Central Ohios Historic Prisons (Images of America)

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The Phantom Prisoners of Ohio State Penitentiary

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Prisoners left to burn in Ohio fire - HISTORY

The People Issue. Summer Guide. Best of Cleveland. Cleveland Scene Bolivar Rd. RSS Feeds. Social Media Facebook Twitter Instagram. A separate facility for women prisoners was completed within the walls of the Ohio Penitentiary in A number of women served on death row in the prison and ultimately faced execution either by hanging or in the electric chair. A separate prison called the Ohio Reformatory for Women was completed in in Marysville and the last women left the Ohio Penitentiary.

The Ohio Penitentiary in the nineteenth century reflected the common belief that prison was more for punishment than for rehabilitation. Conditions within the prison were primitive. Prisoners first slept on straw mattresses, although eventually beds were built. Food was very simple, usually consisting of cornbread, beans, and bacon.

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Prisoners were required to work in one of the prison industries, which made everything from harnesses and shoes to barrels and brooms. Diseases spread rapidly, and in the Ohio Penitentiary became the site of the worst fire in American prison history. At total of lives were lost in the fire.

In , the penitentiary became the site for executions, which had been carried out by local law enforcement officials up to that time.


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At first, prisoners condemned to death were executed by hanging, but in the electric chair replaced the prison's gallows. A total of prisoners, both men and women, were electrocuted between and , when the death penalty was halted in Ohio. In the early twentieth century, the Ohio Penitentiary and other prisons in Ohio began to come under attack.

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Conditions within the facility were not good, and the public view of prisons was beginning to change. In addition, there were problems with bribery, and prisoners with connections received better treatment than the rest. After the fire in , there were even more demands for prison reform.

Most of the changes took place after World War II, although reforms did not come quickly enough to keep three prison riots from occurring.


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Attention was paid to conditions of overcrowding in the post-war years, but prison morale was also a very serious issue. The worst riot occurred in June A number of buildings were destroyed and five convicts were killed. After this riot, the State of Ohio began an investigation, which led to the decision to replace the facility. Over the years, thousands of prisoners were imprisoned within the Ohio Penitentiary. In April , the prison population reached a peak with 5, prisoners living there.

Memorable inmates of the penitentiary over the years included General John H. William Sydney Porter found his pen name of "O. Henry " while serving in the penitentiary in the late s.

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