Rotary Jail Cells

(Photo: Martin Konapacki)

Pictured above is a cell from the old jail of Pottawattamie County, Iowa. It was used from 1885 through 1969. It’s one of three jails in the world with a unique design: rotating cells.

The cells rest on circular tracks and rotate along a central shaft. When the jailer wishes to open a cell, he turns the crank, which turns the cells until the desired one is accessible to the entryway. The shaft holds the plumbing needs for the prisoners.

The design came to be known as the “squirrel cage jail.” The inventors, William Brown and Benjamin Haugh, described it in their patent application as a means to reduce the number of guards without reducing security:

The object of our invention is to produce a jail or prison in which prisoners can be controlled without the necessity of personal contact between them and the jailer or guard, and incidentally to provide it with sundry conveniences and advantages not usually found in prisons [….]

The Pottawattamie County jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa and similar structures in Gallatin, Missouri and Crawfordsville, Indiana are the only three squirrel cage jails in the world. The Historical Society of Pottawattamie County owns the one in Council Bluffs. It’s open to the public.

-via Atlas Obscura

Newest 4
Newest 4 Comments

Taking away all human contact will drive a prisoner crazy, which is more dangerous to everyone. I can imagine a guard working alone can't be too safe, either. Plus, I read somewhere that a prison guard who never gets to know any of the prisoners tends to lose their humanity toward them.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
That seems like it would be more expensive in the long run than hiring an adequate staff of guards, between construction, maintenance, and repairs. And think of all the extra time it would add to normal operations, such as opening all the cells for meals. Plus, contact between guards and inmates is something that should be encouraged, not eliminated.

No wonder it's not in use now.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"Rotary Jail Cells"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More