Joliet was originally known as Illinois State Penitentiary.  It was built in 1858 by using convict labor that was leased to the state contractor and warden.  The limestone used was quarried right on site.  There were 33 inmates that arrived in May that year to begin the construction and the last were transferred in July 1860.  At the time, both criminals and prisoners of war were held there during the Civil War. 

In 1865, the first corrections officer was killed there.  His name was Joseph Clark.  In 1872, the population had reached a record number for the time of 1,239.  The original plans consisted of a "female cell house" located inside the male penitentiary.  They were house adjacent to the men's cells from 1859-1870 until they were moved to the fourth floor of the central administration building.  in 1896, they built a separate, 100 cellblock across the street for the women.  It was built as an exact mini-replica of the male prison.  In 1933, all female prisoners were then moved to Oakdale Woman's Reformatory.  

The prison was slow to modernize.  There was no running water or toilets in the cells until 1910.  In 1917, Stateville Correctional Center began construction and was meant to lead to closure of Joliet but that didn't happen for a while and both prisons operated for the rest of the 20th century.  

Joliet hosted a few well known prisoners.  1924 saw Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb for life sentences for the kidnap and murder of Robert Franks.  1932 saw Lester Joseph Gillis, aka Baby Face Nelson escaped during a prison transfer in February.

The most famous movie filmed here was "The Blues Brothers".  Some of the characters in the movie "Saw II" were based on ex-prison inmates.  After it's closure, it hosted a few more film and tv projects.  Films like "Derailed" and "Let's go to Prison" were filmed here as well as some tv shows like "Prison Break", "Bones", "Warehouse 13" and a few others.  It's also been featured in some music and fiction.  


Joliet closed as a prison in 2002.  As of 2018, the Historical Museum started running tours of the prison and you can currently do historic tours, photographer, and paranormal.  

Old Joliet Prison - Joliet, IL