Edmonds Reversed Course As Sing Sing Prison Inspector in Mid-1840s

face of a prisoner

In April, 1843, the governor of New York appointed John W. Edmonds inspector of the Sing Sing State Prison.^ Sing Sing was suffering from large financial deficits and lax prison discipline. Edmonds had no prior experience in prison administration. Drawing perhaps on his legislative and military experience, Edmonds instituted a program of sharp fiscal retrenchment and strict prison discipline. To implement these changes, Edmonds brought back to Sing Sing Elam Lynds, a prison administrator widely known for maintaining absolute order through intimidation and frequent, brutal floggings. Angry citizens burned Edmonds in effigy for his reappointment of Lynds.^

Edmonds subsequently became an vigorous advocate for prison reform. As Edmonds studied penal literature, visited other prisons, and saw the effects of Lynds’ actions, his judgment of good penal practice changed. He sought to limit flogging and joined with the other inspectors to remove Lynds from the prison. Within two years, Edmonds had become President of the Board of Inspectors of Sing Sing and a knowledgeable, active prison reformer.^

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