About The Museum

Recognizing the importance of Angola’s history, Warden Burl Cain called together a group of interested people, including some of the wardens and presented his ideas about creating a prison museum at Angola, which would document the history of Louisiana’s prisons, in order to not repeat the horrors of the past.   The Bank of Commerce offered their former bank building to house the museum, right outside the gates of the penitentiary. Mrs. Nadine Tanner, Warden’ Cain’s administrative assistant, was directed to implement the project. The museum officially opened in 1997 and an advisory board was created consisting of corrections’ practitioners, scholars and museum professionals. After a board meeting in which the members “passed the hat” for the needed fees to file for incorporation and non-profit status with the state, the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation was created in 1999.   

Receiving more than 120,000 visitors a year from the US and 20 plus foreign countries, the museum features permanent and changing exhibits, in addition to a traveling exhibit which have been displayed in more than a dozen museums and libraries across Louisiana, over the last two years.  Since its inception, the museum foundation has facilitated the placement of Angola’s first cell house, known as the Red Hat, on the National Register and the state’s recent donation of a circa 1940s prison tower and a cell room to be used as key exhibits in the Smithsonian’s forthcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The only prison museum in the country operated within an active prison, the museum will soon expand to include a second building situated “behind the gates”.  The Hospital Receiving Station opened in 1951 to process incoming prisoners to Angola, the only prison in the state at the time, will maintain many of the original functions as exhibits.This new addition will feature architectural plans of the 1951 building, hospital procedures, admissions processing, death row, cell blocks and the original electric chair.  The Receiving Center, as it was formerly called, will also offer the Big House Cafe’ for tour busses and visitors to the museum.  This facility will be open to the public in Fall of 2015!

Photo Left: Guard on the Wall.  Louisiana Penitentiary, Baton Rouge, LA, circa 1900.
Photographer: Andrew Lytle, Jr.
Henry L. Fuqua, Jr. Lytle Photograph Collection and Papers, Mss. 1898, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge, La.