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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

New York Prisons and Jails: Historical Research: Research NYC Jails

A guide to historical to current resources on prisons and jails in New York City and New York State. By Ellen Belcher

suggestions

Newgate was the earliest Jail/Prison in NY, established by John Jay in 1797,. see: Member of the institution. (1815). A View of the New-York State Prison in the City of New-York. By a member of the institution. Printed by T. and J. Swords. [JJay login required] Images from the 1801 first edition are freely available here [book available by appointment in our Special Collections Room]

The Legal Aid Society of New York is Tracking the COVID-19 virus in NYC Jails.

See also the NYC Municipal Library's Where to find Resources on Corrections and Correctional Facilities.  - We have several but not all of the resources listed in their guide, such as most, but not all NYC-DOC Annual Reports, some of which are freely available online which superseded Annual Report of The Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction of the City of New York (which we do not have here at John Jay) several issues of which are  freely available online. You may also request copies of historical records from the NYC Municipal Archives

The New York City Board of Correction (BOC) is a nine-person, non-judicial oversight board that regulates, monitors, and inspects the correctional facilities of the City Minutes of their meetings from 1970 - present are freely available online. Their reports are also freely available online

Other resources: CQ - Corrections Quarterly Journal and The DOC Year in Review posted on the NYC-DOC page on ISSUU. The New York City Jails Action Coalition, Correctional Association of New York, The Fortune Society. To compare NYC with other jail jurisdictions in the U.S. try using the Vera Institute Incarceration Trends web-resource.

WNYC Radio Archives has been digitizing 1940s episodes of the NY-DOC/NYPR radio program Toward a Return to Society in addition to the audio files, episode summaries and transcripts are freely available.

NYC Corrections History

A list of Correctional Facilities in The New York City - some of which are under the jurisdiction of NYC Department of Correction. (from Wikipedia)

From the NYC-DOC website:

The New York City Department of Correction, as a distinct entity, dates back to 1895, when the Department of Public Charities and Correction was split into separate agencies - the Department of Public Charities, with jurisdiction over the City’s hospitals and almshouses, and the Department of Correction. DOC was given jurisdiction over the City’s penal institutions including the Penitentiary and Workhouse on Blackwell’s Island (now called Roosevelt Island); City Prison, Manhattan (Tombs); and five District Prisons and the City cemetery (Potter’s Field) on Hart Island, off City Island in the Bronx. Other existing jails in Queens, Brooklyn, and Richmond counties, which in 1895 were not yet incorporated into the City of New York, fell under jurisdiction of their county sheriffs.

 

Blackwell’s Island was the Department’s main base of operations until the mid-1930s when the century-old Penitentiary and the 85-year-old Workhouse there were abandoned. Blackwell’s inmates were transferred to the newly constructed Penitentiary on Rikers Island, the first permanent jail structure on Rikers.

The City purchased Rikers Island in 1884 for $180,000. The original Island was 87 and one/half acres. From the late 19th century through the mid-20th, the Island was expanded by landfill to its current 415 acres. Today, the Island is the Department’s main base of operation, with 10 separate jails capable of housing up to 17,000 inmates. It is also home to the Department’s Transportation Division and numerous other support operations such as, central laundry, central bakery, K-9 and Marine units.

A detailed history of the NYC Department of Correction can be accessed on the Web site of the New York Correction History Society. The NYCHS was established through the initiative of the NYC Department of Correction in conjunction with other participating New York state, City, county and community-based correctional agencies. In addition to NYC Department of Correction materials, the Web site of this State Regents nonprofit historical society features extensive information on a variety of other NY correction-related subjects.

Resources on Individual NYC Facilities

 
Try searching CUNY+ with the name of the individual jail facility, here is a selection of the many books we have on NYC jails. Be sure to also check for information in our collection of NYC-DOC Annual Reports
 
Bayview Correctional Facility - 20th and 11th ave. A NYC-DOC Jail for women, closed in 2012
Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island) - Was the location of Jails, a Farm and other NYC-DOC facilities.

Hart Island several different NYC-DOC facilities were located here, "Potter's Field" is still an active cemetery under the jurisdiction of NYC-DOC.

Jefferson Market Jail Greenwich and 6th aves, several NYC-DOT facilities, as well as city courts were at this location.

Ludlow Street Jail (70 Ludlow Street - was both a NY County Jail under jurisdiction of the NY County Sheriff and a Federal Prison)

Newgate Prison The first prison and Jail in NY, established by John Jay, Governor of New York
The Tombs - 101 Center Street - Still functioning as a NYC-DOC Jail
  • Molineux, Roland Burnham The room with the little door. New York, G. W. Dillingham Company [1903] Stacks - HV8658 .M6 We have digitized this book with the Internet Archive
  • New York (State). Legislature. Senate. Committee on Crime and Correction. The Tombs disturbances : a report. Albany : The Committee, 1970 Special Collections - HV8378 .N53 1970
  • Orisanmi Burton (2018) Organized Disorder: The New York City Jail Rebellion of 1970, The Black Scholar, 48:4, 28-42, DOI: 10.1080/00064246.2018.1514925
  • WNYC Radio Archives 1973: Mimi Poser attends the Tombs Art Show exhibition, which features work created by prisoners who were incarcerated in Manhattan’s municipal jail.

Resources on Riker's Island Jail Facilities (newest to oldest)

(2020) Mooney, J., & Shanahan, J. (2020). Rikers Island: The Failure of a “Model” Penitentiary. The Prison Journal (Philadelphia, Pa.), 100(6), 687–708. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032885520968238

(2014-Present) Nunez Reports on Riker's Island Independent Monitoring Reports mandated by Nunez v. City of New York et. al. 5845 (LTS) (SDNY)

(2018-present) NYC Road Map to Closing Riker's - webpage with nformation on 'borough jails plan' and status reports.

  • 2018 "Department of Correction" NYC Mayor's Office Management Report. pp 81ff. 

see also a summary and analysis in NYC Patch.

Reports on NYC Jails by date (oldest to newest)

See also the NYC Municipal Library's Where to find Resources on Corrections and Correctional Facilities.  - We have several but not all of the resources listed in their guide.
 
Many of the NY State Annual Reports on Prison/Corrections from Commissions/Inspectors include reports from and on New York county jails (including New York (Manhattan & Bronx up to 1914); Kings (Brooklyn); Queens Counties.
 
1864 The COMMISSIONERS OF PUBLIC CHARITIES AND CORRECTIONS; Abstract of Fifth Annual Report, for the Year 1864.   was reproduced in total in the New York Times
 
1868-1870 Minutes: meeting of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Corrections..
Some issues available at the Hathi Trust Library
 
 1865-1880 Dept. of Public Charities and Correction. Annual report of the Commissioners of Public Charities and Correction of the City of New York. is later named Annual Report of The Department of Corrections, City of New York.  
John Jay Library has 1902-31 and 1954-1967
Open Special Collections - HV8378 .N5 A3
some earlier reports are available at the Hathi Trust Library
 
1965 Progress through crisis, 1954-1965. (New York: New York (N.Y.). Department of Correction)
      Stacks and Special Collections - HV8378 .N52 1965
 
1972 Crisis in the prisons: New York City responds: a commitment to change. (New York: New York (N.Y.). Department of Correction)
Special Collections Room -  HV8378 .N52 A3 1972
 
More reports can be found by searching CUNY+ author = New York (N.Y.).Dept. of Correction.

Guide/page author

This page and guide was compiled and is constantly updated by Ellen Belcher, Special Collections Librarian. Contact me with questions and suggestions at ebelcher [at] jjay.cuny.edu