Even when it was named La Isla de Los Alcatraces in 1775, no one had anything nice to say about this nine-hectare (22-acre) island. It was barren, with hardly any soil or vegetation, no beaches, and a layer of guano coated its surface.
The stratified rock made it difficult for people to build on and steep cliffs encircled by deadly currents made access a nightmare. It remained untouched for nearly another century before the US began to see the features for which the island had been shunned in a more positive light.
In 1859, Camp Alcatraz was established by the US Army garrison for 200 soldiers and armaments, but despite enduring the American Civil War, its guns were never fired. Alcatraz proved far more useful as a military prison for deserters, insubordinates and, of course, Confederate sympathisers.
A new block was built in 1909, which was modernized into a maximum-security prison when the army turned The Rock over to the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1934. It’s during the following 30-year period that Alcatraz became the most famous penitentiary in American – if not world – history.
Alcatraz gained its reputation because of its geographical location, its maximum-security status and its notorious inmates.
Only 300 of the most disruptive and high-risk of federal prisoners were detained there, held under conditions so strict that anything other than food, medicine, shelter, legal representation and letters to family was considered a privilege to be earned by good behaviour.
Security was tight; only the elite of officers were posted at Alcatraz and prison procedures were run with military precision. Even if an inmate did manage to breach the walls, they still had a chilly stretch of water with treacherously strong currents to navigate before they reached the mainland. Alcatraz prison was closed in 1963 after a review concluded that operations were too expensive and its novel location had encouraged a ‘circus’ atmosphere.
Top 3 unusual prison
2. Most homely – Justizzentrum Leoben – One of the most luxurious jails must be the glass and stainless steel Justice Centre in Leoben, Austria, a joint prison/court complex.
3. Swankiest – San Pedro prison – Found in La Paz, Bolivia, this prison is more like its own little neighbourhood with restaurants, a school and even a hotel.