Inmates who posed the greatest threats of violence and escape were sent to maximum security at Alcatraz. Those who posed no threat were sent to minimum security work camps. Low, medium, and high security prisons were available for those inmates in-between. The range of prison options encouraged good inmate behavior. Inmates knew they would be transferred to higher security prisons if they got into trouble.
As the highest security prison, Alcatraz kept its inmates under the tightest controls. Inmates were housed one man to a cell. Two-person cells, four-person cells, and open dormitories were common in other federal prisons. Inmates at other prisons spent most of their days out of their cells at mandatory work programs, educational classes, and recreational activities.

Alcatraz inmates had to earn their way out of their cells through good behavior. Everything other than food, medical care, shelter, clothes, legal representation, letters to family members, and religious services was considered a privilege.

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