My husband Chuck and I at infamous Alcatraz.

Heritage tourism has become one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry because it provides people with a way to learn about history — and gain an appreciation for the past.

“Prison tourism” is a unique niche of heritage tourism, and Old Prisons Magazine and directory provides information for cultural travelers of all kinds — including armchair tourists.

Growing interest

Around the world, there has been a growing interest in visiting old prisons and jails. So much interest that an increasing number of scholars are studying the phenomenon. 

The Palgrave Handbook of Prison Tourism, published in 2017, examines many facets of the growing interest in visiting former (and sometimes active) prisons. 

Reasons for this interest are as varied as the reasons governments have built jails and prisons through the ages. Today, confinement in prisons or jails — incarceration — is part of the criminal justice system in the United States, but in the past, people were locked up for political or financial reasons — and that is still the case in some parts of the world.

Reasons for visiting

Some people want to visit specific old jails or prisons to learn history — and others are attracted by what is sometimes called “dark tourism” or because they hope to encounter ghosts.

Whatever your interest, I hope you will enjoy the growing collection of articles on this website. We aim to become the world’s most comprehensive reference website about old prisons and jails — and related topics — but I can see that the road ahead is long and winding.

When I first envisioned the Old Prisons website, I knew of famous Alcatraz and some old prisons open for tours in Arizona and Wyoming. I had happened upon a few old jails in my travels in my home state of California. But I had no idea that there are so many old prisons and jails all over the world — or that visiting them had become so popular.

And we welcome information and photos — along with corrections of any unintended inaccuracies.

A huge ‘beat’

As a former newspaper reporter and editor, I consider old prisons and jails to be my new “beat.” I’m a journalist, and there are some great stories to be told about old prisons and jails. But it’s a really big beat — and I can see that I’m going to need some help. 

Just coming up with a list of old prisons and jails has been a monumental task (not yet completed). 

It became clear to me early on that I couldn’t possibly travel to all of the old prisons and jails in the world — although I’d sure like to try. Just the time it takes to confirm information and secure appropriate photographs (along with rights to publish them) is overwhelming at times.

Professor Jay

Fortunately, I am not the first person to develop a passion for history in stories about old jails and prisons. I was delighted to meet (via email), one of the people who knows more about old jails than almost anyone in the world— Jay Moynahan. His two-part article about the old Sweetwater County Jail in South Pass City, Wyoming, is published in this first edition of Old Prisons Magazine.

Jay is Professor Emeritus in Sociology and Criminal Justice, Eastern Washington University, and author of The American Jail, Its Development and Growth, published in 1980. He also wrote many articles about old jails for American Jails magazine. I look forward to sharing more of his work with our readers.

In this edition

In this first edition of Old Prisons Magazine, you’ll also meet Don Chaddock, who researches and writes about the history of the California prison system. And you can learn about one of many efforts communities have made to repurpose old correctional facilities in an article from Kenya by Ndung’u Gachane. 

Other offerings include an article about visiting the infamous former federal penitentiary Alcatraz — the most visited old prison in the world. Coming soon will be a story about the most westerly old jail in the continental United States.

The future

When I was in the newspaper business, I was advised by a boss that “you crawl before you walk, and you walk before you run,” and I’ve kept that in mind while getting this website off the drawing board.

I have a long list of articles that weren’t ready for this edition — as well as dozens of more directory listings to post.

But it’s time to get the proverbial ball rolling with this website — even if it is a little rough around the edges.

I hope you will enjoy reading this first edition of the magazine (February 2020) — and return in the future. (Our next edition will be published March 1 — and additional directory listings and other articles will be published in the interim).

Thanks for reading!

– Claudia Elliott, Editor