United States Penitentiary, Atlanta

United States Penitentiary, Atlanta
Location Atlanta, Georgia
Coordinates 33°42′40″N 84°22′7″W / 33.71111°N 84.36861°W / 33.71111; -84.36861
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 prison for male inmates in Atlanta, Georgia. It is operated by the 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 William McKinley authorized the construction of a new federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia.[2]

Georgia Congressman Leonidas F. Livingston advocated placing the prison in Atlanta. William S. Eanes, an architect from St. Louis, Missouri; and U.S. Attorney General William S. Eanes, on April 18, 1899, traveled to Atlanta to select the prison site.[3]

Construction was completed in January 1902 and the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary opened with the transfer of six convicts from the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in upstate New York.[2] They were the beneficiaries of the Three Prisons Act of 1891, which established penitentiaries in Leavenworth, Kansas; Atlanta, Georgia; and McNeil Island, Washington. The first two remain open today, the third closed in 1976. The Atlanta site was the largest Federal prison, with a capacity of 3,000 inmates. Inmate case files presented mini-biographies of men confined in the penitentiary. Prison officials recorded every detail of their lives - their medical treatments, their visitors, their letters to and from the outside world[4]

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.[5] 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 three to five 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.[6]

Notable inmates (current and former)

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

Organized crime figures

Inmate Name Register Number Status Details
Ignazio Lupo N/A* At USP Atlanta from 1910 to 1920 and from 1936 to 1946. Founder of the Morello crime family; convicted of counterfeiting in 1910; returned to prison in 1936 for racketeering; suspect in numerous Mafia-related murders.[7][8]

Nicodemo Scarfo

Whitey Bulger 02182-748 Entered USP Atlanta in 1956; transferred to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in 1959.[9] Former Boss of the Boston Irish Mob crew known as the Winter Hill Gang; FBI Ten Most Wanted fugitive from 1999 until his capture in 2011; convicted in 2013 of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and participating in 11 murders; currently serving a life sentence at USP Coleman.[9]
Meyer Harris Cohen ("Mickey") N/A* Cohen was transferred from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary to USP Atlanta in January 1963. He was released in 1972.[10] On August 14, 1963, fellow inmate Burl Estes McDonald, scaled escaped as secure prison compound, entered an electronics repair training facility and wielding a three-foot iron pipe, snuck up from behind, and bludgeoned the unsuspecting Mickey into unconsciousness. Cohen sustained a critical head injury resulting from shards of skull fragments that had to be removed from brain tissue which had hemorrhaged. Mickey underwent extensive neurosurgery and following a two-week coma, doctors inserted a steel plate to replace the mangled bone fragments in the rear skull region.[10][11]
Jimmy Burke N/A* Released from custody in 1978; served 6 years. Associate of the Lucchese crime family; convicted in 1972 of extortion with fellow associate Henry Hill; 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.[12]
Al Capone N/A* Transferred to Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in 1934. Leader of the Chicago Outfit, which smuggled and bootlegged liquor during Prohibition in the 1920s; convicted of tax evasion in 1931.[13][14]
Vincent Papa N/A* Murdered at USP Atlanta in 1977. Associate of the Lucchese crime family; 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.[15][16]
Kenneth McGriff 26301-053 Serving a life sentence. Founder of the Supreme Team, a violent street gang which sold crack cocaine in Queens, New York; convicted in 2007 of murder, racketeering, and drug trafficking.[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 check forger portrayed in the 2002 film 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]

Political figures

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* Released in 1962 as part of a prisoner exchange with the Soviet Union. 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; served 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
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.[32][33]
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.[34][35]
Willie Aikens 01732-031 Released in 2008; served 14 years. Former Major League Baseball player; convicted in 1994 of selling crack-cocaine.[36][37]

See also


  1. "USP Atlanta". Bop.gov. 2015-09-02. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  2. 1 2 "History of Atlanta - 1782 - 1900's". Rootsweb.ancestry.com. 2002-04-27. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  3. Garrett, Franklin Miller. Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, Volume 2. University of Georgia Press, June 1, 1969. ISBN 0820302643, 9780820302645. p. 422.
  4. "The National Archives Catalog". Archives.gov. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  5. Hewes, Carolyn (1927-02-25). "Landmarks Association of St. Louis :: Architects :: Thomas Crane Young, FAIA (1858-1934)". Landmarks-stl.org. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  6. 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.
  7. Jon Black. "Ignazio Lupo". GangRule. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  8. Thomas P. Hunt. "The American Mafia - Ignazio Lupo". Onewal.com. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  9. 1 2 "Whitey Bulger". Bio.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  10. 1 2 "Mickey-Cohen-Page-3 » Page 1 of 1". www.alcatrazhistory.com. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  11. "Star-News - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Retrieved 2016-01-14.
  12. "James (Jimmy the Gent) Burke, Gangster, 64, of 'Wiseguy' Fame". The New York Times. 1996-04-17.
  13. "History Files - Al Capone". Chicagohs.org. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  14. "This Week in Atlanta History: Al Capone enters the Atlanta federal penitentiary - Five Points - Blogs". Atlanta Magazine. Archived from the original on May 10, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2012.
  15. Wheatley, Thomas. "A Rogue's Gallery of those who spent time at the Atlanta Federal pen | Cover Story | Creative Loafing Atlanta". Clatl.com. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  16. "United States of America, Appellee, v. Vincent Papa, Defendant-appellant, 533 F.2d 815 (2d Cir. 1976) :: Justia". Law.justia.com. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  17. Archived February 15, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. Archived October 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. "Frank Abagnale : Biography". Biography.com. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  20. Archived September 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  21. "Charles Ponzi". Nndb.com. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  22. "The Worlds Greatest Con Artists". Archived from the original on June 22, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2012.
  23. "Eugene V. Debs Foundation". Debsfoundation.org. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  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. "American Experience | Marcus Garvey | Timeline". Pbs.org. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  26. "About Marcus Garvey and the Black Star Line". English.illinois.edu. 1940-06-10. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  27. Tenopia, Tia (2010-09-13). "Biography – Pedro Albizu Campos". Latinopia.com. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  28. "Norris enters plea of guilty to corruption". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  29. "Norris gets 6 months in prison". Baltimore Sun. 2004-06-22. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  30. "Norris to be released from prison tomorrow". Baltimore Sun. 2005-01-18. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  31. "Feature Articles 159". AmericanMafia.com. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  32. Archived May 11, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  33. Colt, Duane (2011-12-29). "the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History". HistoryLink.org. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  34. "Harry Golden Facts". Biography.yourdictionary.com. 2015-09-30. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  35. "Reporting Civil Rights: Reporters and Writers: Harry L. Golden". Reportingcivilrights.loa.org. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  36. "Willie Aikens - BR Bullpen". Baseball-reference.com. 2015-06-24. Retrieved 2015-10-12.
  37. http://articles.nydailynews.com/2009-05-21/sports/17923769_1_powder-cocaine-sentences
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