The Lorton Reformatory was opened in 1910 and was first called "the District of Columbia workhouse". Most prisoners weren't dangerous, and people with short sentences. Rosevelt, the president at the time,was looking for a new jail system, and came up with the idea of reformatories, a place where the prisoners could be rehabilitated and can return to society as a better person, and not a "danger to society" . The prisoners at Lorton did work, like metalworking and brick making to teach them skills for when they were released. In 1912, they built a female workhouse so that women could learn to cook, sew and do laundry, and they also built a juvenile facility. Later, in 1935, they built a high security part of the prison, to work on rehabilitating dangerous inmates. From 1940-1960's the reformatory became a farm, and the inmates took care and tended to the animals and plants. The Military also took over some of the reformatories land, and made it one of their nike missile sites. The reformatory held also some famous prisoners. They held famous suffragettes, Dora Lewis and Lucy Burns, who were put in prison for protesting. During their stay they were abused and chained to cells, and were fed rotten food. Also Chuck Brown who was a famous guitarist, was a prisoner at Lorton, and actually learned to play guitar at Lorton. Another celebrity was Paul Hudson, the singer for a punk band "Bad Brains", and went to Lorton on a weed charge. Before getting the charge, he was recording the album and had to finish the record by singing over the prison telephone. Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Count Basie all visited the reformatory, to perform for the jails "jazz festival". In addition to the jazz festival, the inmates had other fun activities like sports teams, on their two sports fields. Lorton was famous for being a prison "without walls" because of how it was less of a jail, and more relaxed to promote reforming the prisoners. They slowly started "to get walls", and they stopped with their progressive ideas and now it had turned into a real jail. Now, prisoners did not have any choice in working, and they were paid little to nothing. There were also many protests or uprisings through the 70s to 90s, and they also had a hostage situation in 1974 and inmates set a building on fire. By 1995 the prison was in really bad shape, and the whole building was falling apart, and one resident testified at a hearing to close Lorton saying "crumbling perimeter walls, abandoned guard towers, malfunctioning security systems, escapes, riots, inadequate maintenance of facilities, murder within its confines, gross personnel shortages, inadequately trained staff, and readily available drugs paint a picture of a prison facility that is no longer serving the public interest.” though they still did not close Lorton. In the last years of Lorton, inmates attacked the guards almost 400 times. Lorton was also incarcerating about 7,300 inmates, 44% more then they should have. In 2001 it was finally closed, and all the inmates were transferred.
The building is now renovated and turned into apartment buildings, and there is nothing more to see.