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Alcatraz: United States Penitentiary
As a result of the Great Depression, a new breed of violent criminals swept the streets of America. In response to the cries of alarmed citizens, Congress enacted a number of statutes, which gave the federal government jurisdiction over certain criminal offenses previously held by the states. With the suggestion of former US Attorney General, Homes Cummings, Congress agreed that a special penal institution of maximum security and minimum privilege be established. In 1934, the legendary US Penitentiary of Alcatraz was born and became the home of Americas most wanted for the next thirty years.
Once authorized by Congress, the US Department of Justice acquired control of Alcatraz Island, previously a US Army compound. As the island was redeveloped into a maximum-security prison, seven of its twelve acres were enclosed in a prison compound. The remaining five were set aside for employee residences, apartments, and recreational space. Soon after the redesigning of the old Army fortress, the Alcatraz prison was ready for the grand opening (or better said lockout!). Equipped with four different cellblocks, A, B, C and D, the Rock began its operations on January 2, 1934. Although cellblock A was seldom used, B, C and D provided 378 “cages” to accommodate the most notorious felons that America could produce.
The first of four wardens to take charge of the penitentiary was a retired, professional administrator named James A. Johnston. The Department of Justice carefully selected Johnston because he was a well-organized, no-nonsense businessman with over twelve years of experience in the California Department of Corrections. Under Johnston, another ninety officers were required to cover the three eight-hour shifts (plus leave and vacation time).
During its thirty years of service, close to 1545 inmates resided at the Alcatraz penitentiary. Contrary to popular belief, Alcatraz was initially meant to confine only a few of the infamous headline-makers of the era. However, out of the total population ever to occupy this prison, the vast majority was not to be found on wanted posters adorning post office walls. The average number of prisoners maintained in the prison (at one time) was 260, with a high count of 302 and a low count of 222 men.
Although many stories exist of escapes from Alcatraz, only three men were successful in escaping the prison and the island, Morris and the Anglin brothers (June of 1962). Thirty-six prisoners were involved in attempts to escape: seven shot and killed, 2 drowned, 5 unaccounted for and the rest recaptured. Even though some men have made it off the island, survival still remains questionable.
Alcatraz was, of course, home to Al Capone for about four and a half years. He was
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