Excerpted from
Federal Offenders: 1937-38


Organization.--There have been no changes in the general adminstrative organization of the institution during the period covered by this report.

Personnel.--During the year there have been several important staff changes, as follows:

William J. Elliot, Chief Engineer, Power Plant, retired January 31, 1938; replaced by transfer of Emmett J. McConnell, from McNeil via Atlanta, February 1, 1938. Charles Marshall, Chief Engineer Water Equipment, retired February 28, 1938; replaced by promotion of John P. Oberto, Assistant Engineer, March 1, 1938. Dr. George Hess, Chief Medical Officer, transferred to Terminal Island Jail May 1, 1938; replaced by Dr. Romney M. Ritchey, who was transferred here from McNeil Island.

There were 16 changes of custodial officers, a slight decrease in turnover compared with 18 in the previous year. Represented in this turnover were 6 officers transferred to Terminal Island, one to Lewisburg, two to Camp No. 11, Kooskia Idaho, one to Atlanta, one to Camp No. 2 at Dupont, Washington, one dismissed for cause, two dropped because of their failure to meet the required standards during their probationary period, one resigned, and one died from injuries after assault by prisoners who were attempting to escape.

Every custodial officer and a number of non-custodial officers were enrolled for the Prison Service Study Course and examinations. All custodial officers with one exception received physical training. This excepted officer was excused on certification of the Chief Medical Officer. Eight Senior Officers and all of the shop foremen took the special course for that group and the examination which followed. [94]

Sixteen officers received salary increases during te past year, while one was stepped up in grade and promoted to Senior Officer. On June 30, 1938, 31 of the 52 Junior Officers were receiving an annual salary of $1,920. The In-Service Study Courses have been beneficial to the individual officers. They have improved morale and noticeably strengthened efficiency.

It is here appropriate to repeat the recommendations previously made in justification of positions for additional officers, to enable us to liquidate the overdue leave of custodial officers.

Custodial problems.--All inmates of this institution are rated as custodial problems requiring maximum security. During the year there were two major happenings. On December 16, 1937 two prisoners, Theodore Cole, register number 258-Az, and Ralph Roe, register number 260-Az, eluded surveillance, got through the rear window of the machine-blacksmith shop adjoining the mat shop, through the wire fence, plunged into the Bay, immediately disappeared, and have never been seen since they hit the water.

On May 23, 1938 three prisoners, James C. Lucas, register number 224-Az, Rufus Franklin, register number 335-Az and Thomas Limerick, register number 263-Az, made a desparate attempt to escape. After assaulting Senior Officer Royal C. Cline, and causing his death, they climbed through a window of the model shop to the roof of that building in an obvious attempt to assault and secure the arms of the officer on duty in the tower on the roof. Their attempted escape was frustrated by the alertness of Officer Stites who shot at them. The shooting resulted in the death of Limerick and the injury of Franklin but no harm to Lucas. Immediately following the happening, the matter was brought to the attention of the United States Attorney and the Coroner of San Francisco. Prisoners Lucas and Franklin were indicted and are awaiting trial for the murder of Officer Cline.

An immediate necessity to meet existing custodial problems is the addition of tool-proof steel windows on the Bay side of the laundry and model shop building. A new industrial building should be planned, removed from the water's edge, and towers erected at the water's edge in order that the custodial officers will be located between the prisoners' work area and the Bay.

There were no meetings of disciplinary boards, so-called good time trials, during the year. [96]

The only group action on the part of the prisoners during the fiscal year was a strike in September 1937. Some of those participating in the strike were active in agitating it and defiant in their attitude, while many more were passive, more or less negative but taking part because they seemed to think it was necessary for them to avoid difficulties by appearing to agree with those who were more active in their attitude about striking. After the sifting, sorting, settling down, and return to work of most of the inmates, the more active and hostile trouble-makers were placed permanently in "D" cell block in order to keep them segregated from the general population.

Disciplinary measures were taken in all cases of misconduct in accordance with the character of the offense and the attitude of the offender. Omissions and minor offenses were treated by advice, caution, reprimand, or forfeiture of privileges, such as yard, mail, and visiting privileges. In more serious cases, all privileges were forfeited, and cases still more serious were handled by segregation in the isolation cells and by brief periods of solitary confinement on restricted diet.

Portions of credits previously forfeited for misconduct were restored to inmates who showed noteworthy improvement in conduct, industry and attitude.


Housing.--We have housing facilities for 51 families, with 28 rooms for single men and three additional quarters that we have been able to use in emergencies for single men. Two of these emergency quarters are located in the power plant and will not be available when we get under way with improvements contemplated in this building. All quarters have steam heat and all the family quarters are equipped with electric or gas ranges and refrigeration facilities. A number of the quarters for families are houses 50 years old, of poor construction, with plumbing and electric wiring not in accordance with present-day code standards. The remainder of the quarters are in good shape and are livable, although not all have modern plumbing and lighting.

During the year we built a new guard tower on the north side of the roof of the Main Prison Building, with walk ways around the roof of the building, which gives the officer assigned an opportunity to observe the movements of the prisoners at work at various points on the Island. [97]

Three steel storage tanks for diesel oil have been placed in Building 79. The tanks were walled in and filling placed around them, while pipe connections were made for pumping oil from the Dock, and a feed pipe was run to Building 68.


Under the guidance of the Federal Prison Industries, Incorporated, we operate a laundry, mat factory, clothing factory, model shop and dry cleaning plant.

Our laundry and dry cleaning plant service the U.S. Transports, the Army posts in the San Francisco Bay area, and the Alcatraz penitentiary personnel.

The mat factory receives most of its orders from the Navy Department. All of the mat produced are used on war ships, principally those designated as the Pacific Fleet.

The model shop is a wood working plant, very small, and employs but a few prisoners. It is doing good work in reconditioning furniture for Government departments.

A check of our daily labor reports shows that during the year 53.2 per cent of the inmates were employed in the Industries.

We have no plan for money payment of prisoners. But, as an incentive to diligent labor those who are assigned to the industries are allowed from two to four days additional industrial credits per month in addition to the statutory good time deducted from their sentence.


Classification, Case Work and Parole Prepartion.--This work has generally been initiated and in many instances carried to quite an extent at other institutions from which the inmates are transferred to Alcatraz. The classification and case work which we are doing consists largely in following up the work initiated at other institutions and developing histories of cases which have not been fully developed at the institutions where the inmate was originally received. Parole planning and preparation are much restricted because we have but a small number of eligibles. However, members of the Parole Board visit this institution and conduct hearings four times yearly. [98]

Medical work.--A change of Chief Medical Officers was made on May 6, 1938 when George Hess, A.A. Surgeon, was transferred to become Chief Medical Officer int he new Federal Jail at Terminal Island, and Romney M. Ritchey, Surgeon (R), was brought to this institution from McNeil Island to serve as Chief Medical Officer and Psychiatrist.

Mr. C.J. Ping, Administrative Assistant, was also transferred to the new Federal Jail at Terminal Island. Officer Attendant Albert Martin was added to the Hospital staff. Officer Attendant H.C. Sabin is acting in the dual capacity of Administrative Assistant and Supervising Nurse.

The equipment in the Hospital has been increased by the addition of two Diathermy machines for use in the out-patient department. The general plan of furnishing medical services has not been materially altered during the fiscal year. Every effort is made to make it easy for the inmates to consult a Doctor whenever they feel the need of his services. The out-patient department is kept busy much of the time in administrering special treatments prescribed on the out-patient cards during the daily sick call.

A consulting Dentist visited the Hospital twice a week to take care of the urgent dental needs.

A Consulting Psychiatrist visited the institution regulary and made special examinations. The psychiatric service has now been expanded by the addition of a Psychiatrist as Chief Medical Officer. A thorough and complete survey of the entire inmate population has been started. A recheck on their physical health is being made, and a complete physical and mental summary is being placed in their permanent record. This undertaking has not yet advanced very far, but its value to the Medical Department and to the institution as a whole is already evident.

Surgical operations have been performed during the past fiscal year by the Chief Medical Officer. Consultations on eye, ear, nose and throat cases have been secured from the U.S. Marine Hospital in San Francisco. On the whole the results secured in the operation of the Medical Department have been gratifying. Class A medical service has been given to the inmate population, who receive all the services and treatments usually furnished in an up-to-date hospital. [99]

Certain changes to the floor plan of the Hospital have been recommended in order to provide more single rooms for inmates and to install more complete hydro-therapeutic equipment.

Education Services.--Seventy-two men enrolled for 110 University of California correspondence courses this year. Of these courses, 68.9 per cent were completed and 31.1 per cent dropped. In this same department last year, 33 per cent of the courses were completed and 67 per cent dropped. Thirty men were enrolled for courses this year who had not previously been enrolled at this institution. Twelve men who were not taking courses were given personal assistance in their studies.

Approximately 30 men were given permission to practice on musical instruments during the year. Elementary musical instruction is given, and further progress is made by personal study and application. From this group a 10-piece orchestra has been selected, which has been giving a concert each month in the cell house.

The library circulation has increased considerably during the year. The average circulation per month was 8.2 books per man, as compared with 6.5 for last year. Non-fiction books accounted for 35.8 per cent of the total circulation this year as compared with 29.6 per cent last year. The chief improvement in the library service was the placing of a printed library catalog in each cell.

Religious Services.--Formal religious services have been held in our customary manner during the past year. Protestant and Catholic Services were held on alternate Sundays. Jewish inmates are permitted to observe the main holidays of their faith, and arrangements are made through the Jewish Committee on Personal Service, of San Francisco, for special services on these days. Religious instruction, other than through formal religious services, is carried on through personal contacts and the use of religious literature. There has been some increase in this work this year, although figures are not available.

Recreation.--We do not aim to furnish shows or pictures as mere entertainment, but we do endeavor to use good pictures for healthy diversion, recreation, and encouragement to good order and discipline. Carefully selected pictures are shown on the major holidays. [100]

On the average, about 150 men participated regularly in athletics, throughout the year. These men largely participated in softball, horseshoes and hand-ball. We have both a "professional" and an "amateur" soft ball league, each consisting of four teams. Greater emphasis was placed on the "amateur" league this year for the purpose of encouraging the participation of a larger number of men. Inmates who do not wish to participate in the athletic program may spend their recreation time at checkers, chess or dominoes.

[FEDERAL OFFENDERS 1937-38:pp. 94-100]