Established 1935.

Staff and Programs

On November 21, 1935, Woodbourne's first 23 inmates arrived, transferred from Napanoch, followed by 26 on December 10. These were men considered to be mental defectives, but ones whose crimes gave them a greater chance of being paroled than those still to be confined at Napanoch.

By 1937, faced with prison overcrowding throughout the state, the need for cells for general confinement inmates saw the facility accept men of normal intelligence.

According to the Ninth Annual Report of the State Commission of Correction for the Year 1935 after its Woodbourne inspection that December, "Staff includes:

  • an assistant superintendent [in addition'to the superintendent, Dr. Vernon C. Branham];
  • one chief guard;
  • 14 guards;
  • 6 mounted patrolmen;
  • 1 farm supervisor;
  • 2 assistant farmers;
  • 1 head cook;
  • 1 cook;
  • 1 baker;
  • 1 storekeeper,
  • chief engineer;
  • 1 Protestant chaplain (part time);
  • 1 opthalmologist (part time);
  • 1 dentist (part time);
  • 1 hospital attendant;
  • 1 instructor in carpentry;
  • 1 instructor in plumbing;
  • 1 instructor in painting;
  • 1 instructor in tailoring;
  • 1 instructor in woodworking;
  • 3 firemen;
  • 4 stenographers;
  • 1 clerk;
  • 1 bookkeeper;
  • 1 telephone operator;
  • 1 head teamster;
  • 3 truck drivers;
  • 1 sewage tender;
  • 1 housekeeper; and
  • 2 waitresses."
Over the years, the proportion of the mix changed frequently, depending on the needs of the system as a whole, generally reflecting whether or not there was overcrowding in the prisons confining inmates of normal intelligence.

The programs here were designed to help inmates acquire the academic, vocational, and social training needed to adjust to the prison setting and to be better able to adjust to society upon their release.

According to the Annual Report of the State Commission of Correction for the Year 1935, "The mounted patrolmen are on duty outside the [Woodbourne] building, the guards having charge inside. It was stated that the day shift of custodial officers works ten hours a day, with three consecutive days off each month, and the night shift twelve hours with four consecutive days off monthly."

At first, the mounted patrolmen were not part of the guards' squads but considered custodial employees separate from them; during the Second World War years, however, the title of "mounted patrolman" disappeared from the records.

Each patrolman had his own horse and saw to its care. There was even a "relief" horse to cover pass days when a relief officer had outside patrol. During the NACC years, the post was eliminated. By 1937, there were also a "captain of the night watch," a head teacher and an assistant, two sergeants and 73 guards supervising 651 inmates -- "455 mental defectives and 196 from the prison and reformatory [Elmira]. The mental defectives, except some who must be kept segregated, are housed in dormitories, and the prison men in cells. . ."

State law directed that mentally retarded inmates be kept isolated from inmates of normal intelligence.

C.O. Milt Turner with Jitterbug, Lucy, Lightning, and Patches, ca 1950.

In the 1937 report, one cell floor listed as No. 5 company, which today is B-1, was noted to be "Used as a guard house." The report went on to say, "A draft of 26 men was expected from Sing Sing Prison. When they arrive nearly all of the available cells will be occupied. However, if some other arrangement could be made than using one row of twenty cells as a guard house, the section now set apart for that purpose could be used for housing prisoners and the population of Sing Sing reduced to that extent."

The first scheduled classes given arriving inmates consisted of six weekly sessions with instruction in the rules and regulations for their conduct at Woodbourne. About four months after entering the facility, each inmate met with a classification board made up of the superintendent, assistant superintendent, supervisor of education, a senior physician, chaplain, psychologist, and supervisor of physical education and recreation.

This board weighed the inmate's background, type of crime, staff reports, institutional record, and diagnosis for post-release adjustment. The board then would set a tentative period of time, one which they thought the inmate would need for satisfactory adjustment and readiness for release.

The decision on whether or not an inmate would be released at all was in many cases entirely the board's responsibility as most of the inmates certified as mental defectives had received an indeterminate sentence for their crimes.

Academic education was a voluntary and individualized program taught by two civilian teachers and two inmates with imnate-students grouped into four levels -- beginner, primary, intermediate, and advanced -- based on Stanford Achievement Test scores.

An inmate library located in what is today the GY dorm kitchen-recreation room was overseen by the supervisor of education. According to a 1949 issue of Correction, "Since it has been found that class attention is more easily maintained through the media of visual aids, extensive use is made of movies, slide films, [and] film strips. . ."

The tailor shop and shoe ship, ca. 1938.

Additionally, the staff psychologist had a class for asocial and antisocial inmates to try to work them back into the programs of the facility.

Vocational education featured twenty-three common trades taught by eight civilian instructors who oversaw the inmate student-workers. The aim of vocational education was both to teach a trade and provide for the needs of the facility -- clothing and shoes were all made in shops, and the machine shop took care of the sheet-metal work and welding needed to maintain the facility.

Less skilled inmates were assigned to the occupational therapy shop where they learned bookbinding and repair, mattress and pillow making, broom and brush making, towel and rug weaving, and toy assembly and repair. An active farm program produced approximately $40,000 in food and crops each year and employed nearly 100 inmates.

A physical education and recreation program had its own supervisor with inmates organized and grouped by athletic ability. Each season saw its own competition among intramural teams, and occasionally outside professionals, especially boxers, many of whom trained locally, visited the facility.

Before the construction of the Neversink Dam in the early 1950s, the river would frequently flood the flats around the institution. Many of the older retirees interviewed remember being ferried across the flood waters in a rowboat so that they could come to work.

The Neversink in flood stage, ca. 1950.

In 1967, the Woodbourne Rehabilitation Center, the most secure of the Narcotic Addiction Control Commission's facilities, was created. The security staff here remained employees of DOCS, unlike those in other facilities who were Narcotics Corrections Officers. Under the rehabilitation model, even more emphasis was placed on counseling, education, and psychological treatment.

During the early 1970s, Woodbourne employed 22 counselors, 20 teachers and instructors during the day and 6 at night, 6 recreation aides, 2 fulltime psychologists, 3 part-time psychiatrists, and a part-time psychometrist. Until this time, most of the employees of the facility were local people whose family had worked in corrections as well. With the increased program hiring, many people from outside the area or outside corrections were hired, particularly in counseling and education.

Commissioner Goord writes:

"In July 1973 I started my career in criminal justice at then Woodbourne Rehabilitation Center.

"The empirical knowledge I gained while at Woodbourne has proved to be a sound foundation for my promotions up through the Department ranks.

"It's a long way from A-block to the Commissioner's Office, but I will never forget my time and the people at the 'Bourne.' I also miss the $ . 35 breakfasts and the $ . 50 lunches at the O.M."

One was a young counselor-trainee, Glenn Goord, who is today Commissioner of Corrections.

The addiction problem did not vanish despite the funds poured into it by State and Federal agencies, and a gradual downsizing of NACC began, a history easily traced by name changes. In the early 1970s, NACC became the Drug Abuse Control Commission, DACC; and the name was again changed to the Office of Drug Abuse Services, ODAS, and residential treatment discontinued.

In September 1975, Woodbourne again joined the Department of Correctional Services, but the program intensive legacy of NACC had left its mark. Virtually all the programs and counseling of the previous agency remained in place after the transition, with only minor rearrangement of some vocational staff to meet the priorities of DOCS. Over the years, this has remained the case, and Woodbourne maintains its high degree of inmate activity by utilizing educational and vocational programming.

Former Commissioner Coombe said:

"In July 1973 I started my career in criminal justice at then Woodbourne Rehabilitation Center.

"I transferred to Woodbourne as a Correction Services Unit Supervisor in October of 1967 and worked through the transition from NACC to Corrections in 1975. 1 truly enjoyed my tenure at the 'Bourne.' The people who worked there were the 'BEST.' "

Today, however, numbers are somewhat reduced from the high figures of twenty-five years ago. There are currently 8 counselors, 2 senior counselors, and five ASAT staff. In education are 6 full time and 1 half-time teacher, 8 daytime vocational instructor and I evening instructor, 2 recreation staff. Mental Health has 2 psychologists, neither of whom is employed by DOCS but instead are Office of Mental Health staff.

The nature of the vocational programs, too, reflects the changes in the workplace over the years. Gone are the tailor shop and shoe shop where goods for the institution's imnates were fabricated. Gone also are upholstery and the machine shop, shops that used to do much of the needed maintenance work around the facility. More in keeping with the needs of the times, however, are shops like computer refurbishing, radio and t.v. repair, and air conditioning and refrigeration, while the welding shop now does much of the repair and maintenance previously done in the machine shop.

Executive Assistant to the Commissioner McSweeney added:

"I remember my first day (March 26, 1973) at Woodbourne very well. Although Woodbourne did not have the walls of Attica or Clinton, just hearing the Officer close and lock the grill gate behind me as I crossed the courtyard and headed through the fishbowl to F-wing was unforgettable. The staff I worked for and with were definitely the best part of my Woodbourne experience."

One innovation at Woodbourne directly tied to the NACC legacy is the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Therapy program, ASAT. It was begun in 1975 to address the needs of a chronically addicted inmate population and became a prototype for similar programs in facilities around the -State. In 1990, a delegation of Russian doctors toured Woodbourne as part of an effort to learn American methods of treating substance abuse, especially alcoholism.

Until all college programming was discontinued in New York State prisons in 1995, Woodbourne offered certificate programs in horticulture and hotel technology through local community colleges. The community colleges also offered two year degrees and Mercy College had a fouryear bachelor's program at the facility. Today, inmates can participate in correspondence courses at their own expense.

In concluding his remarks about his years working at Woodbourne, Sullivan Hub Supervising Superintendent Robert H. Kuhlmann summed up his impressions by saying:

"Woodbourne was always a good solid, stable facility. It was always cost effective compared to many of the facilities. You have some heavy hitters at Woodbourne, and you have very few problems for the most part. That makes Woodbourne a good place to work."

Today's programs include, in addition to the traditional academic and vocational programs and ASAT, a structured pre-release program, the Osborne Society Parenting and Children's Center, the Veteran's Residential Center, sex offender therapy, a program for sensorially disabled inmates, the Islamic Therapeutic Program, and the New York Theological Seminary certificate program.

As inmates with sensorial disabilities became more common in correctional facilities, programs to meet their special needs were created. Eastern Correctional Facility originally housed nearly all the inmates in the State with hearing or visual impairment, regardless of whether or not their crimes warranted maximum security confinement. In August 1995, Woodbourne began to create programs appropriate for such inmates as we began to receive our first sensorially disabled inmates. There is currently a staff of three vocational rehabilitation counselors to provide these inmates with meaningful training and program assignments.

The New York State Department of Corrections today employs over 32 thousand people to monitor 70 thousand inmates at a cost to the State of more than 1.5 billion dollars. Woodbourne is now just one of 70 facilities in an expanding department.




We employ 413 people-297 in security, 48 in programs, 55 in administration and support, and 13 in medical. The total annual budget for the facility is nearly 20 million dollars.

At this time in 1999, there are many former Woodbourne employees' serving as Superintendents and Deputy Superintendents throughout DOCS and at the Assistant Commissioner level or higher in Central Office. Commissioner Goord, former Commissioner Coombe, and [Assistant Commissioner/]Executive Assistant to the Commissioner McSweeney all spent significant periods of their careers working here.

Home Page
To Correction
Starter Page
Home Page