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What is Sing Sing Correctional Facility?

Sing Sing Correctional Facility stands as a testament to America's complex penal history. Nestled on the Hudson River's banks, this maximum-security prison has housed notorious inmates since 1826. Its storied past echoes tales of reform, punishment, and redemption. Discover how Sing Sing's legacy intertwines with the evolution of the U.S. justice system. What secrets does its history hold for us?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a famous prison located in New York. Other than Alcatraz, Sing Sing is probably the most iconic prisons in the United States. This prison is still in use, with a population of 1,700 to 2,200 prisoners at any given time. It has hosted a number of notable lawbreakers, including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Albert Fish, and a number of mobsters and gangsters from the 1930s to today.

The prison is named for the town where it was built, although the town of Sing Sing later changed its name to Ossining in the hopes of avoiding association with the prison. The town had originally been named after a Native American phrase, sint sinks, which means “stone upon stone,” presumably in reference to the large deposits of rock in the area. Modern Ossining may try to avoid being linked with the prison, but it is hard to miss, name change or not.

An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber. Sing Sing Correctional Facility also housed an electric chair until 1972.
An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber. Sing Sing Correctional Facility also housed an electric chair until 1972.

Sing Sing was built in 1825 by Elam Lynds and a crew of prisoners from Auburn Prison. The site was very deliberately chosen, allowing the crew to quarry the natural rock from the area to build the facilities, and many of the structures in Ossining are also built with rock quarried by prisoners. Once the prison was established, the hope was that it could be made profitable for the state by using prison labor to quarry rock and shipping it down the conveniently located Hudson River for sale, and this proved to be the case.

Sing Sing Correctional Facility is still in use, housing roughly 2,000 prisoners at any given time.
Sing Sing Correctional Facility is still in use, housing roughly 2,000 prisoners at any given time.

The early days of Sing Sing Correctional Facility were grim. Prisoners lived under the Auburn System, which mandated solitary confinement at night, total silence on the part of the prisoners, and brutal punishments for lawbreakers. While these brutal measures were phased out in the 20th century, Sing Sing was still a forbidding place, as it housed the electric chair until New York State banned the death penalty. Today, the oldest cell blocks are no longer in use, and there is some talk of turning them into a museum.

Over the years, Sing Sing has housed many notorious mobsters.
Over the years, Sing Sing has housed many notorious mobsters.

Historically, prisoners worked hard, and many ended up being buried in the prison cemetery. A riot in 1861 led to major reforms, which continued well into the 20th century, with substantial construction occurring in the prison to make amenities like a library, hospital, and so forth available to prisoners.

Legend has it that the phrase “being sent up the river” is a reference to Sing Sing, as prisoners were historically transported up the Hudson River to reach the prison.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Sing Sing Correctional Facility?

The early days of Sing Sing Correctional Facility were grim.
The early days of Sing Sing Correctional Facility were grim.

Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a maximum-security prison located in Ossining, New York. It is one of the oldest penal institutions in the United States, having opened in 1826. The facility is known for its history, which includes the use of the electric chair for executions in the past. Today, Sing Sing houses approximately 1,700 inmates and offers various programs aimed at rehabilitation, including educational and vocational training.

What types of programs are available to inmates at Sing Sing?

Inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility have access to a range of programs designed to aid in their rehabilitation. These include educational programs where inmates can earn a GED or college degree, vocational training in various trades, substance abuse treatment, and religious services. The facility also offers programs like "Rehabilitation Through the Arts," which uses the creative arts as a tool for personal growth and development.

Has Sing Sing always been a maximum-security prison?

Since its establishment in 1826, Sing Sing has functioned primarily as a maximum-security prison. However, its role and the nature of its inmate population have evolved over time. Originally, it was built to confine the most hardened criminals, and it has maintained its status as a maximum-security facility, housing inmates who have committed serious offenses and require stringent security measures.

How did Sing Sing Correctional Facility get its name?

Sing Sing Correctional Facility got its name from the Native American Sinck Sinck tribe from whom the land was purchased. The name "Sing Sing" was derived from the Native American word "Sint Sinck," which means "stone upon stone," reflecting the rocky terrain on which the prison was built. The name has become synonymous with the prison itself over the years.

What is the historical significance of Sing Sing Correctional Facility?

Sing Sing Correctional Facility holds a significant place in American history due to its age, notorious inmates, and the fact that it was the site of 614 executions before the abolition of the death penalty in New York State. The prison's architecture, with its imposing cell blocks and location along the Hudson River, has made it an iconic symbol of the American penal system. Additionally, it has been featured in numerous films, books, and songs, further cementing its place in popular culture.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a UnitedStatesNow researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon294678

Wow. Finally I found real information online. This is a great article and the contributions @chrisinbama and @wesley91 made this article greater.

DinoLeash

@chrisinbama and @wesley91- Wow! Thanks for that great information! I had no idea that all of that happened. Thank goodness times have changed and our state correctional facilities have provided better accommodations. Great article and great comments!

wesley91

@chrisinbama- I completely agree with you. I had to do a research paper on Sing Sing and I was shocked at what I learned. I will add a little of what I learned to go along with your post.

In the 1800’s, almost 75% of the inmates were used for contract labor. They were treated very poorly. The inmates were not allowed to speak or communicate with each other. They were made to eat, work, and exist in complete silence. They were given a Bible to read and many of them memorized verses.

In the 1890’s laws were finally passed prohibiting the prison contract labor. The warden was furious because that left his prisoners with nothing to do.

Another thing that infuriated me was learning the torture methods that were used on the prisoners. Some of them were tied to chairs with a shield attached to their head. Water was poured over their head at a steady pace and many of the prisoners nearly drowned. Another form of their torture was called “bucking”. A wooden bar was placed between their arms and legs while they were sitting down. Then, the bar was lifted up by a hoist, which caused the prisoner to hang upside down. It was only used in “serious” cases.

chrisinbama

I recently read a book about Sing Sing prison. I was horrified at some of the things that I read. The prisoners did most of the labor work, building the cells. This way, the inmates could be contracted out for profit. The prisoners completed 60 of the 800 cells. The cells were three feet wide, seven feet long, and a little over six feet high. Fortunately, those cells are no longer in use.

Sing Sing became a moneymaking industry. Inmates were forced to make things such as kitchen utensils, hats, and shoes. All of the money made went to the warden and administrators. They started demanding more productivity from the already exhausted inmates. The prisoners were made to work 10 hours a day, usually without meals.

I think that everyone needs to know the history of our country. There is so much more I could say about Sing Sing but I don’t want to make this post seem like a book!

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    • An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber. Sing Sing Correctional Facility also housed an electric chair until 1972.
      An electric chair in the former Louisiana State execution chamber. Sing Sing Correctional Facility also housed an electric chair until 1972.
    • Sing Sing Correctional Facility is still in use, housing roughly 2,000 prisoners at any given time.
      By: maxriesgo
      Sing Sing Correctional Facility is still in use, housing roughly 2,000 prisoners at any given time.
    • Over the years, Sing Sing has housed many notorious mobsters.
      By: 2707195204
      Over the years, Sing Sing has housed many notorious mobsters.
    • The early days of Sing Sing Correctional Facility were grim.
      By: BortN66
      The early days of Sing Sing Correctional Facility were grim.