Built over a 11-acre space in the middle of the city, the Chennai Central Prison was built in 1837. It replaced an older debtors' jail which was itself close to the 'Blacks Town', and was used for almost a century. The prison blocks reflect the thought of those days, the cells stern and unforgiving, the walls high enough to deter climbers and yet not so high as to cut off all view of the free world outside. Later, with the suburban trains passing just outside the western wall of the prison, inmates would be reminded every now and then of the rush of the world outside. The Chennai Central Prison was not the largest in the state, for it was originally intended as a transit remand camp, where convicts would be housed for a few days on their way to one of the larger jails: pre-Independence, it was a holding point en route to Kala Pani in the Andamans. Later, it became a stopping point by itself.
The new complex at Puzhal, covering Central Prisons I & II, has a capacity of accommodating 2500 prisoners; that's double the capacity that the Chennai Central Prison had. But spread over 212 acres, the Puzhal complex would surely have no sight of freedom for the inmates looking out through its bars!