Joliet Correctional Center
East gate of the prison. (The Joliet Jake Gate from The Blues Brothers).
|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 and the movie Let's Go to Prison.
Joliet Correctional Center, which was a completely separate prison from Staenter, Crest Hill, Illinois, 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 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.
A women's prison was added across the road from the main structures in 1896 but closed in 1932 when the female prison in Dwight, Illinois was opened. It then became an annex for the male prison and later the male reception unit for northern Illinois.
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.
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.
- When I came back from Joliet
- There was a new court house with a dome.
- For I was punished like all who destroy
- The past for the sake of the future.
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."
Television and film
- 1966 – Get Smart, season 2 episode 14 (The Whole Tooth and...). As part of a mission, secret agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) deliberately gets himself arrested and sent to the prison so he can make contact with an inmate there.
- 1973 – Charley Varrick, When Tom (from Tom's Gun Shop) asks where he is supposed to know Al Dutcher from, Charley (Walter Matthau) replies, "From Joliet. He was doing a 10-year slide for murder two. His girlfriend. Armenian girl."
- 1988 – Red Heat, a 1988 film which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi
- 1999 – the Columbia TriStar show Early Edition, season 3 episode 13 (The Last Untouchable). Fictional mobster Antonio Birelli played by Ernest Borgnine is released from the prison.
Since its closure, Joliet Prison has been used much more as a set for various film and television projects.
- 2005 – Derailed, a 2005 film which starred Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston
- 2005–06 – the Fox Network shot the first season of its show Prison Break on location in the old facility. This prison was known as Fox River State Penitentiary on the show
- 2006 – Let's Go to Prison, a 2006 film which starred Dax Shepard and Will Arnett.
- 2007 – the Fox Network show Bones, season 2 episode 12 (The man in the cell). The prison where serial killer Howard Epps was held was known as 'Bay View Federal Penitentiary' on the show
- 2009 – Warehouse 13: Season 1, Episode 9 – A prison, a new warden, and a charismatic preacher inmate who may have an artifact seems related to a string prisoner suicides accompanied by hallucinations. Pete and Myka search for the artifact as an approaching tropical storm accentuates its influence but get caught up in the mayhem.
- 2011 – Breakout Kings on A&E featured T-Bag from Prison Break escaping from Fox River, again.
- 2015- Briefly featured in Flash season 2 'family of rogues' as 'Iron Heights' prison.
The Joliet Prison collection of photographs by inmates is maintained at jolietprison.com
- History of Will County, Illinois (Chicago, 1878), pp. 711–14
- The Blues Brothers (1980) – Filming locations
- Titles with locations including Joliet Prison
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