History of notorious McNeil Island Prison on display at Washington State Historical Museum

TACOMA, Wash. -- The State Historical Society's newest exhibit takes a deep dive into the notorious 143-year-old McNeil Island Prison that shuttered in 2011.

The prison, located on McNeil Island in the Puget Sound west of Steilacoom, operated longer than the infamous Alcatrez Island in California, but was far less known.

McNeil Island was the last prison in the nation accessible only by air or water.

The new exhibit at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma will take you from the prison's start in 1871 as a territorial prison to its run as a federal penitentiary and later a state prison until it shuttered in 2011.  Unlocking McNeil’s Past: The Prison, The Place, The People  also tells the stories of prison staff and families who lived on the island.

"The story of McNeil illuminates how incarceration in the U.S. has changed over time, seen through the evolution of the facility, itself," exhibit organizers said on the State Historical Society website.

Much of the island has been turned into a nature preserve, but part of the McNeil Prison facilities still house the Special Commitment Facility, Washington's confinement facility for dangerous sex offenders who have finished their prison sentence but are still considered dangerous and likely to commit sex crimes again.

The exhibit runs until May 26 at the Washington State History Museum.

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