell house, Captain and Associated Warden lived in duplex. The question that most people wonder, is how many guards actually upheld the island of Alcatraz, their answer is, 90 officers were required to cover the three 8-hour shifts, plus sick leave and vacation time.
Two-thirds of the custody staff resided on the island with the rest in the San Francisco and local areas. The actual amount prisoners that were contained on the island is somewhat vague due to the lack of accurate records. But as far as we know, it is somewhere in the vicinity of 1545 total, with 1576 numbers issued (some 30+ were returned to the institution with same number reissued). The most that was ever held in the prison at one time was 302, and as few as 222, but the typical average was around 260. Born of necessity, perhaps even political expediency, Alcatraz represents the federal government’s response to post-Prohibition, post-Depression America.
Both the institution and the men confined within its walls are a part of this era, and in order to be studied with any degree of understanding, it must be attended to with a focus on this time period. Prisons are a reflection of society and the reflection offered by Alcatraz is one of great clarity. The collaborative effort of attorney general Homer Cummings and Director of the Bureau of Prisons, Sanford Bates, produced a legendary prison that seemed both necessary and appropriate to the times. The emergence of persistent assertions about J. Edgar Hoover’s interest and influence with regard to Alcatraz cannot be corroborated, but neither have they been completely denied.
With the public peace constantly threatened by crime, a response had to be made and Alcatraz was that response. An in-house memo issued by Cummings shortly after taking office addressed the subject of creating a special prison for kidnapers, racketeers, and individuals guilty of predatory crimes. A remote site was sought, one that would prohibit constant communication with the outside world by those confined within its walls. Although land in Alaska was being considered, the availability of Alcatraz Island conveniently coincided with the government’s perceived need for a super-prison. Having taken possession of the former Army prison and having ci …