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United States Penitentiary, Atlanta

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United States Penitentiary, Atlanta

United States Penitentiary, Atlanta
Location Atlanta, Georgia
Status Operational
Security class Medium-security (with minimum-security prison camp)
Population 1,940 (550 in prison camp)
Opened 1902
Managed by Federal Bureau of Prisons
Federal Penitentiary Atlanta 1920 postcard

The United States Penitentiary, Atlanta (USP Atlanta) is a medium-security United States Federal Bureau of Prisons, a division of the United States Department of Justice. The facility also has a detention center for pretrial and holdover inmates, and a satellite prison camp for minimum-security male inmates.[1]


In 1899, President [3]

The main prison building was designed by the St. Louis, Missouri architect firm of Eames and Young, which also designed the main building at the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth.[4] It encompassed 300 acres (1.2 km2) and had a capacity of 1200 inmates. The facility was subsequently renamed the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta when US government created the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1930.

In the 1980s, USP Atlanta was used as a detention center for Cuban refugees from the Mariel Boatlift who were ineligible for release into American society.

USP Atlanta is currently one of several facilities, including the Federal Transfer Center, Oklahoma City that are used to house prisoners who are being transferred between prisons. As of 2006, the prison was housing 3 to 5 in-transit prisoners in each approximately 56-square-foot (5.2 m2) isolation cell for up to eight weeks at a time.

Notable incidents

1987 riots

In November 1987, Cuban detainees, tired of indefinite confinement and in constant fear of being deported back to Cuba, rioted for 11 days, staged a bloody riot, seizing dozens of hostages and setting fire to the prison. At least one prisoner was killed. Local hospitals reported admitting a total of eight Cubans suffering gunshot wounds, along with two prison guards who were slightly injured.[5]

Notable inmates (current and former)

  • Inmates released from custody prior to 1982 are not listed on the Bureau of Prisons website.

Mob figures

Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Ignazio Lupo Unlisted* At USP Atlanta from 1910 to 1920 and from 1936 to 1946. Founder of the Morello crime family in New York City, convicted of counterfeiting in 1910; returned to prison in 1936 for racketeering; suspect in numerous Mafia-related murders.[6][7]
Whitey Bulger Unlisted* 1956-1959, transfer to Alcatraz Originally in prison for robbery and truck hijacking, Bulger would become boss of the Winter Hill gang, being involved in at least 19 murders.
Jimmy Burke Unlisted* Released from custody in 1978 after serving 6 years. Associate of the Lucchese crime family in New York City; Burke and fellow associate Henry Hill were convicted of extortion in 1972; Burke is the suspected mastermind of the 1978 Lufthansa Heist, in which nearly $6 million in cash and jewels were stolen at JFK Airport. Burke and Hill were portrayed in the 1990 film Goodfellas.[8]
Al Capone Unlisted* Transferred to the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in 1934 by Atlanta Correctional Officer James D. Stephens. Leader of the Chicago Outfit, which smuggled and bootlegged liquor during Prohibition in the 1920s; convicted of tax evasion in 1931.[9][10]
Vincent Papa Unlisted* Murdered at USP Atlanta in 1977. Associate of the Lucchese crime family in New York City; convicted in 1975 masterminding the theft of heroin seized during the French Connection investigation from the New York City Police Department property office from 1969 to 1972.[11][12]

Sports figures

Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Willie Aikens 01732-031 Released in 2008 after serving 14 years. Former Major League Baseball player; convicted in 1994 of selling crack-cocaine.[13][14]
Denny McLain 04000-018 Released from custody in 1988 after serving 29 months. Major League baseball pitcher and two-time Cy Young Award winner; pleaded guilty in 1988 to racketeering and drug trafficking.[15][16][17]


Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Frank Abagnale Unlisted* Escaped from USP Atlanta in 1971; captured several weeks later in New York City. Notorious Catch Me If You Can.[18][19]
Carlo Ponzi Unlisted* Released from custody in 1924 after serving 3 years. Inventor of the financial fraud known as Ponzi scheme; convicted of mail fraud in 1920.[20][21][22]
Matthew Bevan Cox 40171-018 Currently serving a 26-year sentence; scheduled for release in 2029. Former mortgage broker and US Secret Service Most Wanted fugitive; pleaded guilty in 2007 to masterminding a mortgage fraud scheme, stealing $15 million from 100 victims in eight states; the story was featured on the CNBC television program American Greed.

Political prisoners

Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Eugene V. Debs Unlisted* Released in 1921 after his sentence was commuted by US President Warren G. Harding. Founding member of Industrial Workers of the World and US Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America; convicted of sedition in 1918 for promoting opposition to the military draft during World War I; received over 900,000 votes while incarcerated in 1920.[23]
Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher Unlisted* Sentence commuted and released in 1962 as part of a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union for the release of Francis Gary Powers and Frederic Pryor. Convicted of espionage with relation to the Hollow Nickel Case and sentenced to 45 years' imprisonment[24]
Marcus Garvey Unlisted* Released from custody in 1927 after serving 4 years. Founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and leading figure in the Black Nationalist and Pan Africanist movements; convicted of mail fraud in 1923 for promoting the Black Star Line, a UNIA business dedicated to the transportation of goods and eventually throughout the African global economy.[25][26]
Pedro Albizu Campos Unlisted* Transferred to a hospital prison in 1943 and released in 1947 after serving 10 years. President of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party from 1930 to 1965; convicted in 1936 of sedition in connection with the assassination of Puerto Rican Police Chief Elisha Riggs, which was in retaliation for the Rio Piedras massacre, during which police killed four unarmed party supporters.[27]

Public officials

Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Ed Norris 41115-037 Released from custody in 2005 after serving 6 months. Baltimore Police Commissioner from 2000 to 2002; pleaded guilty in 2004 to misusing police department funds for personal expenses and tax fraud.[28][29][30]
George A. Caldwell Unlisted* Released from custody in 1941 after serving 1 year and pardoned by US President Harry Truman. Louisiana General contractor who supervised the construction of 26 public buildings; convicted in 1940 of tax evasion and accepting kickbacks in connection with the Louisiana Hayride scandals in 1939 and 1940.
William Colbeck Unlisted* Released in 1940 after serving 16 years. Politician and organized crime figure in St. Louis; convicted in 1924 of two 1923 armed robberies which netted over $2 million.[31]


Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Said Abdi Fooley 77994-083 Currently serving a life sentence. Somali pirate; convicted in connection with the 2010 hijacking of the civilian yacht Quest, which led to the deaths of four Americans; the convictions marked the first time in 190 years that an American jury has convicted defendants of piracy.[32][33][34]
Roy Gardner Unlisted* Served several years of a 75-year sentence at USP Atlanta; attempted to escape in 1926. Notorious bank robber and escape artist; stole over $350,000 in cash and securities from banks and mail trains in 1920 and 1921.[35][36]
Harry Golden Unlisted* Released in 1932 after serving 3 years; pardoned by US President Richard Nixon in 1974. American author and newspaper publisher; convicted of mail fraud in 1929.[37][38]
Harrelson, CharlesCharles Harrelson 02582-016 Transferred to Florence ADX, the federal supermax prison in Colorado, after attempting to escape from USP Atlanta in 1995; died in custody in 2007. Convicted of murdering Federal Judge John H. Wood, Jr. in 1979 at the behest of a narcotics dealer; father of actor Woody Harrelson.[39]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Thomas Crane Young, FAIA (1858-1934) - - Retrieved July 25, 2009
  5. ^ May, Lee; Ostrow, Ronald J. (1987-11-24). "Cubans Riot, Seize Dozens in Atlanta : One Dies, Prison Set Ablaze; Meese Offers to Reassess Refugees' Cases". Los Angeles Times. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ "James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke, Gangster, 64, of 'Wiseguy' Fame". The New York Times. 1996-04-17. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Daily News (New York) . 
  15. ^,4373256
  16. ^ "SPORTS PEOPLE: BASEBALL; McLain Sentenced". The New York Times. 1988-12-16. 
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Whittell, Giles. (2010). A True Story of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies. Broadway Books. New York. ISBN 978-0-7679-3107-6
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^,0,5325678.story?coll=bal-home-headlines
  29. ^,0,2928236.story
  30. ^,0,2655608.story
  31. ^
  32. ^ "Five Somalis sentenced to life in piracy case". CNN. 2011-03-15. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  33. ^ "Somali pirates face hard time in US prison". BBC. 2011-10-03. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  34. ^ "Two More Somalis Plead Guilty to Charges Relating to Piracy of Quest". US Department of Justice. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ "Charles Harrelson, 69; father of actor killed federal judge". Los Angeles Times. 2007-03-22. 

External links

  • United States Penitentiary, Atlanta
  • National Archives and Records Administration Southeast Region, Morrow, GA
  • Atlanta FBI Division, a brief history
  • Atlanta Federal Penitentiary Inmate Case Files, 1902-1921 at the National Archives at Atlanta
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