Alcatraz Island, “The Rock” started it’s notorious history in 1853 as a fort, built to protect San Francisco Bay and though well armed, never saw any military action. By 1861 it had become a military prison for Confederate prisoners and later for prisoners from the Spanish-American War. In 1907 it was officially designated a U.S. military prison and held conscientious objectors during WW I.
In 1933 it was turned over to the US Department of Justice and became a Federal Prison. Because of it’s location in the very treacherous San Francisco Bay, it was felt that no one would be able to escape the prison and survive. It became a prison to hold the worst prisoners in the prison system and to be sent to Alcatraz meant the prisoner would likely never leave there. It initially had a population of 137 prisoners and 155 staff but eventually held up up 256 prisoners.
Being a prison for incorrigible prisoners made it a very grim place. Some of the convicts had work assignments but for those who didn’t it was a very long, drawn out time. Up at 6:30, breakfast at 7:00, lunch at 11:30, supper at 4:30 and lights out at 9:30. There was no recreation, no rehabilitation, no professional counselling, no TV and little radio.
By 1963 the prison was proving too costly to run because of its location (nearly triple the cost of other prisons) and it was physically deteriorating. Attorney General Robert Kennedy closed the prison in March.
After the prison was closed it was occupied by the United Indians of All Tribes from 1969 to 1971.
Alcatraz is now part of the National Park Service.