This Is America's Largest Prison

There are thousands of prisons and jails across America. Prison Policy puts the numbers at 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,134 local jails, 218 immigration detention facilities and 80 Indian Country jails. This does not include military facilities. Total prisoners number in excess of 2.2 million, according to the same source.

The largest prison is the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Among its nicknames is “Alcatraz of the South,” named after the facility on an island in San Francisco Bay that operated from 1934 until 1963. Another nickname for the Louisiana prison is Angola, an earlier name of the property and a reference to the African nation.

According to The New York Times, the Louisiana State Penitentiary sits on an area that used to be a slave plantation. The area covers about 18,000 acres, and the prison holds nearly 5,000 prisoners. Another estimate has put the figure at closer to 6,000. The prison was first occupied in 1901.

An article in the Guardian described the Louisiana State Penitentiary as “America’s hell-hole jail.” It also reported that “four of five” inmates are serving life sentences. How tough is the Louisiana State Penitentiary? The Guardian article reports: “Unsurprisingly, Angola has always been famed for brutality, riots, escape and murder.”

The Louisiana State Penitentiary is considered “self-sufficient.” It has a sugar mill, a farm, a ranch and repair facilities.

According to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections, the prison does have programs to improve prisoners’ lives. Among them are educational programs, health care that meets the test of “constitutionally acceptable levels,” mental health programs and programs that prepare prisoners for release. In sum, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety & Corrections says:

We respect the dignity of people in prison and work hard not only to comply with federal, state, and other mandates, but also to provide an environment that will enable them to live a productive life upon release as a means to reduce recidivism.

The department also has a program that allows tours for schools, churches and criminal justice officials.

Click here to see which states have the most people in prison.