McNeil Island, WA — Only Remaining U.S. Island Prison — Closing In Budget Cut


Washington State’s 135-year-old McNeil Island prison will close April 1 because of state budget cuts, reports the Seattle Times. Inmates formerly worked on ferries that served the island, were part of road crew,s and labored on island farms. These days, the daily ferries carrying inmates, visitors and corrections staff have mostly been replaced by large barges as workers strip the sprawling prison of anything salvageable.

McNeil Island, a former federal prison, at its peak was home to 1,700 inmates and has housed the likes of Charles Manson and Robert Stroud, better known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz.” Operating it has been a costly proposition because of the logistics involved in transporting everything by water. Washington State took over McNeil Island in 1981, five years after it was closed by the Bureau of Prisons. It is the only U.S. prison accessible only by boat or air. The closure will save the state an estimated $8.6 million per year. The state spends roughly $1,200 more per inmate each year to house inmates at McNeil Island than at other state prisons. “It’s sad that we have to do it,” said corrections Eldon Vail, superintendent of McNeil Island from 1992 to 1994. “It was a good location for a prison; you had a moat and additional protection from folks getting out and getting free.”

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