John N. Miskell's Executions in Auburn Prison, Auburn, New York: 1890 - 1916©


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Above appears an image of the title page of John N. Miskell's Executions in Auburn Prison, Auburn, New York: 1890 - 1916.

[Image selection & caption by NYCHS webmaster]

The early growth and prosperity of the city of Auburn was due largely to the location of the State Prison for Western New York there, and an important benefit has always accrued to the city from the large sums annually expended by the institution for salaries and supplies. The act authorizing the erection of the Auburn prison was passed April 12, 1816, and foundations for the stone enclosure were put underway immediately.

The prison went rapidly forward till 1823, when the massive main hall and wings, extensive wooden workshops, and an enclosing stone wall twenty feet high, had been completed at a cost of $400,000.

The so called "Auburn System" provided for the separate confinement of each prisoner in his individual cell at night and employment during the daytime in silence but in close association with other convicts. Convicts were compelled to work under the threat of punishment. Work rules were rigid and the punishments speedy and harsh. It was believed by administrators that hard work had reformative value.

The contract labor system initiated in 1828 to provide revenue needed to defray the costs of operation of the prison came under attack from reformers who protested the harsh treatment some sixty years later.

Above appears a closer view of the Auburn Prison front gates illustration on the cover of John N. Miskell's Executions in Auburn Prison, Auburn, New York: 1890 - 1916. Since the paper's focus is Auburn's electric chair, Miskell limited to this one page an overview of the prison's history. For a more detail history of the prison, visit NYCHS' presentation of his Why Auburn? elsewhere on this site.

[Image selection & caption by NYCHS webmaster]

Down through the years, the prison had been modified and rebuilt to suit current contract needs. The work programs were changed accordingly but punishments continued to be severe. For example, in 1879, there were nine labor shops at Auburn. Over 875 convicts were employed on contract work. Due to outside pressure in the community, during the next decade all labor contracts were gradually phased out and by 1890 the contract system was eventually discontinued.

The State-use system replaced the contract system to eliminate idleness among inmates and to turn their labor into productive activities to reduce state expenses. The prison was in a transition period during the 1890s when an entirely different type of program was mandated by the Legislature to be implemented in the state prisons. Prison officials made every effort to ensure that the introduction of the new program would not interfere with the regular operation of the prison.

Executions in Auburn Prison, Auburn, New York: 1890 - 1916 text ©1996 by John N. Miskell
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