Take I-8 to Yuma,
take Exit 1 to Giss Parkway, turn at Prison Hill Road.
On July 1, 1876,
the first seven inmates entered the Territorial Prison at Yuma, and
were locked into the new cells they had built themselves.
A total of 3,069
prisoners, including 29 women, lived within these walls during the
prison's thirty-three years of operation. Their crimes ranged from
murder to polygamy, with grand larceny being the most common. A
majority served only portions of their sentences due to the ease
with which paroles and pardons were obtained. One hundred eleven
persons died while serving their sentences, most from tuberculosis,
which was common throughout the territory. Of the many prisoners who
attempted escape, twenty-six were successful, but only two were from
within the prison confines. No executions took place at the prison
because capital punishment was administered by the county
Despite an infamous
reputation, written evidence indicates that the prison was humanely
administered, and was a model institution for its time. The only
punishments were the dark cells for inmates who broke prison
regulations, and the ball and chain for those who tried to escape.
During their free time, prisoners hand-crafted many items. Those
items were sold at public bazaars held at the prison on Sundays
after church services. Prisoners also had regular medical attention,
and access to a good hospital.
available for convicts, and many learned to read and write in
prison. The prison housed one of the first "public" libraries in
the territory, and the fee charged to visitors for a tour of the
institution was used to purchase books. One of the early electrical
generating plants in the West furnished power for lights and ran a
ventilation system in the cellblock.
By 1907, the prison
was severely overcrowded, and there was no room on Prison Hill for
expansion. The convicts constructed a new facility in Florence,
Arizona. The last prisoner left Yuma on September 15, 1909.
The Yuma Union High
School occupied the buildings from 1910 to 1914. Empty cells
provided free lodging for hobos riding the freights in the 1920s,
and sheltered many homeless families during the Depression.
Townspeople considered the complex a source for free building
materials. This, plus fires, weathering, and railroad construction,
destroyed the prison walls and all buildings except the cells, main
gate and guard tower; but these provide a glimpse of convict life a
Prison built in 1876
shop, video room
Picnic area and