The Limits of Research


NOTE: This information is dated. Most records have been returned to the National Archives. Thanks to everyone for their support!

A major stumbling block for anyone who wants to conduct historical research on the prison is the academic self-centeredness of one man: For the last twenty years, an unnamed professor, working on a contract for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, has been sitting on the prisoner files. The staff at the Archives would like the material returned because many people have been calling in to access the materials and the professor will not let outsiders look at "his material". Though in the past few months, Professor "X" has released some documents, he continues to hoard the files of many prominent and deceased inmates and personnel as of December 18, 1997.

This never-ending BOP contract prevents academics, independent scholars, and federal employees with a specific and professional interest in the records (e.g. the staff at Golden Gate National Recreation Area) from looking at the files and conducting research into the administration of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.

Please understand that the National Park Service and the National Archives have been doing all that they can to serve Alcatraz researchers. The problem is with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and this lone researcher. The researcher has evaded many requests for files and information.

It has been reported that the purpose of the study is to encode and decode records for a recidivism study. Many of the prisoners still being held are dead -- it is obvious that they will not be repeat offenders. The records held by the researcher including the files of many prisoners (inc. Alvin Karpis, James Boarman, and Charles Berta), administrative records, personnel, and the Warden's Notebook -- the only complete source of information available on prisoners. Though the National Archives has a copy of the last document on microfilm, it is not suitable for those wishing to make copies of mug shots.

Write to Attorney General Janet Reno. In your letter make the following points in your own words:

  • Call for an investigation into the contract described in the Memo of Understanding dated 11/8/83 regarding Alcatraz records.
  • Note that the contract calls for records to be encoded and decoded in an efficient manner. It has been fourteen years since the contract was signed and many years longer since Alcatraz records left the control of the Bureau of Prisons. This is more than enough time to complete the assigned task.
  • Ask that the Department of Justice look into the removal of records from the archives at the University of Minnesota. If the records have been moved, then the researcher has broken his contract and must return all records immediately.
  • Note that the practice of allowing Federal records into the hands of private researchers is highly irregular.
  • Note that the researcher has been very slow and evasive regarding requests by outside scholars to view the records.
  • Express your personal interest in the records and ask that they be immediately returned to the Bureau of Prisons for deposition in the National Archives, San Bruno, California. In particular, please mention the Warden's Notebook, personnel files, and deceased inmate files.
  • Call for a published inventory of all files which remain in the researcher's possession.

Janet Reno's address is:

Ms. Janet Reno
Attorney General of the United States
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Send copies to your congressional representatives, local newspapers, and other local media. When writing to media, please reference this URL:

Thank you for your help!

Joel GAzis-SAx

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