Holmesburg Prison was opened in 1896 to relieve overcrowding at Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison and was closed in 1995, though portions of the campus are still sporadically used for prisoner overflow and work programs. An array of doctors, in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania and prison officials, established Holmesburg as a laboratory testing ground. Hundreds of prisoners were used to test products from facial creams and skin moisturizers to perfumes, detergents, and anti-rash treatments.
Dr. Albert Kligman performed medical trials on the inmates of Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison between 1951 and 1974, which have been widely criticized as exploitative. And there were other tests, Hornblum would later learn, involving mind-altering drugs, radioactive isotopes and dioxin.
The prison is also notable for several major riots in the early 1970s as well as a report released in 1968 of the results of an extensive two-year investigation by the Offices of the Philadelphia Police Commissioner and the District Attorney of Philadelphia documenting hundreds of cases of the rape of inmates.
The negative public opinion was particularly heightened by the 1973 Congressional Hearing on Human Experimentation. Companies and organizations who associated themselves with human testing faced severe backlash. Amidst the numerous Senate hearings, public relation nightmares, and opponents to penal experimentation, county prison boards in Pennsylvania realized human experimentation was no longer acceptable to the American public. Swiftly, human testing on prisoners was phased out in the United States.
Photos From Inside Holmesburg Prison
The Holmesburg prison was the location for many of the scenes in the 1995 film Condition Red, the 1996 film Up Close & Personal, the 2000 film Animal Factory, and the 2009 film Law Abiding Citizen.
The facility was closed in 1995. Holmesburg no longer allows any visitors (citizens, film crews, photographers, historians) to have access to the building or the grounds. Holmesburg was also reopened for over-crowding during 2007-2015. It was also saturated with asbestos.