The large brown sandstone structure know as Menard Correctional Center opened in March 1878 and is the second oldest prison in Illinois and the largest maximum security facility. It is a state prison and houses maximum and high medium security adult males. The average daily population is 3,410, and the average prisoner age is 34. The average annual cost per inmate is $19,190.00.
In 1928 the prison farm included a dairy and hog farm that contributed to the prison dietary needs. Industry also included clothing manufacture and a quarry. By 1931 a brick manufacturing plant and a machine shop were added.
In May 1973, 38 inmates took over the commissary and held a guard hostage for 16 hours. In May 1974, 60 inmates held 4 guards hostage demanding yard rights and administrative changes. An agricultural worker at the prison was found bludgeoned to death by an inmate making an escape. The inmate who was serving a sentence for murder was captured a few weeks later and sentenced to life. He hanged himself in his cell on December 12, 1988.
Menard housed death row until January 10, 2003 when former Governor George Ryan granted clemency to all Illinois death row inmates. Between 1928 and 1962, the electric chair housed at Menard (and now in the Randolph County Museum) was used 18 times to carry out death sentences.
"Infamous" inmates: Richard Honeck (paroled after serving 64 years of a life sentence for murder - supposedly the longest sentence ever served that ended in a prisoner's release), Homer Van Meter (bank robber and criminal associate of John Dillinger), David Hendricks (sentenced to 4 consecutive life sentences for the 1983 murders of his wife and children, but released after a 1991 retrial showed his innocence), John Wayne Gacy (notorious Chicago serial killer, sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 33 boys and young men), Robert Ben Rhoades (truck driver and serial killer, suspected of raping and killing 100+ women while on the road in the 1980s and early 1990s), Drew Peterson (sentenced to 38 years for the murder of his 3rd wife, Kathleen Savio; currently awaiting trial in November, 2015 accused of plotting to have the prosecuting attorney from the murder case killed).