United States Penitentiary, Atlanta

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United States Penitentiary, Atlanta
LocationAtlanta, Georgia
Coordinates33°42′40″N 84°22′7″W / 33.71111°N 84.36861°W / 33.71111; -84.36861
Security classMedium-security (with minimum-security prison camp)
Population1,940 (550 in prison camp)
Managed byFederal Bureau of Prisons
Federal Penitentiary Atlanta 1920 postcard

The United States Penitentiary, Atlanta (USP Atlanta) is a medium-security United States federal prison for male inmates in Atlanta, Georgia. It is operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. The facility also has a detention center for pretrial and holdover inmates, and a satellite prison camp for minimum-security male inmates.[1]


In 1899, President William McKinley authorized the construction of a new federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia.[2]

Georgia Congressman Leonidas F. Livingston advocated placing the prison in Atlanta. William S. Eanes, an architect from St. Louis, Missouri; and U.S. Attorney General John W. Griggs, on April 18, 1899, traveled to Atlanta to select the prison site.[3]

Construction was completed in January 1902 and the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary opened with the transfer of six convicts from the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in upstate New York.[2] They were the beneficiaries of the Three Prisons Act of 1891, which established penitentiaries in Leavenworth, Kansas; Atlanta, Georgia; and McNeil Island, Washington. The first two remain open today, the third closed in 1976. The Atlanta site was the largest Federal prison, with a capacity of 3,000 inmates. Inmate case files presented mini-biographies of men confined in the penitentiary. Prison officials recorded every detail of their lives - their medical treatments, their visitors, their letters to and from the outside world[4]

The main prison building was designed by the St. Louis, Missouri architect firm of Eames and Young, which also designed the main building at the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth.[5] It encompassed 300 acres (1.2 km2) and had a capacity of 1200 inmates. The facility was subsequently renamed the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta when US government created the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1930.

In the 1980s, USP Atlanta was used as a detention center for Cuban refugees from the Mariel Boatlift who were ineligible for release into American society.

USP Atlanta is currently one of several facilities, including the Federal Transfer Center, Oklahoma City, that are used to house prisoners who are being transferred between prisons.

Notable incidents[edit]

1987 riots[edit]

In November 1987, Cuban detainees, tired of indefinite confinement and in constant fear of being deported back to Cuba, rioted for 11 days, staged a bloody riot, seizing dozens of hostages and setting fire to the prison. At least one prisoner was killed. Local hospitals reported admitting a total of eight Cubans suffering gunshot wounds, along with two prison guards who were slightly injured.[6]

Notable inmates (current and former)[edit]

*Inmates released from custody prior to 1982 are not listed on the Bureau of Prisons website.

Organized crime figures[edit]

Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Ignazio Lupo Unlisted* At USP Atlanta from 1910 to 1920 and from 1936 to 1946. Founder of the Morello crime family; convicted of counterfeiting in 1910; returned to prison in 1936 for racketeering; suspect in numerous Mafia-related murders.[7][8]
Whitey Bulger 02182-748 Entered USP Atlanta in 1956; transferred to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in 1959.[9] Former Boss of the Boston Irish Mob crew known as the Winter Hill Gang; FBI Ten Most Wanted fugitive from 1999 until his capture in 2011; convicted in 2013 of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and participating in 11 murders; Bulger was killed at USP Hazelton on October 30, 2018.[9]
Meyer Harris Cohen ("Mickey") Unlisted* Cohen was transferred from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary to USP Atlanta in January 1963. He was released in 1972.[10] Gangster based in Los Angeles and boss of the Cohen crime family. He also had strong ties to the Italian American Mafia from the 1930s through 1960s.

On August 14, 1963, fellow inmate Burl Estes McDonald scaled the wall of a secure compound within USP Atlanta, entered an electronics repair training facility and wielding a three-foot iron pipe, snuck up from behind and bludgeoned the unsuspecting Cohen into unconsciousness. Cohen sustained a critical head injury resulting from shards of skull fragments that had to be removed from brain tissue which had hemorrhaged. He underwent extensive neurosurgery and following a two-week coma, doctors inserted a steel plate to replace the mangled bone fragments in the rear skull region.[10][11]

Jimmy Burke Unlisted* Released from custody in 1978; served 6 years. Associate of the Lucchese crime family; convicted in 1972 of extortion with fellow associate Henry Hill; suspected mastermind of the 1978 Lufthansa Heist, in which nearly $6 million in cash and jewels were stolen at JFK Airport; Burke and Hill were portrayed in the 1990 film Goodfellas.[12]
Al Capone Unlisted* Transferred to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in 1934. Leader of the Chicago Outfit, which smuggled and bootlegged liquor during Prohibition in the 1920s; convicted of tax evasion in 1931.[13][14]
Vincent Papa Unlisted* Murdered at USP Atlanta in 1977. Associate of the Lucchese crime family; convicted in 1975 masterminding the theft of heroin seized during the French Connection investigation from the New York City Police Department property office from 1969 to 1972.[15][16]


Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Frank Abagnale Unlisted* Escaped from USP Atlanta in 1971; captured several weeks later in New York City. Notorious check forger portrayed in the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can.[17][18]
Carlo Ponzi Unlisted* Released from custody in 1924 after serving 3 years. Inventor of the financial fraud known as Ponzi scheme; convicted of mail fraud in 1920.[19][20][21]

Political figures[edit]

Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Eugene V. Debs 9653[22] Released in 1921 after his sentence was commuted by US President Warren G. Harding. Founding member of Industrial Workers of the World and US Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America; convicted of sedition in 1918 for promoting opposition to the military draft during World War I under both the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918; received over 900,000 votes while incarcerated in 1920.[23]
Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher Unlisted* Released in 1962 as part of a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union. Convicted of espionage with relation to the Hollow Nickel Case and sentenced to 45 years' imprisonment[24]
Marcus Garvey Unlisted* Released from custody in 1927 after serving 4 years. Founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and leading figure in the Black Nationalist and Pan Africanist movements; convicted of mail fraud in 1923 for promoting the Black Star Line, a UNIA business dedicated to the transportation of goods and eventually throughout the African global economy.[25][26]
Pedro Albizu Campos Unlisted* Transferred to a hospital prison in 1943 and released in 1947 after serving 10 years. President of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party from 1930 to 1965; convicted in 1936 of sedition in connection with the assassination of Puerto Rican Police Chief Elisha Riggs, which was in retaliation for the Río Piedras massacre, during which police killed four unarmed party supporters.[27]

Public officials[edit]

Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Ed Norris 41115-037 Released from custody in 2005; served 6 months. Baltimore Police Commissioner from 2000 to 2002; pleaded guilty in 2004 to misusing police department funds for personal expenses and tax fraud.[28][29][30]
George A. Caldwell Unlisted* Released from custody in 1941 after serving 1 year and pardoned by US President Harry Truman. Louisiana General contractor who supervised the construction of 26 public buildings; convicted in 1940 of tax evasion and accepting kickbacks in connection with the Louisiana Hayride scandals in 1939 and 1940.
William Colbeck Unlisted* Released in 1940 after serving 16 years. Politician and organized crime figure in St. Louis; convicted in 1924 of two 1923 armed robberies which netted over $2 million.[31]


Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Roy Gardner Unlisted* Served several years of a 75-year sentence at USP Atlanta; attempted to escape in 1926. Notorious bank robber and escape artist; stole over $350,000 in cash and securities from banks and mail trains in 1920 and 1921.[32][33]
Harry Golden Unlisted* Released in 1932 after serving 3 years; pardoned by US President Richard Nixon in 1974. American author and newspaper publisher; convicted of mail fraud in 1929.[34][35]
Willie Aikens 01732-031 Released in 2008; served 14 years. Former Major League Baseball player; convicted in 1994 of selling crack-cocaine.[36]
Deric Lostutter 21103-032 Transferred to Federal Correctional Complex, Petersburg. Anonymous activist who arranged the hacking of the Big Red website in connection with the Steubenville High School rape case.
Christopher Jeburk 09029-021 Currently serving a life sentence. Now at USP Thomson. Bank robber and former FBI Ten Most Wanted fugitive; kidnapped bank teller Amy Shaw and her family, then escaped from prison twice before he could be sentenced for his crimes.[37][38] Several weeks into his sentence, he was transferred here from Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary after a sharp-eyed prison guard caught him trying to escape a third time by hanging on to a laundry truck before it could reach the front gate.
Walter Moody Unlisted* Released in 1977; served 5 years. Convicted murderer who was sentenced to death and executed in Alabama for the 1989 letter bomb murder of Robert S. Vance, a U.S. federal judge serving on the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Larry Lawton 52224-004 First prison Lawton served time in, later transferred to FCI Coleman and others. Ex-jewel thief and organized crime member. Lawton now helps and inspires younger people to stay out of prison and change their life path.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "USP Atlanta". Bop.gov. September 2, 2015. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "History of Atlanta - 1782 - 1900s". Rootsweb.ancestry.com. April 27, 2002. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  3. ^ Garrett, Franklin Miller. Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, Volume 2. University of Georgia Press, June 1, 1969. ISBN 0820302643, 9780820302645. p. 422.
  4. ^ "The National Archives Catalog". Archives.gov. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  5. ^ Hewes, Carolyn (February 25, 1927). "Landmarks Association of St. Louis :: Architects :: Thomas Crane Young, FAIA (1858-1934)". Landmarks-stl.org. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  6. ^ May, Lee; Ostrow, Ronald J. (November 24, 1987). "Cubans Riot, Seize Dozens in Atlanta : One Dies, Prison Set Ablaze; Meese Offers to Reassess Refugees' Cases". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Jon Black. "Ignazio Lupo". GangRule. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  8. ^ Thomas P. Hunt. "The American Mafia - Ignazio Lupo". Onewal.com. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  9. ^ a b "Whitey Bulger". Bio.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved October 24, 2015.
  10. ^ a b "Mickey-Cohen-Page-3 » Page 1 of 1". www.alcatrazhistory.com. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  11. ^ "Star-News - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  12. ^ "James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke, Gangster, 64, of 'Wiseguy' Fame". The New York Times. April 17, 1996.
  13. ^ "History Files - Al Capone". Chicagohs.org. Archived from the original on October 9, 2015. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  14. ^ "This Week in Atlanta History: Al Capone enters the Atlanta federal penitentiary - Five Points - Blogs". Atlanta Magazine. Archived from the original on May 10, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2012.
  15. ^ Wheatley, Thomas. "A Rogue's Gallery of those who spent time at the Atlanta Federal pen | Cover Story | Creative Loafing Atlanta". Clatl.com. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  16. ^ "United States of America, Appellee, v. Vincent Papa, Defendant-appellant, 533 F.2d 815 (2d Cir. 1976) :: Justia". Law.justia.com. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  17. ^ [1] Archived October 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "Frank Abagnale : Biography". Biography.com. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  19. ^ [2] Archived September 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "Charles Ponzi". Nndb.com. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  21. ^ "The Worlds Greatest Con Artists". Archived from the original on June 22, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2012.
  22. ^ "Eugene Debs Got 1 Million Votes For President—As Convict Number 9653". progressive.org. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  23. ^ "Eugene V. Debs Foundation". Debsfoundation.org. Archived from the original on May 9, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  24. ^ Whittell, Giles. (2010). A True Story of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies. Broadway Books. New York. ISBN 978-0-7679-3107-6
  25. ^ "American Experience | Marcus Garvey | Timeline". Pbs.org. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  26. ^ "About Marcus Garvey and the Black Star Line". English.illinois.edu. June 10, 1940. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  27. ^ Tenopia, Tia (September 13, 2010). "Biography – Pedro Albizu Campos". Latinopia.com. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  28. ^ "Norris enters plea of guilty to corruption". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  29. ^ "Norris gets 6 months in prison". Baltimore Sun. June 22, 2004. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  30. ^ "Norris to be released from prison tomorrow". Baltimore Sun. January 18, 2005. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  31. ^ "Feature Articles 159". AmericanMafia.com. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  32. ^ [3] Archived May 11, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ Colt, Duane (December 29, 2011). "the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History". HistoryLink.org. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  34. ^ "Harry Golden Facts". Biography.yourdictionary.com. September 30, 2015. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  35. ^ "Reporting Civil Rights: Reporters and Writers: Harry L. Golden". Reportingcivilrights.loa.org. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  36. ^ "Willie Aikens - BR Bullpen". Baseball-reference.com. June 24, 2015. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  37. ^ http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/1996/05/08/1996-05-08_a_fugitive_s_on_the_loose.html
  38. ^ http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/1996/10/05/met_199841.shtml

External links[edit]