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What Happened to Alcatraz?


Alcatraz is one of the most infamous prisons in U.S. history, but its reputation has outlived the relatively short time it was operational. The small Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was transformed into a fortress in the mid-19th century, and during the Civil War, it was used as a military prison. By the early 1900s, the fortress was no longer considered an effective defense outpost, and in 1934, the U.S. Department of Justice repurposed it as a federal prison. 

The prison’s operating costs, however, were unsustainably high. A 1959 report revealed that Alcatraz cost three times more to operate per prisoner than other comparable facilities, and in March 1963, just 29 years after it opened, the prison was closed. The island sat neglected, and discussions about its future use lingered for years. In 1972, after a group of Native American activists had occupied the land for almost two years, the property came under the purview of the National Park Service. Today, Alcatraz Island welcomes more than 1.5 million visitors to its storied rocky shores each year.

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