(#5 of 9 parts)
The text and images are presented here by permission of the author and the Westchester County Historical Society that published them as the cover article, "A Proper Regard for the Unfortunates," in the Spring 2006 edition of its Westchester Historian. All rights retained and reserved.
Four years later in 1875, another grand jury issued new findings that prodded the Westchester County Board of Supervisors to act on jail conditions. Their report was dated March 4, 1875:
"We have personally visited our County Jail and have become firmly convinced that a separation of the sexes therein is urgently necessary both for the sake of morality and convenience and have also become firmly convinced some manner of work or employment would greatly benefit both the health and morals of the prisoners as it would also be of much pecuniary aid and saving to the county, We respectfully present our above convictions to the Board of Supervisors of Westchester County and urgently call their attention to the necessity of their taking immediate action in the matters referred to." [End note #29]
In an unusual move that reflected much frustration, the same grand jury re-adopted its resolutions concerning the County Jail on December 6, 1875, urged that "the Board of Supervisors make a proper appropriation to remedy the existing evils" and ordered that a copy of their grand jury minutes be served on the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. [End note #30]
The following year, the Westchester County Board of Supervisors was still struggling with funding and bonding the long-delayed enlargement of the County Jail, as indicated in a report by its Committee on Repairs and Supplies, dated December 13, 1876:
"The Committee recommends that it should be so enlarged that the sexes should be separated, that there should be hospital accommodations, and accommodations for witnesses detained by order of Courts and for juvenile offenders, whose crimes in many instances are more technical than real. The whole matter of enlarging the Jail or not enlarging it turns, of course, on the expense.
"Your Committee felt the care of guarding the expenditures of the County, and fully realize the necessity of economy in all expenditures. The plans and rough estimates which were submitted to the Board last year are again submitted.
"Your Committee believes them to be as near what is needed as can now be brought forward. Your Committee would recommend, if the Board should think now to make the improvement, that the expense should be limited to not exceed $10,500 and it should be extended over a period of ten years." [End note #31]
Legislative resistance and public indifference contributed to the long postponement of needed changes to the 1856 Jail. Public officials largely reflected the public mood about crime and punishment in 19th Century America.
"The poor conditions of many 19th Century jails in America were generally acknowledged. Concern for this state of affairs was voiced by scattered groups across the country, but these groups were not able to effect a great deal of change. By and large their condemnations fell on unconcerned and unsympathetic ears," (according to James M. Moynahan and Earl K. Stewart in their "The American Jail: Its Development and Growth"). [End note #32]
In the absence of any national or state standards, conditions of confinement in local jails were slow to improvement.
"In the 19th century, notable changes took place in the function of jails... Changes in conditions and functions in the jail did not take place in all jails at the same time. Jails were locally operated and consequently affected by local matters.
"The speed with which a jail changed or initiated a new practice seemed to be subject not only to legislation but also to local, state, and regional considerations. Some jails changed overnight, but others took many decades to change even in the smallest way," (again according to Moynahan and Stewart). [End note #33]
The urgent concerns of the Physicians to the Jail, the Prison Association of New York, and the presentments of four grand juries did not seem to be formally addressed until the 1880s, when a new wing at the rear of the County Jail was finally constructed to house females in custody and create a hospital ward.
In 1883, the Committee on Repairs and Supplies of the Westchester County Board of Supervisors authorized a $14,300 contract to Edward O'Rourke to provide larger quarters at the County Jail. His was the lowest bid among 10 applicants, after Thomas Holden withdrew his proposal to complete the work for $13,900.
These long-overdue improvements corrected several operational deficiencies that were neglected in the original design and finally put the County Jail in good standing. During the remaining years of the 19th century, the 1856 facility seemed to function as a jail transformed.
In 1894, a local newspaper provided a first-hand account about the operation of the County's correctional facility under the headline "WESTCHESTER'S WELL-MANAGED JAIL: ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE COMFORT OF PRISONERS - A TRAMP'S LODGING HOUSE:
"Westchester County officers think the jail at this place is one of the best-managed institutions of its kind in the State, and visitors comment upon its neat interior.
"As the population of the county has increased in recent years, and crimes are more numerous, there are now about 200 inmates. Many, however, are vagrants and tramps, which the law requires to be arrested and committed by magistrates.
"The jail is situated about forty feet south of the Court House and is connected with it by a covered iron bridge in latticework from the second story, so prisoners may be conducted privately to and from the Courtroom at the time of trial with no possibility of escape.
"The jail is built of granite, is 68 feet long and 50 wide, with an addition, or extension, on the south end. It has 36 cells in three separate stories, 12 in each story. They are built of brick and are in the middle of the building, with a hall about twelve feet in width running around them.
"There are two doors leading from the interior - the entrance to the north end and that connecting with the addition on the south. The whole building is for jail purposes, there being no industries, as in Sing Sing Prison.
"The Women's Department is in the addition at the rear on the top floor. There are hospital accommodations on the south end on the second floor, where sick prisoners may be cared for without endangering other inmates The jail, including the culinary, is kept clean, neat, and in good order.
"The Sheriff receives from the County Board of Supervisors $3 per week for keeping each prisoner. This covers the expense of board, wash- ing, cleaning, and the wages of jailor.
"The general condition as to health is good -- no pro- tracted cases of sickness. A physician - Dr. H. E. Schmid of White Plains at present - is appoint- ed by the Board of Supervisors . . . regularly visits the jail and super- vises its sanitary affairs.
"The prisoners have three meals a day, and the materials are all good and wholesome. The beef is usually boiled, and they also have stews and soup. For supper they generally have coffee and bread. They always receive enough to satisfy their appetite.
"No clothing is furnished by the county, except in extreme cases where prisoners really need it, which does not often happen.
"The cells, which are 12 feet by 8 feet in dimension in the main jail, are built of brick and cement and arranged in tiers The beds or bunks are about 7 feet long. There is a ventilator in each cell connected with the roof.
"Usually only one occupant is assigned to a cell, but when the jail is overcrowded there are two. There is no provision made for daily instruction.
"It is the opinion of the Sheriff that about 80% of the prisoners in the jail have been of intemperate habits, which are mainly the cause of their crimes.
"The prisoners are permitted to interchange letters with their friends, subject to the examination of the Sheriff.
"Religious services are held Sundays, and the ladies of the Women's Christian Temperance Union periodically visit the jail to talk and sing with the inmates. Tracts are occasionally distributed among the prisoners.
"Money is rarely, if ever, given to a prisoner on his discharge.
"Prisoners are allowed to converse with one another during the day.
"Discipline is strict but not severe; the comfort and health of the prisoners are well taken care of; the moral influences thrown around them are most salutary, and have been attended with encouraging results." [End note #34]
In that same year, the New York State Legislature enacted Chapter 687 of the Laws of 1894, which designated the office of Sheriff in Westchester County as a salaried position and authorized the Board of Supervisors to fix an annual salary not to exceed $10,000 payable monthly. It also authorized the Sheriff to employ a Jailor at an annual salary of $1,200.
Five years later in 1899, the State Legislature expanded the Sheriff's authority to employ
In 1910, four additional positions were authorized:
In 1897, the Westchester County Board of Supervisors created a special committee to determine the possibility of building a new jail on a new site, due to its limited capacity. The committee suggested a site near the county almshouse at Eastview.
As an alternative, the Board decided to enlarge the 1856 Jail at a cost of $65,000 in 1898 and remove an unsightly 25-foot high wooden fence that surrounded the jail facility. Five years later in 1903, the original 1856 locking mechanisms (purchased for $503.50) were finally removed and replaced with the Pauley Locking System at a cost of $6,000.
In 1910, Sheriff Henry Scherp approved the installation of electric lights (with all wiring in iron conduit) at the County Jail for the sum of $325.
In 1914, the County Jail held 120 inmates, which was overcrowded because the City of White Plains also used the facility as a lockup. The following year, the County of Westchester acquired the 440-acre Cochran Farm in Eastview for $175,000 and the Board of Supervisors authorized the building of a Penitentiary & Work House on the grounds at a cost of $500,000 for construction and furnishings.
Unlike the Jail, which held inmates awaiting trial, the new Penitentiary would confine persons sentenced to short terms of imprisonment by the Courts in Westchester County.
The final design of the facility resulted from site visits to
The building plans were approved by the N.Y. State Commission on Prisons in December 1915.
The following Biblical verse was engraved above the front entrance to the new Penitentiary:
"He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh the city." (Proverbs 16:32).