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Sing Sing

Town of Sing-Sing

S ING-SING is famous for its marble, of which there is an extensive quarry near by; for its State-prison, of which the discipline is of the most salutary character; and for its academy, which has a high reputation. It may be said, altogether, to do the State some service.

The county of West Chester, of which this is the principal town on the Hudson, has been made the scene of perhaps the best historical novel of our country, and more than any other part of the United States suffered from the evils of war during the Revolution. The character and depredations of the “cow-boys” and “skinners,” whose fields of action were on the skirts of this neutral ground, are familiar to all who have read “the Essay” of Mr. Cooper. A distinguished clergyman gives the following very graphic picture of West Chester County in Revolutionary days:—

“In the autumn of 1777 I resided for some time in this county. The lines of the British were then in the neighborhood of Kingsbridge, and those of the Americans at Byram River. The unhappy inhabitants were therefore exposed to the depredations of both. Often they were actually plundered, and always were liable to this calamity. They feared everybody whom they saw, and loved nobody. It was a curious fact to a philosopher, and a melancholy one, to hear their conversation. To every question they gave such an answer as would please the inquirer; or if they despaired of pleasing, such a one as would not provoke him. Fear was apparently the only passion by which they were animated. The power of volition seemed to have deserted them. They were not civil, but obsequious; not obliging, but subservient. They yielded with a kind of apathy, and very quietly, what you asked, and what they supposed it impossible for them to retain. If you treated them kindly they received it coldly; not as a kindness, but as a compensation for injuries done them by others. When you spoke to them, they answered you without either good or ill nature, and without any appearance of reluctance or hesitation; but they subjoined neither questions nor remarks of their own,—proving to your full conviction that they felt no interest either in the conversation or yourself. Both their countenances and their motions had lost every trace of animation and of feeling. Their features were smoothed, not into serenity, but apathy; and instead of being settled in the attitude of quiet thinking, strongly indicated that all thought beyond what was merely instinctive had fled their minds forever.

“Their houses, meantime, were in a great measure scenes of desolation. Their furniture was extensively plundered or broken to pieces. The walls, floors, and windows were injured both by violence and decay, and were not repaired because they had not the means to repair them, and because they were exposed to the repetition of the same injuries. Their cattle were gone; their enclosures were burned where they were capable of becoming fuel, and in many cases thrown down where they were not. Their fields were covered with a rank growth of weeds and wild grass.

“Amid all this appearance of desolation, nothing struck my eye more forcibly than the sight of the high road. Where I had heretofore seen a continual succession of horses and carriages, life and bustle lending a sprightliness to all the environing objects, not a single solitary traveller was seen, from week to week or from month to month. The world was motionless and silent, except when one of these unhappy people ventured upon a rare and lonely excursion to the house of a neighbor no less unhappy, or a scouting party, traversing the country in quest of enemies, alarmed the inhabitants with expectations of new injuries and sufferings. The very tracks of the carriages were grown over and obliterated; and where they were discernible resembled the faint impressions of chariot wheels, said to be left on the pavements of Herculaneum. The grass was of full height for the scythe, and strongly realized to my own mind, for the first time, the proper import of that picturesque declaration in the Song of Deborah: ‘In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through by-paths. The inhabitants of the villages ceased: they ceased in Israel.'”

West Chester is a rough county in natural surface; but since the days when the above description was true, its vicinity to New York, and the ready market for produce have changed its character to a thriving agricultural district. It is better watered with springs, brooks, and mill-streams, than many other parts of New York, and among other advantages enjoys along the Hudson a succession of brilliant and noble scenery.

The New Sing Sing Prison

The Clinic Building at the New Sing Sing Prison

By  Walter B. James , M.D.

(Reprinted by permission from the American Architect  of January 28, 1920)

It is many years since men began to realize that their diseases were not the result of a divine purpose, and so they have attempted, first, to understand their origin, through study and analysis, and then from these to discover means of prevention and cure. As a result of these efforts, the prolongation of human life has more than doubled, and the disease and suffering rate has markedly diminished and is still diminishing.

To-day, resignation and patient submission in the presence of disease of the body are no longer virtues. Mental disease has only more recently been looked at from this same viewpoint, and gratifying headway is being made in this direction. The world is just beginning to realize that misbehavior or anti-social behavior presents to society a problem somewhat similar to that of physical and mental disease.

I do not mean that misbehavior is necessarily the result of or associated with disease, either physical or mental, although this is often the case, but that it presents an analogous problem to society, and that it should be attacked in the same manner, that is, through scientific analysis and classification, the discovery of causes, probably very complex, and the application of remedies, probably chiefly preventive, and based upon these causes. Only in this way can it be hoped to turn this costly waste product of social life into a useful by-product.

A New Policy

When the “Sage Prison Bill” became a law, providing for the demolition of the old Sing Sing cell block and the erection there of a new study, classification and distributing prison, and creating the “State Commission on New Prisons,” New York State committed itself to a new and more intelligent policy toward its offenders and toward the whole problem of misbehavior. The new commission, commanded to carry out the above and other provisions, soon found itself confronted by problems that belonged essentially to modern medical science, and it turned to the “National Committee for Mental Hygiene” for counsel, and an advisory medical committee was formed. About a year before this, realizing the need of a more thorough psychiatric study of criminals along the lines that had been followed so well by Dr. Healy at the Juvenile Detention Home in Chicago, the National Committee had placed Dr. Bernard Glueck in Sing Sing Prison, with the consent and sympathy of the Department of Prisons, to carry out a complete mental analysis of all new admissions.

THE NEW SING SING PRISON, OSSINING, N. Y.—PSYCHIATRIC BUILDING

Lewis F. Pilcher New York State Architect

The commission and the state were fortunate in having Mr. Pilcher, the New York State Architect, to translate these ideals into actual construction, and the completion of an important part of the plans, including the Clinic Building, and, most of all, the final assigning of the contract for the erection, insured the carrying out of this interesting and important project.

The Clinic Building

Mr. Pilcher has thrown himself into the undertaking with singular diligence and intelligence, and has entered thoroughly into the spirit of modern scientific treatment and research.

The newest and most original feature of the prison is the Clinic Building, in which the study and classification of the prisoners is to take place, and in which, as well, the general medical and surgical work of the institution will be carried on. It provides for the complete physical and mental examination of every inmate. It contains the hospital wards, dispensary, operating rooms and laboratories and X-ray plant, and indeed, it corresponds on a small scale to the hospital of any community, but differs from this in that it assumes that the whole population of the community may be abnormal, and therefore requires that every member of it shall at some time pass through the clinic for purposes of study and analysis. For this reason, the psychiatric or mental division of the clinic is relatively more accentuated.

It requires courage to attack such a problem as this, an attack that may carry us into troublesome social fields. It seems to be a fact, however, that no other method gives promise of relieving society of any considerable part of this burden of suffering and cost. We must not expect ever to be entirely rid of this burden, just as we shall never be rid of the burden of physical and mental disease; but just as science has diminished and is still diminishing these latter, so we have reason to believe that similar scientific methods, properly applied, will diminish the burden of anti-social behavior, and help us to approach the irreducible minimum, a minimum which must probably always exist in a human world like ours, but a minimum from which we are at present still very far.

Psychiatric Classification in Prison

By  Lewis F. Pilcher New York State Architect

(Reprinted by permission from the American Architect  of January 28, 1920)

Commercial efficiency is determined by the use of the by-products of manufacture. Prisoners are by-products of society.

The modern enterprise that used to discard as waste the by-products of its plant now aims to reduce its overhead and better its system by returning to the community in usable form that which in past times had been considered as lost and unavailable material. Is it not true that the criminal has been for the most part considered in the past as an irreclaimable waste of society, his progress toward a better life inhibited by being held in the strait-jacket of strictly materialistic institutional management and maintenance? As in the case of manufacturing concerns so in the modern penal system, its success will be determined by the economic use, and measured, not by the development of model prisoners enchained securely behind bastioned walls, but by returning to society decent citizens.

In the past the achievement of positive human results has been seemingly impossible to obtain. The chief reason for this failure was due to the inevitable clash between institutional and political interests that always arose and rendered abortive the many attempts that have been made to treat successfully the complex questions of crime and punishment.

Individualization

Any betterment procedure must be in the direction of individualization. The modern prison, penitentiary, jail or reformatory should embody in their respective organizations the function of scientific study of the individual prisoner—and this should be made the fundamental element of the entire correctional process.

TYPICAL DETAIL OF CONSTRUCTION OF ALL BUILDINGS

OUTSIDE CELL BUILDING—NORTH ELEVATION

The side elevations show the terracing of the site and the advantages derived from the differences in levels

OUTSIDE CELL BUILDING—FIRST FLOOR PLAN

The dynamic unit of all human problems is the individual. Modern medical science makes the appraisal of this unit possible through the medium of psychiatric treatment and social service research. An undertaking, however, which is really consciously intent on reclaiming the individual prisoner to the limit of his capacity with a view of preventing future returning to misbehavior, would be hampered in its effect if it were to concern itself solely with the native endowments of the individual prisoner. The source of the prisoner's particular being, life, is a dynamic process; and every contact the individual makes throughout life not only leaves its impression on him, but shapes his mental attitude toward his environment. Thus, it is obvious that the housing problem, touching as it does every phase of the life of man, is of fundamental importance, for the environment determines, through the influence of the associative imagery of the inmate, a control of his conscious acts and the mechanization of the conscious acts of the prisoner establishes his habits. The manner in which the prisoner has been handled in the past has unquestionably been responsible, if not for the great amount of criminal careers, certainly for the confirming of the individual in his life of crime. The character and kind of prison we have had, in the past, had as its sole aim to achieve mediæval security; a housing condition crude and archaic in conception, which has not helped to relieve and protect society against the spirit of crime, but on the contrary has actually tended to its increase.

Here in New York City the municipality protects the interests of its citizens by the enactment of a structural and sanitary code. Structural safety and physical security and health are provided for all classifications of human activities under the maturely established provisions of that code.

DETENTION BUILDING

Typical floor plan of Detention Building, a basement and four-story outside cell building. This plan shows the arrangement of cells against outside walls, which gives to each inmate direct sunlight and air

A Prison Planner's Code

Scientifically, psychologically and practically important as is the structural side of this great prison problem, I have yet to see any workmanlike attempt to establish for prison planners a code so carefully developed and yet with an elasticity to adapt it to various localities and climates, to the end that the inhumanity of the present day, 1920, toward prisoners would be for all time impossible.

The tremendous security and help that such a code would provide for the development of state prisons and jails and reformatories is at once apparent.

The complete findings of a competent Code Committee would be the average of the experience of all penal housing problems throughout the country and should be determined by a two-group committee, acting under an organization of national scope. In one group should be available the experience and suggestion of the leaders in penal administration, medicinal, psychiatric, industrial, vocational, educational and religious activities. The second group should consist of a small number of architects, engineers or contractual experts—men who have actually planned and structurally executed prison buildings and whose practical experience would enable them sympathetically to translate into constructive form and crystallize the theoretical standards recommended by the sub-committee on strictly scientific phases.

As it is an admitted fact that apperception and interest are the cardinal principles of thought foundation, it may be seen that the chance of improvement in the prisoner will vary in accordance with the thought and action required of him. In order, therefore, that this idea may be efficiently carried out, the prisoner, immediately on commitment to prison, should receive the benefit of an expert clinical examination to determine through his mental and economic possibilities what branch of work he should follow during his term of imprisonment to insure a better existence and a chance to live a decent and productive life after discharge.

A Distributing Prison

The construction and location of the buildings at Sing Sing mean much more, therefore, than the mere erection of a series of large prison buildings for the detention of those who have violated the laws of the State. It will exist as a twentieth century prison elixir, which will take the recrement of society and so purge and refine it that the result will advance, rather than retard, the onward and upward movement of humanity.

Study of the Prisoner

DETENTION BUILDING

SOUTH ELEVATION

In order fully to understand the problem of prison registration, let us follow the course taken by the convict upon his arrival at the Sing Sing of the future: Immediately upon entering the prison grounds, the Court Officer conducts him to the arrival room in the basement of the Registration Building. Here he is turned over to the prison authorities, who take and receipt for his personal property and clothes. The civilian clothes are removed for disinfection and storage. He is then led to the baths, situated across the hall from the property room. After being thoroughly bathed, and subjected to a hasty medical inspection, clean prison clothes are provided. Then, contagion from outside sources having been removed, the prisoner is lodged in a classification cell on the first floor, to await his turn for examination in the rooms provided for that purpose on the second floor. When the examiner is ready for him, he is taken upstairs to be photographed, weighed, finger-printed and generally “Bertilloned,” and is then sent across the hall to be given a preliminary examination for the determination of his general physical condition. This over, he is led to the educational examination room, where facts concerning his birth, occupation and general history are recorded, and an examination conducted to determine both the extent of his education and his occupational skill. Following that comes a careful mental examination in which the findings of those just preceding are fully utilized. As a result of these different examinations his first classification is made, subject of course to change from examinations to be conducted later.

The Registration Building

Besides containing the general Administration Offices, the Bureau of Registration and the Record Bureau the Registration Building will include a reception room where prisoners may converse with visiting relatives and friends. In the past this problem of a reception room for the visitors to prisoners was a difficult one for prison authorities, as it was practically impossible while allowing prisoners a reasonable amount of freedom for the discussion of private and confidential matters to prevent the transfer of weapons, liquors, drugs and implements of escape. This difficulty, however, we think, has now been successfully solved through the following arrangement: Two parts of a large room are separated by two wire nettings, so placed that they form an enclosed passage six feet in width, where guards can be stationed to prevent any attempt to pass articles to the prisoners without, at the same time, interfering in the carrying on of a conversation.

MESS HALL AND KITCHEN BUILDING—BASEMENT

This Floor Contains a Bakery with Flour and Bread Storage Rooms and with Equipment to Provide Bread for the Entire Institution, Refrigerating Rooms for the Storage of Unprepared Food, a Plant for the Making of Ice, and an Ample Kitchen Store Room.

A Mess Hall with Independent Coat Room and Outside Entrance, a Guard's Toilet, Recreation and Lunch Room are also Provided.

MESS HALL AND KITCHEN BUILDING—FIRST FLOOR

This Building Occupies the Central Position of This Group and is Easily Accessible from all Cell Buildings.

The Mess Halls are so Designed as to Take Complete Care of the Inmates of One and Two Cell Buildings in Each Hall Respectively.

The Inmates of the Detention Building Can Enter Their Mess Hall Directly from the Detention Building by the Enclosed Passage.

A Kitchen Economically and Efficiently Equipped Occupies the East Wing of This Building.

The Temporary Detention Building (“No. 5”)

Adjacent to the Registration Building, and on the same high plateau overlooking the Hudson, is the Temporary Detention Building, with cell rooms on separate floors, so arranged as to place the prisoners under the constant supervision of the clinical experts, who will conduct their examinations in the adjoining Clinic Building.

The Clinical Laboratory

The clinical laboratory was developed under a medical commission composed of: Dr. Walter B. James, President of the New York Academy of Medicine; Dr. Charles W. Pilgrim, Chairman, New York State Hospital Commission; Dr. Thomas W. Salmon, Director of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene; Dr. G. H. Kirby, Director of the Psychiatric Institute of the State of New York; Dr. Isham G. Harris, Superintendent of the Brooklyn State Hospital; Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald, Alienist, and Dr. W. F. Brewer, Surgeon. Provision has been made on the first floor for a modern X-ray apparatus and its various accessories; three rooms for the physician in charge of the venereal examinations; a surgical laboratory; rooms fitted for the examinations of the eye, ear and throat, psychiatric and psychological examining room, dental operating room and laboratory, and a laboratory for the use of the staff working in the diagnosis and examination rooms.

On the second floor is a quantitative and qualitative laboratory; a museum, a recording room, a library and lecture rooms, and on the third floor are surgical wards, subdivided for major and minor operative cases, together with medical wards, so planned as to have ordinary and chronic medical cases in separate divisions. The hospital is to be freely used for detailed observation as well as for treatment.

The fourth floor contains a complete operating department with two operating rooms, one for major and the other for minor operations, each having separate sterilization facilities, together with preparation, etherizing and recovery rooms, while the remainder of the floor is given up to rooms for the male nurses and a convalescent solarium.

A Training School for Nurses

In addition to using the building as a clinical hospital for the housing of psychiatric and medical requirements of the prison, it is also planned to use it as a school for the education of male nurses, as it is found that efficiency in prison nursing is directly proportional to the nurse's understanding of the relation of scientific, medical and psychiatric knowledge to the peculiar problems of a prison community.

The entire Sing Sing project includes kitchens, dining rooms, library, school, vocational shops, recreation hall, roads, walks, a modern sewage plant, a power house to heat and light the many buildings and to operate the industrial plants, and a church for the development of religious and community ideals.

In addition to the proper placing and co-ordination of the structures and their component parts, and the abolishment of unsanitary conditions in the interiors, by the architectural treatment of buildings and site, a great step forward has been taken in the creating of a proper and fitting atmosphere and environment. The old idea of the ugly, heavy barred and broken walls, which produced the dismal, forsaken, isolated and jail-like appearance of former prisons, has been discarded. In their places will be many-windowed, substantial brick structures, extending from the river to the plateau in the rear of the elevated site, in dignified and well-proportioned stages.

The causes which formerly created in prisoners the feeling of being entombed, useless and hopeless exiles have been done away with. It is our hope that ideals of respectability, industry, efficiency and co-operation will arise from these new prison conditions and make strong, beneficial and lasting impressions on the mind of each prisoner.

It is only by such utilization of the experiences in allied fields and their thoughtful application to prison conditions that progress may be hoped for in solving this important human problem.