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Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison in the Village of Ossiningmarker, Town of Ossining, New York, United Statesmarker. It is located approximately 30 miles (48 km) north of New York Citymarker on the banks of the Hudson River. Ossining's original name, "Sing Sing", was named after the Native American Sinck Sinck tribe from whom the land was purchased in 1685.

Sing Sing houses approximately 1,700 prisoners.There are plans to convert the original 1825 cell block into a museum.


In March 1796, legislation was passed requiring the building of two state prisons in New Yorkmarker, one in Albanymarker and the other somewhere in southern New York. In addition to the plan for the construction of the two prisons, there was to be appointed a "Board of inspectors," whose job was to "statedly visit the prisons, purchase clothing, bedding, raw materials for manufacturing purposes and to keep an account of the earnings and expenses of each prison" ; the law also provided that the state governor and Council were to appoint a "Keeper, who was to be of some mechanical profession." No prison was built in Albany, but one was constructed in Auburnmarker, beginning in April 1815 and opening a year later.

In 1825, the New York Legislature gave Elam Lynds the task of constructing a new, more modern prison. Lynds was the warden of Auburn Prisonmarker and a former Army captain. He spent months researching possible locations for the prison, considering Staten Islandmarker, The Bronxmarker, and Silver Mine Farm, an area in the town of Mount Pleasantmarker, located on the banks of the Hudson River.

Warden T.
He also visited New Hampshiremarker, where a prison was successfully constructed by inmate labor, using stone that was available on site. For this reason, by May, Lynds had finally decided on Mount Pleasant, located near a small village in Westchester Countymarker with the unlikely name of Sing Sing. This appellation was derived from the Indian words, "Sinck Sinck" which translates to "stone upon stone". The legislature appropriated $20,100 to purchase the site, and the project received the official stamp of approval. Lynds hand-selected 100 inmates from his own private stock for transfer and had them transported by barge along the Erie Canal to freighters down the Hudson River. On their arrival on May 14, the site was "without a place to receive them or a wall to enclose them"; "temporary barracks, a cook house, carpenter and blacksmith’s shops" were rushed to completion.

When it was completed in 1826, Sing Sing was considered a model prison, because it turned a profit for the state. Lynds employed the Auburn system, which imposed absolute silence on the prisoners; the system was enforced by whipping and other brutal punishments. After Lynds left in the wake of a scandal involving the pregnancy of a female prisoner , conditions at the prison began to deteriorate. Fires and disease became common, and in 1861, the governor called in the Army to quell a riot.

A cell in the older facility
Another notable warden, besides Lynds, was Lewis Lawes. He was offered the position of warden in 1919, accepted in January 1920, and remained for 20 years as Sing Sing's warden — a position which had been filled by nine separate people in the nine years prior to 1920, one of those for only three weeks. What he found was a facility that had lost any semblance of order through decades of neglect and abuse. Records documented 795 male and 102 female prisoners at Sing Sing; a head count turned up only 762 and 82 actually present. "How these missing prisoners had left the prison or when, could not be ascertained," he said. Worse still, for one prisoner who had been incarcerated for five years, there was no record of admission or retention history. He was declared a "volunteer," and released on the spot. Also, more than $30,000 in cash was missing from prison bank accounts, and there was no trace as to where the money went. Lewis Lawes made many positive changes and put inmates in positions within the prison he knew he could trust.

For example, when Lawes came across Jimmy DeStefano on the prison roster, he recognized the name from when the inmate was a young orphaned boy running the streets of Little Italy with Al Capone and the Five Points Gang. Knowing he could be trusted and depended upon to do one of the most stressful assignments in Sing Sing Prison, he assigned him as the barber in the Death House. He remained in that position longer than any other inmate barber ever had. During the five years he was barber, he gave 46 men and one woman their final haircuts. The woman, Ruth Snyder, was executed for murdering her husband in order to gain insurance money. A New York Daily News photographer hid a camera on his ankle, and the moment the first jolt of electricity passed through Ruth Snyder's body, he snapped the most famous and only picture ever taken during an execution. This photo is still in demand today. Before Warden Lawes, documented punishments were brutal, and described a long history of abuse by both prison guards and wardens; this changed under Warden Lewis E. Lawes, who implemented historic reforms.

Contribution to English vernacular

  • The expression "being sent up the river" as a metaphor for being sent to prison stems from those convicted in New York City being sent up the Hudson River to Sing Sing.

Theater and Arts Program

In 1996, Katherine Vockins founded Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA) at Sing Sing . RTA works in collaboration with theater professionals to provide prisoners with a curriculum of year-round theater-related workshops . The RTA program has put on a number of plays at Sing Sing open to prisoners and community guests. The program has shown that the use of dramatic techniques leads to significant improvements in the cognitive behavior of the program's participants inside prison and a reduction in recidivism once paroled . The impact of RTA on social and institutional behavior was formally evaluated by John Jay College for Criminal Justice, in collaboration with the NYS Department of Corrections. . Led by Dr. Lorraine Moller, Professor of Speech and Drama at John Jay, The study found that RTA had a positive impact on prisoners who participated in the program, showing that "the longer the inmate was in the program, the fewer violations he committed." . The RTA program currently operates at 5 other New York state prisons .



  1. " History of Ossining." Greater Ossining Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved on December 21, 2008.
  2. Hub System: Profile of Inmate Population Under Custody on January 1, 2007. State of New York, Department of Correctional Services.
  3. Village looks to create Sing Sing museum, May 22, 2007.
  4. Crime Library profile of Sing Sing Prison
  5. "The History of Sing Sing Prison, by the Half Moon Press, May 2000"
  6. Google Books
  7. "New York State Archives: Institutional Records: Sing Sing Correctional Facility"
  8. [1]
  9. New York Times: For Inmates, a Stage Paved With Hope May 27, 2007
  10. New York Times: For Inmates, a Stage Paved With Hope May 27, 2007
  11. Rehabilitation Through the Arts homepage
  12. Program Objectives - Rehabilitation Through the Arts homepage
  13. The Impact of RTA on Social and Institutional Behavior Executive Summary Lorraine Moller, Ph.D
  14. Rehabilitation Through the Arts homepage

Further reading

  • The Repression of Crime, Studies in Historical Penology by Harry Elmer Barnes. Montclair, NJ: Patterson Smith.
  • Fifty Years of Prison Service by Zebulon Reed Brockway. Montclair, NJ: Patterson Smith.
  • The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism by James McGrath Morris (2003)
  • Crash Out: The True Tale of a Hell's Kitchen Kid and the Bloodiest Escape in Sing Sing History by David Goewey (2005)
  • Miracle at Sing Sing: How One Man Transformed the Lives of America's Most Dangerous Prisoners by Ralph Blumenthal (2005)
  • Sing Sing: The Inside Story of a Notorious Prison by Denis Brian (2005)
  • Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House by Scott Christianson (2000)
  • Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover (2000), ISBN 0-375-50177-0
  • A Good Conviction a novel by Lewis M. Weinstein (2007), ISBN 1595941622
  • 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom by Anthony Papa (2004), ISBN 1932595066
  • Lawes, Lewis E.. 20,00 Years in Sing Sing. 1st. New York: Ray Long & Richard H. Smith, Inc., 1932.
  • Sing Sing State Prison, One Day, One Lifetime, by Al Bermudez Pereira (2006), ISBN 978-0805972900.
  • Death Row Women by Mark Gado (2008) ISBN 978-0-275-99361-0

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