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Alcatraz United States Penitentiary As a result of the Great Depression a new breed of violent criminals swept the streets of America In response to the cries of alarmed citizens Congress enacted a number of statutes which gave the federal government jurisdiction over certain criminal offenses previously held by the states With the suggestion of former US Attorney General Homes Cummings Congress agreed that a special penal institution of maximum security and minimum privilege be established In 1934 the legendary US Penitentiary of Alcatraz was born and became the home of Americas most wanted for the next thirty years Once authorized by Congress the US Department of Justice acquired control of Alcatraz Island previously a US Army compound As the island was redeveloped into a maximum-security prison seven of its twelve acres were enclosed in a prison compound The remaining five were set aside for employee residences apartments and recreational space Soon after the redesigning of the old Army fortress the Alcatraz prison was ready for the grand opening or better said lockout Equipped with four different cellblocks A B C and D the Rock began its operations on January 2 1934 Although cellblock A was seldom used B C and D provided 378 cages to accommodate the most notorious felons that America could produce The first of four wardens to take charge of the penitentiary was a retired professional administrator named James A Johnston The Department of Justice carefully selected Johnston because he was a well-organized no-nonsense businessman with over twelve years of experience in the California Department of Corrections Under Johnston another ninety officers were required to cover the three eight-hour shifts plus leave and vacation time During its thirty years of service close to 1545 inmates resided at the Alcatraz penitentiary Contrary to popular belief Alcatraz was initially meant to confine only a few of the infamous headline-makers
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