Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park
Yuma Territorial Prison guard tower
Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is inside the city of Yuma. The Park is open daily from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM except on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve (when the doors close at 2:00 PM), and the Park is always closed on Christmas Day.
The Yuma Territorial Prison was built in 1876 and was in operation for 33 years. The first 7 inmates were brought in on July 1, 1876 and locked into cells that they had built themselves. In all, 3,069 people (29 women included) served time in this prison. Hardly any of them served out their full sentences because paroles and pardons were pretty easy to come by in those days. Of the 111 who died in the prison, nearly all died of tuberculosis, a common disease in the early years of the West. As county governments were responsible for capital punishment, no executions ever took place here.
The territorial prison had a reputation for being a very nasty place, but evidence shows that it was a model institution for its time and was quite humanely administered (except for the ball-and-chain placed on would-be escapists and the dark cells (the "holes") for rule-breakers). The prison ran an excellent school for the convicts with a very good library. The prisoners also had regular attention from a doctor and access to a good hospital.
In 1907, there was severe overcrowding and the state set aside land in Florence for a new facility. Convicts were transported to Florence and they built the new prison. The last prisoner left Yuma on September 15, 1909. From 1910 to 1914 the prison was occupied by Yuma Union High School. In the 1920's, a lot of railroad hobos stayed here and the Depression era saw whole families move in. For many years before the state saw the value of a historic state park here, the local townsfolk used the buildings for free construction materials. Today, there's just the cells, the main gate and a guard tower left, but they're enough to give you a glimpse into a convict's lifestyle in the late 1800's.
The Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park also has a museum, restrooms and a picnic area on-site.
The cell blocks
Photos of main entrance and cell blocks courtesy of Ralph Hawkins, CCA-by-SA 3.0 License