Alcatraz is an island in San Francisco Bay, the site of the famous prison of the same name. The island was discovered by the Spanish in 1545, and named in 1775 for its pelicans (in Spanish, alcatraces) Owned by the U.S. government since 1850, it was fortified and used as a military prison until 1933, when it became a federal prison. The prison was considered escape-proof because of its fortress like structure and the strong, cold currents in the surrounding waters. Closed in 1963, the structure stood empty until it was seized by a group of Indians in November 1969. They held it until June 1971 in an unsuccessful attempt to gain government recognition of their claim to the island. The island was opened(1972) to the public as a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Fromits inception, Alcatraz and the penology it represented drew criticism. The majority of the public, however, appeared to consider Alcatraz as a necessary and expensive evil. It became a symbol and an emotional release for the citizenry throughout the country, with the exeption of San Francisco. The Rock lay on the New York, Alcatraz at the other end of the country made anatomical comparison inevitable.