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Sustainable Prison Now Eagle Island Park

Sustainable Prison
Now Eagle Island Park

Story and Photos
Alana Dunn, Curator, Eagle Historical Museum, City of Eagle

In October 1929, the State of Idaho bought 523 acres of land on an island in the middle of the Boise River to begin the construction of the Eagle Island Honor Farm.  The honor farm, or prison farm as it was also known, housed low-risk prisoners from the Idaho State Penitentiary to work off their debt to society. This farm was completely self-sustained; as the trustees worked, they produced enough crops, cattle and vegetables to feed themselves as well as all the inmates at the State Penn.

With adequate quarters for up to 100 trustees at a time, the men lived there anywhere from 6 months to a year, bunking in a dormitory. While the prison farm was minimum security, and the men serving time were on their “honor”, there were still several men who decided it was worth it to walk away.  These convicts, having no idea where they were off to, would occasionally stop off for a drink on their way to freedom. This was usually short lived, as the bartender would recognize the men by their water-soaked pants; the waterline on their prison-issued jeans happened to match that of the Boise river’s. Knowing the Superintendent’s home phone number by heart, the bartender would call, informing the farm that “one of their boys” was currently sitting at his bar.  Most of the men were found and brought back, with additional time added to their sentence.

As the old Idaho State Penitentiary closed in 1973, the honor farm soon found itself closing as well. Unsure what to do with the now quiet buildings and fallow crops, the State of Idaho proposed to develop 135 acres of the old farm into a state park. Ten years later, in 1983, the public would welcome Idaho’s 26th state park.