Largest Maximum Security Prison in New York
Story by Andrea Guynup
Every day, hundreds of local residents enter what is commonly referred to as the little Siberia and hear the heavy steel door clang shut behind them, confining them in the largest maximum security prison in New York state.
To some, the prison is simply what lies behind the miles of gray concrete walls that rest along the rolling, Dannemora hills, and yet to many Northeast residents, Clinton Correctional Facility serves not only as a place of employment, but as part of a longtime family livelihood tradition.
"At one time, just about everyone who lived in the village worked here," said Peter Light, a retired correctional officer and founder of the Clinton Correctional Facility museum, located inside the building.
When it all began
The prison was established in 1845 after a period of steady unrest in New York. The small town of Dannemora was soon chosen as the third site for a state prison due to its prime location in the valley, the iron mines, and the hills of Lyon Mountain. It began as a small, outpost prison with a few small buildings surrounded by a wooden stockade fence.
As the number of inmates continued to rise, the number of renovations and security measures increased to accommodate the growing population. For example, the surrounding wall that was first a wooden fence was soon reconstructed and built out of stone. According to Light, all the old stone cut for the original wall came from Lyon Mountain. Years later, as the prison continued to expand, the stone wall was replaced by high concrete walls, complete with enclosed guard towers.
Clinton Correctional was initially intended to house approximately five hundred inmates, and has since grown to hold more than 2,700, while employing over 1,400 officers. Due to the lack of transportation when the prison was constructed, employees were initially required to live in the village so they would be close in the event of a problem. As advances in transportation began, more local residents from outside of Dannemora began working at the facility. Soon, the prison became a traditional job opportunity for many local families.
"At one time, just about everyone who lived in the village worked here."
As tuberculosis began sweeping across the nation, Dannemora soon became the location of choice for many criminals. Many inmates fought off death as they became infected with tuberculosis, and doctors recommended that they be shipped upstate. The fresh air of the Adirondacks was known to help tuberculosis patients breath more easily. By 1941, the demand for a larger hospital on site led to the construction of the current Dannemora State Hospital.
"Inmates would come from all over New York to get a breath of fresh air."
The new hospital was built to accommodate two hundred inmates and served as a general doctor's office, a psychiatric facility, and tuberculosis hospital. After the rise of new medication during World War II, the number of tuberculosis patients at the prison slowly began to decline. The hospital still exists today and continues its daily operations as a general hospital and dental facility.
Disciplinary practices inside the prison
Disciplinary practices at the prison were
much harsher in the 1800s. Initially, there were no bathing facilities
and inmates were forced to wear the degrading stripped uniform, walk in
lockstep, and spend the day in silence. Some officers grew fond of the
leather paddle and tied unruly inmates to the floor and beat them for
Fires, riots, and rebellion
Since almost the beginning, the prison has been plagued by a series of
fires and life-threatening rebellions. Several officers have been killed
and injured as they fought to protect their friends, inmates, and innocent
community members who live outside the walls. The 1929 riot is the most
infamous altercation between inmates and guards in the prison history.
The industry inside the confines
In the beginning, iron mining was the main operation of the prison, with three main mines scattered within the structure's walls. Inmates would dig deep into the rich mountain soil in search for iron.
By 1877, as the iron value depreciated and through political interference, iron mining soon became a forgotten memory at the prison. Still, the state wanted to provide employment for the convicts and soon created additional industries at the jail. Throughout the years, convicts have performed many jobs inside the gated community; from the daily maintenance and repairs, to making shoes and sewing uniforms to send to other state institutions.
The prison's affect in New York
Famous people have been incarcerated at Clinton
Correctional in the past:
Remnants of the old prison
still exist today at the museum:
|Copyright © 2001 - 2006 All Points North. All Rights Reserved|