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Rhode Island State Institutions Records

Historical note

Restrictions on use: As these records contain sensitive information regarding persons who may still be living, they are closed for a period of 72 years after their creation; this parallels the schedule for release of federal census information. The unrestricted portions of volumes which also contain restricted data may be viewed under close supervision of the manuscripts curator. Scholars who desire statistical information from the records may be, at the discretion of the curator, permitted to view the later volumes, though no notes may be taken regarding names of inmates.

The Rhode Island State Institutions, a group of correctional and charitable facilities located in the town of Cranston, have had a complex history under many different jurisdictions. The state's central prison buildings, however, have always been a common thread.

Although various forms of town and county jails were in operation in Rhode Island from the early colonial times, the first state-operated prison was not built until 1838, in Providence. This building quickly proved to be unsuitable, and the state purchased land in the Cranston village of Howard in 1869. This land, known as the State Farm, was managed by the Board of State Charities and Corrections until circa 1920. Several institutions were built there, including: the State Workhouse and House of Corrections; the State Hospital for the Insane; the State Almshouse (renamed the State Infirmary in 1917); the State Prison and Providence County Jail (managed jointly); and the State Reform Schools (the Sockanosset School for Boys, and the Oaklawn School for Girls).

The State Workhouse and House of Corrections building held men and women; it was also the home for the women's county jail and state prison inmates. The male workhouse inmates were phased out, and it became the State Reformatory for Women in 1924. It was closed circa 1968.

The State Prison and Providence County Jail in Cranston was built in 1878; it eventually evolved into the Adult Correctional Institution, which remains in operation today. Federal inmates have also been kept in this facility over the years.

The governing body for the State Institutions changed over the years, becoming variously the State Public Welfare Commission, the Department of Public Welfare and the Department of Social Welfare. Though some of its inmates have been under federal or county jurisdiction, the institutions seem to have always been operated by the state of Rhode Island. The titles of Keeper of the State Prison and Warden of the County Jail were held jointly by the same man.