Alcatraz prison and Anglin brothers: Criminal justice research topic ideas

So many books and movies have used Alcatraz prison as source material that it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. A new History Channel special looks at the Anglin brothers— John Anglin, Clarence Anglin and Frank Morriswho escaped from “The Rock” and were believed to have died during their attempt.

Learn more about the Anglin brothers' escape from Alcatraz. (Credit:

Learn more about the Anglin brothers’ escape from Alcatraz. (Credit:

But did they? This and other areas connected to the history of prisons in America and this particular prison offer many research paper topics.

The History Channel special

More than 50 years ago, three men managed to escape Alcatraz prison. Some believe the men died during their escape, although their bodies were never found in the water. In “History’s ‘Alcatraz: Search for the Truth’ features two Georgians October 12” posted by Rodney Ho on October 12, 2015, on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s RadioTVTalk blog, relatives of the Anglin brothers shared more information about the escape as it was detailed in the History Channel special.

Although the men were originally convicted of committing a robbery, armed only with a toy gun, Ho wrote, “they escaped other prisons, which ultimately landed them in Alcatraz, mixing with infamous criminals such as Al Capone and Whitey Bulger.” Research paper topics to consider would be other attempted escapes from Alcatraz prison, the thinking behind the prison’s design to make it inescapable or even a look at the most famous inmates in the prison’s history.

Did the Anglin brothers escape?

Alcatraz prison was only open as a federal penitentiary for 29 years. During those years, 36 inmates attempted to escape the island. All but the Anglin brothers and their accomplice, Frank Morris, were either caught, shot and killed by the Alcatraz prison guards or drowned in the waters surrounding the island. “Escape From Alcatraz: June 11, 1962” by Sarah Pruitt, posted on October 9, 2015, on shared more details about this infamous site.

Located in the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz originally was built for naval defense. Then it was used for about 60 years to hold naval prisoners before the Department of Justice took it over from the U.S. Army. John Anglin, Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris escaped on June 11, 1962. Pruitt wrote, “Though the FBI still maintains active arrest warrants for all three men, they are officially listed as missing and presumed drowned, victims of the frigid waters and swift currents of San Francisco Bay.” Some however believe the three survived and, if so, could be alive today. An examination of other fugitives who have evaded capture, a comparison of early versus modern FBI tactics to track fugitives or the parallels between the Anglin brothers’ escape and the recent New York prison escape are additional research paper topics to consider.

America’s prison system

Recently the American people have begun to question the high rate of incarceration in the United States. This presents many possible research paper topics, particularly in how prison impacts the lives of released inmates long term, as well as demographic studies of how and why men of color are imprisoned more frequently.

The 1996 Encyclopedia of American Prisons by Marilyn D. McShane and Frank P. Williams III examines America’s prisons, including a look at Alcatraz prison and its place in our criminal justice system. The authors explained, “Alcatraz developed into a ‘test’ prison, one that would deal with a small population of ‘hardcore’ inmates. The directive of the prison was not to rehabilitate inmates but to force them to conform.” Today, rehabilitation can and should be the goal at prisons, which offers an another area rich with research paper topics, including what are the most effective means of rehabilitation and what factors influence recidivism.

Want to learn more about criminal justice? Check out Questia—particularly the section on prisons in America.

Do you think the Anglin brothers survived their escape from Alcatraz prison? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

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