Alcatraz Prison And Its History With Criminals

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, famously referred to as “The Rock”, served as a maximum prison from 1934-1963. It was located at Alcatraz Island on the San Francisco coast and could hold about 260 prisoners at any time. Alcatraz prison used to hold hardcore criminals from other federal penitentiaries, including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. During the weekdays, prisoners participated in some simple activities, such as cleaning and gardening, within their cell blocks and had recreation activities over the weekends. They also worked in a neighboring factory that produced military and prison goods. This paper delves into the prison’s inception, criminal experience, and closure. Despite having a good reputation, facilities, and maximum security, Alcatra Prison recorded several escape attempts.

The prison was perceived as a strict prison in the United States, although some prisoners would make requests for their transfer to the facility. The prison had better facilities and services, such as single-person cells and decent food. Prisoners got rewards for their good behavior; they were allowed to play games and have access to study in the library. They were highly prohibited from interacting or talking to one another, even during meal hours. It is only over the weekends that they get the opportunity to socialize while participating in recreational activities (Crime Museum, 2021). Those who came to the facility benefitted with extra privileges such as recreational activities not offered in other prisons.

Other federal prisons with inmates who refused to follow their respective facilities’ rules sent them to Alcatraz. Inmates were highly monitored and subjected to a daily learning routine of following the rules and regulations. After five years in Alcatraz, the prisoners underwent a routine assessment to ascertain whether they could genuinely follow the rules and no longer posed a risk. The prisoners who passed this evaluation would be transferred to other facilities to complete their respective sentences before being released (Crime Museum, 2021). The hardcore criminals molted to be better persons who follow the rules.

In the entire period of its operation as a federal referral prison, a total of 14 failed attempted escapes were recorded. Some prisoners defied the rules of staying in prison to serve their sentences and opted to take the risk of seeking their freedom; however, their attempt did not happen as anticipated as it resulted in recapture and fatalities. A total of 36 inmates participated in the different attempts; two tried it twice. Of the prisoners, 23 were recaptured, seven were shot dead, three were confirmed to have drowned, and the authorities could not account for five (National Park Service, n.d.). None of the prisoners in the attempted escape made it out successfully.

Attempted escapes in Alcatraz varied from one to the other depending on the technique used, but due to tight security, none was successful. The attempts were simple, crafty, or violent, while others were unaccounted for. In 1936, John Bowser attempted a simple escape by jumping the fence; however, it failed, and he succumbed to bullet injuries (Federal Bureau of Prisons, n.d.). Three inmates overpowered and killed a prison officer in a violent attempt in 1939 and made their way to the roof through the window. An officer at the guard tower spotted and fired at them, killing one instantly while immobilizing the other two. A crafty inmate, in 1945, working at the laundry, managed to assemble a full army uniform to impersonate an officer and find his way out; unfortunately, the guard noticed his absence and raised the alarm before he could escape. In 1962, three inmates escaped; no one could account for whether the escape was successful or died but were found (National Park Service, n.d.) (Federal Bureau of Prisons, n.d.). Irrespective of the techniques the prisoners used to escape, none was successful due to the heavy security in and around the prison.

In conclusion, despite being a tough prison, inmates preferred to be transferred to Alcatraz since it had better facilities than where they were. Alcatraz received a good reputation for being a strict and disciplinary correctional facility where inmates came and left as better persons who could follow the rules. Some inmates did not want to complete their prison terms and opted to try their luck by escaping, which were never successful. Most of them were recaptured, while others lost their lives.


Crime Museum. (2021). Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. Crime Museum.

Federal Bureau of Prisons. (n.d.). The Rock. BOP.

National Park Service. (n.d.). Alcatraz Island. National Parks Service.