JACKSON (AP) – Former state prison facilities in southern Michigan are becoming a hot tourist attraction where visitors can sit in cells and read prison rule books still attached to the cell bars.

The Jackson Historic Prison Tour is booming, with nearly 50 tours booked this year. A highlight is a visit to 7-Block at the former State Prison of Southern Michigan, which closed in 2007. The building is part of a razor-wire enclosed campus with other active state prison facilities.

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Tour founder Judy Gail Krasnow worked with the state to add 7-Block as part of her Jackson-area tour last year. She told the Jackson Citizen Patriot the prisons are part of the area’s unique history, and earlier this year unveiled a new mural project at Jackson’s original prison, which operated from the 1830s until the 1930s.

“The information was inspired by the tour,” Krasnow said. “What visuals could we do, and how could we bring those visuals to life?”

Krasnow’s tours brought in about 400 visitors in 2008, and that number grew to about 3,200 last year. Tours begin at Jackson’s original prison, which has been remodeled as the Armory Arts Village, with 62 apartments and artists’ studios, then goes to the former State Prison of Southern Michigan.

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“I want to raise the spirit of Jackson’s prison past,” Krasnow said. “It’s not an embarrassment. It’s history.”

The tour also includes two artists’ studios and the tour guide’s apartment in Armory Arts Village. Krasnow’s two-level apartment is the size of 36 former prison cells. The prison tours are offered this year through Oct. 31. Tours are by appointment only and last 3{ to 4{ hours, depending on itinerary.

“I loved it. I loved the way it looked like the prisons you see on TV, but you can see it in person,” said Jan Herrick of Kalamazoo. “For some reason, prisons really fascinate me.”

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