ALCATRAZ FACTS AND FIGURES
18. How many inmates were at Alcatraz?
Usually about 250. The Alcatraz cellhouse had secure cells available for 336
inmates, but they never got close to capacity. Federal prisoners at other prisons
knew there was always room at Alcatraz for more troublemakers.
Even with the ebb and flow of transfers to and from the other federal prisons, it
was rare for the Alcatraz population to go over 300. That is a real small number of
inmates for a prison; by comparison, even local and county jails in many areas
have much larger inmate populations.
Over the 29 years that Alcatraz operated as a federal pen-itentiary, records suggest
there were 1,576 inmates who spent time on The Rock. It is difficult to be exact
with that number, because a few inmates were at Alcatraz more than once;
sometimes they used different names, and sometimes they received different
19. Were there any women prisoners at Alcatraz?
No. Alcatraz was a penitentiary for incorrigible male federal prisoners. Other
prisons were built for women convicts, though none was commissioned using the
Alcatraz model for incorrigible women prisoners. Not only were there no women
inmates, there were no women at all in the cellhouse. No female guards or
administrators were hired at Alcatraz.
Some Alcatraz convicts went twenty or more years without hearing a woman's
voice. A few inmates, working on the dock or on maintenance details, would catch
an occasional glimpse of women who lived on Alcatraz with their husbands or
fathers who were guards.
20. For how long of a term were inmates sentenced to
Inmate scuttlebutt had it that you were being sent to Alcatraz for at least five
years, and that turned out to be pretty accurate; though not by design, because the
length of a convict's stay at Alcatraz was indeterminate, or open-ended.
Inmates were sequestered on Alcatraz until they stopped being troublemakers,
then they were transferred back to their old prisons. A few did it in less than five
years, but for as many as 200 inmates, that process took more than 10 years.
Typically, an inmate would spend six to eight years at Alcatraz before being sent
back to his old prison. Sometimes the transferred inmates would return to
Alcatraz, because some prisoners behaved better at Alcatraz than they did at
"easier" prisons, often due to the single celling at Alcatraz. Most prisons put two
or more inmates in each cell, which leads to problems in prison.
The Bureau of Prisons established a policy that inmates were never to be paroled
from Alcatraz. Most of the inmates who were approaching the expiration of their
sentences were returned to their original prisons for out-processing. Despite this
policy, a few inmates were released directly from Alcatraz, usually because their
convictions had been overturned or their sentences had been restructured due to
court cases or procedural revisions.
21. How long were the Alcatraz inmates' original prison
There were some inmates doing multiple life sentences and numerous inmates
who had a series of sentences to be served consecutively that added up to
hundreds of years for their crimes, but other Alcatraz inmates were able to turn
their relatively short sentences for innocuous crimes into lengthy prison
sentences. Their problems occurred after these men entered the prison system,
when assaults or escape attempts would increase their prison time. But most of
the men had a brighter future--the typical Alcatraz inmate had a sentence of 20-25
years to serve in a federal prison.
22. What was the Alcatraz inmate uniform?
The Alcatraz inmate uniform changed over the years. Alcatraz inmates wore
trousers in the cellhouse and also at work--wool at first, blue denim later--though
overalls were worn at work during the early Alcatraz years. Inmates also wore a
cotton work shirt and were issued a cotton jacket, a raincoat, a wool cap and an
overcoat--usually a navy pea coat. Alcatraz inmates were also issued a robe and
slippers for use on bath day. Some inmates who were on Alcatraz in the early
years claimed that they had to wear shoes without nails and belts with wooden
closures, so that they could pass through metal detectors.
Overalls and shirts were stenciled with each inmate's Alcatraz registry number.
This was the number used by guards to identify the inmates, and it also became a
way to determine how long each inmate had been at Alcatraz. As the years went
by, Alcatraz inmates who had four-digit numbers were sometimes considered the
new breed of inmate, while inmates with lower numbers were accorded respect as
23. What was the inmate's typical day like at Alcatraz?
The schedule changed a bit over the years, but most of the time it was like this:
Wake up bell at 6:30. Stand up and be counted. Get dressed, clean your cell,
march to the mess hall for breakfast. Return from breakfast to your cell and get
counted. Get ready for work. March to the recreation yard, line up for work details
and get counted. March to work and get counted. Counts every half hour at work.
Return to the cellhouse around 11:30 and get counted. Into the mess hall for
lunch. Back into your cell after lunch and get counted. Back to work and get
counted. Finish work at 4:30, back to the cellhouse and get counted. Into the mess
hall for dinner, back to the cell, get counted. Get counted throughout the evening.
Lights out at 9:30, then you get counted, while sleeping, every hour during the
Weekends followed the same basic schedule, with chapel and yard time instead of
work; holidays on Alcatraz meant a movie and yard time for the inmates. Twice a
week, showers got worked into the schedule.