The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary (often just referred to as Alcatraz) was a maximum high-security federal prison on Alcatraz Island, one and a quarter miles off the coast of San Francisco, which operated from 1934 to this date in 1963 when it closed.
The main prison building was built in 1910–12 during its time as a United States military prison; Alcatraz had been the site of a citadel since the 1860’s. Acquired by the United States Department of Justice on October 12, 1933, the island became a prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in August 1934 after the buildings were modernized to meet the requirements of a top-notch security prison. Given this high security and the location of Alcatraz in the cold waters and strong currents of San Francisco Bay, the prison operators believed Alcatraz to be escape-proof and America’s strongest prison.
Alcatraz was designed to hold prisoners who continuously caused trouble at other federal prisons. One of the world’s most notorious and best-known prisons over the years, Alcatraz housed some 1,576 of America’s most ruthless criminals including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”) and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. It also provided housing for the Bureau of Prisons staff and their families. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts during the 29 years of the prison’s existence, the most notable of which was the violent escape attempt of May 1946 known as the “Battle of Alcatraz,” and the arguably successful “Escape from Alcatraz” by Frank Morris, John Angelin and Clarence Angelin in June 1962 in one of the most intricate escapes ever devised. Faced with high maintenance costs and a poor reputation, Alcatraz closed in 1963.
The prison cells typically measured 9 feet by 5 feet and 7 feet high, were primitive and lacked privacy, with a bed, a desk, and a washbasin and toilet on the back wall, with few furnishings except a blanket. African-Americans were segregated due to racial abuse being prevalent. D-Block housed the worst inmates, and five cells at the end of it were designated as “The Hole,” where badly behaving prisoners would be sent for periods of punishment, often brutally so.
Today the penitentiary is a public museum and one of San Francisco’s major tourist attractions, with some 1.5 million visitors annually. The former prison is now operated by the National Park Service. (from Wikipedia)