Transcribed from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar.

Penitentiary, State.—The first move toward establishing a state prison for Kansas was the appointment of a penitentiary commission on Feb. 11, 1858. The following year John Ritchey, S. B. Prentiss and Fielding Johnson were appointed commissioners to erect and maintain a penitentiary for Kansas. They were given power to select a tract of land, on which good building stone could be found, and to erect temporary buildings for the accommodation of prisoners and officers until the permanent building was completed—a prison building that would be adequate for Kansas for twenty years—and the sum of $20,000 was appropriated for the purpose. No action was immediately taken and the state prisoners were kept in various places at Leavenworth for several years.

One section of article 7, of the state constitution says, "A penitentiary shall be established, the directors of which shall be appointed or elected, as prescribed by law. On May 28, 1861, M. S. Adams, C. S. Lambdin and Charles Starns were appointed commissioners to determine the location of the state penitentiary, being authorized to select "some eligible point within the county of Leavenworth, not less than 40 or more than 160 acres of land, affording, if practicable, building stone, water and other facilities." In 1863 the sum of $25,000 was appropriated for the erection of the building. This act also provided for three directors, who were to hold office as follows: One for one year, one for two years, and one for three years; thereafter their successors were to be appointed for a term of three years. The board was given power to make rules and regulations for the institution or wherever the convicts were confined; to make contracts for the labor of the convicts, the products of which were to be used exclusively to pay for the keeping and clothing of the prisoners; to appoint a warden and all necessary subordinate officers; and were required to visit the penitentiary at least once in three months to examine its management and condition.

The contract for the penitentiary was not let until 1863. The site was changed in 1864 to the high ground about 5 miles south of Leavenworth, and near the prison the town of Lansing has since grown up. The first ground was broken in 1864 and the foundation walls of the north wing were built, but it was not until 1866, when penitentiary bonds to the amount of $60,000 were sold in New York at 91 cents on the dollar, that work was resumed. The central or administration building occupies a position between the cell houses and contains the offices, living rooms for the warden and dormitories. The cell houses are each 50 by 250 feet and contain 344 cells. All these buildings are of sandstone, but some of the other buildings are of brick. It is estimated that the approximate cost of the buildings and improvements has been nearly $2,000,000. Convict labor was used in the construction of the buildings, shops and wall, or the expense would have been much greater. The prison was first occupied on July 11, 1868. The original prison yard, containing shops and other buildings, covered about 10 acres and was surrounded by a wall 20 feet high. To this has been added on the north a walled yard containing the female ward, the coal mine sheds and the brickyard. To the east, and extending to the Missouri river, is the farm of 600 acres. Beyond these limits the state has acquired the right to mine coal under a large area.

George Keller was appointed the first warden in 1863. He was followed by Warden Philbrick in 1864, and he by Harry Hopkins in 1865, who held the position for over seventeen years. In 1879 a bill was passed by the legislature authorizing the sinking of a coal shaft at the penitentiary. Warden Hopkins began it and W. C. Jones, his successor, completed it and soon had the mine on a paying basis. Several hundred prisoners were employed in the mine by contractors, and for the first time the prison became self-supporting.

Before the U. S. penitentiary and prison at Fort Leavenworth were built the military and Federal prisoners were kept at the Kansas penitentiary. The prisoners sentenced by the Oklahoma courts were also boarded at the Kansas penitentiary for a number of years, the last being removed on Jan. 31, 1909, to Oklahoma. When these convicts were being cared for there were 1,300 prisoners, although the cell houses contain only 1,084 cells. Since their removal the prison has not been filled at any time.

In 1907 a law was passed that no more contracts could be made to furnish the labor of convicts to private employers and by the end of 1909 all such contracts had expired. The aim of the Kansas penitentiary is not merely to punish prisoners for the crimes they have committed, but to reform them and make them useful men and women—to have the penitentiary a workshop where the convicts will learn some trade and be converted into honest, capable workmen.

In 1901 the parole system was established at the penitentiary, which provided for the conditional release and parole of prisoners. When the prison officials have become convinced that a convict has been confined a sufficient length of time to accomplish reformation, and they have sufficient guarantee that permanent and suitable work has been provided in some county of the state for the prisoner, they may recommend that the governor parole him. Such a person is still considered, however, to be in the legal custody of the warden of the penitentiary and may be taken back to prison at any time, if deemed best for the prisoner or society. Prisoners so released must report to the warden on the first day of each month, by mail, giving condition, employment, name of employer, and such further facts as the warden may require. A parole officer also visits the paroled convicts and assists them in every way. This system has been found most satisfactory in a large majority of cases. On the first day of a prisoners arrival at the penitentiary he is given a thorough physical examination by the prison physician and the officers in charge, and the work he is to do is decided largely by his physical condition and his previous training.

On Sept. 15, 1909, there were 811 prisoners at the penitentiary—506 white males, 262 black males, 14 white females, 21 black females, 3 Indian males, 1 Indian woman and 4 Mexicans. Most of them were serving under indeterminate sentences from one to five years, but 27 were under life sentences. Ninety per cent. had inferior educations, 76 could not sign their names, and many of those who could had learned to write while in prison. Men can be found in the penitentiary at Lansing who do nearly every kind of work, but it is systematized. Forty-three men prepare the food, act as waiters and wash the dishes for the institution, or one to every 18 inmates; one man does the laundry work for 60; one does the cell work for 40; one changes the library books once a week for all who desire a change, carrying them from the cells to the library and back again; the farm, a fine fertile piece of land, is worked by the convicts at a profit and furnishes provisions for the prison; 17 tailors and 3 shoemakers make all the clothing and shoes worn by the prisoners and the uniforms of the officers. The woman's ward is segregated, where they are provided with all the facilities for housekeeping and do all the work for themselves. They make their own clothes and do other sewing in spare time.

The prison has four departments, formerly occupied by the contract labor system, from which it derives revenue. In the coal mine are employed 258 men, and the production of coal increased from $37,979 in 1882 to $242,822 in 1908, but may fall below that since the Oklahoma prisoners have been withdrawn. The mine is operated in the most hygienic manner, lighted by electricity, etc. Some of the convicts are engaged in digging shale for the penitentiary brickyard, where a fine grade of brick is made. It is one of the well paying departments, much of the brick being used in other state institutions. The twine plant is well equipped and a high grade of twine is produced. The fourth department is known as the "tinker shop," where a variety of articles are made for sale, such as watch chains, inlaid tables, toilet articles, riding whips, canes, etc.

As early as 1882 a school was established at the penitentiary. Lessons were assigned and recitations were heard on Saturday. As the authorities realized the advantage of educating the convicts, school was also held three evenings of the week, but the night school was given up in 1908 and 1909 because of insufficient appropriation. The appropriations for the terms of 1909-10 and 1910-11 were $2,000 each, and 300 pupils were enrolled, school being taught three evenings of the week. The illiterate receive the first attention, in order that they may be taught to read and write, then the more advanced. Some prisoners have become good bookkeepers, some have learned stenography and typewriting, others have even learned the Spanish language. The officers encourage the prisoners to read and each man is allowed to draw one book a week from the prison library. In addition the men buy newspapers and magazines, 632 daily papers and 196 periodicals having been taken at the penitentiary in 1910. Each prisoner is allowed 3 3/4 cents for each day he works, and from this fund the periodicals are purchased.

New methods have been introduced at the Kansas penitentiary, most of them proving highly satisfactory and the eyes of the wardens of the penal institutions of the United States and foreign countries are turned to this state for new ideas in caring for those who have broken the laws, to see how such men and women are changed to self-respecting and useful citizens.

Pages 462-465 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.