East Jersey State Prison
|Location||1100 Woodbridge Road
Avenel, New Jersey
|Managed by||New Jersey Department of Corrections|
East Jersey State Prison (EJSP), originally "Rahway State Prison", was established in 1896 as the first reformatory in New Jersey. It is a maximum-security institution operated by the New Jersey Department of Corrections, housing approximately 1,500 men as of 2013[update].
- Although the prison's mailing address is in Rahway, the prison is located just outside of Rahway in Avenel in Woodbridge Township.
- The prison's large dome is a landmark visible from nearby US Route 1-9 and New Jersey Transit's North Jersey Coast Line routes.
- The demographic makeup of the prisoners has changed significantly since it opened in 1901.
- The Education Department of East Jersey State Prison offers a variety of programs to the inmates. Vocational training courses include auto-body, auto mechanics, culinary arts, painting and decorating, and horticulture. The prison offers primary education (A.B.E. Course) and secondary education (GED) courses to the inmates. Inmates who are high school or GED graduates can take college classes offered through Union County College’s “Project Inside” program.
In 1895, the New Jersey Legislature voted to establish the state’s first reformatory. A year later, construction began at Rahway on state property known as Edgar Farm. "Rahway State Prison" opened in 1901 and originally housed first-time male offenders between the ages of 16 and 30.
The first superintendent, J. E. Heg, served only for a year. He was succeeded by Joseph W. Martin, who led the institution until his death in 1909. Martin was succeeded by Dr. Frank Moore, who retired in 1929.
The prison features a large walled compound 21 acres (85,000 m2) in size, which contains the administration building, cell houses, schoolrooms, chapel, shops, and other buildings. The prison was surrounded by hundreds of acres of farmland that the inmates worked. By 1908, there were two four-tiered cell houses. One cell house contained 256 cells measuring 9’x5’x8.6’H, while the other had 384 cells that were only 7.1’x5’x8’H. A 1928 inspection reported that the cells were equipped “with a fair quality of toilet and lavatory.”
New Jersey Reformatory
When the institution opened in 1901, it was called simply the New Jersey Reformatory and held 193 men. The number of inmates had increased to 525 by 1912 and to 745 by 1928. Of the 514 prisoners admitted during 1928, 304 (59%) were under twenty years of age, 164 (32%) were twenty to twenty-four, and 46 (9%) were from twenty-five to twenty-nine years old, with a racial breakdown of 406 (79%) White and 108 (21%) African-American.
Rahway was originally run on a conduct “grading” system. A book of rules and regulations supplied to each inmate when he arrived discussed what was expected of him and the consequences of violating the rules. All inmates entered the prison in the “second grade” and had the opportunity to advance or be demoted depending on their behavior. Inmates in different grades were granted different privileges.
The inmates' days at Rahway consisted primarily of school and work. They woke at 5:45 a.m. with lights out at 9 p.m. Those who had to attend school went to classes for half the day and worked the other half. The prison offered vocational training and jobs, including tailoring, cooking, shoe-making, printing, electrical work, farming/gardening, plumbing, and painting.
Transition to adult prison
In 1930, construction began on additions to the institution. Between 1931 and 1932, industrial and laundry buildings were added. A new dormitory wing, “Two Wing,” was built in 1932. It contained two dormitories housing 150 men each, thereby increasing the prison’s capacity to 900 inmates. In 1951, Rahway’s capacity was furthered increased to 1,000, when the last wing, “Three Wing,” was constructed. As years passed, renovation on the institution continued. In 1967, one of the old buildings was improved and made into “Five Wing.” From 1985 to 1988, trailers were erected and old buildings renovated (textile and laundry) for housing and dining facilities. These new additions became “Six, Seven, and Eight Wings.”
Riots and escapes
From April 17–22, 1952, prisoners took officers hostage during a riot after officers beat inmates with nightsticks. The riot ended when the inmates were gassed. On Thanksgiving Day in 1971, 500 inmates held 6 hostages, including the warden, for 24 hours. Six officers were injured, three with stab wounds in the early hours of the riot. The inmates demanded a more sufficient diet, regulation of commissary prices, improvement of the educational system and vocation training, better discipline of officers, and additional medicine supplies including aspirin. Ultimately, the prison was retaken with no loss of life and the captives were set free without the use of firearms.
On August 11, 1972, three convicted murderers escaped by sawing through the bars of a third-floor window. Three officers were held responsible for the escape and suspended. In August 1980, in an effort to reduce the numbers of escapes, the prison issued gray prison uniforms to the prisoners.[clarification needed]
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter - (prison #45472) Carter spent over 18 years at Rahway (1967-1985). He was a well-known, former heavyweight fighter before being convicted and sentenced to two life terms for murder. Rubin wrote an autobiography while serving time at Rahway titled, The Sixteenth Round, which was published in 1975. The book became instrumental in having his convictions overturned, inspiring many to take up for Rubin's cause. In fact it made Rubins's struggle somewhat of a cause célèbre, motivating legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali, to lead a march of 1600 people to the New Jersey state capital on his behalf on October 17, 1975. Carter's book also inspired a song by popular folk rock singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan in 1975. Dylan held a concert on Rubin's behalf, called "Night of the Hurricane", playing for 20,000 people in December 1975, just 3 months before Carter's first conviction was overturned. A movie, portraying Rubin's story and starring Denzel Washington was released in 1999. The best-selling biography, Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter, was written by James S. Hirsch in 2000.
Robert Reldan - Serving a life sentence for two counts of murder.
Prison name change
On November 30, 1988, at the request of the citizens of Rahway, NJ, Rahway State Prison was renamed East Jersey State Prison. Residents claimed that being identified with the prison stigmatized the city and affected property values. However, residents in the region surrounding still refer to building by its former name.
East Jersey in popular culture
High-profile professional boxers who were incarcerated in East Jersey State Prison:
- Former middleweight contender Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, who was released in 1985 after being sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
- Dwight Muhammad Qawi, who became a two-time world champion after his release from East Jersey State Prison.
- James Scott, a title contender, who had many bouts inside the prison itself, including a fight against Dwight Muhammad Qawi in 1981.
- Former middleweight contender Rubin Carter, was the inspiration for the 1975 Bob Dylan song, "Hurricane" and the 1999 film, The Hurricane.
- The Lifers' Group, a government-sponsored hip hop music program for long term inmates, started at East Jersey State Prison. Similar to the acclaimed film, Scared Straight!, the songs were aimed to discourage children from falling into a life of crime. In 1991, the group released an album and an EP, titled “#66064”, featuring songs, "The Real Deal" and "Belly of the Beast". A 30-minute documentary, directed by Penelope Spheeris, focusing on the group's songs and depicting life in East Jersey State, was released in 1992. The film was nominated for a Grammy in 1992 in the 'Best Music Video, Long Form' category. Madonna won the award; the other nominees included: Billy Joel, Sinéad O'Connor, and Peter Gabriel.
- "Rahway Prison" is mentioned in the lyrics of the Traveling Wilburys 1988 song "Tweeter and the Monkey Man"
- "Rahway State" is mentioned in the lyrics of the East River Pipe song "Where Does All The Money Go?"
- In 2003, the prison is mentioned in an episode of Arrested Development (season 1, episode 5,“Visiting Ours"). Character, George Bluth is concerned for his prison's softball team because they are "...playing Rahway next week..."
- In 2008, Rahway State Prison is mentioned in the Flavor of Love 3 episode, "Neverwed Game" Guest star, Arsenio Hall comments on Flavor Flav's clothes, saying that Flav looks good in the color orange, as long as it does not say "Rahway" across the front.
East Jersey State Prison has appeared in many feature films. Its distinctive architecture, including the large dome and radial cell blocks, along with its imposing metal gates and proximity to New York City, has made it a favorable filming location.
- Crazy Joe (1974) - Starring Peter Boyle. The story of the life of Joseph Gallo, a member of the Colombo crime family.
- Scared Straight! (1978) The prison became famous and synonymous with the 1978 Oscar-winning documentary, Scared Straight!. The movie was filmed entirely within the walls of the prison. It was a raw, unscripted expose of prison life, where inmate with life sentences (called The Lifers' Group) fiercely warned delinquent teens of the brutal realities of prison. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1978, and two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement–Informational Program and Outstanding Informational Program in 1979.
- Something Wild (1986) - Starring Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith and Ray Liotta
- Lock Up (1989) - Starring Sylvester Stallone and Donald Sutherland
- City of Hope (1991) - (Reference made to the prison)
- Malcolm X (1992) - Starring Denzel Washington
- Rounders (1998) - Starring Matt Damon and Edward Norton
- He Got Game (1998) - Starring Denzel Washington
- The Hurricane (1999) - The biographical drama of boxer, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, starring Denzel Washington
- Ocean's Eleven (2001) - Starring Brad Pitt and George Clooney
- Jersey Boys (2014) - directed and produced by Clint Eastwood based on the musical, telling the story of the musical group, The Four Seasons.
- Cox, William, Lovell Bixby and William Root,"Handbook of American Prisons and Reformatories," Vol. 1, NY: The Osborne Assoc., 1933
- State of New Jersey Department of Corrections Contact Us. Accessed December 23, 2013.
- White, K., East Jersey State Prison Celebrates 100 Years, 1996, available from East Jersey State Prison
- East Jersey State Prison: Brief History, March 1995, available from East Jersey State Prison
- Garret, Paul and Austin MacCormick, "Handbook of American Prison and Reformatories," NY: National Society of Penal Information, Inc., 1929
- Reilly, M., "Locked In Time: East Jersey State Prison marks 100 years of changeing [sic?] penal roles. The Star Ledger. March 26, 1996.
- "Riot at the big house", Home News Tribune, August 17, 2004. Accessed August 6, 2007.
- JANSON, DONALD (October 18, 1975). "Ali Leads 1,600 at a Rally in Trenton For Release of Carter From Prison". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2017 – via www.nytimes.com.
- "Rubin Carter Biography - Boxer (1937–2014)". www.Biography.com. February 16, 2016. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
- Newton, Michael. "Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans - Robert R. RELDAN". www.murderpedia.org. Retrieved February 13, 2017.
- What's in a name? Plenty if we're talking prison, Home News Tribune, February 15, 2001.
- Reilly, M., 100 years inside (and outside) the walls. The Star Ledger. March 26, 1996
- Raab, Selwyn. "UNUSUAL LEGAL MOVE FREED RUBIN CARTER, LAWYERS SAY", The New York Times, November 10, 1985. Accessed November 11, 2007. "Mr. Carter had received two consecutive life terms, or a minimum of 30 years. Judge Sarokin ordered him released from Rahway State Prison without bail on Friday."
- "Dwight Muhammad Qawi". International Boxing Hall of Fame. 2004. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
- LUSTIG, JAY (January 5, 2015). "‘Belly of the Beast,’ Lifers Group". www.njarts.net. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
- Lynch, Colum (February 25, 1992). "Inmates Take Rap--to the Grammys : Pop music: Lifers Group can't attend ceremonies, but the band is nominated for its stark long-form video.". www.articles.latimes.com. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
- "Grammy Awards - Awards for 1992". www.imdb.com. February 25, 1992. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
- Stroud, Brandon (February 28, 2013). "Sports On TV: Arrested Development's 15 Greatest Sports Moments". www.uproxx.com. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
- "THE 51ST ACADEMY AWARDS | 1979". www.oscars.org. April 9, 1979. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
- "Television Academy - Emmys". www.emmys.com. 1979. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
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