ADCRR History

Early ADCRR History

In 1868 the Fifth Territorial Legislature met and proposed a bill calling for a prison to be located near Phoenix. Although the bill was passed construction did not begin. Later in 1875 the Eighth Territorial Legislature proposed another bill calling for the establishment of a penitentiary. Granville H. Oury introduced the legislation which would have placed the Territorial Prison in the Phoenix area but representatives from Yuma, Jose Maria Rendondo and R. B. Kelly, inserted the name Yuma where Phoenix had been and Governor Anson P.K. Safford signed the bill, resulting in the Territorial Prison built in Yuma. Between the years of 1875 and 1909 the Yuma Territorial Prison held some of the most notorious desperados of the old southwest. A resident of Yuma, A. L. Grow submitted the plans for construction of the prison and won $150 for his endeavor. The land for the construction of the prison was donated to the Territory by the village of Yuma and the work was soon underway. On February 18, 1876 a ceremony was held on Prison Hill which celebrated the laying of the cornerstone. On July 1, 1876 seven convicts were led up to Prison Hill and were placed in the quarters they helped build.

Old Prison Entry Sallyport Gate

Old Prison Entry Sallyport Gate

Imprisoned at Yuma were men and women from twenty-one different foreign countries including Mexico, China, Russia, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Germany, and England. Female convicts were incarcerated at the Prison beginning on November 11, 1878. In addition, many of the desperados were American-born Blacks, Mexicans, Anglos, and Indians. The men and women serving time at the prison also represented a number of trades and occupations. There were prostitutes, carpenters, cooks, farmers, gamblers, wheelwrights, sailors, and laborers. The age span in the Yuma Territorial Prison ranged from 14 to 88 years and also represented virtually every ethnic and religious background. Many women were inmates but, they were quickly pardoned by the governor.

Yuma Territorial Prison

Yuma Territorial Prison

Yuma Territorial Prison Cellblock housed over 3,000 prisoners over a period of 33 years. Of that number 111 prisoners died while incarcerated. Many of them are buried in the prison cemetery to the east of the prison. Of the deaths 1/3 were from Tuberculosis, a common disease of the time. Typhus, Scarlet Fever, and Smallpox due to unsanitary conditions present during that time. Although the prison was clean and had a clean source of drinking water, the town did not.

It was an old myth popularized by dime novels and Western movies that no prisoner ever escaped from the Yuma Territorial Prison. Twenty-six convicts escaped from the Prison and were never captured, and at least two of these escapes were made within the confines of the prison walls. Prison guard positions were highly sought after, but the only way get a job was to know someone. The job paid $75.00 per month (The average wages for workers in 1900 was about $41.00.) Various punishments were used within the prison walls to ensure discipline was maintained in the prison population. The most notorious of these punishments was the Dark Cell. Dug into the caliche hillside, the dark cell was a room about 10 feet by 10 feet and contained an iron cage in which the prisoners would be locked. The only light came from a small ventilation shaft in the ceiling and contact with other people was forbidden. Bread and water was given once a day and prisoners were stripped to their undergarments. The Dark Cell was nicknamed the snake den, only the most serious of all punishments were subjected to the dark cell.

C.J. Jackson
C.J. Jackson

C.J. Jackson (#3069), was the last prisoner admitted to the Yuma Prison on July 20, 1909. He was convicted for Adultery and was sentenced for 3 years. CJ Jackson was educated at the Army School in South Carolina and was a stone mason by trade. He was later transferred to the new Florence Prison on August 29, 1909.

The Yuma Territorial Prison remained open until September 15, 1909, when crowded conditions at the ever-growing prison forced the removal of all prisoners to Florence. Arizona became the 48th state in 1912.  The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry became a state agency on June 20,1968. Strangers visiting Yuma should not miss a visit to the Territorial Prison. There has been so much written and said about the injustice and cruelty of confining persons here that strangers should make a point of paying a visit to the institution in order to be convinced of the fact that for coolness, cleanliness, care and humane treatment, there is not a Prison in the world that can compare with the Arizona Penitentiary. The prison has been designated as a Historical Park.

Fort Grant

Fort Grant, now a prison, was originally a United States Army Cavalry Post. Because of unhealthy living conditions at Old Camp Grant, General Crook relocated the post some 45 miles northeast of the old camp at the foot of towering Mount Graham. On December 19, 1872, Fort Grant was established at the foot of Mount Graham by the direction of General Crook. In January of 1873, eleven companies of cavalry and infantry were transferred to Fort Grant, under the command of Major Brown. They immediately started work on the construction of a commissary building, officers' quarters and a wagon road up the side of Mount Graham.

Fort Grant
Fort Grant

Troops patrolled Southeast Arizona and Western New Mexico, chasing small marauding bands of Apache Indians and keeping the peace. Ft Grant was a hub of activity during the Apache Campaigns. It boasted a quartermaster store second to none. The building later called Brown's Folly was over 200 feet long and 40 feet wide. It was constructed of solid stone and is still in use. Troops from Fort Grant participated in the military campaign against Geronimo which ended with Geronimo's surrender in August of 1886. In 1888, the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry were used in civil duties and for chasing train robbers. On May 11, 1889, Paymaster Major Wham was robbed of $29,000 in gold and silver coins while en route to pay the soldiers at Fort Thomas and Fort Apache.

Starting in 1900, Fort Grant was a collection point for troops going to the Philippines during the Spanish American War. On October 4, 1905, Captain Jenkins marched Troop D across the parade grounds for the final time. The troops were transferred to Fort Huachuca and Fort Grant was left to a caretaker. In 1912, the federal government turned over Fort Grant to the new state to be used as the State Industrial School for Wayward Boys and Girls. Ft Grant had a taste of delinquency long before the State Industrial School was moved there. William H. Bonney (AKA Billy the Kid) allegedly killed a man at this frontier outpost in a fight. In 1968, the Arizona State Legislature passed a bill making the Fort Grant State Industrial School a part of the State's Department of Corrections. In 1973, Fort Grant became an adult male prison. In December of 1997, the Arizona State Prison at Fort Grant became the Fort Grant Unit of the Arizona State Prison Complex Safford.

Soldiers making Adobe brick of dirt for  Fort Grant buildings - 1890

Soldiers making Adobe brick of dirt for Fort Grant buildings - 1890

The Quartermaster's Storehouse Fort Grant Circa 1885
The Quartermaster's Storehouse Fort Grant Circa 1885

1st Cavalry Standing Inspection Fort Grant Circa 1880
1st Cavalry Standing Inspection Fort Grant Circa 1880


The Arizona Prison at Florence was built by inmates and opened in 1908 replacing the old Territorial Prison at Yuma.  Inmates built the prison and lived in tents scattered about the desert during the time it was under construction. The new prison was a distinct improvement over Yuma.  There was no dungeon, no solitary confinement and no snake hole (the Yuma prison's infamous cave for rebellious prisoners). Instead, the prison at Florence had a death chamber. It was located one floor above the cells on death row. The chamber itself was a scaffold, and in the floor, a trap door was constructed, through which the bodies of the hanged fell into a room below. 

Florence  State Prison

This was the administration building at Arizona State Prison in Florence, sometime in the 1930's. At the time of this photograph, Arizona law provided for death by hanging in capital cases.

Centennial Celebration

In July of 1908, 18 inmates and 3 or 4 staff arrived in Florence by train to start building the new Prison. It took four years to make the transition complete from the Territorial Prison in Yuma, AZ to the new site in Florence.

On July 12, 2008, approximately 500 guests participated in the Centennial Celebration at the Warden's residence at the Complex.  Staff from around the state, retirees and a couple hundred Arizona citizens participated.

As part of the event, CO IV John Hernandez and CO III Marty Hall created several displays that showed the rich history of the Florence Prison.  

In 1933, due to an unfortunate incident of a death row prisoner during a hanging, a reform of Arizona's death penalty condemned hanging prisoners. The new policy was to put prisoners to death by lethal gas. Presently, Arizona Law authorizes lethal injection for inmates sentenced to death after November 15, 1992. If the inmate was sentenced prior to that date, the inmate may choose between lethal gas or lethal injection.

In the first decade of the century, auto travel became popular, and Arizona responded with a program to develop highways and improve existing roads.  Inmates from the prison in Florence were a ready pool of cheap labor.  In October of 1913, seventy-five prisoners arrived by train in Bisbee and were hauled over the pass in mule-drawn wagons to the prison camp in Tombstone Canyon. Prison road gangs built the highway over the mountain pass between Bisbee and Tombstone.  The inmates also improved a stretch of the Douglas Highway, and built a bridge at Fairbanks over the San Pedro River. Today, a concrete monument commemorates the completion of the road. The road is still open, but today it is used mostly by hikers, joggers and cyclists.

The number of prisons over the years has expanded from the original prison site at Florence, to a total of 10 large prison complexes: ASPC-FlorenceASPC-PhoenixASPC-WinslowASPC-EymanASPC-DouglasASPC-PerryvilleASPC-SaffordASPC-TucsonASPC-Yuma and ASPC-Lewis. The Department also operates the Southern Regional Community Corrections Center.  Additionally, there are five private prisons in Arizona which are monitored by the department, ASP-Phoenix-WestASP-MaranaASP-Florence-WestASP-Kingman, and Central Arizona Correctional Facility (CACF) in Florence.

The Department's responsibilities not only include the incarceration of over 34,000 inmates in prisons located all over the state, but also the supervision of more than 4,000 inmates who have been paroled or statutorily released from prison before their entire sentence has been served. 

The Department has made great strides in improving recruitment of professional correctional officers. The Recruitment Unit for Selection and Hiring (RUSH) was established to attract more qualified men and women to the job of correctional officer. On May 15, 1984, the governor signed the Correctional Officers Training Bill into law. The Correctional Officers Training Academy (COTA) was established to centralize and enhance training of officers, requiring them to undergo a 280-hour curriculum of academics, self defense, firearms qualifications, fitness, and ethics. The academy is located in Tucson, Arizona.

Superintendents of Yuma Territorial Prison 1875 - 1912

Month/Year Superintendent
1875 - 06/1876 W. A. Werninger
  • He was Sheriff of Yuma County when the prison was constructed and housed convicts in the County Jail during the period of construction
  • Appointed by Governor A. P. K. Safford
06/1876 - 01/1880 George M. Thurlow
  • Appointed by Governor J. P. Hoyt
01/1880 - 11/1880 W. A. Werninger
  • Appointed by Governor John C. Fremont
11/1880 - 03/1881 George M. Thurlow
  • Appointed by Governor John C. Fremont
03/1881 - 1886 C. V. Meeden
  • Appointed by Governor F. A. Tritle
1886 - 04/07/1888 Thomas Gates
  • Appointed by Governor C. M. Zulick
04/12/1888 - 07/1890 John H. Behan
  • Appointed by Governors Zulick and Wolfley
07/1890 - 12/1891 Frank S. Ingalls
  • Appointed by Governor Lewis Wolfley
12/1891 - 04/1893 M. M. McInerney
  • Appointed by Governor John N. Irwin
04/1893 - 05/28/1893 William K. Meade
  • Appointed by Governor N. O. Murphy
07/06/1893 - 03/13/1896 Thomas Gates
  • Died March 13, 1896
  • Appointed by Governor L. C. Hughes
03/13/1896 - 05/01/1896 M. F. Shaw
  • Appointed by Governor Benjamin J. Franklin
05/01/1896 - 07/31/1897 Mike J. Nugent
  • Appointed by Governors Franklin and M. H. McCord
08/01/1897 - 09/09/1898 John W. Derrington
  • Appointed by Governor M. H. McCord
09/10/1898 - 09/01/1902 Herbert Brown
  • Appointed by Governors McCord and A. O. Brodie
09/01/1902 - 10/1904 William M. Griffin
  • Appointed by Governor A. O. Brodie
10/1904 - 06/1905 B. F. Daniels
  • Appointed by Governor A. O. Brodie
07/1905 - 02/1907 Jerry Millay
  • Appointed by Governor Joseph H. Kibbey
03/1907 - 03/1912 Thomas Rynning
  • Appointed by Governors Kibbey and Richard E. Sloan