The Resource Records of the Virginia Penitentiary

Records of the Virginia Penitentiary

Label
Records of the Virginia Penitentiary, 1796-1991
Title
Records of the Virginia Penitentiary
Inclusive dates
1796-1991
Creator
Contributor
Subject
Genre
Language
eng
Summary
  • The Virginia Penitentiary collection contains a wide variety of bound volumes and paper records spanning nearly 200 years (1796-1991; bulk 1906-1970). Included are administrative records such as annual reports, correspondence, office and subject files, minute books, photographs, blueprints, as well as specific records related to the State Convict Road Force and State Convict Lime Grinding Board. Also included are financial records such as account books, cash books, ledgers, payrolls, and receipt books. The prisoner related records include: prisoner registers, photographs and negatives, medical records, commitment orders, punishment records, escape reports, index cards and execution files. The records of the Virginia Penitentiary document the institutions' operational history, prisoners and the evolution of corrections in Virginia
  • Series I. Penitentiary Papers, 1796-1865 is housed in nine (9) boxes with oversized material separated out and is arranged into seven (7) subseries. Subseries have been designated for: Penitentiary Construction Papers, Letters of Application and Recommendation for Position of Penitentiary Keeper, Agent and Physician, Board of Inspectors and Visitors, Prisoners, Prison Conditions and Investigations, and Penitentiary Financial Records. This series consists of accounts, affidavits, contracts, deeds, letters (correspondence), minutes, muster rolls, petitions, plats, proceedings, reports and vouchers. This is an artificial series consisting of extant pre-1865 Penitentiary related records. During the evacuation of Richmond in April 1865, Penitentiary Superintendent Colin Bass carried off most of the penitentiary records and very few pre-1865 penitentiary records survive. Many of the records in this series were removed at some point from other collections such as the Office of the Governor and Auditor of Public Accounts. Additional records from the antebellum era related to the penitentiary may be found in the records of the Auditor of Public Accounts, General Assembly (especially Legislative Petitions and Executive Communications) and Office of the Governor. [3.95 cu. ft.]
  • Series II. Prisoner Records, 1865-1990 is housed in 379 boxes and contains 128 volumes and 16 reels of microfilm. The series has been divided into five (5) subseries. Subseries have been designated for: A. Registers; B. Inmate Photographs; C. Penitentiary Commitment Orders; D. Inmate Index Cards; and E. Execution Files. Contains a variety of records pertaining to prisoners at the Virginia State Penitentiary, such as prisoner registers, medical records, punishment records, prisoner photographs and negatives, commitment orders, prisoner index cards and execution files. These records provide personal information about prisoners and documentation of their incarceration. Researchers should first check this series, specifically the Prisoner Registers and Indexes, for basic information on prisoners (name, prisoner, number, age, race, crime, sentence, date of admission, date of discharge, escape, clemency, assignment outside Pententiary). This information is crucial to access other parts of the collection. For example, the prisoner number is needed to locate records in Subseries B. Photographs and Negatives; the State Convict Road Force camp number (noted on the register) is needed to access many of the records in Series V. State Convict Road Force, especially the registers, rosters and discharge lists. [79.22 cu. ft.]
  • Series III. Board of Directors (State Prison Board), 1874-1877, 1881-1942 is housed in six (6) boxes and contains 15 volumes and is arranged into three (3) subseries. Subseries have been designated for: A. Minutes; B. Correspondence and Reports; and C. Annual Reports. The Virginia Board of Directors controlled and governed the Virginia Penitentiary, State Farm and other branch prisons. The five directors (three prior to the 1902 Constitution) were appointed by the Governor. In 1942 the Virginia General Assembly created the Virginia Department of Corrections, consolidating the administration and regulation of all penal and correctional intuitions under one agency lead by the Commissioner of Corrections. This new department was overseen by a five member Board of Corrections. Corrections departments were merged into the Department of Welfare and Institutions by a government reorganization act passed by the General Assembly in 1948. In 1974 the Department of Welfare and Institutions was abolished and a new Department of Corrections was created. This series documents the activities of the Virginia State Prison Board. [3.80 cu. ft.]
  • Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, 1869-1991 (bulk 1908-1970) contains 19 volumes and is housed in 183 boxes and one over-size folder. It is arranged into eight (8) subseries. Subseries have been designated for: A. Letter Books; B. General Correspondence; C. State Convict Road Force; D. Correspondence-Office of the Governor; E. Reports and Publications; F. Guard Logs-Virginia Penitentiary; G. Reference Books; and H. Photographs. These records include letter books, correspondence, subject files, telegrams, contracts, reports, speeches, photographs, audio tapes, videotapes, lists and budgets. The Superintendent was the chief executive officer of the Penitentiary and directed its internal policy and management subject to the control of the Board of Directors (post 1902 Virginia Constitution). Prior to the 1901-1902 Constitutional Convention, the Superintendent was elected by the Virginia General Assembly to serve a two year term. In 1942 the Virginia General Assembly created the Virginia Department of Corrections, consolidating the administration and regulation of all penal and correctional intuitions under one agency lead by the Commissioner of Corrections. This new department was overseen by a five member Board of Corrections. Corrections departments were merged into the Department of Welfare and Institutions by a government reorganization act passed by the General Assembly in 1948. In 1974 the Department of Welfare and Institutions was abolished and a new Department of Corrections was created
  • This series documents the work of the Superintendent's Office at the Virginia State Penitentiary. Researchers should be aware that there are significant gaps within this series. For example there are very few correspondence prior to 1908, between 1911 and 1913, 1920s, and post World War II. The bulk of the records can be found in the General Correspondence and State Convict Road Force subseries. Topics include convict labor, penitentiary operations, prisoner escapes, paroled prisoners, prisoner information/inquiries, prisoner discipline, clemency requests, executions, employment requests, State Farm (Goochland County), State Industrial Farm for Woman (Goochland County), State Lime Grinding Plant and State Convict Road Force. Researchers should also note that additional State Convict Road Force and State Lime Grinding Plant records can be found in Series V. and VI. [76.60 cu. ft.]
  • Series V. State Convict Road Force, 1904-1965 (bulk 1906-1949) contains 50 volumes and is housed in 87 boxes. It is arranged into four (4) subseries. Subseries have been designated for: A. Prisoner Records; B. Diaries; C. Correspondence; and D. Financial Records. These records include diaries, correspondence, subject files, registers, rosters, index cards, reports, lists and financial records, This series documents the activities of the State Convict Road Force
  • The State Convict Road Force was created by the General Assembly in 1906 as part of the Withers-Lassiter “good roads” law that created the State Highway Commission. The Penitentiary was responsible for creating, administrating and supplying mobile convict road camps for use by the Highway Commission The camps were manned by felons from the Penitentiary and by misdeamants from local jails. The number and location of camps changed based upon the needs of the State Highway Commission. The Penitentiary Superintendent and/or Assistant Penitentiary Superintendent was head of the State Convict Road Force. He was assisted by a chief clerk
  • Researchers should be aware that there are significant gaps within this series. For example there are very few correspondence prior to 1926 or prisoner registers after 1925. Topics include convict labor, State Convict Road Force operations (camp supplies, payrolls, camp inventories, rations for prisoners and camp bills), prisoner escapes, and punishment reports. Prisoners in this series are sometimes referred to as "jailmen" or "stripemen". Jailmen are prisoners convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to a short term (a year or less) on the State Convict Road Force. Stripemen are convicted felons sentenced to the road force. Unlike stripemen, jailmen are not included in the Prisoner Registers or Photographs found in Series II. Prisoner Records. Researchers should also note that additional State Convict Road Force records can be found in Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, Subseries C. State Convict Road Force. [31.78 cu. ft.]
  • Series VI. State Convict Lime Grinding Board, 1914-1934, 1937 (bulk 1914-1922) is housed in 27 boxes (including five volumes), one oversize folder and contains one volume. It is arranged into four (4) subseries. Subseries have been designated for: A. Minutes; B. Correspondence; C. Financial Records; and D. Records from the Dept. of Agriculture and Commerce. These records include correspondence, minutes, orders, reports, photographs, vouchers, invoices, bills of lading, payrolls and financial records. This series documents the activities of the State Convict Lime Grinding Board
  • The State Convict Lime Grinding Board, comprised of the Governor, Superintendent and Commissioner of Agriculture, was created by the General Assembly in 1912. The Board was empowered to build facilities to grind limestone and to use convict labor. The Board was abolished by the state government reorganization act passed by the General Assembly in 1927 and its duties were transferred to the Board of Agriculture and Immigration
  • Additional information on the creation of the State Convict Lime Grinding Board may be found in the records of Governor Wiliam Hodges Mann (1910-1914), lGovernor Henry Carter Stuart (1914-1918) and Governor Westmoreland Davis (1918-1922). [12.10 cu. ft.]
  • Series VII. Financial Records, 1879-1881, 1884-1980 (bulk 1895-1933) is housed in six boxes and contains 76 volumes. Series contains a variety of financial records related to accounting, procurement of supplies, pay roll, inmate accounts, transportation expenditures by the Virginia State Penitentiary. These records include account books, cash books, journals, ledgers, and receipt books. The original order and grouping of these volumes is unclear, but an attempt was made by the processing archivist to keep similar records together based upon the headings of each volume and/or its' contents. In many instances, there are significant gaps in type of record and date. The records in this series document various aspects of the financial history of the Virginia State Penitentiary. Researchers should note that the annual reports of the Penitentiary contain financial statements (see Series III. Board of Directors, Subseries C: Annual Reports). Financial information on the State Convict Road Force can be found in Series V. SCRF, Subseries D: Financial Records
  • Notable financial records include: the check book for the purchase of the electric chair, 1908 (volume 220), inmate accounts which tracked the money earned and spent by prisoners (volumes 235-237), and pay roll material for Penitentiary guards and staff, 1903-1919 (volumes 218, 219 and 266) and 1945-1947 (volume 267). [2.69 cu. ft.]
  • Series VIII. Blueprints and Drawings, 1940-1984 is housed in four oversized folders in one map case. Series contains a variety of blueprints and drawings related to improvements or proposed improvements to the Virginia State Penitentiary. [1.33 cu. ft.]
Note
Agency history record describes the history and functions of the Virginia Dept. of Corrections. (Search Virginia Dept. of Corrections as author).
Member of
Action
  • Accessioned
  • Described
Additional physical form
available on microfilm (Miscellaneous Reels 5989-6004).
Biographical or historical data
  • In December 1796 the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation authorizing the construction of a penitentiary and providing details on its design and operation. Governor James Wood (1796-1799) selected Benjamin Henry Latrobe as architect and Thomas Callis as superintendent of the project. A twelve acre plot of land on the James River just outside of Richmond was purchased and construction began in 1797.
  • The Virginia Penitentiary opened in 1800. Latrobe's design, while architecturally impressive, was functionally flawed. The cells were large enough to hold several prisoners. However, the cell doors had no windows making it impossible to supervise the prisoners. In addition, the cells had no heat, poor ventilation and no plumbing. Prisoners also had to eat in these conditions since the penitentiary did not have a dining room. The penitentiary's day-to-day operation was overseen by a Keeper (or Superintendent), appointed by the Governor for a one year term, and deputies appointed by the Keeper. A board of twelve inspectors, appointed by the Hustings Court of the City of Richmond, oversaw penitentiary operations. In 1819 the General Assembly abolished the Board of Inspectors and created a five person Board of Directors (later reduced to three members) who were appointed by the governor; the Keeper was still appointed by the governor. An 1852 act gave the General Assembly the power to elect a superintendent for a two year term. The 1902 Constitution expanded the Board of Directors to five members and empowered the Board, not the General Assembly, to select the Superintendent for a four year term. In 1942 the Virginia General Assembly created the Virginia Department of Corrections, consolidating the administration and regulation of all penal and correctional intuitions under one agency lead by the Commissioner of Corrections. This new department was overseen by a five member Board of Corrections. Corrections departments were merged into the Department of Welfare and Institutions by a government reorganization act passed by the General Assembly in 1948. In 1974 the Department of Welfare and Institutions was abolished and a new Department of Corrections was created.
  • Two of the most influential superintendents were Evan F. Morgan (1906-1909) and Rice M. Youell (1922-1942). In 1906 Morgan established the State Convict Road Force to assist the new State Highway Commission build roads in Virginia. Beginning in 1908, all executions were centralized at the Virginia Penitentiary. Morgan oversaw the installation of the electric chair and established procedures for executions. Youell was the longest serving of any superintendent at the Virginia Penitentiary. He served as superintendent from 1922 to 1942. During this tenure he greatly expanded educational and vocational opportunities for inmates. He successfully transitioned the Penitentiary's industries to meet the requirements of the federal Hawes-Cooper Convict Labor Act of 1929. This legislation prohibited the interstate sale of prison goods and went into effect in 1934. The General Assembly passed legislation in 1934 which established the state-use principle regarding prison products created by convict labor. The law specified that prison industries should only produce items needed by state agencies or political subdivisions. Youell was selected as the first Commissioner of Corrections in 1942. In 1948 he was named director of the reorganized corrections division, a position he held until his retirement in 1960. Major Youell was elected president of the American Prison Association in 1937 and president of the Southern States Prison Association in 1955.
  • Latrobe's original structure was torn down in 1928. The Virginia Penitentiary closed in December 1990 and was torn down in 1992.
Cataloging source
VIC
Citation source
Salmon, John S., comp. A GUIDE TO STATE RECORDS IN THE ARCHIVES BRANCH OF THE VIRGINIA BRANCH OF THE VIRGINIA STATE LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1985
Label
Records of the Virginia Penitentiary
Link
http://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaead/published/lva/vi00990.xml.frame
Note
  • Part of Record Group 42 (Virginia Dept. of Corrections)
  • The Virginia Penitentiary collection came to the Library of Virginia in multiple accessions over several decades. In many cases, the original order of the material had been disturbed or was unidentifiable. In other instances, the provenance was unclear and an educated guess was made as to which person or office created the records. Care was taken to maintain the original order when possible, but for the most part, the arrangement of this collection is artificial. The series names and groupings were devised by the processing archivist in an attempt to create logical divisions within this large collection. Cross-references can be found in many series descriptions that will point the researcher to similar material in other series
  • Additionally, separate box and volume numbering systems were imposed by the processing archivist for finding aid and stack location identification purposes. The box and volume numbers should be used when requesting material, but are not always in strict numerical order
Arrangement
Arrangement varies by series.
http://library.link/vocab/branchCode
  • The Library of Virginia
Cumulative index finding aids
  • Inventory
  • Inventory
Extent
  • 211.47
  • 289 volumes.
Governing access note
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (Code of Virginia, 2.2-3705.5), Virginia Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act (Code of Virginia, 2.2-3800) and the Virginia Health Records Privacy Act (Code of Virginia, 32.1-172.1:03) establish guidelines for restricting access to medical and other confidential forms of information in order to protect personal privacy. Protected health information (PHI) as defined under the Privacy Regulations issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes, but is not limited to, personally identifiable information such as names, addresses, and social security numbers. The Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia, 42.1-78) includes a provision for closing all privacy protected information for 75 years from the date of creation. In accordance with this legislation, the Library of Virginia can and will restrict, in whole or in part, access to any privacy protected medical information or any other confidential information contained in these records. Restricted records in the Virginia Penitentiary collection may include but are not limited to: inmate medical records, inmate punishment records, execution files and records with social security numbers
Organization method
Organized into the following series: Series I. Penitentiary Papers, 1796-1865; Series II. Prisoner Records, 1865-1990; Series III. Board of Directors (State Prison Board), 1874-1877, 1881-1942; Series IV. Office of the Superintendent, 1869-1991 (bulk 1908-1970); Series V. State Convict Road Force, 1904-1965 (bulk 1906-1949); Series VI. State Convict Lime Grinding Board, 1914-1934, 1937 (bulk 1914-1922); Series VII. Financial Records, 1879-1881, 1884-1980 (bulk 1895-1933); Series VIII. Blueprints and Drawings, 1940-1984.
http://library.link/vocab/recordID
001654049
Terms governing use
There are no use restrictions.
Type of unit
cu. ft. (698 boxes, 1 map drawer)

Subject

Genre

Member of

Library Locations

    • Library of VirginiaBorrow it
      800 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA, 23219, US
      37.5415632 -77.4360805
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