Volstead Act Issues Essay, Research Paper
In the 1920’s and 1930’s a new wave of crime had swept across the U.S. With the passage of the Volstead Act in 1920, producing and distributing alcohol became an extremely lucrative business. With this also came a sharp rise in organized crime in many of the big cities. Even worse, the crimes committed by members of these gangs became more violent. In July of 1933, J. Edgar Hoover was made the director of the newly formed FBI. Hoover decided that he was going to crack down on these criminals. Hoover chose to aim high and went after the heads of the crime gangs. The problem was that, no sooner did they manage to incarcerate the bad guys when their buddies in the crime organizations would bust them out. With this problem in mind, the U.S. Justice Department began looking into a maximum security prison that was inaccessible and thereby inescapable. When they found Alcatraz, it was almost too good to be true.
October 12, 1933- The U.S. Justice Department officially acquired Alcatraz from the military with plans to incorporate Alcatraz into the Bureau of Prisons.
April, 1934- Work began on Alcatraz to make the cellhouse more secure by replacing soft-iron square bars on the cells with rounded “tool-proof” bars. In addition, a new locking device was installed which allowed guards to open selected cells within a block. Metal detectors were installed on the dock and at the entrance to the cellhouse. Additionally, three new guard towers (right) were constructed to keep a birds eye view of the activities on the island.
Most of the military prisoners were released or transferred prior to control of the island switching hands, in June of 1934. However, 32 of the military’s worst criminals remained on the island and became the first inmates of the U.S. Penitentiary, Alcatraz.
July 1, 1934- The U.S. Penitentiary, Alcatraz, formally opened with James A. Johnston, a retired California state prison official, as its first warden. At its inception, Alcatraz employed 52 full-time correctional officers, the most of any prison in the system.
Warden Johnston decided that the goal of Alcatraz was not going to be rehabilitation, but rather, it would be punishment to its inmates for the wrongs they had committed. Inmates were not permitted to have newspapers, radios, or magazines. In addition, it was decided that all incoming mail would be type-written by corrections officers, so that coded messages contained in the original letters could not be received by the inmates. A silence rule was put into effect except in the recreation yard and the dining room. Basically, Alcatraz was slated to be a limited privilege prison, meaning “You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.” (Number 5, Alcatraz Prison Rules and Regulations)
However, Warden Johnston also realized that he was dealing with some of the most dangerous prisoners in America, so some concessions had to be made to head off the possibility of an inmate uprising. As a result, Alcatraz’s inmates enjoyed a top-rated prison cafeteria. The menu was diverse, including salads, fresh fruit, and occasionally, desserts. In addition, seconds on food were allowed. The food served on Alcatraz was said to be the best in the Federal Prison system. Prisoners also enjoyed a well-stocked library in the cellhouse and higher allotments of cigarettes than any other prison.
One of the prison’s most notorious inmates arrived on Alcatraz shortly after the island began operations as a federal prison. On August 22, 1934, Al Capone, along with 52 other inmates, was transferred to the island, under heavy security, from a prison in Atlanta, Georgia. Despite Capone’s notoriety, his stay on Alcatraz was surprisingly uneventful.
Shortly after Capone’s arrival, another infamous gangster was transferred to Alcatraz. On September 4, 1934, George “Machine Gun” Kelly arrived on the island.
The first escape attempt from Alcatraz occurred on April 27, 1936. Joseph Bowers was serving a 25-year sentence for robbery. Although he stole just $16 dollars, the store happened to house the town’s post office, thereby making it a federal offense. Bowers was attempting to scale the fence surrounding the cell house when a guard noticed him. Three warning shots were fired, one of which struck Bowers in the side, causing him to lose his grip on the fence and fall to his death, 60 feet below.
The following year, two more men attempted escape from the island. In the afternoon of December 16, 1937, Theodore Cole, serving time for kidnapping, and Ralph Roe, serving time for bank robbery, broke through a window in the mat shop, sawed their way through the fence and made it to the bay. The prison launched several boats to search the surrounding waters, but there was no sign of Cole or Roe. It is believed that they drowned in the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.
Six months later, three more men made a daring dash for freedom that resulted in the first correctional officer death on the island. James Lucas, Thomas Limmerick and Rufus Franklin were working in the wood shop on May 23, 1938, when they made their attempt. They took a hammer from the shop and struck the officer in charge on the head, killing him instantly. Another officer in a nearby guard tower noticed the men dashing down an embankment and fired upon them. Limmerick was shot in the head and killed. The other two men surrendered and were later convicted of first degree murder for the death of the guard they had attacked.
January 13, 1939- For a period of nearly two years, five men (William Martin, Dale Stamphill, Henri Young, Rufus McCain and Arthur “Doc” Barker) had been slowly sawing their way through the bars on their solitary confinement cells in “D” block (example: right). Unlike the rest of the prison, the bars in “D” block had not been converted from soft-iron bars to “tool-proof” bars. In the early morning hours of January 13, the men successfully removed a bar from each of their cells, used a home-made spreader to part the “tool-proof” bars on the window and made their way out of the cellhouse. Within 30 minutes, the empty cells had been discovered and a search was launched. When they were discovered on the rocky shores, Martin quickly surrendered. Barker, Stamphill, McCain and Young made a run for it, but were stopped by gunfire. Barker was shot in the head and died, while Stamphill was slightly wounded in the leg. The other two surrendered without injury. As punishment, McCain and Young were sent to “dark cells”, solitary confinement units with steel doors that left the inmate in complete darkness 24 hours a day, except for a 10 minute shower once a week.
November 1940- After almost two years in dark solitary confinement, Young and McCain were released into the regular prison population. Within a week of release, Young stabbed McCain to death in the tailor shop on the island. Young was tried for murder, but his defense attorney claimed that his years on Alcatraz, particularly his time in dark solitary confinement, had drove Young to the brink of insanity. The jury agreed with Young and found him guilty only of manslaughter.
As a result of the Young trial, the Bureau of Prisons launched an investigation into the conditions on Alcatraz. While the investigation refused to state that conditions on the island were terrible, it did recommend that “D” block be renovated. Money was allocated by the Bureau and work began immediately to make the “treatment units” less deplorable.
After having spent over 33 years in prison, another one of Alcatraz’s famous inmates was transferred to the island in 1942. As a problem prisoner from Leavenworth, Robert “The Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud spent his entire stay in solitary confinement.
May 2, 1946- One of the most daring escape attempts began on this day and ended three days later with two officers and three of the escapees dead. The Siege of ‘46 was the bloodiest escape attempt to occur on Alcatraz. After such a bloody escape attempt, it would be another 10 years before anyone attempted to escape again.
Over the course of the next ten years, things remained quiet on Alcatraz. Warden Johnston retired in 1948 and was replaced by another former corrections officer, Edwin Swope. Changing wardens was tough on the prisoners because it took time to come to respect another warden. Although Warden Johnston had been strict, he gave prisoners his respect, which they admired. Warden Swope had a hard time earning that respect, and no sooner did the prisoners get adjusted to his style of rule, than he decided to leave Alcatraz.
In 1955, Paul J. Madigan became the next warden of Alcatraz. Within a year of his arrival, the escape attempts started up again.
July 23, 1956- Floyd P. Wilson, a murderer serving a life sentence, grabbed 25 feet of cord from the dock during his work duty and disappeared beneath the dock. Below he began tying pieces of driftwood he had collected together to make a raft. When his absence was discovered, the alarms were sounded. Wilson abandoned his raft idea and decided to allude the search teams by hiding in a crevice in the rock along the water’s edge. For nearly 12 hours he hid there, being repeatedly hurled against the rocks by the tumultuous waves of San Francisco Bay. Finally, bruised, battered and hypothermic, Wilson gave up his attempt and turned himself in.
The final warden to run Alcatraz came to the island in 1961. Olin Blackwell had no way of knowing that he would hold the distinction of being the man in charge when one of the most inventive and possibly successful escape attempts was hatched.
The most famous escape attempt involved Frank Lee Morris, John William Anglin, and his brother Clarence Anglin. This great escape, which occurred on June 11, 1962, became the inspiration for many movies, including Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood.
Although not directly responsible, the 1962 escape did lead officials to closely evaluate the costs and benefits of keeping Alcatraz operational. Ironically, the one thing that made it such a secure prison was also the thing that was causing its demise. The salt water from the bay had taken its toll on the island. The concrete in the cellhouse and other key structures on the island absorbed much of the salt and were quickly disintegrating. This is one of the things that made the 1962 escape attempt easier to pull off. It was estimated that it would take $5 million dollars to bring Alcatraz back up to standard. That was a price tag no one was in a hurry to pay. A survey also looked at operating costs for Alcatraz, compared to other mainland prisons. The survey found that while it cost $9.27/day to house and secure an inmate in mainland prisons, it cost $23.50/day to house and secure each inmate on Alcatraz.
In late 1962, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy announced that, rather than focusing solely on detention of prisoners, the federal prison system needed to learn to factor rehabilitation into the equation. To begin this new direction in reform, Kennedy announced that a new maximum security prison would be built in Marion, IL. that year.
Faced with the huge expense of day-to-day operations, coupled with the $5 million dollar renovation price tag and Kennedy’s shift in punitive ideals, Alcatraz was closed on March 21, 1963.