Elmira Correctional Facility

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Elmira Correctional Facility
LocationElmira, New York
Coordinates42°6′53.03″N 76°49′44.64″W / 42.1147306°N 76.8290667°W / 42.1147306; -76.8290667Coordinates: 42°6′53.03″N 76°49′44.64″W / 42.1147306°N 76.8290667°W / 42.1147306; -76.8290667
Security classMaximum security
Opened1876 (as Elmira Reformatory)
Managed byNew York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Elmira Correctional Facility, also known as "The Hill," is a maximum security state prison located in Chemung County, New York, in the City of Elmira. It is operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The supermax prison, Southport Correctional Facility, is located two miles away from Elmira.

The facility was founded in 1876 as the Elmira Reformatory and run by its controversial superintendent Zebulon Brockway. Acting with rehabilitative aims, Brockway instilled strict discipline along the lines of military training. Although accused of brutality for his corporal punishment in 1893, Brockway was an acknowledged leader in his field. At his retirement in 1900 the Elmira System had been adopted by the states of Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota.[1]

In 1970 the complex was renamed the Elmira Correctional and Reception Center. Elmira retained a focus on younger offenders until some time in the 1990s.

Early years[edit]

The facility was founded as Elmira Reformatory in 1876. It differed from many prisons of the day as it focused on reforming the convict using psychological methods rather than physical. Previously, prisoners were required to abide by the "holy trinity" of silence, obedience and labor. Sentences were indeterminate. Inmates were only released after a warden's determination that they'd "paid their debt to society." In contrast Elmira sought to reform and rehabilitate. Brockway set up a system of incentives to encourage self-discipline.[2]

Elmira system[edit]

Elmira Reformatory, circa 1897

Among the programs begun at the reformatory included courses in ethics and religion, vocational training in various trades and extracurricular activities such as a prison band, newspaper and various athletic leagues.

Influenced by the methods of Walter Crofton's "Irish system" as well as Alexander Maconochie's experiments in Australian penal colonies, discipline was largely patterned after military academies. Inmates would be dressed in military style uniforms often marching to the tune of a military band.

Inmates were classified by three "grades," with newly arriving prisoners being placed at second grade for their first six months. Those who became the most responsive and cooperative prisoners earned a first grade, with the opportunity to earn additional privileges or "marks," including earning a reduction of their sentences or being granted parole (although inmates could be demoted if failing in their duties). Those inmates who were less responsive to rehabilitation or had behavioral problems were placed at third grade.

However, under instituted indeterminate sentencing, tension was often high among the general population as prisoners were rarely informed how long the terms of their imprisonment lasted. Brockway's later use of corporal punishment, the "Paddler Brockway" system that would eventually result several prisoners' being transferred to mental asylums, caused some to question the reformatory system.

Still, the Elmira system was influential in prison reform. Two central ideas emerged from the Elmira system: differentiating between juvenile and adult offenders, and acknowledging the possibility of prisoner rehabilitation.[3]

Later years[edit]

Despite its mixed results, the Elmira Reformatory would influence the construction of 25 reformatories in twelve states over the next 25 years, reaching its height in 1910. Although the education programs introduced in Elmira were the first to serve inmates in a correctional facility, the majority of the teaching staff were often unqualified and its complex grading system made progress difficult to maintain. Eventually, all well-behaved inmates were placed in first grade with a few in second grade and those under punishment in third grade.

However, following Brockway's resignation, the reformatory reinstituted to standard custody and treatment methods and eventually converted to the Elmira Correctional and Reception Center, an adult maximum security prison holding approximately 1,800 inmates.

In the late 1970s through late 1980s, Elmira and Corning Community College had a partnership whereby college professors volunteered to lecture within the prison, and inmates were able to earn an associate degree. However, during the recession of 1990–1992 there was a public outcry over spending taxpayer money to educate felons while many middle-class families struggled to pay their children's college tuition. As a result, the program was cut. There were attempts to revive the program in later years but by the time George Pataki, the former GOP governor, finished his budget cuts, the program was completely terminated.

Convicted murderers Timothy Vail and Timothy Morgan escaped on July 7, 2003, by digging through the roof of their cell. Vail seriously injured himself during the escape, and the two were captured three days later and placed in solitary confinement in different prisons. Their escape was featured in the National Geographic documentary Breakout.[4]

Elmira is a major stop in the New York State Department of Corrections bus network, with a large enclosed yard that holds many, and inmate transfers.


Notable inmates[edit]

  • Frank Abbandando- Murder Inc. contract killer
  • Trevell Gerald Coleman AKA G-Dep (Rapper) - murder, sentenced to 15 to life
  • Dwight York - Nuwaubian cult leader. Before York's formation of his cult movement and eventual indictment by the federal government, he was arrested on June 25, 1964 and charged with statutory rape for having sex with a minor. His sentence was suspended and York was placed on probation. On October 24, 1964, York was arrested for assault, possession of a deadly weapon, and resisting arrest. His probation was revoked and he spend the next three years in Elmira Correctional Facility, then called the Elmira Reception Center.
  • Nathaniel White - Serial killer

See also[edit]


  1. ^ International Prison Commission (1900). Reformatory System in U. S. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 28. Retrieved 30 September 2016.
  2. ^ History of Elmira CF
  3. ^ "Elmira system," Encyclopædia Britannica Online, February 2010.
  4. ^ "Two Murderers Are Captured After Fleeing Jail". The New York Times. July 9, 2003.
  5. ^ a b "Elmira". Retrieved 2013-11-27. Zebulon Reed Brockway, who would open the world's first adult reformatory at Elmira and serve as its superintendent for 24 years, was born in Connecticut in 1827. ... In 1917, Dr. Christian, now superintendent ...


  • Roth, Mitchel P. Prisons and Prison Systems: A Global Encyclopedia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. ISBN 0-313-32856-0
  • Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Prisons. New York: Facts on File, 2003. ISBN 0-8160-4511-9

External links[edit]