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Rhode Island. Board of State Prison Inspectors (1838-1877)



  • Existence: 1838-1877

Historical Note

Dating back to colonial times, Rhode Island relied on a system of county jails to house individuals sentenced to spend time in confinement for various legal offenses. The Providence County Jail, however, came to serve as a principal location for the confinement of the state's prisoners. Discussion of the need for construction of a combined Providence County Jail and State Prison began to take place in the 1790s. After several false starts, a state prison was finally completed in the fall of 1838[1] and its first prisoners were admitted in November. The Providence County Jail was added as an adjoining structure in the spring of 1839.

The Board of State Prison Inspectors was established by an act of the General Assembly in February, 1838 to provide "the oversight, management, and control" of the new state prison. The board's responsibilities included the Providence County Jail as well as the State Prison. It was empowered to appoint a warden and a physician, and could also "license any proper person who will serve without compensation, to visit convicts as a moral and religious instructor." The board also undertook the promulgation of rules and regulation governing the management of the inmates and their behavior, and oversaw the finances and purchases of supplies and equipment, as well as the labor of the prisoners.(Rhode Island. Public Laws 1838, Crimes and Punishment, Feb. 3, 1838).

It was not long before dissatisfaction with the two structures arose. Within a matter of a few years, prison inspectors found numerous shortcomings in the physical facility and the system implemented to manage its' inmates. In 1852, the General Assembly authorized funds for the construction of a new wing to the existing complex, which was to serve as the new state prison. It was completed in 1852. Over the next several decades additions and modifications were continuously made both to the physical structure and to the program of incarceration, which sought to find an effective balance between punishment and rehabilitation, all with a minimum of expenditure.

By the 1860s, there was significant sentiment in favor of the establishment of separate facilities for the insane, and for the poor. This gave rise to the establishment of a State Board of Charities and Corrections in 1869. Included in the legislation was provision for a House of Corrections, a State Workhouse, a State Asylum, and a State Almshouse. The State Prison and County Jail, however, continued to remain the responsibility of the Board of Inspectors of the State Prison.

In 1874 the General Assembly appointed a State Prison Commission "to build a new state prison. In anticipation of the completion of the new prison the General Assembly adopted a resolution in 1877 by which the State Prison and Providence County Jail was "merged" with the Board of State Charities and Corrections and was "to cease to have a separate existence." Rhode Island. Acts and Resolves. January 1877.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Board of State Prison Inspectors meeting minutes, 1838-1869

 Sub-Series — Volume: State Board of Prison Inspectors meeting minutes, 1838-1869
Identifier: C#00490

Board of State Prison Inspectors reports, 1871-1874

 Sub-Series — Folder: Board of State Prison Inspectors reports, 1871-1874
Identifier: C#00490

State Prison and the Providence County Jail Warden's monthly reports, 1848-1871

Identifier: 1995-291
Scope and Contents This subseries consists of monthly reports submitted by the State Prison Warden to the Board of State Prison Inspectors, who were responsible for oversight of the State Prison and Providence County Jail from 1838 to 1877.
Dates: 1848-1871