El Reno Reformatory – History
Attributing research and compilation too: Carolyn Marquardt Barker (1939 – 2018)
The federal reformatory was constructed in the southeast corner of Fort Reno military reservation. The first ground was broken on January 20, 1932 on the 1,000-acre tract located on the south side of U. S. Highway 66, just west of El Reno.
The first group of 25 prisoners arrived on April 3, 1933 from the reformatory at Leavenworth. These honor prisoners helped to get ready for the next 50 inmates. By August 1934 the inmate population was about 725.
The Southwestern U. S. Reformatory was opened to the public on February 10 and 11, 1934. A total of 13, 396 people visited the reformatory to view the facilities.
New construction began in late 1936 and continued through 1939 to increase the rated capacity of 750 to 1,200 prisoners.
The name “Southwestern U. S. Reformatory” was change to the El Reno Federal Reformatory.
The broom factory was installed in 1937. In the spring of 1938, the machinery and equipment were moved from the Leavenworth plant to El Reno. This made the El Reno institution the only broom factory in the U. S. prison industries set up. Over 100 inmates were employed in the factory and their average daily output was over 175 dozen brooms in 1939.
Another industry was the weaving mill. Its equipment consisted of 31 mast hand looms, dye vat, etc. the raw wool from the clipped animal was woven into wool material.
During WWII the industry shop made some 25,000 cargo nets for the armed forces.
New houses at the reformatory circle were built and part of the POW camp were remodeled to relieve the housing shortage for reformatory employees in 1947.
Around 1976 the medium security institution’s name was changed to Federal Correctional Institution of El Reno. It began taking all ages of adult male inmates. When the reformatory began it was for first termers and youthful offenders.
School and college courses were offered to the inmates. They also received vocational training in auto mechanics, food service, machine shop, welding, meat cutting and related trades instruction. The industry consisted of a machine, tool and die factory and a broom factory.
A major change in the FCI’s role came in late 1980, when a level 1 minimum security camp was built outside the prison walls.
Currently the Federal Correctional Institution is one of El Reno’s largest employers, with 430 employees. Unlike most prisons, the FCI is a major transportation center for inmates moving across the country. Virtually every inmate who is transferred across the U. S. spends the night at the El Reno facility.