Visitors to Prisons in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York

face of a prisoner

Visitors to a prison could be spectators seeking to tour the prison, or family and friends seeking to visit in the prison their friend or relative. The Prison Association of New York surveyed New York prisons in 1846. One question in that survey was “Visitors to prisoners”. The Auburn, Clinton, and Sing Sing state prisons replied, “All who pay 2 shillings,” “All who ask it,” and “At the pleasure of the principal officers, and almost daily,” respectively.^ Auburn’s reply indicated the admission fee (2 shillings or 25 cents) for Auburn prison spectators. Clinton and Sing Sing prison’s replies also refer to spectators. In 1866, all three prisons allowed family and friends to visit prisoners only once every three months.

When the Prison Association surveyed New York county prisons in 1854, it clarified the question about visitors. That survey asked,”Who are permitted to visit the prisoners, at what hour and under what regulations?” and “Are tickets of admission to the prison sold for the benefit of the prisoners?”^ These two questions differentiate between spectators and personal visitors. The appended descriptive phrase “for the benefit of the prisoners” suggests uneasiness about prison spectator revenue.

Leave a comment (will be included in public domain license)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *