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How can you re-make Alcatraz as a practical working prison in the 21st century?

Erebus

Troubadour
Alcatraz was one of the most notorious and coolest prisons in history, known around the world for its crushing brutality and strict control of its inmates. At its peak it housed many of the legendary badasses of its day, from Al Capone to Machine Gun Kelly to Whitey Bulger. However, what made it so effective also made it problematic for the long term. The prison was physically isolated on an island far away from the mainland. Freshwater, supplies, food, and fuel all needed to be delivered by boat. Millions of dollars were required to apply maintenance for upkeep, not to mention the daily operating costs to simply run the facility. All of this made it very expensive to maintain, which eventually put the prison out of business in the 1960s. The government simply believed that is was cheaper and easier to utilize prisons on the mainland, such as the ADX supermax in Colorado, now known as the Alcatraz of the Rockies. However, the true Alcatraz has such a foreboding and infamous history that would be a shame for it to go to waste as the national park that it was turned into, The world has changed in the 21st century, with new technologies and methods being developed, and one may as well utilize the notorious island for story purposes. In this history, the government decides to re-open the prison as a modern day supermax to house the most dangerous criminals today, such as El Chapo, Osama Bin Laden, John Gotti, and other infamous names. This is partly to take advantage of the island's feared reputation and to punish its inmates more severly. Part of designing a realistic scenario is by eliminating the issues that led to the closure of the prison in the first place, such as reducing its cost, isolation, and making it easier to maintain the facility. It also needs to be made more practical as a solution than running a prison on the mainland. How would I be able to make this work?
 

Queshire

Auror
Honestly I'm not sure how it can be done other than by authorial fiat. The problems aren't just what you listed.

As a tourist trap it makes money.

As a prison you've got the day to day costs, a lump sum up front in order to update it to work as a modern day prison in general and the cost of implementing those changes that'd prevent the peoblems that closed it down in the first place.

It's fame also works against it. I doubt the fine folks of San Francisco want the worst criminals on earth just a few miles away from the city and good luck getting away with punishing inmates more severely with the media's eye on it because you reopened freakin' Alcatraz.
 

pmmg

Vala
Alcatraz is as good a place as any if we are looking for a difficult place for people to escape, and since its a government function, it being a profit center is not required. Certainly, technology exists the lower costs, so I am sure it could be made more cost effective. But I suspect the will and/or need is not there to do it.

But for a story...why not?

I would think it would be feasible to lower costs if it had its own water treatment, and power production capability, and maybe food production? So...salt to fresh water conversion, and a small nuclear (or other) power plant would drop some costs (minus the cost of production). Maybe we can sell it to China and let them run tik tok from it. It would find power pretty quick. If Alcatraz has a valuable resource, it would find new life tomorrow.
 
An interesting notion, although not necessarily "realistic" would be to trick it out as a For Profit prison project put together by some mega-corporation or Silicone Valley billionaire. This could be fun as hell, maybe even throwing in a revenge premise on the part of the billionaire. This could go noir in a similar fashion to Gotham, heh heh. Realistic? Mmm, well, maybe in some multiverse or another, but a good story. If someone can pull a dinosaur's DNA from an ancient mosquito and make a park out of it, reopening Alcatraz should be believable, heh heh.

Covering the money gov't would likely take a cultural change, but that would also spin a different light on the story.

The tech could run from nuclear "pods" to inmates running on hamster wheels, depending on the direction the story takes, heh heh. Desalination could work, but authorization from the CA gov't might be tricky, heh heh. Food is the biggest issue for being self-sustaining, but what seemed expensive in the 60s is, in some cases, chump change today in the age of massive gov't debt and billionaires with pet projects.
 
The Rule of Cool works. While realism is nice of course, if your premisse simply is "the government decided to reopen Alcatraz because they needed a secure, impenetrable, high security prison" then you can just hand-wave it. I don't think anyone would think "well, it used to be too expensive to operate, so there's no way this would work now." A high profile political leader who wants to appear tough and make a public statement could easily do so with a pen stroke. It could easily simply be a campaign promise. And on a government budget, a few million dollars per year to run the thing is peanuts.

I'm not sure the cost difference would be that big anymore. The only real issue would be drinking water, and the cost of moving employees there and back again. Power, internet, and the like you can just run a single giant cable on the sea bed once and you're good to go. No need for anything fancy. It's a one-off cost that's not much higher than running a power cable to another isolated location. In a world where we ship avocado's and kiwi's and everything else around the world because it's cheaper than actually producing stuff locally, supplies are not that big a deal.

I actually think the biggest issue (and where the cheaper thing comes in) is that you need to modernize the building to meet modern living and safety standards. I'm no expert on the thing, but Wikipedia suggests it was built somewhere between the 1800's and 1930's. Which means things like central heating, plumbing, electricity and all that were more an afterthought than requirements. Renovating such a building to make it modern is a lot more expensive (especially in that location), than just building a new building somewhere.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
A key reason why Alcatraz was closed was because the sea water had began to eat away at the structural integrity of the buildings and corrode many of its fixtures. It was cheaper to shut down the prison than to fix it up. But the only change that needs to happen is for someone to decide that the cost of doing it up was less than the benefits of having an institution that had such an infamous reputation. Or perhaps it could be reopened as the result of needing somewhere to dump the most hard-core criminals or terrorists, especially after 9/11.
 
A key reason why Alcatraz was closed was because the sea water had began to eat away at the structural integrity of the buildings and corrode many of its fixtures. It was cheaper to shut down the prison than to fix it up. But the only change that needs to happen is for someone to decide that the cost of doing it up was less than the benefits of having an institution that had such an infamous reputation. Or perhaps it could be reopened as the result of needing somewhere to dump the most hard-core criminals or terrorists, especially after 9/11.

I like that idea. Perhaps in an alternate timeline, Alcatraz could replace Guantanamo Bay. (What if the Cubans had booted the U.S. out of Guantanamo? Maybe then the military would have held onto Alcatraz.)

But to make it a prison again, more history would have to be changed. In our timeline, Alcatraz has been a national park since 1972. National park land cannot be repurposed. Least of all by the government. Once it's been made a national park, there's no going back.

So for the feds to be able to reopen the prison, they would have to have kept the land but not turned it over to the Park Service. Which probably means it would have remained a working prison all along. Or something else.

Before Alcatraz became a federal penitentiary, it was a military prison. What if it had remained one?

What if the military had kept up its presence in and around San Francisco? The Bay Area, and coastal California in general, was pretty heavily fortified through World War II and into the Cold War. What if it had stayed that way? What if the military bases in the Presidio and on Treasure Island had remained military bases, and not closed in the 1990s, as they did in our timeline? What if there were some secret military project going on there, that involved secret renditions of prisoners to Alcatraz?

Or, heck, what if the feds had been running secret paranormal experiments out of Alcatraz all along, in a X-Files meets Poltergeist: the Legacy kind of scenario? Maybe they'd then reopen the prison as a kind of real life Azkaban.

Any of those scenarios would probably mean eliminating the Indians of All Tribes Occupation. Which would greatly change history in other ways. Unless they'd found some other place to occupy.
 
The Rule of Cool works. While realism is nice of course, if your premisse simply is "the government decided to reopen Alcatraz because they needed a secure, impenetrable, high security prison" then you can just hand-wave it. I don't think anyone would think "well, it used to be too expensive to operate, so there's no way this would work now." A high profile political leader who wants to appear tough and make a public statement could easily do so with a pen stroke. It could easily simply be a campaign promise. And on a government budget, a few million dollars per year to run the thing is peanuts.

It wouldn't be as simple as a pen stroke, because there's another hitch, as I mentioned above: Alcatraz belongs to the National Park Service. No government official can simply decide to reopen a prison on national park land. The laws are strict and pretty airtight on that.

For the prison to be reopened as a working prison, Alcatraz would have to have never been a national park in the first place.
 
As if governments don't break... I mean side-step... I mean change the rules they make for the greater good*? Simple, maybe not, but doable? Yes. They'd turn Yellowstone into a prison if it served their purposes.

Greater Good meaning whatever is politically useful at any given moment. Politically useful meaning whatever makes politicians powerful, rich, or preferably both.
 
As if governments don't break... I mean side-step... I mean change the rules they make for the greater good*? Simple, maybe not, but doable? Yes. They'd turn Yellowstone into a prison if it served their purposes.

And it would take quite a lot of heavy lifting to do anything at all to a national park. Not just a politician's whim.

To reopen Alcatraz as a prison would probably require an apocalyptic scenario. Or at least the disintegration of the United States. That's the only realistic way, I think, that an American national park could be unmade. While the U.S. remains what it is, every national park that's been designated will remain a national park. It's much too difficult to undo that.

If the U.S. were to split up, California would probably become an independent country. Maybe it would use Alcatraz as a national prison.
 
It wouldn't be as simple as a pen stroke, because there's another hitch, as I mentioned above: Alcatraz belongs to the National Park Service. No government official can simply decide to reopen a prison on national park land. The laws are strict and pretty airtight on that.
Fair enough. Small details like this show that I'm not in the US and not familiar with the very specific US Laws regarding things like national parks.

In the end, as Demesnedenoir mentions, laws can be changed. Even constitutions can change (though doing so usually takes a lot of time and effort). Which means that even national park laws can change if it's needed. It probably takes more time than your regular law, and might require laws to change in multiple places and multiple levels of government. But the goverment made those laws, and they can change them.
 

BearBear

Troubadour
How would I be able to make this work?

The California prison systems are overcrowded and that's no overstatement. Non-violent crimes are treated with house arrest more and more. Defund the police funds are being used to dispatch social workers to domestic violence. No-bail laws are releasing non-violent and violent criminals who skip town and don't return. Smash and grab heists in broad daylight have reached the richest communities. Mass shootings, freeway shootings, missings persons, human trafficking, gangland violence is growing, crime is on the rise in almost every catagory, drug abuse is rampant such as heroine and Meth, and space in California is at an extreme premium. This is all true and factual.

In my mind, the reopening of Alcatraz isn't just a possibility, it's an inevitability. Where is the breaking point? That's the fun of this story.

As to the details of how a federal park can be repurposed by a state, there are lots of options. Firstly corruption. National security reasons would likely be able to unravel any law, it has already done as much. Perhaps a (fictitious) rarely used exception in the current laws. Lastly congress may allow it, who can say?
 
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Fair enough. Small details like this show that I'm not in the US and not familiar with the very specific US Laws regarding things like national parks.

In the end, as Demesnedenoir mentions, laws can be changed. Even constitutions can change (though doing so usually takes a lot of time and effort). Which means that even national park laws can change if it's needed. It probably takes more time than your regular law, and might require laws to change in multiple places and multiple levels of government. But the goverment made those laws, and they can change them.

If you're interested, read up on the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). It never passed, but it's still potentially passable, even though it's been decades. Gives you an idea of how hard it is to change anything at the federal level in America.

Congress can and does pass laws around the management of federal lands, including national parks, but taking a particular park out of the park system and turning the land back to its historic use would be, if anything, even more difficult than amending the Constitution.

Which is why the only way I'd believe a scenario where Alcatraz reopened as a prison is if it were an alternate timeline where Alcatraz had never been a national park, or an apocalyptic scenario where the system had thoroughly collapsed.
 
National security reasons would likely be able to unravel any law, it has already done as much.

Depends on how easily unraveled the laws are.

The national park system is part of a very tightly woven web of laws. It would be very complicated to undo. Just screaming, "National security!" wouldn't cut it. It would take a lot of complex maneuvering to get to the point of being able to legally reopen Alcatraz. Since in this scenario it becomes a federal prison again, it would have to be reopened legally, not illegally!
 

BearBear

Troubadour
Depends on how easily unraveled the laws are.

The national park system is part of a very tightly woven web of laws. It would be very complicated to undo. Just screaming, "National security!" wouldn't cut it. It would take a lot of complex maneuvering to get to the point of being able to legally reopen Alcatraz. Since in this scenario it becomes a federal prison again, it would have to be reopened legally, not illegally!

Love (of power) finds a way. ;) Plus this is fiction, so it only has to sound plausible I think right?
 

pmmg

Vala
To reopen Alcatraz as a prison would probably require an apocalyptic scenario. Or at least the disintegration of the United States. That's the only realistic way, I think, that an American national park could be unmade. While the U.S. remains what it is, every national park that's been designated will remain a national park. It's much too difficult to undo that.

Well, I cannot foresee this ever happening (Alcatraz getting re-opened), but I think it can happen a little less dramatically than the nation splitting up. Truth is, there are many islands we can build prisons on, and many ways to make them hard to escape. I suspect it may be more cost effective to build new, than re-purpose with Alcatraz, but its not like I ever looked at the books. I would not be opposed to re-opening it as a citizen, if there was need. A prison is a prison.

Seriously, I cant see my self becoming as upset over the loss of Alcatraz island as a park land, than say Yellowstone. Alcatraz is only part of the vocabulary because it was a prison. Course, since it may be the home of the sharkynaster, maybe that would matter.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
The only thing that would be required to turn Alcatraz into a prison again would be if Congress voted to do that. They would be reluctant to do so because the cost required to bring Alcatraz up to the standards of a modern prison would be astronomical.

The other question would be determining what event or circumstances would bring about a Congressional vote to reopen Alcatraz. 9/11 or the Oklahoma City Bombing could be used as justifications.

Of course, you could easily resolve the issue by having the U.S prison service retaining Alcatraz after they close it for whatever reason you feel would be most appropriate for the story.
 
The only thing that would be required to turn Alcatraz into a prison again would be if Congress voted to do that. They would be reluctant to do so because the cost required to bring Alcatraz up to the standards of a modern prison would be astronomical.

And the money it's currently making as a tourist draw would be lost. Alcatraz tours sell out months in advance, and they sell for a bundle, of which the government gets a cut (the Park Service does). Keeping the prison safe for tours is far less expensive than making it usable as a prison. They're definitely coming out ahead.

So there would have to be a reason the tourist money is lost for good anyway, before Congress would even consider going there.

Maybe, just maybe, San Francisco getting utterly destroyed by an earthquake well beyond anything seen before would do it. Then there would be no more tourism to San Francisco, and by extension to Alcatraz. However, San Francisco has been destroyed before and rebuilt. It would take something more to make the destruction permanent.

Not to mention, that extreme a disaster would probably also destroy the buildings on Alcatraz.
 
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Aldarion

Inkling
How about a possibly-dystopian future where you have a reality show based on Alcatraz, where inmates try to escape while filming their efforts, and those that escape get some sort of reward?

That might solve some of the issues above?
 
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