Alcatraz - The History of an Island Prison: From the Development to an American Myth

Author: Van Raaphorst, Donna I.
Year:2011
Pages:596
ISBN:0-7734-1596-3
978-0-7734-1596-6
Price:349.95
This study provides the only available chronologically complete history of Alcatraz
Island. It challenges many commonly held assumptions about Alcatraz as a prison
for dangerous criminals.

Reviews

A professional historian, [the author] has apparently read every book ever written about Alcatraz, scoured archives and libraries from coast to coast, pored over diaries, memoirs, newspaper stories, official reports, and, most importantly, inmate files. The result is a comprehensive, nuanced, up-to-date account of America’s most famous island…”-Prof. John Holian, Cuyahoga Community College

The history of the island and its varied uses is formatting structure of the book, but it is the intellectual framework using the myth of Alcatraz-and ultimately the debunking of that myth-that make the book exciting to read.”-Prof. Margaret Brooks-Terry, Case-Western Reserve University

“I recommend the publication of this manuscript as an important addition to the extensive literature on Alcatraz, Besides its use of comparative prison data to effectively challenge the myth of the federal prison’s exceptionalism, it also provides a nearly chronologically complete history of the island.”-Prof. James Borchert, Cleveland State University

The Rock has served as a lighthouse, military fortification, Army prison, the nation’s first maximum-security federal prison and now a San Francisco Bay tourist destination. However, the period from 1934-1963 earned this institution its enduring global notoriety. Two dozen movies have featured Alcatraz, and numerous books and articles have kept its fame alive. Van Raaphorst, a retired history professor from Ohio, provides a consummate, sometimes overly detailed, but eminently satisfying chronicle. She asks if Alcatraz truly was an appropriate place for the “worst of the worst.” Surely, Department of Justice administrators made the case for it. And 29 years later, advocates like J. Edgar hoover argued to keep it open. The author examines the records of 600 of the 1,576 inmates over 29 years and finds that many of them should not have been there in the first place. One was imprisoned for stealing a cow; another for a theft of $92.85. Van Raaphorst notes that little in the way of personal improvement was derived from Alcatraz. America’s Devil Island was built as a maximum security, minimum privilege facility. Until its end, the Rock lived up to those dubious purposes.
-Prof. R.D. McCrie, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
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Table of Contents

Foreword

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Chapter One
Mythical Alcatraz

Chapter Two
Discovery: Twenty-two Acres of Barren Rock

Chapter Three
The United States Army Takes Over
The Transition from Post to Prison

Chapter Five
A New Type of Prison for a New Age

Chapter Six
The Heart of the Myth: A Statistical Analysis of the Inmates

Chapter Seven
Colorful Inmates

Chapter Eight
Life on the Island for Two Different Populations

Chapter Nine
Escape from Alcatraz

Chapter Ten
The End of an Era

Chapter Eleven
Native American Takeover

Chapter Twelve
Alcatraz Today

Bibliography

Index