The Joliet Correctional Center, also known as the Illinois State Penitentiary, is an inactive prison in Joliet, Illinois. It was built in 1858 by inmates from the Illinois State Prison in Alton. The 25-foot high walls and buildings were constructed with limestone that was quarried right from the area. It closed for good in 2002 due to budget cuts and overall deterioration of the buildings. Sadly, it sat for years, untouched and continued to deteriorate. Vandals repeatedly found their way in and caused extensive damage in addition to general wear and tear from the elements.
The Joliet Area Historical Museum, and the city of Joliet, took control of the prison and started the long process of repairing the buildings and its grounds, in an effort to open it back up to tourists and history buffs. This is still a work in progress, but what you can view is as beautiful as it is creepy.
Tours opened to the public in 2018. There are many options for a visit here and we opted for the basic $20 one. I would like to go back for the guard tour though. We had a former employee with us for part of our tour and his stories were fascinating. The guard-led ones are only available once or twice a month, mostly on Saturdays, and they book up quickly.
The tour group begins with the exterior of the main building. This unit housed the warden and his family. It also housed the female inmates (and their children) on the top floor, until a separate prison was built for them across the street. Due to a collapsed floor, we were not able to enter this portion of the prison at all. I found some great pictures of a few of these rooms on this website. The wrought-iron staircases and marble fireplaces (seen on that website) show how ornate this residence was at one point.
One of the first units we were able to get into was a holding cell. As expected, the cells were small and uncomfortable. You can also clearly see the effect that neglect and the elements have had on the interior of the prison.
Prior to heading in to the first building, we got a glimpse of what solitary was like. This small, cramped structure was not even indoors.
The hospital was another building we had access to. No electricity, peeling paint, and antiquated medical equipment. Plus, the knowledge that there was a psych ward a few floors up sent chills up my spine.
Another aspect that made the hairs on the back on my neck stand up was, each time you got close to one of the entrances to a building, you felt a burst of cold air hit you. They said it was because of the limestone but . . . they offer a Paranormal tour for a reason, right?
My favorite stop was the prison church. Renewing your faith in God was (is) an essential part of prison reform. I love old churches. But old, abandoned churches? Hauntingly beautiful.
Let’s not forget that this prison is famous. Starting with this iconic scene of “Joliet” Jake’s release from prison in the 1980’s classic film “The Blues Brothers” (video courtesy of YouTube and Universal Pictures):
That took place right here:
The first season of the television show “Prison Break” was shot on location inside the facility. Other shows/movies filmed inside/around the prison include “Public Enemies”, “Derailed”, “Let’s Go To Prison”, and “Natural Born Killers”.
It is sad that this historic site was left to deteriorate to the state it got to but, with tourism and other funding, repairs are being made on a daily basis. I would love to see it restored someday to a point where you can safely enter every building. Tours run through October – book yours now!