Excerpted from
Federal Offenders: 1934-35


Following the agreement between the Secretary of War and the Attorney General, the Bureau of Prisons set about the task of converting the United States Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch, into the United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island, California.

Our office was established in the Post Office Building, San Francisco, and preliminary work began January 1, 1934. The staff was organized and contracts were entered into for materials and supplies for certain new construction, for the reconstruction of the prison building and for housing accomodations for employees.

336 of the cells were reconstructed with tool-proof steel cell fronts and locking devices operated from control boxes. All windows in the prison building were equipped with tool-proof steel window guards, two gun galleries were erected in the cell block, the mess-hall and main entrance were equipped with built-in gas, and a new Armory enclosed with tool-proof steel was constructed near the main entrance, outside but close to the main cell building.

Four guard towers were constructed at strategic points about the Island. Alterations were made to Barracks buildings, in order to provide quarters for single men and a small number of families, to the end that we would have a sufficient number of custodial officers available, even when off duty, to meet any emergency.

On June 19, 1934 the Army evacuated and we officially took over the institution. On August 18, 1934, the Honorable Homer S. Cummings, Attorney General of the United States, paid us an official visit. He made a thorough inspection of the Island and buildings, including cell block, shop building, industries and towers, and made inquiries regarding all facilities, devices and protective measures.[62]


On July 1, 1934, the beginning of the fiscal year for which this report is made, we received 32 prisoners turned over to us by the Army. During the month of August, 1934, 16 prisoners were received by transfer from McNeil Island, and 53 were received by transfer from Atlanta, including 10 who were transferred from Lewisburg via Atlanta.

In September, 1934, 8 prisoners were received by transfer from institutions in Washington D.C., and 103 by transfer from Leavenworth Main Annex. Smaller numbers were received by transfer from various institutions during the year, bringing our average population for the fiscal year to 193, and the population on June 30, 1935 to 242.


During the period of preliminary organization and reconstruction, January 1, to June 19, 1934, we had a very small staff. Some of our first custodial officers were received by transfer from other institutions and some from a re-employment list, the latter group being placed in training at McNeil Island.

Of the 74 employees who were carried on the maintenance payroll the first month of the fiscal year 1934 (exclusive of the Warden and Deputy Warden) 20 2343 appointed from Civil Service lists, 47 by transfer from other institutions and 7 by transfer from the Army. The 15 employees on the industries payroll were all transferred from the Army rolls.

During the closing month of the fiscal year, June, 1935, we carried on our payroll 2 Administrative Officers, 1 Religious, Welfare and Educational Director, 23 in Clerical and Maintenance Division, 5 Lieutenants, 8 General Mechanics and 49 Guards.


During the fiscal year religious services were handled by visiting Chaplains, with a Catholic Priest and a Protestant Minister holding services on alternate Sundays until June 1, 1935 when we appointed a full-time Resident Chaplain with responsibility for the arrangement of religious services, control of the Library and the conduct of educational and welfare work.[63]

At the time we took over the Institution we received by transfer from the Army approximately 9,000 books. We purchased approximately 1,000 new books during the fiscal year, making a total of approximately 10,000 books now in the Library.

We subscribe for a number of the best standard magazines and these are made available to the prisoners by a system of routing from cell to cell and a method of expressing preference, just as they are able to secure books from the Library.

Our recreation facilities are limited but the yard is available to inmates who have their privileges Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings, during which time they play baseball, handball, and horseshoes. Those who do not care for athletics have an opportunity to play chess, checkers, or dominoes.


Under the direction of the United States Public Health Service, we have a medical staff consisting of a Chief Medical Officer, Interne, Administrative Assistant, 4 Guard Attendants, Visiting Dentist and Consultant Psychiatrist.

The Department of Justice and the Public Health Service cooperated in making many improvements and adding to the Hospital facilities and equipment at the time we took over the institution. We have ample facilities, including one large ward and several small wards for special cases, operating room, dental office, dispensary, laboratory, X-ray room and some hydrotherapy equipment.

The general health of the prisoners has been good. We had no epidemics and went through the fiscal year without any deaths.


In accordance with the agreement we continued to conduct the laundry that the Quartermaster Corps of the Army had operated for the benefit of the Army and Transport Service. We have not added to our facilities or extended the field, but we have continued to do the work for the transports and for the Army posts of this vicinity as well as for our own Institution.

During the year we put in machinery and set up a factory for the making of rubber mats for the Navy. The equipment and facilities seem ample for the amount of work that we are securing at the present time. The inspectors for the Navy Department [64] seem well satisfied with our output, and if the orders should increase we will be able to expand so as to increase output.

We also have a Dry Cleaning Plant; although separate from, it is something in the nature of an adjunct to the laundry. We have a small tailor shop, a shoe shop, which, while not rated as an industry, is capable of development, and a wood-working shop susceptible of development into a factory for salvaging or reconditioning furniture.


When we made our plans for taking over the institution we fenced the work area, in which the main body of prisoners are employed, in such a manner as to set the Power Plant outside the restricted area and we do not employ or allow any prisoners in that building.

As a precautionary measure we built an auxiliary power unit, from which we receive power for illumination in the cell building in case anything happens to the main plant.

Our mechanical services are supervised by a Superintendent of Construction and more directly by general mechanics, who are guard mechanics trained in both their trades and custodial work.

We control the Launch "McDowell", which operates on a regular schedule between the Island and San Francisco. In addition we have the benefit of the service rendered by the Steamer "General Frank M. Coxe" operated by the Army on regular schedule between Fort Mason, San Francisco, and Fort McDowell, stopping enroute to Alcatraz.

During the years we organized a Fire Department, in which we were assisted by the Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department, who assigned officers to make a thorough inspection of the Island, examine our equipment, and aid us with suggestions and advice on fire prevention as well as fire fighting.

We installed a complete automatic telephone system connecting all departments. With the help of the U.S. Coast Guard, we installed radio equipment for instant communication with our launch, with the San Francisco Police Department, and with the Coast Guard.

[FEDERAL OFFENDERS 1934-35:pp. 61-64]