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Auburn Correctional Facility

Coordinates: 42°56′05″N 76°34′27″W / 42.93472°N 76.57417°W / 42.93472; -76.57417
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Auburn Correctional Facility
Location135 State Street Auburn, New York
Coordinates42°56′05″N 76°34′27″W / 42.93472°N 76.57417°W / 42.93472; -76.57417
Security classMaximum security
Managed byNew York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
DirectorJoseph E. Corey (superintendent)

Auburn Correctional Facility is a state prison on State Street in Auburn, New York, United States. It was built on land that was once a Cayuga village.[2] It is classified as a maximum security facility.


Constructed in 1816[3] as Auburn Prison, it was the second state prison in New York (after New York City's Newgate, 1797–1828), the site of the first execution by electric chair in 1890, and the namesake of the "Auburn system," a correctional system in which prisoners were housed in solitary confinement in large rectangular buildings, and performed penal labor under silence that was enforced at all times. The prison was renamed the Auburn Correctional Facility in 1970.[1] The prison is among the oldest functional prisons in the United States.

In its early years, the prison charged a fee to tourists in order to raise funds for the prison. Eventually, to discourage most visitors, the fee was increased.

The current front of Auburn Prison. Note the two guard towers on either side and Copper John on top
The current front of Auburn Prison. Note the two guard towers on either side and Copper John on top

Auburn system[edit]

Lockstep in the Auburn Prison
Elam Lynds, the first warden of the Auburn Penitentiary, is credited with creating the "Auburn (or Congregate) system."
Female prisoners in Auburn's workshop

In contrast with the purely reformatory type prison instituted in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia System introduced by the Quakers, the "Auburn system" modified the schedule of prayer, contemplation, and humane conditions with hard labor.

Prisoners were compelled to work during the day, and the profit of their labor helped to support the prison. Prisoners were segregated by offense; additionally they were issued clothing that identified their crime. The traditional American prison uniform, consisting of horizontal black and white stripes, originated at the Auburn prison. The prisoners had their heads closely cropped and walked in lockstep, keeping step with their heads bowed. Each prisoner placed a hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him to maintain a rigid separation.

There was a communal dining room so that the prisoners could gather together for meals, but a code of silence was enforced harshly at all times by the guards. Thus the inmates worked and ate together, but in complete silence. At night the prisoners were kept in individual cells (even though the original plan called for double cells).

For several decades, this system was adopted by other jurisdictions. This system was also called the "Congregate System." The Sing Sing Correctional Facility, also in New York, was built using this system under the supervision of the former warden of the Auburn prison, Elam Lynds.

As of 2010, Auburn Correctional Facility is responsible for the manufacturing of New York State's license plates.[4]

Riots and uprisings[edit]

Auburn has "a long history of controversy, scandal, and riot."[5]

It has been the site of several notable riots over the years, including November 1820 and a race-related riot in 1921. The most serious were two related incidents in the summer and winter of 1929. On July 28, 1929—only a week after a similar incident at Clinton Prison in Dannemora—inmates sprayed acid in an officer’s face and gained access to the prison's armory. Prison shops were set on fire, six buildings were destroyed, and four prisoners escaped. Two inmates were killed and one wounded, and five officers were injured. Later that year, on December 11, Warden Edgar Jennings and six guards were taken hostage by a group of inmates, some of whom had obtained guns in the July riot and concealed them in the interim. This uprising caused the death of Principal Keeper George A. Durnford as well as eight prisoners. Three inmates were later charged, convicted, and executed at Sing Sing for their roles in the riots.[6][7]

On November 4, 1970, inmates succeeded in seizing control of the facility and held 50 people, including guards and outside construction workers, hostage for more than eight hours. The incident was attributed to increasing racial tensions and to prisoners' rights being violated.[8]

Copper John[edit]

Copper John as he is today
The original Copper John

Copper John is a statue of an American Revolutionary War soldier that stands atop the Auburn Correctional Facility. It has entered the local lexicon as a reference to the prison and aspects of it, for example, getting sent to Auburn Prison is "going to work for Copper John."

"John" was originally a wooden statue that was erected atop the administration office of the prison in 1821. In 1848, the statue had weathered so much that it was taken down and a new statue was made out of copper by the prisoners in the prison foundry. In 2004, the New York state government became aware that the statue was fashioned to be "anatomically correct" and ordered the statue to be "incorrected". Some correctional officers made an impromptu protest by passing out T-shirts showing the iconic statue and reading "Save Copper John's Johnson"; but the statue was nonetheless removed, his penis was filed off, and remounted in August.[9]


The warden was an administrative position appointed by the New York State Commissioner of Correction. Currently, the heads of all New York State correctional facilities are termed "superintendent".

Principal keepers[edit]

The principal keeper operated the prison on a day-to-day basis. Many went on to become wardens.[20]

Notable inmates[edit]

The execution of William Kemmler, August 6, 1890


  1. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). www.correctionalassociation.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 March 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ a b c d "Auburn Prison Beginnings". Retrieved 2014-09-01. William Brittin, who died in 1821, master carpenter and builder of the prison who became its first agent and warden ... Elam Lynds, a lash wielding principal keeper who delighted in enforcing discipline. He was sadistic by nature.
  3. ^ McHugh, Eileen (2010). Auburn Correctional Facility. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0738572529.
  4. ^ Kirst, Sean. Doing time on the license plate line: Auburn inmates crank out every plate in the state . Syracuse.com. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  5. ^ "Prison Has History of Riot and Reform," New York Times, 5 Nov 1970
  6. ^ "Riots and Reconstruction", Cayuga Museum of History and Art
  7. ^ "Convicts riot, put torth[check spelling] to Auburn Prison," New York Times, 29 July 1929
  8. ^ "Auburn Prisoners Hold 50 Hostages Eight Hours," New York Times, 5 Nov 1970
  9. ^ Bulkot, Mary (28 August 2004). "Copper John will return to his post". Auburn Citizen. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  10. ^ a b Jennifer Graber (2011). The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons & Religion in Antebelllum America. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 73–102. ISBN 978-0-8078-3457-2.
  11. ^ a b "Changes In The Prisons. James C. Stout To Succeed Warden Durston At Auburn". The New York Times. April 4, 1893. Retrieved 2014-09-03. Gov. Flower has undertaken to 'shake up' the State prison Wardens, and some lively developments may be looked for during the next two weeks. Orders will be issued within a day or two directing Warden Charles A. Durston to proceed to Sing Sing Prison and relieve Warden William B. Brown, who will be requested to walk into the secluded shades of private life. ... The new Warden of Auburn Prison is to be James C. Stout of Auburn, and thereby hangs a political tale particularly interesting at this time ...
  12. ^ "Ex-Warden James C. Stout Dead" (PDF). The New York Times. May 31, 1901. Retrieved 2014-09-03.
  13. ^ "George W. Benham, Retired Banker and Former Auburn Prison Warden". The New York Times. February 18, 1941. Retrieved 2014-09-02. George W. Benham, retired Auburn banker, former warden of Auburn Prison and for many years ...
  14. ^ a b "Christian Takes Control At Auburn. New Acting Warden Consults With Kieb and Starts Study of Situation". The New York Times. December 15, 1929. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Dr. Frank L. Christian, superintendent of the Elmira Reformatory, took charge of Auburn prison tonight as acting warden. He at once started a study of conditions. It is likely that Warden Jennings will go away for a needed rest. ..
  15. ^ a b "Picks J.L. Hoffman As Auburn Warden. Kieb Appoints Assistant Superintendent At Napanoch To Succeed Jennings. He Is Veteran In Service. Entered The State's Employ In 1902 As A Guard At Elmira. Fought in Two Wars". The New York Times. January 11, 1930. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Captain John L. Hoffman, assistant superintendent of the Institution for Defective Delinquents at Napanoch, was appointed ...
  16. ^ "Warden Ordered To Take Charge of Auburn". Greeley Daily Tribune. Associated Press. December 14, 1929. Retrieved 2014-09-01 – via Newspapers.com. Dr. Frank Christian, superintendent of Elmira reformatory ... Guy L. Meekor, chief of the reformatory.
  17. ^ "Rule At Auburn Shifted, Dr. Christian Is In Charge. Governor Speeds Inquiry". The New York Times. December 15, 1929. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Governor Roosevelt acted with speed today in taking steps to solve the prison problem at Auburn following Wednesday's riot there. ...
  18. ^ "Dr. Heacox Named Warden At Auburn. Heart Attack Forces Captain Hoffman To Resign Post He Took After Mutiny. 'Slow Up,' Doctor Advised New Appointee Physician At Prison". The New York Times. March 19, 1930. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Dr. Frank L. Heacox, chief physician of Auburn prison, was appointed acting warden today, succeeding Captain John L. Hoffman, whose resignation as warden was accepted by Dr. Raymond F.C. Kieb, Commissioner of Correction.
  19. ^ "Sing Sing Prison Gets New Warden. Denno, 24 Years in State's System, Succeeds Retiring Snyder". The New York Times. December 23, 1950. Retrieved 2014-09-02. Wilfred L. Denno, a veteran of twenty-four years of service in the State prison system, was appointed warden of New York's famed Sing Sing prison today ... Robert E. Murphy, 51, principal keeper at Green Haven Prison, who was appointed warden at Auburn to succeed John Foster
  20. ^ "The Evolution of the New York Prison System". Retrieved 2014-09-01. ... the warden's first assistant, who was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the prison, was known as the "'principal keeper.'
  21. ^ a b "New Keeper Killed By Auburn Convict. Third In 3 Years. E.L. Beckwith Is Stabbed To Death In Mess Hall By Westchester Inmate As 900 Look On. 7-Year Grudge The Cause. Slayer Believed Four Months Solitary Imposed On Him Long Ago Was Unjust". The New York Times. March 6, 1930. Retrieved 2014-09-01. Edward L. Beckwith, principal keeper of Auburn prison since the death of George Durnford, for whose murder Max Becker, a convict, now is on trial for his life, was stabbed and killed today by a long-term prisoner in the mess hall, where 900 inmates were having their midday meal. ...
  22. ^ "Metro Briefing | New York: White Plains: Man Sentenced for 3 Murders". The New York Times. 11 July 2002.
  23. ^ "The Trial and Execution of Leon Czolgosz". Buffalohistoryworks.com. Archived from the original on 2016-11-14. Retrieved 2016-12-18.
  24. ^ Gooley, Lawrence P. (2009). Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow. Peru, NY: Bloated Toe Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9795741-3-9.
  25. ^ See New York State Archives, Record Group B0048, New York (State). Dept. of State, Respites and commutations, 1854-1931, Friday, May 16, 1884, Commutation of Sentence, Vol. 2, p. 31. He was not pardoned and thus still a convicted criminal but out of prison by reason of old age and various promises, later broken. He was subsequently convicted and incarcerated in Kings County Penitentiary until shortly before his death in 1889.
  26. ^ Abraham Myerson, introduction to Prison Days and Nights, by Victor F. Nelson (New York: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., 1936)
  27. ^ Merrill, Anthony. "The Man Who Broke Charlestown". Boston Sunday Advertiser Green Magazine. December 17, 1939.
  28. ^ "Movie Made Escaped Convict Go Back to Charleston Prison". The Boston Sunday Post. December 17, 1939.
  29. ^ "YaleNews | First-known prison narrative by an African-American writer discovered at Yale's Beinecke Library". News.yale.edu. 2013-12-12. Retrieved 2016-12-18.
  30. ^ Burke, Caroline (2019-06-03). "Korey Wise Learning Disability & Confession Tape: Is He Still in Jail?". Heavy.com. Retrieved 2019-07-11.

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