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Why did Alcatraz prison close?


This mythical prison, located in the bay of San Francisco in California, closed its doors sixty years ago.

Alcatraz prison is a fortified island located 1.92 km off the coast of San Francisco.

Now converted into a historic site, between 1934 and 1963 it housed the most dangerous prisoners in the United States.

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Its history is a reflection of the country's crime-fighting policy.

Originally built as a military fortress from 1850 to 1909, it was a military prison from 1909 to 1933 before becoming this famous prison that saw the greatest criminals like Al Capone or Machine Gun Kelly.

For Franck Vindevogel, a specialist in contemporary American civilization and author of the book

America of prisons,

origins and assessment of mass incarceration

, "

the main assets of this prison have become over the years its main weaknesses


money pit

According to him, several factors led the American prison authorities to close this prison site.

Its insular geographical location allowed total isolation of the prisoners but the maintenance costs were exorbitant.


The sea air made the concrete much more vulnerable and twenty after it opened, the state of disrepair of the site was quite advanced

," he says.

All this without counting the daily logistics costs of the prison which were very high.

It was necessary to supply daily food to the detainees and the prison staff who lived there with their families.

The children were transported every morning by boat to go to school...

”, explains Franck Vindevogel.


At the time, Alcatraz prison cost three times more per inmate than a conventional prison


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Eventually the costs of repairing and maintaining the prison became more expensive than building a brand new one.

Following the closure of Alcatraz, a new high-security penitentiary center is born, located in Illinois called Marion.

Change in public opinion

The historical context is also an important factor to consider.

When it opened in the 1930s, organized crime was experiencing its golden age in the United States, particularly in connection with the crisis of 1929 and alcohol prohibition.

The gangster figure is fashionable in entertainment like the character of Al Capone.

Thus, “

it was a publicity stunt from the authorities to show their firmness towards these criminals.

We were trying to reverse the roles in the face of these gangsters in the image of


The creation of a prison with very harsh conditions of detention visible to all (from the port of San Francisco) served as a deterrent

“says Franck Vindevogel.

It was not a question of locking up those who had committed the most horrible crimes but more “

the unmanageable of the prison system, violent within the prisons or who tried to escape

”, he continues.

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But Alcatraz has become a victim of its own success.

Place of curiosity, the prison attracted many tourists who came to see this fortress.

In the 1950s, the population gradually became less sensitive to this issue of crime, which had fallen sharply.

The golden age of organized crime was over.

According to Franck Vindevogel, “

a progressive movement was gaining momentum in the country, particularly in terms of justice.

The experts from the prisons offices wished to put forward the ideal of rehabilitation of the prisoner rather than the punitive sanction, which the prison of Alcatraz embodied


All these factors got the better of the closure of the mythical prison on the Californian coast.

On the other hand, this expert specifies that the famous escape on the night of June 11, 1962, where three individuals managed to escape without ever having been found - and probably dead during the crossing - is not, contrary to popular belief, not responsible for its closure.


The Attorney General of the United States,

Robert Kennedy - brother of John F. Kennedy - had already begun his closure, with the construction of the Marion prison which had already begun

," he said.

Today the prison has become a tourist attraction with more than one and a half million visits per year.

It is part of the American national parks.

Source: lefigaro

All news articles on 2023-03-21

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