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These records include 809 photographic prints, 52 film negatives, 29 photomechanical prints, 1 photocopy and 7 inkjet prints created by the McNeil Island Corrections Center from 1855 to 2010.
In 1867, the United States Congress authorized the creation of a Washington territorial jail on McNeil Island, a 6.6 square mile island in the western Puget Sound. The territorial jail was to replace an insufficient county jail in Steilacoom. The first prisoner was shipped to McNeil Island in 1875. Under Gilbert L. Palmer (Warden, 1893-1901), prisoners cleared land for both agricultural and industrial purposes. In 1905, the territorial jail was declared a Federal Penitentiary, and operations were turned over to the United States Attorney General.
By 1919, the prison had 250 inmates and was steadily growing. The persistent population increase necessitated construction of numerous new prison facilities including a bakery, a laundry building, a hospital, a power plant, a machine shop, a dairy, a library, a slaughterhouse, a boathouse, a cannery, a marine railway, a dam and several dormitories. Construction and improvement projects were carried out on a continuing basis through the 1960s. Under the Federal Prison Industries, incorporated in 1934, over 30 types of industrial operations were instituted on McNeil Island. Facilities allowed prisoners to receive job training while providing labor for operations and maintenance of the prison as well as earning an hourly wage. A farm and an orchard on the island, for instance, provided produce, meat and milk for inmates. Inmates at McNeil Island built ships for use by the penitentiary, as well as ships to be used at Alcatraz Federal Prison in San Francisco, California. During World War II, the shipbuilding plant built tugboats for the U.S army during World War II, and the cannery provided fruits and vegetables to both the penitentiary and the military. From 1930 until 2000, the inmate population remained between 1,000 and 1,500 men.
With growing concerns about its financial viability, the Federal Bureau of Prisons began shutting down McNeil Island Penitentiary in 1976. Washington’s need for additional prison space prompted state officials to explore the possibility of acquiring the prison to house state prisoners, and in 1981 Washington State assumed control of the penitentiary, known then as the McNeil Island Corrections Center. The MICC was in operation until April, 2011, when it shut down due to budget constraints. At the time of closing, it was the last remote island correctional institution in the United States.
The images in this collection document construction projects and industrial endeavors throughout McNeil Island’s history. Most images relate to the Corrections Center, although some document the homes and families of MICC employees or the lives of settlers on the island before the territorial jail was created. Correctional Center facilities are heavily documented. Also included are images of inmate life, during both vocational training and leisure time, portraits of wardens, superintendents, and employees.
All records are in English.
These records are open for research.
This collection was digitized and cataloged by Valerie Wernet and Marcea Horst.
Preferred Citation: [Title of image], [date], [creator if known], Department of Corrections, McNeil Island Corrections Center Photograph Collection, 1855-2010, Digital Archives, http://digitalarchives.wa.gov, [date accessed].
Source: Department of Corrections, McNeil Island Corrections Center Photograph Collection, 1855-2010.
Original records held by the Department of Corrections.
For more information or to learn about related records, contact the Washington State Archives, at (360) 586-1492 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.