When looking for haunted places in America, make sure to include prisons on your list. These can be some of the most haunted buildings because of the amount of pain and trauma inmates can experience. Because of this, many spirits are still trapped in death, just like they were in life. 

Without further ado, here are America’s most haunted prisons and jails. Enjoy!

1. Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, Tennessee

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary
9182 Hwy 116, Petros, TN 37845

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, also called “The End of the Line,” has a long history of operation from 1896 to 2009. The most famous inmate is James Earl Ray, who murdered Martin Luther King Jr. He escaped from here once, for 58 hours, with six other inmates. He was captured just eight and a half miles away. He died in this prison in 1998, and it is rumored that he never left. 

The rugged terrain instilled a feeling of hopelessness into the inmates. People have reported screams and a clanging noise that could be Ray longing to escape again or hitting the bars. These noises could be caused by those who hung themselves, those that were severely beaten, or the prisoner who was chopped up and flushed down the toilet. There was an average of one murder per week.

Visiting Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

The prison now hosts ghost tours and overnight stays for you to investigate yourself if you dare.

A standard paranormal tour of Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary is priced at $480 (6 person max), and an overnight investigation is $1500 (12 person max).

Paranormal tours can be purchased at the Tour Brushy website.

2 Alcatraz, California

Alcatraz Island Prison
San Francisco, CA 94133

Alcatraz, located in San Francisco, CA, was known as the “Rock” and the ultimate prison. Many of the country’s worst criminals were sent here, including Doc Barker, Al Capone, murderer Robert Stroud, and George “Machine Gun” Kelly. It was initially a military prison but ended up housing the most notorious criminals. It was built in 1859 but stopped being used in the 1920s before reopening in 1933.

The grand reopening billed the federal prison as “escape-proof.” There were few privileges, but instead, it was a place of confinement and punishment. Many criminals housed here were driven to insanity, murder, and suicide. There were various escape attempts, but only one was successful. In 1962, three bank robbers escaped into the bay on handmade rubber rafts. Just a year later, the jail closed. 

It is considered one of America’s most haunted places, and ghosts have been reported by visitors and staff members of the National Park Service, who currently operate the property. There have been sightings of apparitions and sounds of screams, weeping, and Al Capone’s banjo music. Capone spent the last years of his life playing with the prison’s banjo band. He was afraid of being killed if he played the banjo in the open, so he practiced in the showers. Some say that he still does.

Cell 14-D is a particular hotbed for supernatural activity. This cell served as a holding cell for difficult prisoners, and now people experience freezing cold spots, even during the summer. In the 1940s, one man died in this cell. The guards found him strangled on the floor of his room, allegedly by a creature with glowing eyes that he had been raving about the night before.

If you don’t want to tangle with a monster, you could walk through Cell Blocks A, B, and C instead. Here you may hear the moaning and crying of Butcher, who was murdered inside the prison in the 1940s. Between Capone’s creepily upbeat banjo music and Butcher’s moaning, Alcatraz will be an unforgettable experience.

Visiting Alcatraz

Although you can’t join an overnight paranormal investigation of Alcatraz, there are a number of tour options, including a nighttime tour. Prices start from as little as $25, and include ferry and audio tour as standard, and tickets are available from City Experiences, the official website for Alcatraz tours.

3. Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennsylvania

A Gargoyle Sculpture at Eastern State Penitentiary
2027 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19130

This prison, or penitentiary, located in Philadelphia, PA, was founded by the Quakers in 1829. It is a stone castle, and the thought behind it being called a penitentiary is that it is a place where criminals could become penitent for the crimes they committed. Prisoners were kept in total isolation in windowless rooms. Many of them went insane, and the punishments for breaking the rules were severe. Suicides in Eastern State Penitentiary were common, especially if you had to sit in the “mad chair” where the inmate was strapped in so tightly that it cut off circulation. Sometimes, limbs had to be amputated. The solitary confinement ended in the 1870s, and the penitentiary was closed about 100 years later. 

Al Capone and “Slick Willie” Sutton were both held here. During Capone’s eight-month stay for carrying a concealed and deadly weapon, he claimed to be haunted by James Clark’s ghost. Clark was a victim of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago that Capone participated in. People have heard footsteps and mysterious sounds, such as the jingling of keys and laughter. They have also seen apparitions. Cell Blocks 4, 6, and 12 are the most active.

The prison is now a historic landmark and open to the public as a museum. It has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Most Haunted Live, MTV’s Fear, and Syfy’s Ghost Hunters.

Visiting Eastern State Penitentiary

Daytime tours are available year-round from 10 am to 5 pm and are priced at $13 for children (ages 7-12), Students at $13, Seniors at $15, and Adults at $17.

Night tours are available from May 7 to September 4 on Thursdays ($19), Fridays ($26), and Saturdays ($32).

Around Halloween, Eastern State transforms the prison with their Halloween Nights fundraiser, with a variety of haunted attractions, live entertainment, bars, and tours.

See what’s currently on offer via the Eastern State website.

4. Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Boise, Idaho

Old Idaho State Penitentiary Entrance
2445 Old Penitentiary Rd, Boise, ID 83712

Old Idaho State Penitentiary first opened in the 1870s and was closed in 1973. It began as a one-cell house before growing into a large complex of buildings surrounded by a sandstone wall. When it was open, it housed over 13,000 criminals, some of them the most dangerous in Idaho.

They were forced to mine the rock quarries nearby to build the walls of their prison. The conditions were brutal, with the surrounding sandstone keeping in the summer heat and creating bitter cold conditions in the winter. Diseases spread easily because of the lack of proper plumbing and the poor ventilation system. There were riots, fires, and deaths before it was abandoned. 110 people died within its walls from illness, old age, executions, and murder. 

The gallows were originally set up in the Rose Garden, and some spirits seem to have remained here. There is a male spirit dressed in gardening clothes, seen walking amongst the garden. People have also felt moving cold spots when it is warm outside with no wind.

It now operates as a museum, and reports of the supernatural are common. People have reported feelings of dread, anxiety, sadness, being touched, hearing whispers, and seeing flickering lights. 5 House, where murderer Raymond Allen Snowden was executed, is the most active spot and people speculate that his ghost remains. Douglas Van Vlack, who killed himself, shows his presence in 5 as well by killing batteries and causing a green light. 

Visiting Old Idaho State Penitentiary

You can visit the penitentiary 7 days a week, from 12 pm – 5 pm with the last entry at 4 pm. Tickets are priced at $6 for adults (13+), $3 for youths (6-12), and seniors (60+) for $4.

For an additional $2 fee per person, you can book a guided tour, though you need to do this on-site at the front desk as it’s availability-dependent.

The prison is closed Monday, October 11, Oct 27-30, Nov 25, Dec 25, and Jan 1.

You can book tickets and see what’s on at the Old Pen on the official government website.

5. Missouri State Penitentiary, Missouri

Missouri State Penitentiary, Missouri
115 Lafayette St, Jefferson City, MO 65101 [Img credit: Missouri State Pen Tours]

This penitentiary, also known as “The Walls” or “The Bloodiest 47 Acres in America,” was built in the early 1830s. Its original prisoners made the bricks that make up the first walls of the building. The prison grew many times from its initial fifteen inmates until it was ultimately closed in 2004. During this time, many well-known prisoners, including James Earl Ray, were in for burglary. He escaped just one year before assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd was also incarcerated here. There was a riot at the prison in 1954, which killed four prisoners and injured 29 others. In addition to this incident, forty prisoners were executed in the prison’s gas chamber while it was operating. 

Since its closing, it has been a prime location for hauntings. There have been many reported encounters with a variety of spirits. At one time, Cell #48 housed a prisoner who was a known snitch. During the riot, he was bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer, and there are reports that he may never have left. People have felt strange heavy feelings and caught an unearthly human figure on camera in this cell. Another ghost that hangs out near the Control Room is known as Fast Jack. He usually carries a clipboard and wears a white lab coat. It is believed he was a trustee who worked in the medical facilities. Others have reported him appearing and vanishing or moving through walls. 

The Female Wing is not to be ignored. The ghostly figure of a female in vintage clothing is often seen in this area, along with a man in a prison uniform. The penitentiary has been visited on Ghost Adventures. It also features two and three-hour ghost tours and an overnight paranormal investigation if you are feeling brave.

Visiting Missouri State Pen

The pen holds its own paranormal tours and investigations year-round. You can book a 2-hour ghost tour (14+ only) for $30 per person, 3 hours (14+ only) for $40 per person, a 3-hour ghost hunting class (14+ only) for $40 per person, as well as a 5 hour and 8 hours overnight paranormal investigation (18+ only) for $75 and $100 respectively.

There are also a few options for private tours and investigations too. Check the Missouri State Pen Tours website for more info on all the offerings.

6. Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, Ohio

Ohio State Reformatory, Mansfield, Ohio
100 Reformatory Rd, Mansfield, OH 44905

This reformatory was made famous as the setting of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption.” It is also known as Mansfield Reformatory or the “Blood Prison.” It opened in 1896 and was used for criminals who were too old for the juvenile prisons and not tough enough for the Ohio State Penitentiary. It was initially commended for being a place that was able to reform first-time offenders humanely. Still, the conditions deteriorated later, and it became known for torture, abuse, and murder. It was overcrowded by the 1930s but kept open until 1986. This longevity is surprising since the inmates filed a federal lawsuit that the reformatory was unfit for humans. 

Since its closure, there have been many stories about it being haunted by the tortured souls of inmates, prison officials, and guards. There have been apparitions seen, and footsteps heard. One of the named ghosts includes Helen Glattke, who died in 1950 in the reformatory’s administration wing apartment. She was killed by a loaded handgun that fell off a closet shelf and went off. People will often smell her perfume or hear the voices of her and her husband, who died later of a heart attack in his office, arguing. 

You can tour the building with different programs, depending on if you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced repeat visitor. The more experienced you are, the creepier places you get to visit.

Visiting Ohio State Reformatory

You can visit one of the most famous haunted prisons in America both on regular tours and paranormal tours. The paranormal programs on offer at Ohio State Reformatory are perfect for beginners and veterans ghost hunters alike.

You can book a public ghost hunt (18+ only) on select Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the year. Tickets are $99 per person and include access to the prison from 7 pm until 3 am, and also include a dinner of pizza and soda. Both cold and hot drinks are available throughout.

In addition to public investigations, you can also book a private event which is for 30 people or less for $3000 on Friday and Saturday. The cost is then $100/person for every person above 30, with a maximum attendance of 100. Sunday through Thursday is priced at $1500 for up to 15 people, and $100/person for every person above 15, also with a max of 100.

If you don’t want to experience an overnight investigation, the prison also offers 2 hour guided ghost walks, from 8-10 pm or 10:30 pm – 12:30 am, and are priced at $45 per person (13+ only).

For more info or to book tickets, you’ll need to go to the Ohio State Reformatory website.

7. Ohio State Penitentiary, Columbus, Ohio

The Old Ohio State Penitentiary, Columbus, OH
Location: Bounded by Spring St. (to the south), Neil Ave. (west), West St. (east), Maple St. (north)

The Ohio Penitentiary saw its fair share of death since it opened in 1834. Although it was condemned by those who reformed, it remained open until 1979. The building itself has been taken down, but there are still reports of apparitions haunting the space. 

Many people died from cholera outbreaks, fire, execution by electric chair, and murder when it was in operation. There was a massive fire in 1930 that killed a staggering 322 inmates that night. After that night, the inmates complained of ghosts and supernatural occurrences. Once it was torn down, there were sightings of apparitions haunting its ruins. 

The former penitentiary site now sits within the Arena District, with Burnham Square Condominiums, McFerson Commons, and several office buildings and parking garages now standing on the site.

8. West Virginia State Penitentiary, Moundsville, WV

West Virginia State Penitentiary
818 Jefferson Ave, Moundsville, WV 26041

The West Virginia Penitentiary, also known as Moundsville State Penitentiary or “Bloody Alley,” was open for an impressive 129 years, from 1866 through 1995. Many inmates died during this time from prison violence and executions. It is rumored to be one of the most haunted places in the United States. Both visitors and staff have reported apparitions in the North Hall. This section of the penitentiary housed the most dangerous of inmates. Prisoners killed snitch R.D. Wall and butchered him into pieces. Wall’s ghost is one of the earliest reported sightings at the prison.

There has also been supernatural activity in the execution chamber and solitary confinement area, where some inmates went insane and committed suicide. People have also heard voices, footsteps, and strange noises. Some have felt cold chills and intense feelings of panic.

The penitentiary features paranormal tours and even an escape room. It has also been featured on MTV’s Fear.

Visiting West Virginia State Penitentiary

West Virginia State Pen offers several different tours and programs for visitors both through the day and at night.

Those wanting to experience the prison on a full night of paranormal investigating can do, with the private investigations available from $1099, which includes a max of 20 people. This includes a 90-minute guided paranormal tour, plus 4hr 30 mins of exclusive access to investigate as you please.

Tickets for these are available to those aged 18 and over only.

You can book your tours as well as see all of the offerings on the WV Pen Tours website.

9. Wyoming Territorial Prison, Laramie, Wyoming

Wyoming Territorial Prison
975 Snowy Range Rd, Laramie, WY 82070

The Wyoming Territorial Prison was a federal penitentiary built in 1872 to address the increase in crime along with the railroad’s western expansion. It seemed to be cursed from the start and hit with many problems. There was a fire in 1873, along with several escapes. In just the first two years of its operation, 11 out of 44 inmates escaped. The prison was overcrowded by 1877, and a second cell block was added. It was a state prison from 1890 to 1901 with cells for female inmates and solitary confinement. Butch Cassidy served two years in this prison from 1894 to 1896 as well. In 1903, the prison closed, and the University of Wyoming took it over for livestock breeding experiments through 1989. 

The stories of it being haunted began in 1991 when the building became open to the public as a historic site. One of the ghosts is Julius Greenwald, who was convicted of murdering his wife in 1897. While incarcerated, he would make and sell cigars. He stayed in a cell on the third floor, but it was removed during a renovation. Since then, there has been a phantom cigar smell, believed to be caused by Greenwald’s angry spirit.

Visiting Wyoming Territorial Prison

The prison is open year-round apart from Mondays, Tuesdays, and Sundays from October – April. It’s also closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

General admission fees are $9 for adults, $4.50 for youth (12-17), and children 11 and under go free.

Guided public tours are available from June through September at 11 AM – 2 PM every day apart from Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

On select days in October, they also offer public ghost hunts, though you’ll have to book in advance.

For more info and how to book tickets visit the Wyoming State Parks official website.

10. Pottawattamie Squirrel Cage Jail, Council Bluffs, Iowa

Pottawattamie Squirrel Cage Jail
226 Pearl Street Council Bluffs, Iowa, 51503

Pottawattamie County Jail, also known as the Squirrel Cage Jail, has one of the strangest configurations. It was built in 1885 and had a three-tier cell block of ten cells on each. The design called for it to rotate during the night by a water wheel, so all the inmates could be seen from one location. It did not work well because it was so heavy, so they eventually gave up on the plan. They still used the cylinder until 1960, but at that point, a prisoner died, and the body was trapped for several days. This prisoner was one of four that died during the jail’s operation. The four died in various ways: one of a heart attack, another fell when attempting to write his name on the ceiling, one after an accident where an officer accidentally shot himself, and the last hanged himself. In 1969, the jail was closed. 

It is rumored that those four inmates, and others, still haunt the jail. One of the ghosts is believed to be J.M. Carter, who originally oversaw the building’s construction. He was the first resident of the top-floor apartment. In 1885 jailer Bill Foster refused to use the top floor because he could hear someone walking around, presumably Carter’s ghost. There has also been a little girl in gray inside a cell and two ghostly cats roaming the jail. 

You can check out the unique construction and the ghosts, as this jail is now a museum.

Visiting the Squirrel Cage Jail Museum

The museum is open April through October on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 1 PM – 4 PM, and from November through March on Saturday (11 AM – 4 PM), and Sunday (1 PM – 4 PM).

Overnight paranormal investigations are also available (13 years +), and are priced at $140 (4 hours), $210 (8 hours), and $280 (12 hours). Prices are for upto 6 people only.

For more information and how to book, please visit the Historical Society of Pottawattamie County.

11. Lake County Jail, Crown Point, Indiana

Old Sheriffs House Lake County Jail
226 S Main St, Crown Point, IN 46307

After being built in 1908, the Lake County Jail was enlarged about 20 years later. This expansion allowed county sheriffs to live at the jail and account for all the facilities needed. It gave room for living areas, warden’s residence, 150 cells, department offices, food storage, a barbershop, the heating and cooling system, maximum security areas, a kitchen, and a garage. It was thought to be one of the best prisons in Indiana and escape-proof. 

In 1934, John Dillinger proved that it was not when he escaped. The jail closed in the 1970s and became a historic site. During its recent restoration, there have been sightings of apparitions in the cells and hallways, lights turning on and off, footsteps, voices, and doors opening and closing on their own.

Visiting the Old Sheriff’s House and Jail

The Old lake County Jail, now the Old Sheriff’s House and Jail museum is open to visitors from early May to late September with regular tours on offer on Saturdays from 10 AM – 1 PM.

From mid to late October the jail is converted to a haunted house which can be booked online in advance for $10 per person.

You can also make special appointment tours directly with the Old Sheriff’s House Foundation. You can see what’s on offer as well as book your tours on the Old Sheriff’s House website.

12. Maxwell Street Police Station, Chicago, Illinois

Maxwell Street Police Station
943 W Maxwell St, Chicago, IL 60608

After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the population on Maxwell Street increased along with the crime rate. Mobsters fostered a culture of fear, and in the center was the Maxwell Street Police Station, also called the “Old Red Fortress” or “Bloody” due to the building’s color. This station was known for corruption, torture, brutality, and bribery.

Many criminals died in the basement dungeon. People have heard the rattling of bars, moans, and screams of the tortured spirits when visiting. One of the most well-known ghosts of Maxwell Street is known as the Lady in Black. She is silent and wears 19th century period clothing but has been credited with rescuing a motorcyclist.  

As well as being one of the most haunted buildings in Chicago, the UIC Police Station was also used for the exterior shots of Precinct House in the television hit series, Hill Street Blues.

Visiting Maxwell Street Police Station

You can’t visit the building for tours, as the University of Illinois at Chicago Police Department is housed there.

13. Yuma Territorial Prison, Arizona

Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma, Arizona
Yuma Territorial Prison Park, 220 Prison Hill Rd, Yuma, AZ 85364

This prison was in operation between 1876 and 1909. It had 111 permanent inmates during this time. It is now a state historical park and one of the most haunted places in Arizona. Cell 14 inspires chills in the guards. This cell was the site of a suicide of a prisoner serving time due to “crimes against nature.” It was used for pitch-black and solitary confinement where inmates were chained to the walls and went insane. Ghost Adventures has visited this site as well. 

One hundred and eleven people died in this prison, most of them due to tuberculosis. One of the most well-known ghosts is a little girl in red who sneaks up and pokes visitors with her icy fingers. It is believed that she was a resident after the closure in 1909 and drowned in the Colorado River. 

It is no surprise that jails are some of the most haunted spots in America. The hopelessness, suicides, and executions make them prime locations for the supernatural to remain. You can visit some of these prisons and see for yourself.

Visiting Yuma Territorial Prison

The prison is now part of Arizona State Parks, and you can visit on Thursday-Sundays from 9 AM – 5 PM. It has a museum, gift shop, restrooms, and picnic areas. Entrance is priced at $8 for 14+, $4 for 7-13-year-olds, and children 0-6 are free.

There are new programs and events added all the time, so you’ll want to check with the Yuma Territorial Prison website for more information.

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