Alcatraz was probably the most famous federal prison in US history. The US government operates federal prisons to hold people convicted of violating federal laws. Alcatraz housed some of America’s most notorious offenders from 1934 to 1963. They were held under the most secure and regimented conditions, in the virtually escape-proof environment on a rocky island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.
The US penitentiary on Alcatraz opened in 1934. The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintained the facility to incarcerate a small number of inmates who were so dangerous, so violent, and so escape-prone that they could not be managed safely in other prisons. By holding these difficult inmates in one place, the Bureau could keep them under tight control and run its other prisons more safely and effectively. Without the most disruptive inmates, the Bureau developed pioneering rehabilitation programs at its other facilities. Alcatraz inmates seldom numbered more than three hundred at any time.
The Bureau of Prisons closed Alcatraz in 1963. Operations were too expensive, as supplies, fuel, and fresh water had to be barged to the island. Buildings were crumbling and would soon be uninhabitable. The prison’s unusual location encouraged a circus atmosphere, with tour boats circling the island and wild myths about life at Alcatraz being publicized in books and movies. A modern prison in Illinois replaced Alcatraz.

Key GOGA 18773
Click to learn about Alcatraz myths
Sound Clips
Mess Hall Virtual TourKitchen Virtual TourExercise YardCell Block Virtual TourLeg Shackles GOGA 94Al Capone GOGA 2316b1InmatesInmatesOfficersOfficersEquipment and ProceduresEquipment and Procedures