Joliet Correctional Center (colloquially known as Joliet Prison) was a prison in Joliet, Illinois, United States from 1858 to 2002. It is featured in the motion picture The Blues Brothers as the prison from which Jake Blues is released at the beginning of the movie. It is also the location for the first season of Fox Network's Prison Break television show and the movie Let's Go to Prison.
Often confused with Stateville Correctional Center, which is located in nearby Crest Hill, Illinois, Joliet Correctional Center is in fact a completely separate prison. Joliet prison was built with convict labor at a total cost of $75,000 and had space for 761 inmates. The prison was built where it was because the limestone used to make it was mined directly from the site. Opened in 1858, just outside of Joliet city limits, it replaced the Alton Prison, which opened 1833 and closed 1860. The limestone buildings were designed by William W. Boyington. He also designed the Chicago Water Tower, the Hegeler Carus Mansion, and the Illinois State Capitol building in Springfield. At the time of construction, it was the largest prison in the country and its design became a model for United States prisons.
The first 33 inmates arrived in May 1858. Both criminal prisoners and prisoners of war were kept there during the Civil War. The first corrections officer to be killed there was Joseph Clark in 1865. By 1872 the population had reached 1,239, a record number for a single prison. From the 1870s the prison had work contracts with local businesses.
The prison was slow to modernize. There was no running water or toilets in the cells in 1910. The construction of the nearby Stateville Correctional Center begun in 1917 and opened in March 1925 was meant to lead to the swift closure of Joliet. This did not happen, and both prisons operated simultaneously for the rest of the 20th Century.
A women's prison was added across the road from the main structures in 1896 but closed in 1932 when the female prison in Dwight, Illinois was opened. It then became an annex for the male prison and later the male reception unit for northern Illinois.
From at least the early 1960s, the prison included a reception and classification center for northern Illinois, holding new prisoners for less than a month before their final assignments and processing over 20,000 a year. In addition to the prisoners temporarily held in the R&C unit, Joliet maintained a large population of permanent inmates.
The number of inmates peaked at 1,300 in 1990 and was still 1,156 in 2000, although capacity had been raised to 1,300 over 1999–2000, from 1,180 previously. In 2000 there were 541 staff.
For years Joliet was a main site of executions in Illinois. One of three state's electric chairs - mostly used - was located here. The first electrocution in Illinois was performed in Joliet.
"Percy's Song", from Bob Dylan's album The Times They Are a-Changin', which has been covered by artists such as Fairport Convention and Arlo Guthrie, tells the story of someone trying to get a friend's ninety-nine year sentence in Joliet Prison repealed. The second verse runs:
The humorous Steve Goodman song "Lincoln Park Pirates" centers on an infamous Chicago firm called Lincoln Park Towing. One of its lines is:
Some characters from Saw II were ex-Joliet Prison inmates.
Since its closure, Joliet Prison has been used much more as a set for various film and television projects.