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Walk the Halls of Some of History's Most Infamous Prisoners
Where else can you find both guided and self-guided tours that are available seven days a week from 11 am to 4 pm most days? You can stay and take as long as you like to complete the tour, which includes administrative areas, residential quarters, the chapel, one tier of the East cell block, and the central guard room. There is also a museum and gift shop at the end of the tour. (Check the website for specific restrictions and closures.)
If you want to know what the life of an inmate was like, join tour guide Michael Humphrey, a former inmate from the 1960s, who provides an accurate portrayal of what it was like to be a prisoner at The Ohio State Reformatory.
This tour is not handicap-accessible and includes several flights of stairs.
Facts About the Ohio State Penitentiary
The Ohio Penitentiary/Mansfield Reformatory was built on a 30-acre former Civil War training camp from 1886 to 1910 for 1.3 million dollars. In April 1955, it housed an all-time high of 5,235 prisoners. The building is a sprawling 250,000 square feet in size.
The original architect for the design was Levi T. Scofield from Cleveland, Ohio, who used three different architectural styles to design this fantastic building: Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Queen Anne. The creation and construction of the building were completed by architect F.F. Schnitzer from Germany.
In 1891, the name was changed from "Intermediate Penitentiary" to "Ohio State Reformatory." The jail saw its first 150 prisoners in September of 1896, who arrived via train. The Mansfield Reformatory officially closed its doors in 1990 after housing over 155,000 men in its century-and-a-half lifetime as an Ohio State prison.
The prison was closed via federal court order, known as the Boyd Consent Decree, and was the result of a prisoners' class action suit citing overcrowding and inhumane conditions. The order was served in 1986 but had to be extended to 1990 until the new facility was built, which now stands to the west of the old prison, and is called the Mansfield Correctional Institution. The former penitentiary is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Filmography at the Mansfield Reformatory
This prison was used as a setting for seven films, TV documentaries, and numerous music videos, including several while the facility was still in operation. Some of the most famous movies that you may be familiar with are:
- The movie that made this prison famous was The Shawshank Redemption, filmed in 1994. The prison was used for the majority of the movie. This Stephen King movie starred Oscar-nominee Morgan Freeman (Red) and Tim Robbins. It's the story of two imprisoned men who bonded over several years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency.
- In 1997, Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and Glenn Close filmed Air Force One at the prison for two days. It's a story about an American President (Harrison Ford) and his Russian counterpart who fought back against terrorism by capturing and imprisoning Russian terrorist, Ivan Stravanovitch.
- In 1989, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russel play the roles of cops who became prisoners in Tango and Cash, with the many scenes being filmed at the Mansfield Reformatory as they plan their escape.
- Sylvester Stallone recently filmed another movie there called Escape Plan 3: Devil's Station, about a rescue of one of their team members held captive at the jail, known as Devil’s Station, a prison where no one ever gets out. The release date is still pending.
Tours and Special Events at the Reformatory
The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society was formed in 1995 when they turned the prison into a museum. The tours, like the one you might take after reading this article, helps to fund the revitalization projects that currently stabilize the buildings against further deterioration.
Many special events are held at the reformatory today, including ghost hunts/walks, a haunted house, beer festival, home and garden show, car shows, a road race, and much more. Visit their calendar of events here.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Debra Roberts
Questions, Comments, and Sharing of Your Own Tour Experiences are Most Welcome!
Jennifer @coffeeandcreativity on May 03, 2019:
Oh my goodness I live just a mile away from the reformatory! We go there every Halloween for haunted x haunted reformatory! It's such a cool old building!
Blairvillanueva on May 03, 2019:
Actually an interesting place and also quite depressing. I think would be a ideal location shoot for the next horror movies.
Joanna K. on May 02, 2019:
I hadn’t heard about Ohio prison before reading the post. I find it interesting how it has been turned into a museum in order to keep alive the memory of experiences of the place.
Snehal on May 02, 2019:
The electric chair gives me all the scary vibes!
Erica (The Prepping Wife) on May 02, 2019:
This is the kind of tour I’d go on! These places are so cool to me. Maybe I’m weird. Lol. But I’d like to tour Alcatraz too. Thanks for giving me a new place to visit and check out when I’m in Ohio.
Subhashish Roy on May 02, 2019:
Had heard about Ohio prison before and was good to learn more through the pictures. The electric chair looks so frightening.
Carol on May 02, 2019:
What a beautiful building! I love the history of places like this. A ghost tour would be exceptionally interesting with all the deaths over the years.
Thuy on May 02, 2019:
I’ve actually never been to Ohio before, but this prison sounds cool. I’d definitely want to go on a tour and I definitely can see it’s Hollywood appeal.
Live Learn Better on May 02, 2019:
Every State in America has an heritage to be proud of, I guess this is one of Ohio's.
I will be glad if it can be reformed and turned into a tourist center to youths just to dissuade them from crime.
Thank you for the insight.
Elease on May 01, 2019:
Gosh, this building is sooo beautiful-- can't believe it was a jail. What incredible history, too. Ohio has never really been on my 'to-do' list but I really would love to take a tour.
Melody Dunithan from Indiana on May 01, 2019:
This was fascinating. I really enjoyed the history you shared. I love visiting places with such a rich history. It would make an interesting guided tour being led by someone who actually was an inmate for a time.
Kelly on May 01, 2019:
What a cool place to visit. If I ever make it out to Ohio, I would love to do this tour. Such a creepy but fascinating building.
Gracie Esedeke- Today Was Fab on May 01, 2019:
I would love to see those movies that were filmed here and visit this place just because of the movies.
Ashley on May 01, 2019:
How interesting that the tour is led by a former prisoner! I'm sure that adds a new dimension to the tour. Looks like a very intriguing place to visit.
Nicole L Anderson on April 30, 2019:
This is such a fascinating place. From the outside, it just doesn't look like a prison at all to me. Amazing that this includes the largest cell block in the world, and really cool that Hollywood has used it so well for classics such as the Shawshank Redemption. This would be so interesting to visit and tour, to get a feel of the history and things that occurred here.
Trish Veltman on April 30, 2019:
Fascinating place - those photos capture it in all its spooky, shabby glory. Such a beautiful building on the outside - though I bet the stories of the inmates lifes are anything but beautiful.
The Sunny Side Lifestyle Co. on April 30, 2019:
Who would have thought a prison tour could be so interesting? The exterior is absolutely beautiful. Knowing that numerous movies were filmed here, makes it an interesting stopping point if I'm ever in the Ohio area.
Tracy C on April 30, 2019:
We’ve been as close as the parking lot, but haven’t actually toured this prison. It’s about two hours away from where we live, so I’m sure we’ll go one of these days. They don’t do the guided tours during the winter (when we were there), and I think that’s what we’d prefer.
Scott DeNicola on April 30, 2019:
I knew this place looked familiar to me as I read your article! Huge Shawshank fan! There is a similar prison in Pennsylvania Called Eastern State Penitentiary that has a similar feel to it as Mansfield Reformatory and Ohio State Penitentiary. I got a very eery feeling walking the halls of that old prison and I assume it must be the same there. I have the feeling it must be haunted as well!
Liz Westwood from UK on October 14, 2018:
This is a very interesting and informative article. The illustrations are great and I especially appreciated the information about film links to the location.
Debra Roberts (author) from Ohio on October 13, 2018:
I loved Alcatraz when we toured it a few years ago. It is a similar, but no, not quite the crowd!
Cecil Kenmill from Osaka, Japan on October 13, 2018:
I lived in San Francisco for a few years and this reminds me Alcatraz. But (hopefully) it isn't jam-packed with tourists.