East gate of the prison
|Status||Closed in 2002|
Joliet Correctional Center (originally known as Illinois State Penitentiary, colloquially as Joliet Prison, Joliet Penitentiary and the Collins Street Prison) was a prison in Joliet, Illinois, America from 1858 to 2002. It is featured in the motion picture The Blues Brothers as the prison from which Jake Blues is released at the beginning of the movie. It is also the location for the first season of Fox Network's Prison Break television show, the movie Let's Go to Prison, and Netflix's Mindhunter. In 2018, it opened for tours.
Joliet Correctional Center, which was a completely separate prison from Stateville Correctional Center in nearby Crest Hill, opened in 1858. The prison was built with convict labor leased by the state to contractor Lorenzo P. Sanger and warden Samuel K. Casey. The limestone used to build the prison was quarried on the site. The first 33 inmates arrived from Alton in May 1858 to begin construction; the last prisoners were transferred in July 1860. Both criminals and prisoners of war were confined there during the Civil War. The first corrections officer to be killed there was Joseph Clark in 1865. By 1872 the population had reached 1,239, a record number for a single prison. From the 1870s the prison had work contracts with local businesses.
The penitentiary's original plans included a one-hundred cell "Female Cell House" located inside the male penitentiary. Female prisoners were housed adjacent to men's cells from 1859 until 1870, when they were moved to the fourth floor of the central administration building. In 1896 a separate, one-hundred cellblock "Joliet Women's Prison" was built across the street from the male penitentiary. In design it was an exact mini-replica of the male prison. In 1933 all female prisoners were moved to the Oakdale Women's Reformatory (later known as Dwight Correctional Center) and the facility was used for male prisoners.
The prison was slow to modernize. There was no running water or toilets in the cells in 1910. The construction of the nearby Stateville Correctional Center began in 1917 and opened in March 1925 was meant to lead to the swift closure of Joliet. This did not happen, and both prisons operated simultaneously for the rest of the 20th Century.
In 1924, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were given life sentences to be served at Joliet (after their successful defense--from the death penalty--by Clarence Darrow). Their case was known as "the crime of the century" at the time after kidnapping and murdering Robert Franks.
In 1933 Lester Joseph Gillis (Baby Face Nelson) was released from Joliet Prison, and a mock-up of the foyeur is shown in the 1957 movie, "Baby Face Nelson" where Gillis (played by Mickey Rooney) is seen both entering and leaving the facility with a suitcase in his hand. The name of the prison can be seen in his exit sequence.
From at least the early 1960s, the prison included a reception and classification center for northern Illinois, holding new prisoners for less than a month before their final assignments and processing over 20,000 a year. In addition to the prisoners temporarily held in the R&C unit, Joliet maintained a large population of permanent inmates.
In 1975, members of the Almighty Black P. Stone Nation and other Chicago street gangs took over a cell block and held several corrections officers hostage. The warden at the time, Fred L. Finkbeiner, spoke to the inmates through a bullhorn and promised they would not be harmed. Their primary grievance was the fact that they were being transferred to other prisons because they had too much control over other inmates at Joliet. One former gang member, Herbert "Cadillac" Catlett, had reformed and been cooperating with the administration to bring about positive change. He tried to reason with the rioting inmates and was murdered. Warden Finkbeiner was standing in Catlett's blood as he spoke to the inmates, and the hostage situation was resolved. The warden later eulogized Catlett at an African-American church in Chicago Heights.
The number of inmates peaked at 1,300 in 1990 and was still 1,156 in 2000, although capacity had been raised to 1,300 over 1999-2000, from 1,180 previously. In 2000 there were 541 staff.
Joliet Correctional Center closed as a holding prison in 2002. Budget cuts and the obsolete and dangerous nature of the buildings were the cited reasons. All inmates and most staff were transferred to Stateville Correctional Center.
In the Commitment Arc of The Adventure Zone one of the characters suggests "going to Joliet."
Mentioned in Kerouac's On the Road: "To get out of the impossible complexities of Chicago traffic I took a bus to Joliet, Illinois, went by the Joliet pen, stationed myself just outside town after a walk through its leafy rickety streets behind, and pointed my way."
Memphis Minnie recorded the song "Joliet Bound" with Kansas Joe McCoy in 1932, which was most likely derived from the same source as Noah Lee's "Viola Lee Blues". Perhaps the most well-known version of the tune was by Rory Block on When a Woman Gets the Blues.
Bob Dylan's Percy's Song tells the story of the singer's attempt to have a friend's ninety-nine year sentence in Joliet Prison commuted. The song, an outtake from the sessions that produced Dylan's album The Times They Are a-Changin', has been covered by Fairport Convention and Arlo Guthrie.
The Henningsens wrote and recorded the song "Gun", which mentions Joliet - "I'm singing solo in my cell in Joliet".
Folk singer Steve Goodman recorded the song "Lincoln Park Pirates" concerning the auto towing companies of Chicago. The song includes the lyics, "Our drivers are friendly and courteous/ Their good manners you always will get/ 'Cause they all are recent graduates/ Of the charm school in Joliet."
Some characters from Saw II were ex-Joliet Prison inmates.
Since its closure, Joliet Prison has been used much more as a set for various film and television projects.
The Joliet Prison collection of photographs by inmates is maintained at jolietprison.com