History of the prison
The Military Prison that used to operate in Isla de Los Estados, first in San Juan de Salvamento and later in Puerto Cook, was transferred to Ushuaia in 1902 for humanitarian reasons. There were some scarce 40 houses in Ushuaia at that moment.
It was also here that the Military Prison began to carry out its functions, amidst sheet metal houses and sheds brought over from Isla de los Estados.There had been intentions of setting up a penal colony, but these were unfruitful.
Construction of the "Presidio Nacional" began in 1902 and finished in 1920. Labour was supplied by the prisoners themselves. In 1911, the President signed a decree which fused the Military Presidio with the Penitentiary for repeat-offenders or "Cárcel de Reincidentes de Ushuaia". The original idea was to build a "Penal Colony" for 580 inmates in Lapataia Bay. Some 2.500 hectares of land that was on the border with Chile were reserved for this purpose.
In 1920, the Penitentiary had 5 pavilions with 76 external cells each. The 386 cells were all designed for the occupancy of only one prisoner, but the penitentiary at one point had some 600 inmates.
The kitchen was set up between Pavilion 1, otherwise known as the "Historic Pavilion" and Pavilion 2, and the bakery was set up between pavilions 1 and 5. The workshops were located in separate buildings. It was only in 1943 that a modern hospital established on the premises. This hospital was later to become the Naval Base Hospital and for a long time it was to be the only one in the area.
The Central hall, or "Multiple Rotunda" was used as a conference room, movie theatre and auditorium.
Numerous delinquents who had committed serious crimes came to be incarcerated here through the course of time, some serving life imprisonment and others serving considerably long sentences. Inmates were paid for their work, elementary-school education was offered and severe discipline was the norm.
The penitentiary had 30 work sectors, some of them were off the premises. The workshops that were installed catered to the penitentiary´s own needs and also offered some services to the entire city of Ushuaia. Among these services we find the first printing service in the city, along with telephone, electricity, firefighting, etc.
Inmates were taken off the premises as a source of manual labour in tasks such as the construction of streets, bridges, buildings and obtaining lumber. This is how, in 1910, the southernmost train in the world came to be built. It was 25 km. long and its route followed alongside Maipú street, passing by the camp at Monte Susana and dividing in two separate routs, heading towards what is nowadays the National Park. The penitentiary also relied on several vessels, with "La Godoy" being the most notorious.
In 1947, with the change in designation from National Territory to a Maritime State, the National Presidency declared the closure of the penitentiary. The installations were transferred to the Marine Ministry. and a Naval Base was established in it in 1950.
Text extracted from the book "El Presidio de Ushuaia" edited by the Maritime Museum