Haunted Journeys

7 Most Haunted and Unforgiving Penitentiaries in America
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Penitentiaries, past or present, are not a pleasant place to be. Rage, violence, suffering, dark thoughts, and murders abound. But also sadness, despair, loneliness, hopelessness, and suicides. All of these strong emotions can imprint into the prison walls and linger there forever. That's the reason why spooky old prisons belong to the most haunted places in the world.

Would you dare to visit one of these eerie yet fascinating places? Feel the energy? Hear the screams? Maybe even feel the touch of invisible hands?

There is no doubt that the most haunted of all locations from our historical past are penitentiaries, whether they're currently in use or empty with only ghosts lurking.

Let us reveal to you seven of the most haunted jails, chilling prisons, and unforgiving supernaturally penetrated penitentiaries in America to explore.

  1. Eastern State Penitentiary (Philadelphia, PA)

  2. Idaho State Prison (Boise, Idaho)

  3. West Virginia Penitentiary (Moundsville, WV)

  4. Alcatraz Penitentiary (San Francisco, CA)

  5. Old Lavaca Jail (Hallettsville, TX)

  6. Ohio State Reformatory (Mansfield, OH)

  7. Missouri State Penitentiary (Jefferson City, MO)

Eastern State Penitentiary

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Photo Credit:  Beeline Adventures

Eastern State Penitentiary resembles an old medieval castle. But don't get fooled by this facade – you won't find any brave knights there.

Built in 1829 as a correctional facility, this place witnessed the worst forms of suffering, including violent inmates and inhumane punishments. The prison closed its doors in 1971. Now, it sits abandoned, yet the gloomy gray walls are anything but empty.

The paranormal activity includes: Unexplained crying as if someone is tortured; mysterious orbs; disembodied sounds of someone walking through the prison's halls; hearing your name being called; tapping on shoulders; the sounds of sadistic laughter; and cell doors suddenly opening and then slamming shut again. Plus, even full-body apparitions.

Due to countless reports of paranormal activity, Eastern State Penitentiary is considered one of the most haunted places in the world.

If you dare to visit this spooky old prison, you won't be disappointed. You might even meet one of its most famous inmates – Al Capone. But are you brave enough?

If so, visit our Eastern State Penitentiary Listing and check more information about the tickets and available tours.  There’s even a historic bed and breakfast you can stay in while you visit.

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Idaho State Penitentiary

Boise, Idaho

Photo Credit: Definition.org

Opened in 1872, the Idaho State Penitentiary housed some of the most desperate criminals of the West. Its inmates were confined to cell blocks and could face solitary confinement, and even the gallows. But what's so unique about this place? It was built almost entirely by the inmates. Just imagine: building the place that will take your freedom away.

Do you like flowers and beautiful gardens? Then Idaho State Penitentiary is a place for you. It has its own rose garden, which was tended by the prisoners. Nowadays, though, this is no ordinary garden. Numerous people have described witnessing paranormal activity there. From sudden, severe headaches and red floating lights, to an apparition of an older prisoner tending the roses.

If you dare to step inside the prison, you will get even more. The solitary confinement area is not called “Siberia” for nothing.

The whole site of Idaho State Penitentiary has a heavy feel to it. If you are brave enough, you can visit it 7 days a week. Here’s our choice of where to stay when visiting, only one mile away!  SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Boise.  

To get more information check out our listing for Old Idaho Penitentiary.


West Virginia Penitentiary (Moundsville Penitentiary)

Moundsville, West Virginia

Photo Credit: Greg Cox Photography and Videos

This gothic-style prison not only belongs to one of the most haunted places, but it's also described as the most violent one. For nearly 120 years, this prison had seen it all: riots, nearly 100 executions, murders, suicides. One man was even burned alive there. Not to mention the horrific torture and punishments by the guards.

Today, witnesses report seeing a shadow man and other apparitions, as well as hearing screams, voices, footsteps, even clanking of chains. Some feel being touched or someone invisible brushing past them.

If you are brave enough to visit this prison and witness the things that are happening there, feel free to do so. Regular tours and special haunted events are held there.

We found a great place to stay, only 1 mile from the property, affordable and a 9.3 Rating!  (Will the spirits conveniently follow you back here?)  Sleep Inn and Suites in Moundsville.

Read more… West Virginia Penitentiary.


Alcatraz Penitentiary

San Francisco, California

Photo Credit: Insider.com

Fortress on an island with no escape – this is the notorious Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay. It is one of the most haunted places in America.

The most famous inmate? Al Capone. His cell is still there, well preserved with his belongings. Al Capone himself claimed he was haunted there by the man he had killed. Al Capone could be heard screaming at night, pleading with “Jimmy” to leave him alone. Other prisoners even heard him having conversations with someone.

Was he really haunted? Or did he suffer from hallucinations? We do not know. But you can find out by yourself by booking your tickets on the Alcatraz Cruises website.

And it is not only Al Capone who resides here. Even though the prison closed its doors more than 50 years ago, many of the long-dead inmates still roam behind the walls of Alcatraz.

While visiting the Rock, stay at one of the most haunted hotels in San Francisco! It is absolutely beautiful as well! Stay at the most haunted Queen Anne Hotel!

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Old Lavaca Jail

Hallettsville, Texas

Photo Credit: Haunted Journeys

Built 1885, the Old Lavaca Jail was the second-longest operating jail in Texas, not closing its doors till 2005. The structure sat abandoned for 9 years until it was bought by a man with a passion for historic buildings. With help from a group of paranormal investigators, he soon realized the seemingly quiet place is not as empty as it seemed.

Banging on cell doors, voices and whole conversations, laughter, whispers, shadows, and even occasional physical contact – all backed up with audio and video evidence.

Do you want to get your own evidence? You can book a private investigation there. For more information check the website of Old Lavaca Jail tours.

Staying overnight?  Here’s our pick, only 1.2 miles from the jail and a 9.3 rating! Learn more about the Hotel Texas Hallettsville.

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Ohio State Reformatory (Mansfield Reformatory)

Mansfield, Ohio

Photo Credit: Richland County Foundation

The Ohio State Reformatory, also known as the Mansfield Reformatory, opened its doors in 1886. The building looks like a castle from fairy tales. No surprise this location was chosen for filming the classic movie The Shawshank Redemption.

The external beauty of this old spooky prison is just like a mask to hide what was really happening inside: from severe punishments, torture, and small solitary confinement cells, to bad food, diseases, rat infestation, and more.

Nowadays, only the bravest of the brave dare to step inside. Shadow figures, slamming cell doors, yelling, voices, physical attacks on female visitors and much more are common. Would you dare to step inside?

The location offers guided tours, including ghost hunts. Thinking of visiting this monumental haunted place? Here is where we stay when we go up to Mansfield, only 2 miles from OSR’s doorstep! The Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites enjoys a 7.7 Rating!

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Missouri State Penitentiary

Jefferson City, Missouri

Photo Credit:  Missouri State Penitentiary

Built 1836, the Missouri State Penitentiary closed its doors in 2004. The oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi, it was once nicknamed “the bloodiest 47 acres in America." Many violent riots, murders, and escape attempts occurred there over the years.

The penitentiary had its share of famous inmates. One of them was Charles “Sonny” Liston, the former heavyweight boxing champion. He was sentenced to time here for armed robbery. And it was here where he learned to box.

Though abandoned, the structure houses several ghosts. A-Hall, the oldest building, is said to be a hotspot for activity. Visitors claim all sorts of paranormal experience – from smelling body odor, hearing simple voices and noises, to seeing apparitions and movements in the darkness.  (Reference: Legends of America)

Plan on visiting? The Baymont by Wyndham is less than a mile from MSP and enjoys an 8.1 rating.

Still not scared? This site definitely belongs on a list of jails to explore. Read more on all the haunts here on our listing for Missouri State Penitentiary.


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 Please Note and Take Alert. 

Places that are listed in our articles or in Haunted Journeys catalog require permission to visit or investigate. Many of the places are patrolled by the owners and/or authorities. You will stand the risk of you being prosecuted for trespassing if you proceed without permission.

Rules for Public locations must be respected as posted on their properties/grounds, whether they are occupied or abandoned.   On recommendations on how to conduct yourselves with abandoned properties, please visit Ghost Hunting Abandoned Places.






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