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America has five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population incarcerated. The correctional industry has made some people a lot of money.
There are famous prisons that have become part of popular culture. From Alcatraz to the Ohio State Reformatory, you can even tour these famous prisons and buy merchandise at their gift shops. It’s really a crazy concept when you think about it.
One of the oldest and most famous prisons in the United States is Sing Sing Correctional Facility. You have probably heard of it, but do you know anything about it? It’s time to dive into today’s subject: Where is Sing Sing Prison?
In this blog post I will cover the following topics:
If you’ve ever heard the expression “up the river,” then you’ve heard a reference that originated with Sing Sing Correctional Facility. When you send someone “up the river,” that means they are heading to prison. The expression started back in 1891 when people convicted of a crime in New York City were sentenced to Sing Sing, which is located 30 miles north up the Hudson River.
Sing Sing Correctional Facility got its name from the Sinstink Indian tribe and the native American words sinck sinck, which translates to “stone upon stone.” The tribe sold the land that the prison sits on back in 1685, as well as the village the facility is located in. It is now known as the village of Ossining, New York.
Construction began on Sing Sing back in 1824, and it was the fifth prison built by the state of New York. It was built on the banks of the Hudson River in the town of Mount Pleasant and the village of what is now referred to as Ossining.
The original 1825 Cellblock is considered a “rare example of the architecture of confinement.” The massive stone walls still stand, and this building greatly influenced the penal system in the United States.
At the time, the 1825 Cellblock was the largest prison in the world. It was 476 feet long, 44 feet wide, and originally four stories high. A total of 800 cells inside were designed to house one man, but they often had two.
The cells were the size of a modern-day yoga mat, approximately seven feet long by three feet wide and seven inches high. They would eventually add two more stories to the building so it could house 1,000 inmates.
The 1825 Cellblock was nicknamed “The Big House” and “Castle on the Hudson” and was considered to be the best prison plan in the world.
The first inmates arrived in 1826, and the facility was immediately considered a model prison by the state of New York because it made them a profit. Construction was completed in 1828 and the first warden was a man named Elam Lynds. He used the Auburn system at Sing Sing, which meant the inmates were required to remain in absolute silence. Staff enforced these harsh rules by whipping the inmates and using other forms of corporal punishment.
Lynds was removed as warden in 1843 after Prison Chaplain John Luckey had him held accountable to New York Governor William H Seward. Luckey proceeded to build a huge religious library at Sing Sing in order to teach the inmates correct moral principles.
The 1840s was when Sing Sing dropped the strictly silent method and started allowing the inmates to socially engage and focus on rehabilitation instead of their criminal pasts. Still, this facility was quite harsh. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Warden Lewis Lawes changed Sing Sing from an “old hellhole” to a more modern facility.
During Lawes 21 years as warden, Sing Sing had sports teams, educational programs, and new methods of discipline. They also built new buildings during his tenure, and eventually closed down the original 1825 cellblock.
When capital punishment was still legal in New York, a total of 614 men and women were executed by electric chair at Sing Sing. The chair was nicknamed “old sparky.” The death penalty was abolished in the state in 1972. High profile executions at Sing Sing included Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on June 19, 1953.
Besides the Rosenbergs, other notable inmates who have done time at Sing Sing include:
Believe it or not, Sing Sing Correctional Facility is still operational to this day. It is currently a maximum-security facility for male inmates that is operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. It currently houses approximately 1,700 prisoners.
There is a proposal for a Sing Sing museum to be built in the 1825 Cellblock and the 1936 Powerhouse. The plan is for the Powerhouse to feature exhibition galleries and meeting spaces. Located just outside the prison perimeter, this plant once produced all the coal-powered electricity for the prison, including the electric chair.
Since the 1825 Cellblock is on the prison grounds, the plan is to connect it to the Powerhouse exhibits via a 400-foot corridor.
Do you know anyone who was incarcerated at Sing Sing? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Sing Sing https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sing-Sing Sing Sing Correctional Facility https://doccs.ny.gov/location/sing-sing-correctional-facility Sing Sing Prison Museum http://www.singsingprisonmuseum.org/
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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