A Bloody Past With a Bright Future Dark Tourism and Humanistic Management at Missouri State Penitentiary

Daniel P. Bumblauskas and Salil S. Kalghatgi

1. Introduction and Research Motivation

The Missouri State Penitentiary (herein referred to as the “MSP” or “prison”) is a historic landmark in Jefferson City, Missouri (United States). Operated until 2004, this now de-commissioned prison is owned by the State of Missouri and is being utilized for various types of tours and leased by the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. One of the primary research questions explored in this chapter is whether renovating the prison in Jefferson City, to prevent aesthetic pollution, would be a worthwhile investment based on forecasted tourist traffic and revenue-generating potential. Beyond this, the overall humanistic impact of the prison is considered, specifically the educational potential at hand in giving the public a rare opportunity to empathize with the incarcerated. If the MSP connects tourists and stakeholders with an otherwise disenfranchised group, then it will have achieved more than maintaining a historical or cultural landmark; it will serve as a catalyst to also rehabilitate and preserve the dignity of fellow members in our local communities.

The condition and aesthetic appearance of the prison has historically caused some opposition to the prison’s existence, during both its former active prison days and now as a place of tourism. While much of the opposition seems to have subsided in recent years, some of the environmental and aesthetic concerns of the surrounding businesses and community include structural stability, hazardous materials, and general appearance. A literature review of aesthetic pollution, prison tour operators, and the dark tourism theoretical construct has shown that this is a rapidly growing area of interest in tourism management research as well as a protection of dignity for the common good—a topic we explore through the concept of ‘sites of conscience’ at another prison turned tourist facility.

This chapter details some of the lease/ownership history and arrangement between the city and state and documents challenges faced related ro sustainable operations and humanistic management at the MSP dark tourism site. A summary and analysis of the tours offered, visitor data, and revenue data are provided along with an assessment of the MSP compared with benchmarked peer institutions. Finally, conclusions and recommendations are given for the continued operation of the MSP to maximize its financial and social value.

2. Literature Review

Kaplan (2003) is one of the first to bring the fields of aesthetic pollution and dark tourism into alignment with his discussion of holocaust sites; Hartmann (2014) also details the holocaust sites written extensively about by Ashworth (1996, 2002). Baddeley (2004) incorporates the importance of aesthetics of tourist sites in terms of revenue generation in Thailand which Hartmann (2014) refers to broadly as “landscapes, builtscapes, workscapes, technoscapes, and peoplescapes.”1 The MSP is located in downtown Jefferson City and has had a major impact on the community economically and as it relates to visual or aesthetic pollution in the downtown area. Visual and aesthetic pollution have been studied from an ontological perspective (Douglas, 1966; Douglas, 2003) and in numerous applications such as water and beachfront photography (Tudor &c Williams, 2003), empirically for an electrical power generation plant (Randall, Ives &c Eastman, 1974), and in general practice (Holden, 2008).

Foley and Lennon(1995,1996,1997) were some of the first researchers to introduce the terminology “dark tourism,” meaning “tourism associated with sites of death, disaster, and depravity” (Lennon & Foley, 1999, p. 46). The dark tourism theory and field has since been further expanded upon (Lennon &c Foley, 1999; Lennon &c Foley, 2000; Cannon-Brookes, 2001; Smith, 2002; Tarlow, 2007; Wight &c Lennon, 2007) and has been studied for sites of mass genocide in Cambodia (Isaac &c Qakmak, 2016), holocaust and Nazi socialist sites (Aschauer, Weichbold, Foidl and Drecoll, 2017; Ashworth, 1996; Ashworth, 2002; Jacques, 2006), and celebrity grave sites, such as that of Marilyn Monroe (Baidwan, 2015). Prisons have been studied by Strange and Kempa (2003) and Hedges (2014) in the context of dark tourism for Alcatraz (California, United States) and Robben Island (South Africa). Wight and Lennon (2007) and Kang, Scott, Lee and Ballantyne (2012) explore cases for a dark tourist attraction(s) from “natural and man-made disasters or atrocities” (Kang et al., 2012, 257). Stone and Sharpley (2008) note the need for research related to the demand for dark tourism, and Strange and Kempa (2003) note the need for more research on marketing, interviews with prison tour operators, and reviewing visitor expectations as conducted in this research on the MSP. Yuill (2004) reviews dark tourism in more detail based on the work of Dunlap (2001) for the Sing Sing Prison (New York,

United States) and drawing comparisons to the Pompeii (Italy) natural disaster tourist site.

Lennon (2017) recounts the history of dark tourism, as detailed further in the literature review, which includes defining the field (Seaton, 1996). Further, Stone (2006) calls the field “eclectic and theoretically fragile,” arguing that there are “shades of darkness” for such sites (as well as considering demand and supply alignment). Stone (2006) as well as Bowman and Pezzullo (2009) and Hartmann (2014) discuss macabre tourist sites and question the field and terminology of “dark tourism” entirely. Hartmann (2014) provides a good review of the history of the field, with many of the early researchers located in Scotland and cascading from there. While this discussion is still on-going in the scholarly literature among academics, these sites are still operating and growing in interest. Many of the key foundational researchers in dark tourism published the Palgrave Handbook of Dark Tourism Studies (Stone, Hartmann, Seaton, Sharpley &c White, 2018).

Figure 8.1 is an aerial photo of the MSP site (Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment Commission, 2002). Figure 8.2 shows the aerial layout of the prison, including the cell blocks, chapel, factory, gas chamber, etc., on the prison grounds (circled). The surrounding real estate and property have suffered over the years from aesthetic pollution to the area.

The MSP can be classified as a tourist attraction or site given its status as a historic monument and cultural heritage site. Figure 8.3 (2011) and

Missouri State Penitentiary site

Figure 8.1 Missouri State Penitentiary site

Source: Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment Commission

Aerial layout of Missouri State Penitentiary Source

Figure 8.2 Aerial layout of Missouri State Penitentiary Source: Google Map

MSP informational and marketing leaflet (2011) Source

Figure 8.3 MSP informational and marketing leaflet (2011) Source: Jefferson City Convention and Visitor Bureau

MSP tri-fold leaflet (2016)

Figure 8.4 MSP tri-fold leaflet (2016)

Source: Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau

Figure 8.4 (2016) contain sample informational and marketing tri-fold leaflets with an overview of the wide variety of MSP’s historically significant events and tours that have been offered over the years. The role of tour guides at historical sites has been considered by others (Reisinger & Steiner, 2006) as well as creating a typography for the types of tours offered, specifically for wildlife tours (Curtin & Wilkes, 2005). Poria, Butler and Airey (2003) looked at the impact of tourism on visitation to religious historical sites, and some commonalities exist between their work and that of historical sites such as the MSP. The MSP was the first prison west of the Mississippi River and in 1967 was deemed by Time magazine as the “bloodiest 47 acres in America” (Missouri Department of Economic Development, 2020) and housed many famous inmates (e.g. Sonny Liston, ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd, etc.) before it closed in 2004. The prison has become a major tourist destination for the state of Missouri. Flowever, there has historically been a faction of residents who have been interested in demolishing the prison because of its condition and aesthetic pollution to the downtown Jefferson City area.

This work builds upon prison re-development in terms of cultivating tourism rather than alternative or private management of prisons.

Public-private development and re-development activities in Australia (Duffield, 2005), inmate re-development (Salomone, 2004a; Salomone, 2004b), and the development of new correctional facilities and their impacts (Bonds, 2013) have been documented. A new prison was constructed in the surrounding area outside the city center.

3. Methodology

As we see from the literature review that the field of dark tourism is relatively new (Lennon & Foley, 2000; Hartmann, 2014), research such as this continues to build upon the dark tourism construct. To establish the visitor and revenue potential, a comparative analysis was conducted to compare the MSP with other prisons, such as Alcatraz in California. This revenue stream is pivotal to the preservation of the structure and allows the public to continue learning about the penal system. Alcatraz has become a major tourist destination for the San Francisco Bay area, and each location was visited by the author(s) on multiple occasions. The MSP operated from 1836 to 2004 (Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, [2011] 2020) and is 100 years older than Alcatraz. In working with the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau to investigate the current status of the prison, it was decided that benchmarking other peer institutions would be beneficial. Our research goal was comparing the data to the number of tourists and revenues generated by peer institutions and forecasting the number of visitors and revenues the MSP could expect in a given period. The goal of this analysis was to aid in justifying or refuting whether renovations at the MSP should be conducted to reduce aesthetic pollution by increasing the number of tours to fund necessary repairs.

An original motivation for this study was that the municipality of Jefferson City had been reviewing plans to build a convention center at the MSP site, and some of these preliminary plans called for the demolition or redevelopment of the prison and residential housing in the surrounding area (KOMU News, 2007, 2010). One of the primary challenges encountered in conducting this study was locating the data and the information needed from the state of Missouri and those from peer institutions. With the assistance of Diane Gillespie and Steve Picker, executive director and former executive director of the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, respectively, contact information was obtained for peer sites, and eventually public reports and resources were located which describe the impact on the ambient environment in terms of aesthetic pollution, tourist traffic, and revenues from each prison. The Jefferson City penitentiary has only been offering tours since 2009 (Uhlenbrock, 2009), so learning from the lessons of Alcatraz and others has been extremely beneficial to the MSP’s operations.

In the case of the MSP, Jefferson City and the state of Missouri must be careful in considering the aesthetic pollution and revenue-generation model. As noted by Holden (2008), “Often tourism development is based upon maximizing profits whilst ignoring aesthetic concerns (Holden,

2008).” Jefferson City must generate sufficient revenue to cover the restoration costs. As such, the prioritization of restoration activities must be accounted for (e.g. a leaking roof was replaced to prevent more extensive damage). One theory is that successful restoration requires a balance between and/or shift from extrinsic to intrinsic motivators over time as we persuade communities, politicians, business people, and other stakeholders, of the need to perform such work—for example, the use of Herzberg’s Hygiene Theory (Heizer 8c Render, 2010) for satisfaction and a shift in focus toward educating the aforementioned stakeholders from extrinsic measures (revenues, profits, etc.) toward humanistic management measures (e.g., sites of conscience, rehabilitation, reincarceration rates, etc.).

The MSP also has great educational value to offer. Most of the American and global public do not understand what it means to be incarcerated, but the authors believe that having access to a defunct prison will give tourists the opportunity to empathize with the very difficult life many prisoners lead and the socio-economic context of most prisoners, along with the fallout among poor and minority communities who tend to have an absence of male leaders. Some feel uncomfortable raising these issues and do not think it aligns with a positive experience. To better understand how social education affects a tour offering, we lean on the data of 251 surveys provided by the Eastern State Penitentiary for their exhibit, Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Kelley, 2017; Tinker, 2016). This exhibit was partially funded by a United States federal Pew Grant and explored educating tourists on the phenomenon of disproportionately high incarceration rates among the poor, people of color, and disenfranchised. The grant’s purpose is to “inform organizations on how to present current and provocative issues” and to reduce recidivism. Other examples include teaching and education in prisons (Ferry, 2020); humanistic management and empathy considerations are also important at the MSP—that is, the power of sites of conscience in aiding and rehabilitating the incarcerated. In the United States, this is also a bridge to current governmental policy, for example, the First Step Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-391, 2018).

Jefferson City is the state capital of Missouri and is located in the center of Missouri between St. Louis, to the east, and Kansas City, to the west. The prison facility is owned by the state of Missouri, which limits Jefferson City’s ability to fully control operations and make such prioritization decisions at the MSP. The city and the state had utilized lease agreements up to 2011 and had been evaluating longer-term lease options, which led to a 15-year use agreement with two additional five-year option agreements (Gillespie, 2016).

The state of Missouri established the Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment Commission (MSPRC) to plan for the sustainable operation of the MSP. Figure 8.5 provides a sample map of one of the redevelopment

State of Missouri MSP Redevelopment Commission design guidelines Source

Figure 8.5 State of Missouri MSP Redevelopment Commission design guidelines Source: Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment Commission

Framework plan for the MSP property Source

Figure 8.6 Framework plan for the MSP property Source: Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment Commission

guidelines issued by the state of Missouri (State of Missouri Division of Facilities Management, 2006).

The site itself represents a fairly large portion of the city’s official land mass at approximately 0.5%. However, only five of those 137 acres are considered to be the “historic district” portion of the prison. Some of the environmental and aesthetic pollution concerns on the property included structural stability of buildings, hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead-based paints, boarded-up entrances and windows, and general maintenance and upkeep such as lawn care and snow removal. The MSPRC Master/Framework Plan (Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment Commission, 2002) outlines some of these topics by prioritizing buildings based on historical value, analyzing structural conditions, providing architectural summaries, reviewing engineering considerations and challenges, and initiating environmental investigations. Figure 8.6 provides a snapshot from the MSPRC Master/Framework Plan conceptual layout for the MSP property.

The MSPRC studied the existing structures and analyzed some of the environmental impacts and deemed that there are minimal hazardous material concerns ar the site. Some of the challenges faced by Jefferson City in operating the MSP include (Picker, 2011):

  • • Funding to stabilize the structures (improve aesthetics; e.g. new roofs, windows, etc.)
  • • Redevelopment activities including the historic district and private/ public partnerships
  • • Prioritization of ideas from various organizations such as the city, chamber of commerce, state of Missouri, and the MSPRC
  • • Staffing MSP during normal business hours (e.g. 9 AM—5 PM) which seems to be cost prohibitive in terms of salaries, insurance, and utilities (e.g. lighting, trash, electric, water, etc.)

Revenue generation in this case leads to acquire helps the multiple stakeholders, including the public, to bond and comprehend the social complexities at hand in today’s criminal justice system (Pirson & Lawrence,

2009). Before a comprehensive sustainability strategy could be deployed for the MSP, the state and city needed to improve the condition of the current facilities to acceptable levels. The primary historical revenue- generation method is tours. Table 8.1 shows the various MSP tour options and includes additional details on each tour type.

Table 8.1 Missouri State Penitentiary tour options

Tour type



Other notes

Two-hour history tour

$12 per person

Regular tour

Four-hour in- depth tour

$25-35 per person

Discover tour

Twilight tour

$17 per person

6-11 PM

Visitors are given a lantern to investigate

Specialty tour

$17 per person

Focus on special events and people

“Pretty Boy” Floyd MSP escape attempts

Ghost tour

$25 per person



Use of activity-finding devices in two of the housing units and gas chamber


$95 per person

Up all night, no sleeping accommodations

’A’ hall and gas chamber access

Source: Authors’ own elaboration based on Picker (2011).

Table 8.2 and Figure 8.7 show rhe visitor and revenue data for the MSP from 2009 to 2017, and ticket sales data from 2009 to 2017, respectively. The average annual visitor growth rate from 2009 to 2017 has been 61%, and the average annual revenue growth rate from 2009 to 2017 has been 59%. Figure 8.8 shows the revenue growth per guest over that period which increased from $12.66 (2009) to $17.43 (2015).

Projected revenue for 2013 was estimated from the actual revenue per guest from that year. Visitor counts from 2016 and 2017 were also estimated based on actual ticket revenues. Diane Gillespie (2016) noted that in 2013, the MSP was forced to close early in September 2013

Table 8.2 MSP visitor and revenue data


Ticket revenue (S)


Revenue per visitor ($)







Revenue growth since inception
































































Source: Authors’ own elaboration of Picker (2011) and Gillespie (2016), executive directors, Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau ([2011] 2020)

MSP ticket sales from 2009 to 2017 Source

Figure 8.7 MSP ticket sales from 2009 to 2017 Source: Author’s own elaboration

A Bloody Past With a Bright Future 143

MSP revenue per guest from 2009 to 2015 Source

Figure 8.8 MSP revenue per guest from 2009 to 2015 Source: Authors’ own elaboration

because of unexpected repair needs. This early closure affected the number of visitors as site personnel were not able to offer tours and services during their normal operating period of March 1 to November 30. Projects funded during this repair period included window replacements, mold eradication, and lead-based paint mitigation. In addition, MSP had to cancel 3,000 reservations which impacted local hotels, restaurants, etc., and had economic ripple effects throughout the community (Gillespie, 2016).

4. Benchmarking

Jefferson City’s population in 2010 was approximately 41,297 (City-Data,

  • 2010), and the number of visitors to the prison during 2011, following closure for the season, was 17,203 (Picker, 2011); at the end of 2015 it was 25,945 (Gillespie, 2016). In 2004, when the MSP was opened to the public for the first time, 20,000 visitors attended the grand opening event (Cabbage & Bureau, 2011). Alcatraz sees 1.4 million annual visitors (Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy 2011); the total population in San Francisco was 808,976 in 2011 (U.S. Census Bureau and Google Data, 2008). That gives Alcatraz a visitor-to-resident ratio of 1.73; the ratio for the MSP was 0.42 for 2011, as shown in Table 7.3. Peer prisons include (Picker, 2011):
    • • West Virginia Penitentiary (www.wvpentours.com/)
    • • Moundsville, West Virginia; Population: 9,054
  • • Ohio State Reformatory (www.mrps.org/)
  • • Owned by the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society
  • • Mansfield, Ohio; Population: 49,346
  • • Eastern State Penitentiary (www.easternstate.org/)
  • • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Population: 1,447,395

Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is a “preserved ruin” (Visions, 2019, p. 22) and as of 2011 was attracting in excess of 250,000 visitors annually in 2011 (Elk, 2011), but it has a much smaller visitor-to-resident ratio of 0.17 given the large population of the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area. The number of visitors has since grown at an impressive average annual rate of 13% from 2002 to 2018, for a total visitor count in 2018 of 418,218 (Frankhouser & Kelley, 2019). In addition, the city of Philadelphia also reports 37.4 million visitors annually (Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, 2011). Other prisons used for comparison in Table 7.3 include Alcatraz in San Francisco. Data were not readily available from each peer institution; however, data for those with available information are shown in Table 8.3.

While perhaps not a direct comparison, Alcatraz has a fascinating history which closely aligns with the MSP in scale. According to Tom Kiely, executive vice president of tourism for San Francisco Travel, Alcatraz is used as an instrumental part of the marketing strategy for the San Francisco area. Kiely said that “San Francisco received approximately 16M visitors in 2010, generating $8B in revenue for the city, supporting 70K jobs and contributing $500M in tax revenue to the city’s general fund. It

Table 8.3 Prison comparisons by population, visitors per year, and tourists per year (2011)


Population City visitors per year

Prison site tourists per year (ratio)


Jefferson City, Missouri (MSP)



17,203 (0.42)

U.S. Census (2008) Picker (2011)

San Francisco, California (Alcatraz)


16 million

1.4 M (1.73)

US Census Kiely (2011)

Phelps (2011) California state parks





37.4 million

250,000 (0.17)

Elk (2011)

City of Philadelphia

Source: Authors’ own elaboration based on listed sources in table.

is our number one industry” (Kiely, 2011). One constraint on Alcatraz is that US federal guidelines only allow 3,000 visitors per day during peak portions of the summer which limits the total number of guests allowed to visit the site. Nicki Phelps from the Parks Conservancy suggested that the number of visitors per year could double if it was allowed (Phelps, 2011). Site locations for Alcatraz and the MSP are both highly desirable, with Alcatraz being located in San Francisco Bay and the MSP in downtown Jefferson City, situated between the major metropolitan areas of St. Louis and Kansas City, along the Missouri River. Akin to the large growth in development in the San Francisco area, the MSP is also bringing in developers and sending requests for quotation (RFQ’s) for varied residential and consumer developments on 31 acres of land (News Tribune, 2019a).

One challenge in attaining information from other peer institutions (e.g. West Virginia Penitentiary and Ohio State Reformatory) is the lack of resources at smaller historical sites and the seasonal closure of the facilities during the winter. For example, Jefferson City and Marshall County (West Virginia Penitentiary) do not have the types of data collection resources which are available to the city of Philadelphia and San Francisco. Most of the facilities close entirely or have limited hours during the winter. The data from peer institutions illustrate the market potential for the MSP. With hundreds of thousands, even millions of visitors touring some of these facilities, there is potential to capture a larger market for prison tours.

5. Results and Recommendations

One of the primary decisions to be made is to what extent the prison should be restored and further developed for historical tours and/or commercial use. Because Jefferson City is not “land-locked,” and therefore not in need of land to be developed, much of the opposition to the MSP continuing to offer tours with a facility in less than ideal aesthetic condition has been alleviated. There is a new $80 million federal courthouse directly across the street from the MSP and that Jefferson City officials anticipated some complaints about the exterior of the MSP once that facility was fully operational. As such, some parts of the exterior renovation were expected to be ranked higher in priority because of political and community pressures. It was also anticipated that redevelopment would increase surrounding property values, primarily residential properties directly bordering the MSP. Many of the residential properties in the area have been abandoned, so there is the potential for indirect aesthetic improvements to surrounding neighborhoods.

Data from the period 2015-2017 have shown a slowdown in the pace of revenue growth at the MSP. However, there is consistent evidence that visitor and revenues are still trending upward both at the MSP and at benchmark institutions. Benchmarking against peer prison-tourism institutions is difficult because of the relatively few players in the space and the limited resources available at the smaller-sized operations. Therefore, the focus was on more granular financial and visitor data to find strong operating fundamentals at the MSP. The greatest threat since MSP’s opening has been unexpected capital improvement expenses which include 1) the closure in 2013 for nearly half the season as a result of unforeseen repairs and 2) a tornado that struck Jefferson City on May 22, 2019, halting tours until March 2020 and resulting in an estimated $4.2 million in repairs (News Tribune, 2019b). This suggests that when managing a historical site, one should expect greater expense variances and heavily scrutinize the short-term forecast accuracy of a (linear) trend (Figure 8.9).

For the state of Missouri and Jefferson City to see consistent value in light of the sustainability challenges when addressing aesthetic pollution, there must be a material benefit to the state’s population. The educational component of a dark tourism facility gives the tourist both an enjoyable experience and an opportunity to learn about the criminal justice system. The Prisons Today exhibit at Eastern State Penitentiary “was a success (rated 6.2 out of a possible 7), . . . almost all visitors (94%) understood some, or all, of the main message of the exhibit” overall, demonstrating that it is possible to raise social commentary while still creating a positive experience (Tinker, 2016). The operational success comes from having tours that both generate revenue and educate visitors about major issues in America’s criminal justice system. Interviews with staff at the

MSP visitor and revenue data with linear trend forecasts (2009-2015) Source

Figure 8.9 MSP visitor and revenue data with linear trend forecasts (2009-2015) Source: Authors’ own elaboration

Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site reinforced their commitment to education from the organizational leadership as paramount to becoming a ‘Site of Conscience’, a global network of historic sites, museums and memory initiatives connecting past struggles to today’s movements for human rights and transitional justice (www.sitesofconscience.org/en/ who-we-are/about-us/).

Recommendations for the MSP to increase value include the following:

  • • Utilize a benefit analysis to prioritize redevelopment projects and forecast for infrequent but significant repairs adjusted for heritage maintenance.
  • • Join or launch a network of historical prison tour operators to share best practices, create industry benchmarks, and leverage shared resources whenever possible.
  • • Secure additional funding opportunities and create a positive experience by raising social awareness of national criminal justice issues.
  • • Partner with educational centers, such as Lincoln University, a historically black college in Jefferson City, and invite them to become stakeholders in exhibits.
  • • Lengthen the operating schedule to offer year-round tours.
  • • Provide shuttle services from St. Louis and Kansas City (e.g. via Amtrak).
  • • Develop office space for state and local government employees (State of Missouri, Division of Design & Construction, 2002).
  • • Optimize advertising campaigns’ Return on Investment (ROI) through analytics.
  • 6. Conclusion and Future Research

There is a great deal of opportunity and excitement surrounding the continued redevelopment, sustainability management practices, “dark tourism,” revenue potential, and humanistic management at the MSP. One observation about historic prisons in general is that the supply chain support by third parties seems to be more limited than other tourism industries. Many of the prison sites operate independently, and the support network in the form of associations is less developed than what is observed in other sectors such as the American Hotel and Lodging Association (www.ahla.com/). As operations continue to expand, additional peer benchmarking would be beneficial to all parties in the industry. An ideal future state may involve initiatives such as group purchasing organizations (GPOs) where smaller independent sites can leverage shared economies of scale for better supplier results. With a relatively small number of prison tourism sites, future partnerships could likely include international peers such as the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland (www.heritageireland.ie/en/dublin/kilmainhamgaol/), which is now one of rhe top tourist attractions in all of Ireland, with tickets increasingly difficult to obtain.

Our analysis of MSP’s financials suggest that maintenance expenses and advertising spend are the two most significant opportunities to drive financial success, and the authors believe they warrant further inspection, likely including improved operational forecast modeling as well as optimizing advertising ROI. This would take careful coordination between the necessary cross-functional teams and may be a good opportunity to partner with peer institutions, research foundations, or consultants.

Dark tourist sites like prisons can also bring greater social value to the community by leveraging a location’s heritage as an opportunity to create a dialogue. It is reassuring to see that efforts promoting institutional changes have been met with positive feedback. There are 2.2 million American citizens in prison or jail, and it can be difficult for many in the public can empathize with a sequestered population. The impact of educating the regional public also has significant value because when the MSP closed its prison operations, a new prison was opened nearby. There are also programs being offered by organizations such as Iowa Prison Industries that are targeting job skills and training in areas such as Lean Six Sigma to provide value to individuals as they are released back into society (as well as businesses and organizations in the communities in which they reside). This gives the MSP the rare opportunity to create a dialogue about the impact of social justice within the greater state and regional areas. The alignment of dark tourist sites, such as historic prisons, can be used to empathize with incarcerated individuals, thereby achieving a major stepping stone toward a more just society.


1. Note that Hartmann (2014), via personal communications with Ashworth, proposes there are no such dark tourist sites, only dark tourists. See also Ashworth and Isaac (2015).


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