Today we found some time to explore the Yuma Territorial Prison Museum just outside town. The history of the prison is quite interesting.
Surrounded by the Colorado River, quicksand and desert on all sides, the prison opened in 1875 and operated for 33 years. It housed over 3,000 prisoners during that time, including 29 women.
Crimes ranged from burglary and murder to polygamy and infidelity. Some were imprisoned for serving alcohol to Indians, while others served their time for seducing women without the intention of marrying them.
The prisoners all worked. Refusing to work got you sent to solitary confinement.
The prisoners referred to Yuma prison as a “hell hole” because of the inhumane punishments (they regularly wore a ball and chain around their ankles, or were tossed into a snake pit). Mostly it was because in the summer months, the prison was like an inferno.
The locals in Yuma joked that the prison was a “country club on the Colorado River” because the prison had better amenities than many homes in town – electricity, forced ventilation and plumbing (there were three showers and two bath tubs). There was even a prison band and a 2,000 volume library (the largest in the city)!
The prison was “progressive” and attempted to rehabilitate its prisoners. That’s why they required them to work, and had such a well-stocked library.
Overall, this was a fascinating look into the history of the area.
More information can be found at yumaprison.org