Folsom State Prison

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Folsom State Prison (FSP)
East Gate, Folsom State Prison, at the end of Prison Road
Location Folsom, California, U.S.
Coordinates 38°41′38″N 121°09′43″W / 38.694°N 121.162°W / 38.694; -121.162Coordinates: 38°41′38″N 121°09′43″W / 38.694°N 121.162°W / 38.694; -121.162
Status Operational
Security class Minimum-medium
Capacity 2,066
Population 2,351 (113.8%) (as of 30 November 2016[1])
Opened July 26, 1880; 137 years ago (1880-07-26)
Managed by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Warden Ron Rackley
Folsom State Prison is located in California
Folsom State Prison
Folsom State Prison
Location in California

Folsom State Prison (FSP) is a California State Prison in Folsom, California, U.S., approximately 20 mi (30 km) northeast of the state capital of Sacramento. It is one of 33 prisons operated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.[citation needed]

Opened in 1880, Folsom is the state's second-oldest prison, after San Quentin, and the first in the United States to have electricity.[2] Folsom was also one of the first maximum security prisons, and has been the execution location of 93 condemned prisoners over a 42-year period.[citation needed]

Folsom is probably best known in popular culture for concerts performed at the facility by musician Johnny Cash, particularly in 1968, when the two shows of January 13 were made into a live album.[3][4][5] He had written and recorded the song "Folsom Prison Blues" over a decade earlier.


Both FSP and California State Prison, Sacramento (SAC) share the mailing address: Represa, CA 95671.[6][7] Represa (translated as "dam" from the Spanish language) is the name given in 1892 to the State Prison post office because of its proximity to a dam on the American River that was under construction at the time. The dam was replaced in 1955 by the Folsom Dam.[8]

As of March 2012, the facility's total population was 2,912, or 117.9 percent of its design capacity of 2,469.[1]

The facility includes five housing units within the secure perimeter, including the original two-tiered structure. Unit 1 is the most populous cellblock in the United States, with a capacity of nearly 1,200 inmates on four five-tiered sections.[when?][citation needed] All cells include a toilet, sink, bunks, and storage space for inmate possessions.[citation needed]

Prison facilities also include two dining halls, a large central prison exercise yard, and two smaller exercise yards. The visiting room includes an attached patio as well as space for non-contact visits.[citation needed]


Folsom Prison museum in 2008

FSP is California's second-oldest prison, long known for its harsh conditions in the decades following the California Gold Rush. Although FSP now houses primarily medium security prisoners, it was one of America's first maximum-security prisons.

Construction of the facility began in 1878, on the site of the Stony Bar mining camp along the American River. The prison officially opened in 1880 with a capacity of 1,800 inmates; they spent most of their time in the dark, behind solid boiler plate doors in stone cells measuring 4 by 8 ft (1.2 by 2.4 m) with 6-inch (15 cm) eye slots. Air holes were drilled into the cell doors in the 1940s,[5] and the cell doors are still in use today.

FSP was the first prison in the world to have electric power, which was provided by the first hydroelectric powerhouse in California.[citation needed]

After the state of California took sole control of the death penalty in 1891, executions were held at Folsom and San Quentin. A total of 93 prisoners were hanged at FSP between December 13, 1895, and December 3, 1937. Subsequent executions were carried out in the gas chamber at San Quentin.[9]

FSP industries include metal fabrication and a print shop, and the quarry at FSP provided granite for the foundation of the state capitol building and much of the gravel used in the early construction of California's roads. Additionally, California's vehicle license plates have been manufactured at FSP since the 1930s.

In 1968, Johnny Cash played a concert at the prison. Each attending prisoner lived in his own cell and nearly all were in an education program or learning a trade. Most of the attending prisoners who were released did not return to prison after being released.[10]

Laura Sullivan of National Public Radio said that the costs of housing prisoners "barely registered" in the state's budget. In 2009, Folsom was overcrowded, with 4,427 inmates. Around that year most of its prisoners who were released returned to prison after being released.[10]

Inmate programs

Folsom Prison from north side near the American River, 2011

California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA)

California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) program includes administration, a Braille enterprise, a license plate factory where the inmates have been making California license plates since before the 1930s, maintenance, metal fabrication, a printing plant, and a sign shop.[11]


The Vocational Inmate Program referred to as Construction and Technical Education (CTE's) include Welding, Automachanics, Electronics, Electrical Works, Masonry, Building Maintenance, Plumbing, Carpentry, Sustainable Ecologiacal Environmental Development(SEEDS) and Office Services. <Mr. Ken Spencer -Principal Greystone Adult School, Folsom Prison>


The Academic Inmate Program includes Adult Basic Education, High School/GED, English as a Second Language, a literacy program, Computer Assisted Instruction.

Folsom Women’s Facility

In January 2013 the Folsom Women’s Facility, a standalone section for women, opened. The northernmost women's prison in the CDCR, the facility has space for 403 women.[12] As of 2013 25% of the women were Hispanic. The prison houses low risk prisoners.[13]

Escape attempts

Folsom was one of the first maximum-security prisons in the United States. Prior to the completion of its granite wall in the 1920s, the prison saw numerous escape attempts; the first occurred shortly after the first inmates arrived in the 1880s. Throughout Folsom's violent and bloody history, numerous riots and escape attempts have resulted in both inmate and staff deaths.

1920 Prison train attempt

In 1920, three convicts hijacked a prison train that was used to move materials and smashed it through a prison gate to escape.[14]

1932 Dummy used in escape

On June 16, Dwight E. Abbott, 24, a Los Angeles robber, escaped from Folsom by making a lifelike dummy. The dummy was cleverly made to look real enough with Abbott's own hair, that of his cellmate, and a plaster of Paris face, to fool the guards until late the next day. This, according to the Warden, was seen in his bed and deceived the guards until general lock-up.[15]

1932 Diving suit attempt

An inmate, Carl Reese, tried to escape in 1932 using a diving suit fashioned from a football bladder, a goggle lens, and other scrounged materials. According to Floyd Davis, a prison guard of 13 years who continued to volunteer at the museum after his retirement, the inmate only made one mistake: he didn't make his breathing tube long enough and ended up drowning in the power house mill pond.[14] Guards had to drain the pond to recover the inmate's body.[14]

September 19, 1937

Approximately 40 inmates had been waiting to talk to Warden Clarence Larkin concerning upcoming parole hearings when seven of the inmates suddenly attacked him. As they took him into the yard, other guards started firing. In the commotion that followed, Officer Harry Martin and Warden Larkin were both stabbed to death. Officer Martin died at the scene, and Warden Larkin died of his wounds five days later.

The inmates involved in the attack were said to have attacked the Warden and the officer with shanks (prison-made knives). Also, a prison-made wooden semiautomatic pistol was found; it was carved and meant for use in the attack.

One of the seven inmates who attempted to escape was wanted for the murder of Officer James Hill, of the Marlow, Oklahoma Police Department, on April 20, 1931.

Two of the escaping inmates were fatally shot during the incident. The remaining five were all sentenced to death and eventually executed in late 1938. Two suspects, including the one who had murdered Officer Hill, were executed in the gas chamber on December 2. Two others were executed on December 9, and the leader of the group was executed on December 16.

June 5, 1987

Inmate Glen Stewart Godwin's notable escape earned him a spot on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

In 1987, Godwin attempted to escape during his incarceration at Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California, and he was moved to the maximum-security Folsom State Prison. Authorities believe Godwin's wife, Shelly Rose Godwin, and his former cellmate in Deuel, Lorenz Karlic, helped to plan his escape.[16]

A hacksaw and other tools had been smuggled into the prison for Godwin. On June 5, 1987, he cut a hole through fence wire and escaped into a storm drain that emptied into the American River. Godwin dropped through a manhole and crawled 750 feet through the pitch black drain. Either Godwin's wife or his accomplice Karlic had left a raft that Godwin used to float down the river, following painted arrows on rocks that directed him where to go.[16]

In June 1987, Karlic was arrested in Hesperia, California,[17] and convicted for aiding Godwin's escape.[18]

In January 1988, Shelly Godwin was classified as a federal fugitive for her role in her husband's escape. The FBI captured her in Dallas, Texas, on February 7, 1990.[19] Godwin was arrested in Mexico in 1991 but escaped again from a prison in Guadalajara in September of that year and remains at large.[citation needed]

October 19, 2010

Two minimum-security inmates, Jeffrey William Howard, 43, and Garrett Daniel Summet, 34, escaped from Folsom on October 19, 2010.[20]

Prison spokesman Lt. Anthony Gentile did not elaborate on the circumstances of how the men got away, only saying that the two men fled from the prison's Minimum Support Facility,[20] and that the escape was discovered when the two failed to report to their work areas.[21]

Folsom State Prison correctional staff and CDCR's Office of Correctional Safety agents initiated escapee apprehension efforts.[21] The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, local law enforcement agencies, and the California Highway Patrol joined the search for the two men,[20] who were apprehended in Inglewood, CA on November 22, 2010.[22]

Violent incidents

In 1937, Warden Clarence Larkin, was stabbed during an escape attempt and died from his wounds.[23]

During the 1970s and 1980s violence at Folsom peaked, when the Mexican Mafia, Black Guerrilla Family and other prison gangs made prisons increasingly dangerous. The establishment of Secure Housing Units, first at California State Prison, Sacramento, and later at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, and California State Prison, Corcoran, did much to control gang-related violence.

On August 27, 2010, seven federal inmates at Folsom were admitted to a hospital after corrections officers discharged firearms during a riot involving 200 inmates. None of the inmates' injuries were life-threatening, and no corrections officers were injured during the incident.[24]

On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, a fight erupted in one of the yards, shortly after 11:00 a.m. No prison staffers are believed injured and the fight was eventually broken up by the prison guards (using less-than-lethal force), but one inmate was shot and at least ten other inmates had stab or slash wounds, authorities stated (they were treated at area hospitals).[25]

In popular culture

Johnny Cash

Singer Johnny Cash made FSP widely known to the outside world through his song "Folsom Prison Blues" (1956) - which narrated a fictional account of an outlaw's incarceration, and through the two live concerts he performed at FSP. The first was in 1966; the more famous, held on January 13, 1968 in the FSP cafeteria, was recorded as the album At Folsom Prison. Cash later said the FSP inmates "were the most enthusiastic audience I have ever played to."[26] The "Folsom Prison Blues" single from that album was #1 on the country music chart for four weeks, and the album was on the top 200 pop album chart for 122 weeks.[26] A 40th-anniversary tribute concert was to take place in the same cafeteria at FSP on January 13, 2008, with a special appearance by Cash's original drummer W.S. "Fluke" Holland.[27] The original plans were to stream the concert over the Internet, with four nonprofit groups underwriting the show and sharing in any proceeds from the show.[27] However, a few days before the concert was to occur, it was canceled in a dispute over filming rights, media access, and security concerns.[28]


FSP has been the location of a number of feature films, including Riot in Cell Block 11, American Me, The Jericho Mile, Another 48 Hrs., Diggstown, parts of Walk the Line (a biographical film of Johnny Cash), and Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison.

Public works

On the M-5 freeway in Farmington Hills, MI, two service drives – named Folsom and Freedom – are adjacent to the eastbound and westbound sides respectively. Their positioning symbolizes the idea that Folsom, as in Folsom State Prison, is a place that is the opposite of freedom.[citation needed]

Notable prisoners


  1. ^ a b Offender Information Services Branch (1 December 2016). "Monthly Report of Population" (PDF). California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: 2. Retrieved 19 December 2016. 
  2. ^ "Folsom prison belt buckle". 24 March 2013. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Hilburn, Robert (February 25, 1968). "Johnny Cash's songs echo inside Folsom's gray walls". Toledo Blade. p. I1. 
  4. ^ Campbell, Mary (December 23, 1969). "Johnny Cash clicks on album made in prison". Observer-Reporter. Washington, Pennsylvania. Associated Press. p. B8. 
  5. ^ a b Thompson, Don (September 24, 2000). "Folsom Prison: Penitentiary memorialized by Johnny Cash draws the curious". Today's News Herald. Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Associated Press. p. 3, River Extra. 
  6. ^ Folsom State Prison (FSP) (2009). "Mission Statement". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Archived from the original on August 13, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  7. ^ California State Prison, Sacramento (SAC) (2009). "Mission Statement". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Archived from the original on August 13, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-20. 
  8. ^ Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names. A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Clovis, CA: Word Dancer Press. ISBN 1-884995-14-4. 
  9. ^ "History of Capital Punishment in California". California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Archived from the original on July 24, 2010. Retrieved August 16, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b Sullivan, Laura (13 August 2009). "Folsom Embodies California's Prison Blues". National Public Radio. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  11. ^ "Folsom Prison". 
  12. ^ "Folsom State Prison (FSP)." California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Retrieved on January 27, 2016.
  13. ^ "Nueva prisión para mujeres en California (fotos)" (Archive). La Opinión. January 16, 2013. Retrieved on January 27, 2016. "En total, precisó el vocero, la recién estrenada prisión albergará a 403 mujeres presas de bajo riesgo, 25% de las cuales son hispanas."
  14. ^ a b c Don Thompson. "California museum not far from Folsom prison". Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  15. ^ United Press Association (June 17, 1932). "???". Nevada State Journal. Reno, Nevada. 
  16. ^ a b Underwood, Melissa (January 28, 2008). "Glen Stewart Godwin Wanted for Murder, Escape From Prison". Fox News. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  17. ^ "Suspected Helper in Prison Escape Seized" (Fee required). Los Angeles Times. June 9, 1987. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  18. ^ Cooper, Anderson (January 28, 2008). "The Hunt for the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" Fugitives". CNN. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  19. ^ "Shelly Godwin Captured in Dallas". America's Most Wanted. January 25, 2007. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  20. ^ a b c "Folsom Prison escapees still on the loose". Folsom Telegraph. October 27, 2010. 
  21. ^ a b "Two Inmates Escape from Minimum Support Facility at Folsom State Prison". 
  22. ^ "Two Inmates who Walked Away from Folsom Apprehended". 
  23. ^
  24. ^ Staff writers (28 August 2010). "Seven injured as guards open fire in US jail riot". BBC News. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  25. ^ NBC News staff (19 September 2012). "1 inmate shot, at least 10 injured in Folsom, California, prison riot". Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  26. ^ a b Sullivan, James (13 September 2003). "California prison concerts defined outlaw persona". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  27. ^ a b Associated Press (January 9, 2008). "Johnny Cash tribute at Folsom prison canceled". CNN. 
  28. ^ Furillo, Andy (9 January 2008). "Folsom Prison concert is off. The promoter balks at rules to let the media film a tribute to Johnny Cash". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved 6 May 2013. 
  29. ^ a b c d Johnston, Larry (February 7, 2014). "Visiting Folsom Reality Trip With No Prison Blues". 
  30. ^ "Ten Most Wanted". FBI. Retrieved 7 June 2012.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  31. ^ "Manson moved from death row prison". Daily News. Bowling Green, Kentucky. Associated Press. October 10, 1972. p. 12. 
  32. ^ "Manson taken to Folsom jail". Spokesman-Review. Associated Press. March 10, 1976. p. 2. 
  33. ^ "Manson transferred back to San Quentin". Spokane Chronicle. Associated Press. July 19, 1985. p. 7. 
  34. ^ [1]

External links

  • Official website
  • California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: official website
  • Code of Silence documentary film
  • Folsom Embodies California's Prison Blues – August 13, 2009 NPR story
  • "Folsom Prison Boasts A Rich History Spanning One Hundred Thirty Years." California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
  • Folsom Prison views 1893–1908 at The Bancroft Library
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