Joliet Correctional Prison may become a tourist site?

One journalist suggests the Joliet Correctional Prison, closed since 2002, may have a future as a tourist destination after a prison in Philadelphia has become a hotspot:

Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 on a former cherry orchard and housed prison escape artist “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone. The pen closed in 1971 and has been recast into one of the most popular tourist attractions in Philadelphia. Visitors wander through a frozen ruin of crumbling cell blocks, vacant exercise yards, a lonley Death Row and the prison surveillance hub. The joint reopened for public tours in 1994 and is now billed as “America’s Most Historic Prison.”…

“But Alcatraz led the way. The federal government didn’t want to open it up but they did and people kept coming. The same thing is true here, where people keep coming and we really haven’t reached our peak.” In 1994’s first year, 10,450 people toured Eastern State. There were 249,289 visitors in 2010…

Representatives from the City of Joliet have visited Eastern State to research the possibility of making the Joliet prison a similar tourist attraction. After all, the 1-year-old Independent League baseball team in Joliet is called the Slammers. “The prison has become quite a tourist attraction for us on Route 66,” said Ben Benson, director of marketing and communications for the City of Joliet…

“The City of Joliet is interested in acquiring the property but financial resources are not what they used to be,” Benson said.”We’re doing a full study on potential uses of the site. With a grant from a different division of the state, we have added about a dozen tourist kiosks because so many people come by because of the Blues Brothers lore. We had a Blues Brothers band come out and cover their songs on a stage set up in front of the prison. We look at it as our Alcatraz.

I wonder what sociologists might say explains why Americans like visiting prisons: they like violence? They are interested in criminals? They think prison culture is intriguing? Something that Alcatraz and this Philadelphia prison seem to share in common is having some celebrity prisoners that people know about. Prison escape stories seem pretty popular, particularly if the escapees have to try to escape through shark-infested waters.

From a local perspective, I suppose you have to promote whatever possible tourist attractions you might have. It would be interesting to see if people from the Chicago region would be willing to go to Joliet just for a prison. (And perhaps a trip to the casino afterward?) Note: the Joliet Correctional Prison is not the same as Stateville Prison which has been featured in movies like The Blues Brothers  and Natural Born Killers.

I haven’t visited this Philadelphia prison but I have been to Alcatraz. I can see why this place is appealing: it sits in the middle of the bay (hence its nickname “The Rock”), numerous Hollywood movies have been made about it, and it has an intriguing history including a number of famous prisoners and a AIM takeover in the early 1970s. The audio tour they have is also quite good. Here are a few shots:

It also doesn’t hurt to have the ability to sell movie posters with famous movie stars on them in your prison gift shop:

Perhaps prison tourism is the wave of the future in Joliet.

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