John Edmonds Led Founding of Prison Association of New York

face of a prisoner

John Worth Edmonds led the founding of the Prison Association of New York State. In a notice to the public, dated November 23, 1844, Edmonds, then President of the Board of Inspectors of Sing Sing, wrote:

The undersigned has been directed by the Board of Inspectors of the State Prison at Sing Sing, to invite the attention of the benevolent to the destitute condition of discharged convicts.^

Edmonds obscured in this statement his agency and his broader concerns. The latter emerged two days later when Edmonds joined with sixty-two others, including prominent New York public figures, to call for the formation of a prison association. Its intended objectives were “the amelioration of the condition of prisoners,” “the improvement of Prison Discipline generally,” and relief for discharged convicts. In response to this call, “a large and highly respectable number of citizens” met in New York City on December 6, 1844.^ The meeting was at the Apollo Rooms, No. 410 Broadway. This prestigious venue was the site of the first concert of the New York Philharmonic on Dec. 7, 1842. The Apollo Rooms held about 600 persons. The formation of the Prison Association of New York evidently was a major, well-organized public event.

At the Apollo meeting, Edmonds formally proposed to form a Prison Association. Edmonds then delivered a long address describing the hardships of discharged convicts, different systems of prison discipline and their effects. He presented statistical comparisons with other states and countries and described the importance of classification and instruction of prisoners. Within eleven days of Edmonds’ formal proposal, the Prison Association of New York had established a Constitution, By-Laws, and Officers. Edmonds was a Vice-President of the Prison Association, Chairman of the Executive Committee, and a member of each of the four committees that were established.^ Manuscript evidence testifies to Edmonds central role in establishing the Prison Association:

The drafts of the circulars calling the first meeting were in his {Edmonds’} handwriting, and so are the programmes for the first and other public meetings of the Society. The draft of the Charter {of the Prison Society} is in his handwriting^

Edmonds apparently was unsatisfied with his potential for public action as the President of the governor-appointed Board of Inspectors for Sing Sing. In less than a month, Edmonds created a new institutional basis from which he could seek to improve the prison system.

Edmonds combined civic leadership of the Prison Association with official offices. Edmonds remained a member of the Board of Inspectors until February, 1845. He was then appointed a judge for the First Circuit of New York.^ Edmonds continued to serve in high judicial offices and as an officer of the Prison Association until 1853.

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