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The 5 Most Haunted Jails in America

Locked up and spooked out! There are big hauntings going on in these big houses.

By Bryan Enk

Haunted prisons are the worst if you're a prisoner, because there's no way out!

How to Watch

Catch up on Paranormal Witness on Peacock or the SYFY app.

It's pretty hard on the guards, too, as we saw in Paranormal Witness Season 5, Episode 10: "The Jail." Estrella Jail is pretty bad, but there are at least five U.S. prisons that are even worse when it comes to being locked up and spooked out. See below.


Made famous by the film The Shawshank Redemption, the Ohio State Reformatory first opened its doors in 1896. It was intended to be a place to humanely rehabilitate first-time offenders but conditions rapidly deteriorated. Torture and abuse became an every-day occurrence and over 200 inmates died in fights and beatings, and it's said that their restless spirits still roam the six-tiered cell block.

Inmates aren't the only spirits haunting the jail. In 1950, the warden's wife, Helen, died from a gunshot wound, and it's not clear whether she shot herself, was murdered or it was just a tragic accident. Visitors have been known to suddenly smell perfume in the warden's private bathroom and to hear the voices of the warden and Helen arguing.

Ohio State Reformatory is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the entire country.

2. EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This imposing building with its 30-foot stone walls, foreboding towers and iron gates was the world's first true 'penitentiary,' a prison designed to encourage true penitence in the hearts of the inmates. Solitary confinement in windowless rooms drove many inmates insane while hundreds of others died from illness and the torturous punishments prescribed by the guards.

Since the building's closure in 1971, visitors and employees have been haunted by apparitions, mysterious footsteps and the clinking of jailhouse keys.

3. ALCATRAZ – San Francisco, California

The Rock was the ultimate American prison, an isolated island fortress surrounded by freezing waters and churning currents. Deemed inescapable, it became home to some of the most infamous criminals in U.S. history, including Al Capone and George 'Machine Gun' Kelly. The guards outnumbered the inmates by three to one and were almost as hardened as the felons they supervised. Suicide, murder and insanity became common.

Since Alcatraz's closure in 1963, staff and visitors have encountered numerous ghostly apparitions and heard the sounds of screaming and weeping.


In the wake of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the population around Maxwell Street soared and so did the crime rate. Italian mobsters like the Genna Brothers (partners of Al Capone) created a culture of fear, causing the area to be dubbed 'Bloody Maxwell' and 'the Wickedest Police District in the World.' At the center stood the iconic police station, which became notorious for brutality, corruption, bribery and torture. Many lawbreakers met their end in the basement 'dungeon' and visitors have reported hearing screams, moans and the rattling of bars.

5. WEST VIRGINIA PENITENTIARY - Moundsville, West Virginia

Built in 1866, the West Virginia Penitentiary took over all executions for the state. Nearly a hundred inmates were hung or electrocuted, but there executions account for only a fraction of the deaths at the jail. Terrible overcrowding (sometimes three men were crammed into one five-by-seven cell) led many inmates to commit suicide while hundreds of others died from the brutality of the guards, illness due to the poor sanitation or by being murdered by fellow inmates. Visitors have reported hearing footsteps and voices and apparitions have been seen in the North Hall (where the most violent inmates were held) and the execution chamber.