Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay is perhaps most well-known for its now-abandoned prison, but it was also once home to a fort and is still the site of the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast of the USA. It also served as a military prison, housing Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War and Native Americans during the Indian wars, before it was converted to civilian use in 1934.
The island was chosen for both its isolation from the outside world, thanks to the cold, strong and hazardous currents of San Francisco Bay, as well as the existing structures in place for housing prisoners. Alcatraz was designed to make a statement in response to the rampant criminal activity of the gangster era and would be the repository for the nation’s most troublesome and dangerous prisoners. Most men would “earn” their way onto The Rock through their behaviour at other prisons. Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Henri Young (whose story was the purported inspiration for the movie Murder in the First) were among the Rock’s well-known residents.
When Alcatraz became a US federal prison in 1934, it was populated with inmates from within the prison system. During its years of operation, the penitentiary always claimed no prisoners had ever successfully escaped. While most were either caught or shot and killed during their escape attempts, there still remains the mystery of Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers, John and Clarence.
In June 1962, these three men successfully carried out one of the most intricately devised prison escapes, made famous in the movie Escape from Alcatraz, only to perish in the waters of San Francisco Bay, or so the authorities claimed. Interestingly, the prison, in need of extensive maintenance and with operating costs three times those of other prisons, was closed not long after the escape in March 1963.
This collection is an index to the comprehensive case files of the 1,550 men who did time at Alcatraz. The index includes information such as:
Once the inmate identification number in this index has been located, a copy of the inmate’s case files can then be requested from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Pacific Regional Office.
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