In 1838, the Michigan State Legislature approved the first state Prison and chose to place in in Jackson. The original prison, the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility, was located on a donated sixty acre plot and a temporary wooden structure was erected. It would be 1839 when the first prisoners, 35 of them, would arrive to the site. Three years later in 1842, a permanent structure was built. By 1882 Jackson’s prison would be the largest walled prison in the world. Within the structure were factories and farms. With a wealth of cheap inmate labor available, Jackson was able to turn itself into one of the leading industrial cities in the country.
In 1934, a new prison would be built to the north of the city in current Blackman Township. The next year the prison was renamed the State Prison of Southern Michigan. The new site was built on almost 3,500 acres of land with just under 60 acres of that being enclosed. The new capacity helped alleviate a chronic overcrowding problem that the old site was experiencing and was built to hold 5,280 prisoners.
The current site still remains open and houses the one of a kind Cell Block 7 museum. Cell Block 7 is the only exhibit that lies within the walls of an operating prison. Cell Block 7 is house in part of the prison that was built when the Blackman facility was first built in 1934. Today, the museum serves a dual purpose: it hopes to serve as an aid to crime prevention through showcasing what is really like to be on the inside and to educate the public and visitors of the events that took place throughout the prison’s history.
Due to the major influence that the penitentiary system has on Jackson, it is often referred to by the local youth as “Prison City”.