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Punishment Inside Alcatraz Prison That Was So Brutal It Had To Be Stopped In 1942

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Punishment Inside Alcatraz Prison That Was So Brutal It Had To Be Stopped In 1942

Despite closing down as a prison in 1963, Alcatraz maintains its reputation as one of the scariest institutions in the world. 

Since reopening as a museum on the San Francisco Bay island, disturbing facts about its history continue to come to light.

Today we’re looking at a punishment that was so brutal it had to be stopped in 1942, which speaks volumes for a prison that was designed to break the minds of America’s hardest criminals.

Although the Federal Bureau of Prisons believed that isolating inmates on a small island surrounded by icy cold water would be punishment enough when Alcatraz opened in 1934, there were no designated areas to separate rule-breakers. 

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Alcatraz was closed down as a prison in 1963. Credit: Creative Commons
Alcatraz was closed down as a prison in 1963. Credit: Creative Commons

According to Alcatraz 101, at first, repeat offenders were taken to isolation cells in the original D Block and A Block.

But over time, some were transferred below the cell house to an old military segregation unit referred to by prisoners as ‘The Dungeon’. 

Inmates were kept here for up to 14 days at a time, and were often subjected to inhumane conditions such as being shackled and made to stand up in total darkness while receiving regular beatings and minimal food and water.

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As more convicts were made to experience the dreaded dungeon, stories began to circulate, with one of the most prominent rumours being that the torture chambers were built by the Spanish Inquisition.

News flash: they weren’t. 

But nonetheless, the extreme conditions of the dungeon grew in notoriety and became known by the public and authorities, who deemed them as too harsh – even by Alcatraz’s standards. 

Prisoners were subjected to cruel conditions. Credit: Creative Commons
Prisoners were subjected to cruel conditions. Credit: Creative Commons
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So outraged were people by the prison, the details of which had remained under wraps until this point, that US Attorney General Frank Murphy tried to have it closed down. 

In 1939, he was quoted as saying: "The whole institution is conducive to psychology that builds up a sinister and vicious attitude among the prisoners.”

Fast forward to 1942 and the Bureau of Prisons director ruled that the dungeon was a cruel and unusual punishment and therefore put a stop to the use of these cells. 

Following the uproar, conditions for Alcatraz’s residents improved somewhat, and certain orders such as a rule of silence amongst prisoners was eased.

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That being said, they were still only allowed to ‘hold quiet conversations’, while ‘loud talking, shouting, whistling, singing or other unnecessary noises’ remained strictly prohibited. 

Today Alcatraz Island is a popular tourist attraction. Credit: Creative Commons
Today Alcatraz Island is a popular tourist attraction. Credit: Creative Commons

Alcatraz 101 went on to say that more than a million dollars was used to upgrade the facilities, a majority of which was spent on remodelling the D Block cells. 

Despite the efforts put into the island institution, Alcatraz closed its doors in 1963 as it was deemed too expensive to maintain. 

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Today it exists as a popular tourist attraction, one that's considered to be a dark reminder of America’s past and present justice system failures. 

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Crime, US News, True Crime

Daisy Phillipson
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