Reform and Reality: An Analysis of Inmates and Incarceration Patterns at the Ohio State Reformatory 1886-1915.

Noah Barr, Ohio University
Nancy Tatarek, Ohio University

Modern studies of incarcerated populations often focus on the demographics or nature of the individuals within a specific institution. Such studies focus on inmate health, recidivism or the nature of crimes committed. During the late 19th century, a shift in views on punishment as opposed to reform changed how many people viewed large institutions and their place in the justice system. This paper analyzes one of those prisons, the Ohio State Reformatory from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. Located in Mansfield, Ohio, the Reformatory opened its doors in 1886 with the aim to house individuals who were believed to be reformable in the eyes of the justice system. We were interested in exploring the idea of inmate reformation as it might be reflected in the institutional records. This paper examines possible social correlates linked to the commission of crime in Ohio the first three decades of the Reformatory. We entered data from the Reformatory Intake Register for over 10000 inmates and analyzed several social variables such as race, immigration activities, and homelife. We also examined sentence length, time served and type of crime committed. To add to our quantitative analyses, we also examined qualitative data associated with each inmate’s entry that recorded an account of the crime for which the inmate was convicted. Not commonly see in prison records, this account was recorded at the time of each inmate’s entry into the Reformatory. This unique qualitative data was used to provide more insights into the individual inmate social circumstances with a focus on the reform attitudes of the time.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 210. Law, Incarceration and Punishment