McNeil Island?? Prison?

Sunday , 3, February 2019 18 Comments

This week’s is a podcast about a prison that I didn’t even know existed. It’s in Washington State and is currently open only for sexual predators. Check out the podcast (it’s only 24 minutes) and is pretty fascinating. Just post something you found interesting about the podcast.

18 thoughts on “ : McNeil Island?? Prison?”
  • Kate Bennett says:

    Though the entire podcast was fascinating, something I found interesting is the manner in which the prison was closed so abruptly – first by the federal government, then by the State of Washington. It was overcrowded and expensive, so federal control passed to the state and then to just the commitment center on the island. The idea of the “special commitment center” as a continued treatment post incarceration for violent sex offenders is an interesting concept as well. Finally, the fact that McNeil Island prison had a 136 year run and it represents the history of American incarceration. From the physical construction (cell style, structure, etc.) to the programs offered to the crimes committed by inmates (90% of its original inmates were found guilty of selling alcohol to Native Americans).

    • pgregory says:

      This sort of story makes me wonder how many other strange prisons exist around the US (I had no idea this prison existed).

  • Erin Jensen says:

    When I first saw this assignment, I thought “this place is still open! I thought it closed down when I was in high school!?!” Honestly, any prison on an island reminds me of Alcatraz–it looks like they shared some prisoners and even had some similar big escape stories. Due to their isolation–I looked to see where exactly this prison was and, like Alcatraz, it is about a mile or so off the mainland– from society I feel like putting a prison on an island allows a lot of things to go on that are unchecked. The little they shared it sounds like the foundation of this prison was essentially to isolate the criminals and those who “cared” for them from the rest of society. However, it looks like that isolation may have been one of the many reasons that prison barely stands today.

    It would have been interesting to hear more specific stories–maybe another podcast?

    I remember learning about the internment of Japanese Americans in prisons throughout my history courses, but I never heard of this particular island being a containment center. I would have loved to learn more about this. I wonder if extremely violent or “un-divertable” criminals were there when they interned the non-violent, non-criminal, Japanese? Again, probably the topic of a whole other podcast.

  • Emma Mocco says:

    Overall, I thought the whole podcast was extremely interesting. It is crazy when you hear about something/somewhere that you never knew existed. It makes me wonder how much is out there in the world that I don’t know about.

    It opened in 1875, wow!!

    “An island prison”, just hearing that makes me laugh a little. It sounds peaceful. Or like of all the prisons I would want to go there. And the way they described the island it sounded beautiful. They described the wildlife and I could easily picture a beautiful island. If I heard the description I would never think a prison would be there.

    They mentioned in the podcast that there were many famous people that stayed at McNeil Island Prison but it is still not well-known that is so strange to me. This place is mysterious. It makes me want to find out more information.

  • Gina Gorman says:

    After listening to this podcast, I feel similar to the way I did when I first learned about the Japanese internment camps. I have no idea how I had never heard of Japanese Americans locked away in the southern United States until I took a college history course. Now, I’m wondering how I have never heard of a prison that by all rights should’ve been as popular as Alcatraz. From I understand, the commitment center that is still being run on McNeil Island is the equivalent to where the Chapter 980 offenders are committed at Sand Ridge in Mauston, WI. I have to say, based on the description of how the facility was shutdown and things were left behind, it sounds like something straight out of a horror movie. I’m glad they included where to we can listen to the rest of this series since I definitely want to learn more about places I never knew about. I found a picture of the gates they were describing and here is the link if anyone is interested.

  • Kellie Effinger says:

    I thought the whole podcast was interesting and I had no idea something like this existed! I can’t believe it was opened in 1875 and closed in 2011, which is pretty recent. This also means that McNeil saw different eras of incarceration in the United States. I like the way they described how the cells changed from 1907 (the oldest building one can still see) and how they relate it to Shawshank Redemption and described how rough prison life was. They then described what it was like in the 1990’s (kind of like a college dorm room). I also liked the story of how McNeil going from an older federal prison to becoming a prison for the state of Washington to the prison finally closing since it was expensive to run (there’s no town on the island to help support it economically). The Commitment Center also sounds intriguing and I wasn’t fully aware of that concept.

    • Bianca Lazarevski says:

      I found it really interesting when she said that in 1893, 90% of all of the people incarcerated there were being held for selling liquor to Indians. It is also interesting that the prison was not considered a maximum security prison. The prison was shut down in 2011 because it costed too much to run, yet they kept the commitment center open which is also expensive to run, this makes it apparent that the reason the commitment center is still open is that the society would rather have these people sent away there than to have to deal with them.
      The people that are admitted to the commitment center that is still on the island have no “end date”, which is crazy to me, it does not seem legal. The people don’t want to deal with these types of people so they send them to this Island and don’t talk about it. They are being locked away without the criminal locking away because they don’t know how to handle these people or know what to do with these people.

  • Jarod Felgenhauer says:

    This podcast on McNeil Island and its prison was very interesting. The fact that this prison only holds sexually violent offenders is very peculiar, as well as the fact that this prison was one of the first three federal prisons in the United States. It was very interesting to hear about the “cold close” the prison experienced in 2011, with the government just kind of packing up and leaving, and in such a hurry that they left the prison to deteriorate and rot, abandoned very suddenly. The fact that the oldest part of the prison was built in 1907 makes it a historical landmark in my eyes, again with the fact that the prison was only the third federal prison to open within the US, and furthermore, that this prison experienced the massive prison reform within the US/Washington State that occurred during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Lastly, the commitment center the podcast talked about was very interesting, and the fact that people spent time in prison for sexual crimes, but then spent even more time past their sentence in the McNeil Prison confined to the commitment center. I have never heard of a program like that before, but the podcast linking the prison activities to that of the Japanese Internment Camps of WWII makes me wonder about the involuntariness of that commitment center.

  • Heejung Moon says:

    When I saw the photo first, it reminded me of Alcatraz. In fact, it was a prison that I have never heard of. Honestly, I do not know that many prisons in different states, however, if there was a prison on an island, I should have seen it or heard about it from somewhere. Well, but I have never heard of it until today. The podcast was quite interesting. The concept of special commitment center was the most interesting factor. Also, it was intriguing to hear them describing how the environment around the island is fascinating, and that some prisoners were able to see outside through the window. It just made me wonder randomly about what those prisoners must have been thinking while looking at part of the scenery in their cells. It was remarkable to hear that in 1893, 90% of the prisoners were there for selling liquors to Native Americans as well.

  • Gracie Blechl says:

    I would love going to an old prison museum and I think that this would be the perfect opportunity because it has a history. I like how the prison was built before Washington was a state, that shows how important prisons and criminal justice is to the people at that time. I was surprised by how many important people were imprisoned at McNeil and still no one knew about it. The section about the beauty of the scenery around the prison was shocking because prisons now are not described as “beautiful”.

  • Jared Dixon says:

    I found this prison to be interesting, the fact that it is one of the oldest prisons in the country yet still unknown to many is amazing. I don’t remember if it was in the podcast or in the text below where it mentions that it housed a young Charles Manson at one point. It was interesting that the guard mentioned that Charles was a “whiner” and that for the most part he kept to himself playing a banjo. It was interesting to hear that the prison was just practically abandoned, like old tuberculosis hospitals or Chernobyl. When they mentioned that on a tour/walkthrough, that you could tell one minute it was a prison and the next minute they were free or transported was weird to me. The fact that there were unfinished card games on tables and half written notes gives it an eerie feeling, and I feel like it should be used as a movie set. I did find it odd how there was a special commitment center on the island and attached to the prison that is still in operation. Like briefly discussed in the podcast, why close a huge prison that serves a greater number of prisoners yet keep open a tiny facility such as the special commitment center. I also didn’t know it was possible to keep sexual predators locked up even after their sentence was up. I googled it as it sounded like an infringement of constitutional rights, 1997 the supreme court voted on it in a 5-4 ruling making it ok to do. I would want to know more about this, does the institution only hold violent sexual predators, or does it just hold sexual predators in general. While I do believe sexual predators need to be dealt with, I don’t know if exiling them from society is the answer either. Sexual predators that are deemed not safe to the community I fully agree with exiling to an island, but I would want to see more statistics on this as I feel like many people labeled sexual predators due to statutory rape charges from earlier ages.

    LINK: Cnn article about sex offenders remaining locked up after sentences.

  • Renee Julga says:

    I found it interesting that the prison was run for 136 years, as for many it is unknown! A prison on an island, as it continues to run for those who are labeled sexual predators after they done their prison time. It was a prison even before Washington was a state. I find it very interesting that they can still keep sexual predators locked up even after their sentence had finished. Having a prison on an island seems almost not existent, as for many they had no clue that there even was a prison so close to them! Envisioning a prison on an island seems more like a fantasy than reality. I would love to find out more information about the prison, as for how and why they keep sexual predators there. The island is at least a mile away from the mainland, so being isolated from the rest of society was probably the main reason to build a prison there. Those kept there probably had little visitation visits, maybe even none at all. The overall podcast was interesting, as it all came about because of a museum who wanted to learn more about the history of the prison.

  • Danielle Simerson says:

    I found this podcast to be extremely interesting. Its crazy to think that there was even a prison on an island, especially one that opened in 1875. It actually makes me wonder exactly how many more prisons there are out there that no one even knows about. It is unbelievable how many people were at the McNeil prison and that no one even knew about. What i found to be extremely fascinating is that Washington was not even a state before the prison was built there!

  • Jacob Heinen says:

    This is one of the oldest western prisons, bought by from the Native American’s (and in some ways forced from the island), federal government set up shop. This also became the basis for one of the most notorious prisons in America, Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay, CA. It was utterly surprising to find it was opened in 1875 and until its closure in 2011, held some of the worst criminals of the time, lets go down the list…

    *FBI’s Public Enemy #1-Alvin Karpis, a 1930’s bank robber and murderer.
    *”Birdman of Alcatraz”-Robert Stroud, highly intelligent killer.
    *CHARLES MANSON, Helter Skelter himself, leader of a murderous cult believing in an apocalyptic race war.

    Im still astounded by hearing of Charles Manson, but never hearing of McNeil prison, in the podcast, it is revealed that on the day of April 1, 2011; they had a “cold closing”, meaning they just shut off the power, and simply left. Vines are growing throughout the areas that have been deemed “decommissioned”, standing water taking over the old cells, and the paint slowly chipping away revealing the over 100 years scars. Even worse, was that this prison was pretty much a bastard prison; in 1904, the federal government tried to give Washington state the prison for them to control, for the 4th time. The U.S. federal government wanted nothing to do with McNeil and neither did the state of Washington, thus the federal government was stuck but over the years kept trying to give Washington state the prison.

  • Susie Brtkova says:

    I found this podcast very interesting. I will definitely finish listening to the whole series. I was enthralled with how the center for dangerous sex offenders operates. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the whole idea of such a place. The fact that Charles Manson was incarcerated there was surprising to me – I am reading a book called Whoever Fights Monsters and it talks about him but I don’t believe they mentioned anything about this fascinating island. Someone had already mentioned that it would be cool to go tour what’s left of the actual prison. I’ve been to Auschwitz and though it was absolutely sadening and horrible, it was extremely fascinating!

  • Gunner Witthun says:

    The podcast was very interesting, but one of the things I found interesting was the age of the prison and how old it is. The age of the prison reminded me of Waupun correctional prison which was opened in 1851. My father has worked at Waupun for almost 20 years I believe now. Anyways I just find old prisons to be really interesting due to the fact that so many people have been in and out of these very old prisons and not to mention the number of prisoners that have died within the prisons. I find that kind of history very interesting and a little eerie.

  • Sheza Bedzeti says:

    The podcast got me thinking about the way old jails were versus the new or more modern ones. The class i had last semester we talked about how jails were portrayed in movies and t.v shows. With the bars and low lights and all of that. Back in the day they were like that but everything progresses one way or another through time. Something else that I kept thinking about was how it was a island prison and that is what Australia was to begin with. Because I believe Britain sent the criminals to Australia to live out their sentences there. There was also a movie that I watched called Papillion, based on a true story that this guy went to prison on a island and how he escaped. It is shocking that these kind of prisons still exist at least in the United States. There are probably more that we have not been told about or people have kept them hidden for whatever reason.

  • Karen says:

    I thought the whole podcast was very interesting over all. But the most interesting was the place of the prison as well as how the podcast mentioned that Mcneel was one of the first prison systems of the United States. In a island it could cost more money to be able to keep the building up to date and also more expensive to bring, take prisoners, and goods(food, other materials the prison needs), this was an island so transporting goods could be expensive. Even though like I mentioned, it was the one of the first prison systems, no body wanted it, even the federal government. Finally, it was interesting how they just left the prison. Did not take anything did not cover windows. They just left. After all of this, after years they decided to keep sexual violent predators.

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