94. Why did Alcatraz close?
One reason was money. Alcatraz had always been an ex-pensive proposition, being
on an island. Everything had to take a boat ride to get to Alcatraz, even water and
food, and they had to run a power plant to generate electricity on Alcatraz. One
congressman claimed that it would have cost less to house the inmates at the
Waldorf Astoria--with room service--than it cost the taxpayers to keep them at
Also, as Bureau of Prisons Director James Bennett noted in 1952, the location of
Alcatraz--way out on the west coast of the country--was a problem. The cost of
sending a national clientele to this far west location was why Director Bennett
suggested Alcatraz be "shut down and replaced by an institution more centrally
located and less difficult to operate".
Further, an engineering survey performed in 1961 found that the buildings on
Alcatraz were in dangerous condition, estimating the cost at five million dollars to
have them repaired. A look at the buildings and walls around the prison reveals
the problem. Subjected to saltwater being blown onto it incessantly, the metal
reinforcement within the concrete is rusting and corroding, breaking down the
concrete. A half-century of that damage was all that the buildings could take.
Another reason for the closure of Alcatraz had to do with environmental
protection. The Alcatraz sewage disposal system was called a pipe. All of the raw
sewage from Alcatraz Island was dumped, untreated, straight into San Francisco
Bay. Concerns were beginning to be raised about this problem; the solution, a
sewage treatment plant, was sure to be costly.
An oft-cited factor in the closure of Alcatraz was politics. The Attorney General of
the United States, Robert Kennedy, saw Alcatraz as an example of how not to treat
people. He wanted it closed. It closed.
95. When did the prison close?
On March 21, 1963, the final 27 prisoners departed Alcatraz. The prison had been
downsized in an orderly manner, so there were only those few inmates left.
The press from San Francisco was invited over to watch the closing, which was
poignant, as correctional officers left the guard towers one-by-one, closing down
the command in traditional military style.
The final inmate to walk out the front door was quoted as declaring that "Alcatraz
was never no good for nobody".
96. Will Alcatraz Penitentiary ever reopen as a correctional
No. From time to time, federal, state and local politicians refer to Alcatraz in
speeches; some have even suggested legislation to look at the feasibility of
reopening Alcatraz. But for the money required to set up and run Alcatraz as a
prison for a few hundred inmates, the Bureau of Prisons could probably open
several large penitentiaries elsewhere.
97. Did any prison replace Alcatraz?
There was a new federal penitentiary built near Marion, Illinois, to replace
Alcatraz as the high-security refuse bin of the federal prison system, but the
Alcatraz inmates weren't transferred to the Marion penitentiary en masse. Bureau
of Prisons administrators thought that bringing in hundreds of Alcatraz cons
would be too much of a "shock to the system" of a new institution. Since then,
several "supermax" prisons have been built by federal and state prison authorities
across the country.
98. What happened at Alcatraz after the penitentiary closed?
After the Department of Justice closed Alcatraz in 1963, the General Services
Administration took over, with mostly maintenance workers working on the
island. Later, a General Services Administration caretaker lived on Alcatraz until
that period known as the Indian Occupation. Shortly after the Indian Occupation
ended, the National Park Service began the planning process for opening Alcatraz
Island as part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.