Built by dictator Gerardo Machado in the Isla de la Juventud, ‘Presidio Modelo’, the Model Prison was where everyone who went to jail for more than 180 days in Cuba was sent. It opened in 1936 but it’s construction began a decade earlier. The prison was a replica of Joliet prison in Illinois. Until today, ‘Presidio Modelo’ is known as the ideal design of a ‘panopticon’ prison. The cells are built at the edge of a circular building and a tower in the middle allows the watchmen to observe all cells from the same postion while the inmates can’t know when they’re being watched.
Fidel Castro and his brother Raul were also improsoned there for perpetrating the attack at Moncada Barracks which started the Cuban Revolution. After Castro’s triumph in 1959, Presidio Modelo was used to jail political dissidents, counter-revolutionaries, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and anyone else considered an enemy of the Socialist Cuban state. By 1961, due to the overcrowded conditions (6,000 to 8,000 political prisoners at one time), it was the site of various riots and hunger strikes.
The prison was closed by the government in 1967. Today Presidio Modelo serves as a museum national monument and is visted by Cubans and foreign tourists.