Most Haunted Prisons in America: Unlocking Their Stories 

Abandoned corridor of a old prison

What is it about prisons and jails that makes them so susceptible to a haunting? Perhaps it's the negative energy generated by inmates or the history of violent conflict between guards and the incarcerated. Whatever the reasons, you'll find many prisons and jails--both active and abandoned--with a history of hauntings that is as frightening as the crimes of some of its most notorious inmates.

Map of Most Haunted Prisons in America

Alcatraz

Located on a rock in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz had a reputation as a virtually inescapable prison, and the ghosts that remain long after the prison ceased to function as a correctional institute just might agree. Many linger long after the prison closed and became part of the national park system. You'll find hauntings in virtually every corner of Alcatraz, and you just may be able to experience the activity here for yourself by taking a self-guided tour. You just may discover why Alcatraz is one of America's most haunted prisons.

Prison At Alcatraz Island

Eastern State Penitentiary

Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Eastern State Penitentiary has an extremely haunted reputation. In fact, its stories of ghostly happenings are so well-known it has been investigated on multiple television programs including Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters.

Eastern State Penitentiary

The Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829 and operated for more than 140 years until the early 1970s. In its early days, it housed both males and females. Notorious inmates included Al Capone and William Francis Sutton, among others. Conditions were reportedly brutal, and like most prisons, it also saw its share of death, suicide, violence, and escape attempts.

Claims of paranormal activity range from the sounds of cell doors opening and closing to apparition sightings, feelings of terror, and sounds of screams, cries, and footsteps. For example, there's a shadow figure in cellblock 4. Likewise, the prison's most notorious inmate, Al Capone, complained of a ghost that was with him in his cell. Prison tours are available.

Preston Castle

Located in Ione, California, Preston Castle was also known as the Preston School of Industry. And while it was called a school, it was actually a prison for boys aged 7 to 24. Today, the old crumbling castle is more full of bats than boys, but many encounter the spirits of those who lived and worked in the building.

Preston Castle

The Preston School of Industry opened in 1894 with what was considered at the time a progressive mission. The state built the reform school with the intention of educating and rehabilitating juvenile offenders instead of just imprisoning them. Merle Haggard was one of the most well-known residents of the school, incarcerated in 1954 for auto theft. In 1960, the state built a new facility right next door, and the castle closed as a reform school.

One of the most well-known ghost stories at Preston Castle involves the apparition of a nurse killed in the castle in the 1950s. People claim to see her roaming the halls. Visitors also report hearing disembodied voices and the sounds of yells and footsteps, seeing apparitions, and experiencing feelings of dread and anxiety.

The castle opens several times a year for public tours, and the Preston Castle Foundation also hosts a number of fundraisers and events throughout the year to raise money for preservation of the building, which is in pretty rough shape. If you're visiting the castle, wear closed-toed, sturdy shoes and be ready to encounter a lot of bats.

Old Montana Prison

Located in Deer Lodge, Montana, the Old Montana Prison is friendly to people hoping for ghostly encounters. Operating now as a museum, it allows paranormal investigations and ghost tours throughout the year.

Old Montana Prison

When the prison was constructed in 1871, building crews were mostly made up of inmate labor. It opened before Montana became a state and operated as a territorial prison under the laws of the United States. The prison allowed prisoners to work together during the day, and they were in solitary confinement at night. It was the site of a 1959 riot that left the warden and two inmates dead. With overcrowding a common and pressing issue throughout the prison's history, it closed in 1979 and the prisoners were moved to a new facility.

With its fair share of murders, suicides, and executions, ghost claims at the prison are rampant. Visitors feel discomfort and fear, particularly in Maximum Security and near the old gallows and hanging site. People also report seeing apparitions and shadow figures, hearing cell doors slam and disembodied voices, and feeling physical and emotional discomfort.

In the daytime, it's open as a museum. It's also open to ghost investigations and tours.

Ohio State Reformatory

Located in Mansfield, the Ohio State Reformatory may look familiar to visitors. That's because it was used to film The Shawshank Redemption. It operated as a prison from 1896 to 1990, housing many notorious criminals. As with other prisons, it was also the site of violence and abuse, which may account for much of the ghostly activity there.

Ohio State Reformatory

Visitors report hearing sounds of phantom footsteps and voices. In solitary confinement--the hole--there's a lot of anomalous activity, which is perhaps no surprise since multiple inmates reportedly committed suicide there. But you don't need to climb into the hole to experience a ghost...the prison is bursting with them in virtually all areas.

The Reformatory is open for self-guided and hosted tours.

Missouri State Penitentiary

The Missouri State Penitentiary is located in Jefferson. It served as a continuously-operating prison for more than 150 years from 1836 until it closed in 2004. Both men and women were incarcerated in the penitentiary, including James Earl Ray, who escaped from the prison a year before he assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Other notable inmates included boxer Sonny Liston and killer Pretty Boy Floyd. The prison also saw its fair share of violence and death, including riots, murders, and executions. It's so well known for its violence, Time magazine dubbed it 'the bloodiest 47 acres in America.'

Missouri State Penitentiary

The prison has a notoriously haunted reputation. In fact, it's so well-known as a haunted hotspot it was the subject of a Ghost Adventures episode. Even before the prison closed, inmates and staff claimed to have paranormal experiences. Today, visitors report being touched by unseen hands, hearing voices and footsteps, seeing apparitions, and feeling a sensation of dread.

If this sounds interesting, you can try to experience some of this for yourself. The Missouri State Penitentiary is open for tours and investigations.

West Virginia Penitentiary

Located in Moundsville, the West Virginia Penitentiary operated for over a century from the 1870s to the 1990s. As with other long-running prisons, the penitentiary saw much violence and death, including riots, murders, death by natural causes, and executions. And like other decommissioned prisons, this one has its fair share of haunted activity visitors notice, ranging from seeing shadows and apparitions to hearing the sounds of cell doors clanging and voices that call out in the darkness.

West Virginia Penitentiary

The West Virginia Penitentiary currently operates as a tourist attraction and museum, with activities including escape rooms, historical tours, and paranormal tours and investigations.

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Tennessee's first maximum security prison, Brushy Mountain, incarcerated some of the state's most violent offenders serving life sentences. Inmates were given long sentences for even the most minor of infractions and found themselves incarcerated at Brushy, where they then served as cheap labor leased to coal companies to work the mines. Horrible conditions, overcrowding, and forced labor led to violence, beatings, disease, and lots of death on premises.

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

It's no surprise that violence, despair, and death led to Brushy's hauntings. Visitors report hearing screams, doors clanging shut, and footsteps. Throughout the prison, people sense an evil presence that incites terror, and others report seeing apparitions and shadows. You can visit Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, which is in Petros. Tours and investigations are available for those who dare to spend time at a prison known as "The End of the Line."

Ghosts and Prisons

Virtually every prison has its fair share of incidents involving violence, murder, and suicide. Perhaps this is why so many have a haunted reputation. Many were built more than 100 years ago and have ceased operation as prisons, making way for more modern facilities. However, the buildings remain and often with them the inmates who lived and died within their walls.

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Most Haunted Prisons in America: Unlocking Their Stories