November 6, 1933

It has been wisely said that the people of this country can have as much or as little crime as they really want. It is likewise certain that the present unwholesome and dangerous conditions in many of our communities will not be materially improved until all of our citizens are prepared to make their share of sacrifice to bring about such a situation and to cooperate with the States and the Federal Government in the accomplishment of the important and difficult task of crime reduction.

On many sides it is being reluctantly admitted that law enforcing agencies in many of our States have fallen down and the demand is being made with increasing emphasis that the Federal Government take a hand in the situation. The power of Federal agencies in the detection, apprehension and treatment of criminals has long been respected. Through its freedom from local affiliations, its greater resources, and its generally trained personnel, the Federal Government is being recognized as an efficient ally of the local law enforcement agencies and the present campaign by the Department of Justice to curb the activities of racketeers is a natural development.

In the last two decades many Federal statutes have been passed broadening the scope of Federal activities in the apprehension of offenders. Twenty years ago there were 2,000 in Federal prisons, today there are 11,000, and the tendency today is to pass more Federal statutes, on the insistent demand of the communities themselves, giving greater power and opportunity to the central government along these lines.

In the case of its convicted offenders and in their reformation and rehabilitation wherever possible it is of fundamental importance that prisoners be properly classified and segregated. First offenders, boys, victims of circumstance, men with families, persons who have broken under the economic strain, and others who make up the great bulk of our criminal population should not be housed in the same institution with those who may be classed as enemies of society. The establishment by the Department of Justice of a Federal prison at Alcatraz Island is a necessary part of the Government's campaign against predatory crime.

Much misunderstanding has been engendered with reference to the operation of this prison. It will not be a Devil's Island. It will be an integral part of the Federal Prison System, operated in conformity with advanced ideas of penology and with the ultimate object in view of protecting all of our communities. Compared to the large State institutions such as San Quentin, with its 5500 inmates, and Folsom, it will house but a mere handful of men. The Department of Justice pledges itself to take every possible precaution, structurally and administratively, to prevent escapes.

The present plans call for the housing of not over 200 men at this point. It would be futile for relatives or friends of the inmates to find lodgement in the surrounding district, and even if they should, it would be to a very limited extent and their prescence would have much less effect upon the urban population of the Bay District than those of the much larger numbers now housed in the State institutions of California.

It is difficult to see how the appearance of the Island or its effect upon the surrounding neighborhood will be in any way changed. The personnel of the institution will be carefully selected from trained prison officials. All modern scientific devices will be employed to insure the restraint of the inmates.

In brief, it seems to the Department of Justice that there is presented a splendid opportunity for the citizens of San Francisco to cooperate in a patriotic and public spirited manner in the Government's campaign against the criminal. The Department of Justice, while recognizing that civic pride and an interest in their community has prompted many of the recent communications which have come to the Department, nevertheless, bespeaks the cooperation and aid of this great community in the carrying on of this important and necessary activity.

Return to Alcatraz: The Warden Johnston Years