But some background on prison management leading up to his appointment is worth mentioning for purposes of providing perspective.
Originally, as each new state prison was opened, beginning with "Newgate" in 1797, the institution would operate under its own set of managers. But provisions in the 1846 State Constitution resulted in a single Board of Prisons being established to oversee them all. Yet this board never really developed into an agency managing the institutions as an integrated system.
In 1876 the Legislature authorized that the Board of Prisons be replaced by the Office of Superintendent of State Prisons. The actual appointment of the statewide prison superintendent didn't take place until two years later.
The Pilsbury name had been well known in connection with administration of institutions of incarceration in the Northeast long before Louis Dwight's appointment to the New York State prison superintendency. Both his father, Amos, and his grandfather, Moses C., had been wardens of Connecticut's penitentiary at Wethersfield (Moses,1827-1837; Amos, 1837-1844) and prisons elsewhere.
As Albany County Penitentiary warden in 1851, Amos recruited a Wethersfield guard named Zebulon Reed Brockway to serve as his assistant. Amos later recommended him to serve as superintendent of the new municipal almshouse in Albany, a post Brockway held for two years.
The Albany penitentiary had been opened in 1846 not far from the old poorhouse in what is now University Heights. In more modern times, the former prison site has been used by a Veterans Administration hospital.
Not long before the outbreak of Civil War, Louis Pilsbury resigned the Superintendency of Ward's Island institutional complex in order to return to helping manage Albany Penitentiary, eventually becoming its superintendent.
About the same time, Amos returned to Albany after serving as New York City Chief of Police (May 1859 - May 1860) during the Fusion administration of Mayor Daniel F. Tiemann, himself a former member of the board of governors that ran the city correctional and public charity institutions.
During the Civil War, the federal government used the Albany Penitentiary to house some POWs. Dr. Samuel Mudd and others convicted in the Lincoln assassination but not executed were sent first to the Albany Penitentiary after their sentencing, according to some records, although history later locates them in the Florida Keys island prison Fort Jefferson.
After the Civil War, New York legislators expected many discharged young soldiers would have trouble adjusting to civilian life. The lawmakers authorized in 1869 the purchase of 280 acres in Elmira to expand the state’s institutional capacity to handle the likely increase in convict population, especially in the younger age group.
That development coincided with emergence of the progressive penal reform movement in American and elsewhere. New York Prison Association leader Enoch Wines, reformer Brockway and others incorporated their ideas and ideals into the manifesto of progressive principles proclaimed at the 1870 founding in Cincinnati of the National Prison Association (NPA), now called the American Correctional Association (ACA).
As a kind of follow-up, an International Prison Reform Congress was held in London during the summer of 1872, Twenty-two countries were represented by 100 delegates. It led to the creation of an international prison commission. Amos, then 67 and probably not in the best of health, attended. He died in Albany the following summer (July 14, 1873). His son, Louis continued the Pilsbury administration at Albany Penitentiary and the Pilsbury tradition of prison reform.
In 1876 the Elmira facility opened as the world's first young adult male reformatory, embodying many of the Cincinnati principles. It operated under a three-member Legislature-appointed Board of Managers chaired by Louis D. Pilsbury. The board chose Brockway to run it.
Gov. Lucius Robinson|
Beyond his excellent professional credentials, factors that may have figured in Louis Pilsbury's selection as statewide superintendent of prisons could have included
- that Assemblyman George I. Post of Cayuga County, the Assembly Prisons Committee chairman who helped write the law setting up the office of statewide superintendent of prisons, had come to know Louis, particularly during the early Elmira reformatory planning and development, and
- that the Governor at the time of Louis' appointment was former Assemblyman Lucius Robinson from Elmira who considered prison reform one of the hallmarks of his administration.
Louis Pilsbury, described as an "all-powerful superintendent," developed a reputation for making inmate production profits reduce prison cost burdens on taxpayers before legislative restrictions on prison industries caused deficits to resume their growth.