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Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary facts for kids

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United States Penitentiary,
Alcatraz Island photo D Ramey Logan.jpg
Alcatraz Island
Location San Francisco Bay, California
Coordinates 37°49′36″N 122°25′24″W / 37.82667°N 122.42333°W / 37.82667; -122.42333
Status Closed (now a museum)
Security class Maximum
Capacity 312
Opened 11 August 1934; 88 years ago (1934-08-11)
Closed 21 March 1963; 59 years ago (1963-03-21)
Managed by Federal Bureau of Prisons, Department of Justice
James A. Johnston (1934–48)
Edwin B. Swope (1948–55)
Paul J. Madigan (1955–61)
Olin G. Blackwell (1961–63)

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary or United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island (often referred to as Alcatraz [ (Latin America)/ (Spain) from Arabic: غطاس, romanized: al-ġaţţās, lit.'gannet ("the diver")'] or The Rock) was a maximum security federal prison on Alcatraz Island, 1.25 miles (2.01 km) off the coast of San Francisco, California, United States, the site of a fort since the 1850s; the main prison building was built in 1910–1912 as a United States Army military prison. The United States Department of Justice acquired the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch, on Alcatraz on 12 October 1933, and the island became a prison of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in August 1934 after the buildings were modernized and security increased. Given this high security and the island's location in the cold waters and strong currents of San Francisco Bay, prison operators believed Alcatraz to be escape-proof and America's strongest prison.

The three-story cellhouse included the four main cell blocks, A-block through D-block, the warden's office, visitation room, the library, and the barber shop. The prison cells typically measured 9 feet (2.7 m) by 5 feet (1.5 m) and 7 feet (2.1 m) high. The cells were primitive and lacked privacy, with a bed, desk, and washbasin, and a toilet on the back wall, and with few furnishings except a blanket. African-Americans were segregated from other inmates in cell designation due to racial abuse. D-Block housed the worst inmates, and six cells at its end were designated "The Hole", where badly behaving prisoners would be sent for periods of often brutal punishment. The dining hall and kitchen extended from the main building. Prisoners and staff ate three meals a day together. The Alcatraz Hospital was above the dining hall.

Prison corridors were named after major U.S. streets such as Broadway and Michigan Avenue. Working at the prison was considered a privilege for inmates and many of the better inmates were employed in the Model Industries Building and New Industries Building during the day, actively involved in providing for the military in jobs such as sewing and woodwork, and performing various maintenance and laundry chores.

Today, Alcatraz is a public museum and one of San Francisco's major tourist attractions, attracting some 1.5 million visitors annually. Now operated by the National Park Service's Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the former prison is being restored and maintained.


Native Americans, known as Ohlone (A Miwok word), were the earliest known inhabitants of Alcatraz island. In Miwok mythology, evil spirits were said to inhabit the island. In popular culture, Alcatraz has been listed as among the top 5 allegedly "haunted" spots in California.

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