Why Did Alcatraz Close?


Quick Answer

The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island off the coast of San Francisco closed due to its high operating costs and the estimated costs of rebuilding its deteriorating buildings and utilities systems. Additionally, San Francisco Bay residents complained of environmental damage due to the release of sewage from the penitentiary.

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Full Answer

Although Alcatraz Penitentiary was considered escape-proof because of its location in the middle of the cold, current-swept waters of San Francisco Bay, its isolation made it expensive to supply, as everything had to be brought in by boat. A study in 1959 concluded that it was more than three times as expensive to run than any other federal prison. Additionally, the wind and salt air had badly deteriorated the support structure for the cell blocks, the catwalks and the electrical systems. It was determined that in its unsafe condition, an earthquake would have catastrophic consequences. Repair costs were estimated at $5 million. Although repairs were attempted between 1958 and 1961, engineers decided that the effort was futile.

U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered the facility closed. A new penitentiary was built in Marion, Ill., to replace it. Prisoners were gradually transferred to the Marion penitentiary and other federal prisons, and the last 27 prisoners left Alcatraz Island on March 21, 1963.

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