Inside an Abandoned Prison: Joliet Correctional Center

The beautiful neo-Gothic prison compound of Joliet Correctional Center stands abandoned and decaying after operating for nearly a century and a half.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

After a stroll through the legendary ruins of Joliet Iron Works, I headed to the massive walled-off prison compound that lies just north of the abandoned steel mill.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Surrounded by 25-foot-high limestone walls topped with razor wire, Joliet Correctional Center covers 20 acres of land. The once self-sustaining compound consists of 24 buildings, including guard towers, cell blocks, administration buildings, light industrial facilities, a hospital, laundry, cafeteria, chapel and gymnasium. After years of neglect and vandalism, many of the structures are severly deteriorated.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Thick blankets of ivy cover the walls and fences. The grounds are overgrown with weeds that have pushed up through the cracked pavement.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

The prison compound itself is not open to the public, but the parking lot has been transformed into the Old Joliet Prison Park. Visitors can enjoy a view of the castle-like main structure and read about the prison's history on a handful of informational signs.

Fortunately I was able to convince a friend of a friend who worked for the City of Joliet to grant me limited access to the administration building.
I was in awe from the moment I stepped inside. With elegant arched doorways and ornate wrought iron staircases, it looked nothing like how I imagined the interior of an old prison. 

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Some of the rooms even had marble fireplaces.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

It was strange to see such beauty juxtaposed with the stark iron bars that separated it from the inmate areas.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Joliet Correctional Center opened in 1858, originally built to replace Illinois State Prison in Alton. Inmates were brought in from Alton to build the new prison, using limestone that was quarried on site.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

By the late 1800s, the prison population had grown to a record-breaking high of 1239. In addition to overcrowding and concerns over the compound's aging infrastructure, exhaust from the nearby Joliet Steel mill was becoming a problem. Smoke often rolled in and covered the prison grounds in a thick haze, causing health problems for inmates and prison staff. One warden even resigned and moved away due to health concerns.

In 1910, the prison commissioners decided the facility needed to be replaced. Stateville Penitentiary opened in 1925, intended to replace it, but Joliet Prison remained open.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

The facility has held quite a few notable inmates, including prisoners of war during the Civil War. The infamous murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were incarcerated there. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy also spent time in Joliet Prison before being sent to Stateville Correctional Center.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Joliet Correctional Center has been featured in several movies, including The Blues Brothers and Let's Go to Prison. Since its abandonment, it served as the setting for Season One of the T.V. show Prison Break and an episode of Bones.

The prison was also mentioned in songs, including "Percy's Song" by Bob Dylan, "Joliet Bound" by Memphis Minnie, and "Lincoln Park Pirates" by Steve Goodman.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Joliet Correctional Center closed in 2002 due to budget cuts and the aging of its buildings. Most of the inmates and employees were transferred to Stateville Correctional Center.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Redevelopment plans for the site are still in the works. The Joliet Area Historical Museum wishes to preserve the prison and open it for tours, though developers have submitted other plans that would require demolition of many of the historic structures. 

I only got to see a small portion of the massive facility during my visit, but I hope to return one day if/when the grounds have been opened to the public.

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

Grateful for the opportunity to explore such a unique site, I said goodbye to Joliet and continued eastward on my Epic Rust Belt Road Trip

Next stop: an abandoned power plant

If you enjoyed this article, please share it on Facebook. I would be forever grateful! To receive an email announcement when I post my next article, please subscribe to Places That Were

By the way, I have way more photos of Joliet Correctional Center than I was able to include here. I'll be sharing them on social media, so please follow the links below if you'd like to see more of this incredible abandoned prison.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/placesthatwere

Instagram: http://instagram.com/theplacesthatwere

Twitter: https://twitter.com/placesthatwere/

Tumblr: http://placesthatwere.tumblr.com/

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JimSullivanPlacesThatWere/posts

EyeEm: https://www.eyeem.com/u/placesthatwere

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/jimplicit

500px: https://500px.com/placesthatwere

Thank you!

Joliet Correctional Center Abandoned Prison in Illinois

21 comments :

  1. Another awesome job! Prisons and Hospitals give me the most hee-bee-jee-bees!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a fantastic place. I imagine it was wonderful to see. Lucky you! I really enjoyed this. Did not know that about the Blues Bros. movie......neat!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Sue! I felt very fortunate to get to see the inside of the main building. I hope I get to explore the rest of it some day.

      Delete
  3. Pity it’s left to die due to neglect and vandalism. For what it’s worth, it is a landmark and historical site, and a monument to those who built it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really is a shame. I was shocked to see that several floors had collapsed already. I hope they hurry up and get to work preserving the structures it before it's too late.

      Delete
  4. As you mentioned, home to "Joliet Jake" and "Elwood Blues". At least for one movie.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Are prisons the creepiest things to visit? I'd probably freak out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Prisons are pretty creepy, but hospitals are definitely creepier. I've seen some really spooky ones. Psychiatric institutions too.

      Delete
  6. I live in a nearby town. Yes, it would be great to see some buildings turned into a history center. Just looking at the massive staircases and arches would entise history buffs. My great grandfather worked at the steel mill nearby. Yes, plumes of fumes were present everywhere in the area

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank goodness the air is cleaner nowadays. It must have been awful to breathe in all that exhaust. Still it would be amazing to go back in time for a day and see what the town was like during your great grandfather's era.

      Delete
  7. Another great explore and write-up. Thanks for giving us this look inside the admin building!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Greg! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      Delete
  8. I hope they are able to fix the site up. I grew up only 10 minutes away from the prison and I would be in awe of the buildings every time I passed them when I was little. Hopefully one day the site will be open to the public! The parking lot isn't very exciting. :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope they open it to the public too. It would be such an amazing museum and could probably bring in a lot of tourism.

      Delete
  9. I just came here because of a story that two teenage girls were fined for trespassing when one became trapped there somehow. I commented to someone that the prison should be demolished then later commented it should become a museum as was an old prison in Jefferson City, MO. Now see that the Joliet prison should be made into a museum, maybe also a haunted house as I assume some spooky things have occurred there as in the old Jeff City prison.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just found the article. It's a shame they had to break through the wall with a sledgehammer. I hate it when carelessness results in damage to beautiful old buildings. Must have been a terrifying experience for her.

      Delete
    2. Ugh, I hate people who do vandalism to buildings like this! I always believe in not vandalizing things, and if I can't find an opening inside a building via an open window or door or other hidden entry point, I don't enter. Simple as that.

      Delete
  10. The city of Joliet(if that's who owns this building today, it seems), would make so much money doing occasional tours of this building. I wish they'd copy off the organization in Buffalo, NY that occasionally opens their former train station to the public, for tours and other event. That btw served briefly as a train station into the Amtrak years, before it was relocated to nearby Depew, NY.

    Anyway back to this building, loved your entry on this place. I'm super jealous your friend knew someone who worked for the city of Joliet, and allowed you access into the administration building. By any chance, did you visit the former drive-in theater while you were in Joliet? I think it was called the Hilltop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree; the city definitely should allow occasional tours of this place. There is probably a lot of red tape and liability concerns preventing that from happening, but if it ever becomes a reality I'll sign up for sure. The part I saw was amazing, but it was only a small portion of the entire facility.

      Now I want to check out the Buffalo train station. I'm going to look into it and see if I can get notified the next time they offer a tour.

      I had no idea about the old drive-in. Wish I'd known about it when I was in town. I'm going to research it so I can check it out next time I'm in the area. Thank you for the suggestion!

      Delete
  11. State of Illinois still owns the prison

    ReplyDelete