One Record's Journey at the Ohio State Reformatory

 

One Record's Journey at the Ohio State Reformatory

A particularly confusing component of our Decomposing Bodies research has concerned the inconsistent and seemingly illogical tangle of records that surround any particular inmate within the grim walls of the Ohio State Reformatory (I alluded to this in my January post). In an attempt to get a grip on the record-keeping system of this institution in the late 18th and early 19th century, I took a few hours today mining our own unofficial image archive and trying to connect the various recordkeeping nodes extant at the Ohio History Connection's archive. I made a little timeline (see image attached) following, in particular, prisoner #1087, a laborer arrested for burglary and larceny, for whom we have both a Bertillon card and a photo of his corresponding page in the Bertillon Examination Record ledger. It seems that, as he was received in 1901, it is likely that the OSR had a version of this prisoner's record in three different locations: the Bertillon Examination Record, the Ohio Reformatory Historical Conduct Record, and his Bertillon Card. Based on the information in the Examination Record, it is evident that inmate #1087 was a recidivist, so he was within the prison system until 1919 (although he was released from the OSR in 1904).

So, to review, prisoner #1087 was evident in three different locations: two of which included Bertillon descriptions, and the third of which (the Conduct Record) included information about the inmate's ancestry, upbringing, and "condition on admittance," none of which adhered to the Bertillon system of anthropometric measurement. Had this inmate stayed at the OSR until 1910, he would likely have acquired at least a fourth record: in the "Register of Identification," which tracked the movement of inmates among institutions, but also later incorporated the categorization of prisoners by race. Finally, if this inmate had been admitted to the OSR after 1913, he would have had at least 5 extant records: in the Bertillon Examination Record ledger, the Ohio State Reformatory HIstorical Conduct Record ledger, the Bertillon card system, the Register of Identification, and the Bertillon Photo Book, a literal face book comprised just of mugshots without any additional metadata.

Why was each inmate recorded in so many disparate ledgers and drawers? When were these different recordings made, in relation to one another? How did recordkeeping occur at the Ohio Penitentiary, in contrast? These are all things that we're still trying to figure out, but I thought I'd get this initial timeline out while it's still hot off the press.
 

Categories: 
  • Visual Knowledge
  • Decomposing Bodies
  • Graduate Work
  • Faculty Work