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Rhode Island. House of Corrections (1877-1972)



  • Existence: 1877-1972

Historical Note

Up until the mid-nineteenth century, the state's role in matters of social welfare was mainly regulatory and statutory. Responsibility for provision of social services resided largely with the state's cities and towns. Eventually, the state intervened more directly in the areas of social and correctional services with the establishment of a Board of State Charities and Corrections, which was then succeeded by the Public Welfare Commission.

In 1867 the General Assembly struck a joint committee to look into the feasibility of establishing a state asylum for the insane. In its 1868 report to the General Assembly, however, the committee explained that it had been necessary to broaden the inquiry to include "a thorough investigation and review of the whole subject of pauperism." The committee concluded that state action regarding the insane should properly be taken "with reference to its natural connection with pauperism." Beyond this, the committee also proposed that crime, too, bore a relationship to their investigation, as "Insanity, pauperism and crime are evils which breed upon each other." Rhode Island. Acts, Resolve and Reports, Report of the Joint Committee on the State Asylum for the Insane. Report on the State Asylum for the Insane. Appendix #7. January 1868. 10pp

The General Assembly passed a resolution directing the committee to look into the feasibility of establishing a state House of Corrections. The legislation that grew out of the committee's findings and recommendations establishing the Board of State Charities and Corrections included provision for a House of Corrections as well as a State Workhouse, which already existed in some of the state's cities and towns as far back as the 1720s. Serving as houses of confinement, the House of Corrections was meant to be something like a prison while the Workhouse something closer to a modern reformatory for those who were deemed capable of reform. The House of Corrections was meant to confine those who had committed serious criminal offenses (murder, manslaughter, rape, burglary, house-breaking) and the workhouse was intended for those deemed to have committed offenses against public "decency" by exhibiting immoral or socially unacceptable behavior (drunkenness, prostitution, disorderly conduct (“revelry".) The labor inmates were given to perform at the workhouse (and at the State Prison) was seen as an instrument of inmate reform and punishment.