Michigan State Prison
Michigan State Prison
|Location||Armory Court and Cooper St., Jackson, Michigan|
|Architect||Scott & Co.; Lake,Robert|
|NRHP Reference #||79001156|
|Added to NRHP||August 10, 1979|
Michigan State Prison or Jackson State Prison, which opened in 1839, was the first prison in Michigan. After 150 years, the prison was divided, starting in 1988, into four distinct prisons, still in Jackson: the Parnall Correctional Facility which is a minimum-security prison; the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility where prisoners can finish their general education; the Charles Egeler Reception and Guidance Center which is the common point of processing for all male state prisoners sentenced to any Michigan prison; and the Cooper Street Correctional Facility which is the common point for processing of all male state prisoners about to discharge, parole, or enter a community center or the camp program.
The first permanent structure was constructed in Jackson in 1842. In 1926, the prison was relocated to new building, and soon became the largest walled prison in the world with nearly 6,000 inmates. The prison was renamed the State Prison of Southern Michigan in 1935. Beginning in 1988, the prison was carved up into several correctional facilities. The Southern Michigan Correctional Facility, which contained the heart of the 1926 prison structure, was finally closed on November 17, 2007. The prison may remain open to the public for tours.  The original 1842 site was used as a Michigan National Guard armory for some time, and now houses residential apartments as well as a bicycle cooperative.
The original prison
The first prison was built in Jackson, Michigan, and became the original nucleus of the city. The enclosed area of the old prison was about 20 acres (81,000 m2). Almost from the beginning, the old prison was chronically overcrowded. In 1876, the problem was mitigated when new prisons were erected in Marquette and Ionia; this only somewhat eased the overcrowding. Throughout its history, new buildings were added continuously. At its peak capacity, the prison housed around 2,200 inmates in four cell blocks and a dormitory. In the older blocks, the cells were very small at only 7 feet (2.1 m) long, by 31⁄3 feet wide, by 6 ½ feet high. In the newer blocks built in 1904, the cells measured 9 feet (2.7 m) × 5 ½ feet × 7 feet (2.1 m). Women prisoners were confined at the Michigan State Prison up until 1852; there had been 10 female prisoners committed up until that date.
Escapes and riots at the old prison
During the first year after the prison was opened, 35 inmates were admitted, of whom seven managed to escape over the walls. The first mass break happened in 1840. Ten convicts overpowered two of the guards and broke free from the prison walls. They fled to Spring Arbor where they ran into a farmer, James Videto. He attempted to stop them, but the inmates took Videto’s shotgun, beat him with it and left him on the road. After a few days, George Norton, the leader of the escape, was killed by another farmer. All but two of the rest of the convicts were eventually caught.
On September 1, 1912, a riot that is described by many as the worst riot in the prison’s history began. The first sign of trouble was when inmates starting throwing plates against the walls of the dining halls. Many fights followed after this and the riot lasted for six days. On the sixth day, the 90 or so inmates that were leading the riot were beaten and the riot eventually came to an end, but not until after the governor had called in the National Guard.
The new prison
Despite additions to the old prison, it was evident that eventually a new prison would need to be built. In 1924, a new prison with a capacity of 5,280 inmates was built three miles (5 km) north of the city in Blackman Township. In 1926, 625 prisoners were moved from the old prison to cell block one of the new penitentiary. The name of the prison was changed to the State Prison of Southern Michigan in 1935. The new prison was built on 3,469 acres (14.04 km2) with an enclosed area of 57.6 acres (233,000 m2). The prison was enclosed by a concrete wall that was 33.9 feet (10.3 m) high. The wall stretched around the entire prison, with parts joined together at the ends of the cell houses. There were 12 watch towers and 16 cellblocks. Inmates were housed in 2,090 inside cells, 2,072 medium security cells, 1,312 outside cells, and 268 quarantine and detention cells, for a total of 5,742 cells. All of the cells were 10 feet (3.0 m) long, by 6 feet (1.8 m) wide, by 7 ½ feet high.Cell Block 7 is the only prison exhibit within the wall of an operating penitentiary. Cell Block 7 was a part of the newly renovated prison completed in 1934. The prison was the largest walled institution in the world, housing over 5,000 inmates, with five-floors of prison bars and a total of 515 cells. Cell Block 7 was a part of the operation until its closure in 2007. Today Cell Block Seven serves to educated the community of past historical events as well as serving a crime prevention tool.
Riots and escapes at the new prison
In April 1952, two maximum-security prisoners overpowered a guard and used his keys to release the other inmates in their wing. Damaging several wings and using the canteen for food, they held nine guards hostage at knifepoint for five days. The rioters wanted officials to agree to a list of eleven demands and that these be published in the local newspaper, and also asked for a personal guarantee of an investigation into the complaints by the Governor of Michigan. In all, 2,600 inmates participated, doing $2.5 million worth of damage. The episode came to an end when officials agreed to publication, to allow outside inspectors and not to punish the participants. However, the leaders were eventually indicted for conspiracy and the demands remained largely unmet. The 1954 film Riot in Cell Block 11 is closely based on the Jackson riot.
In 1975 inmate Dale Remling attempted a daring escape from the prison by flying out of the prison in a helicopter. Morris Colosky, a friend of Remling’s, paid helicopter pilot Richard Jackson to fly him from Plymouth to Lansing. Five minutes into the flight, he pulled a knife on the pilot and told him to change his course and head towards Jackson. They flew to the prison and landed in the yard where they picked up Remling. They then flew six miles (10 km) away to where two getaway cars were located. Once on the ground, Remling sprayed mace in the pilot’s eyes to disable him, but he still managed to fly the helicopter and follow one of the cars while radioing for help. The car was caught by police only a few minutes later. The original escapee got away but surrendered himself to authorities over the weekend at a bar just north of Jackson.
On May 25, 1981, prisoners assaulted and seriously injured 2 corrections officers in Cell Block 4. The following morning, staff requested a shakedown of the facility. The administration refused and staff initiated an unauthorized lockdown. Those prisoners that had not been secured, rebelled at 10:00 in the morning Around 800 inmates from the maximum-security block took over two of the cell blocks at the prison and set fire to many parts of the prison. Two hundred corrections officers and 165 local law enforcement officers worked to keep the riot under control. When it was finally ended without loss of life, the riot had lasted for almost 11 hours. The prison was locked down over the weekend, but once the lock down was lifted, prisoners from the North complex of the facility rioted, burning down a number of modular housing units. That disturbance was quelled in late afternoon, and the facility was locked down for two months.
As a result of the riot, two corrections officers and the deputy warden at the prison were fired. Also, fourteen corrections officers were suspended for their actions during the riot. The deputy dismissed was Willie Cason, deputy warden of the northside unit. He was dismissed because it was discovered that he had prior knowledge that the riot might happen after the earlier riot.
In 2006, an inmate’s death at the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility gained national attention. Timothy Joe Souders died on August 6, 2006, after spending four days in a segregation cell. Souders, who suffered from a severe mental disorder, was originally transferred to the segregation cell and placed in soft restraints on July 31 for disobeying orders. After he broke out of the soft restraints three days later, prison guards restrained him on a concrete slab. Souders went through the days being restrained in a cell lying naked in his own urine with temperatures rising higher than 100 degrees. After the incident, prison officials made a change to restraint policies so that misbehaving inmates could only be shackled for a maximum of six hours. A federal judge later said that the conditions Souders went through were “torture.” The judge also said that the six-hour maximum was too much and put a complete ban on any punitive restraints in Jackson prisons.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- Scott, Tenbrink. "http://www.fitnesscouncil.org/?q=armory-bike-union". Fitness Council of Jackson.
- "Handbook of American Prisons, 1926
- "Southern Michigan Prison Century Old", Jackson Citizen Patriot, March 22, 1937
- Handbook of American Prisons, 1933, Volume 1
- Erik Olin Wright, The Politics of Punishment: A Critical Analysis of Prisons in America, p.239-40. HarperCollins, 1973, ISBN 978-00609-031-8-3
- Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent, p.290. U of Minnesota Press, 2000, ISBN 978-08166-354-8-1
- "Jailbreaks: Help From Hollywood", Newsweek, June 16, 1975
- "State Police Quell 2D Riot in 5 Days by Inmates at a Prison in Michigan", The New York Times, May 27, 1981
- "3 Dismissed, 14 Suspended After Michigan Prison Riots", The New York Times, June 16, 1981
- "Inmate's Death in Solitary Cell Prompts Judge to Ban Restraints", The New York Times, November 15, 2006