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The Old Montana Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana was established as a territorial prison in 1871. Eight years later Montana was granted statehood and from then until 1979, the facility operated as the Montana State Prison. After the site was vacated, The Powell County Museum & Arts Foundation set about to preserve and protect the prison complex. The Foundation operates several museums on and nearby the site to preserve historical information, educate the public and contribute to the tourism economy of Deer Lodge.

The massive sandstone wall was constructed with convict labor and locally quarried stone.
The wall is 24′ high and 4.5′ thick at the bottom, 3′ thick at the top.
High hopes for prisoner rehabilitation. Besides building and maintaining the prison grounds, inmates worked around the city on public grounds keeping and road repair. Convict labor was also used on local ranches. The proceeds of prison labor went mainly into prison coffers, not prisoners’ pockets.
The tunnel provided secure access to the catwalks around the Cell Houses as well as security detail for the chapel (pictured below) and dining hall. A guard was armed with tear gas canisters, which fired into the room in the event of a general disturbance. Unarmed personnel inside the room provided regular supervision. The design of the gun ports would not allow inmates to overpower guards and take their weapons.
This room was used as a classroom, meeting room, and chapel.
Life on the row. This cubicle housed 2 inmates. The bunk beds could be raised flush against the wall when not in use.
Imagine sharing your space with a roommate who has not had enough greens to eat.
The W.A. Clark Theater was built in 1919 with funds donated by the son of a Butte copper king. (W.A Clark, Jr. was also the founder of the Lost Angeles Philharmonic Symphony.) Since the privilege of going to the theater had to be earned, the theater became the center of the work incentive and prison discipline system. The 600 seat theater was used for a variety of events including boxing, traveling theater troupes, movies, plays, concerts, meetings, prison band performances and religious services.
Detail of the theater’s façade. The theater was gutted by a fire in 1975 and never restored.

For hours of operation and cost of admission, call 406 846-3111. Powell County Museum and Arts Foundation visitors’ guide informs self-guided tours. During the summer guided tours are available. Mind your Ps and Qs and stay out of the long arms of the law.