Kentucky State Reformatory

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Kentucky State Reformatory
Kentucky State Reformatory is located in Kentucky
Kentucky State Reformatory
Location in Kentucky
Location 3001 W Hwy 146, LaGrange, Kentucky
Coordinates 38°24′13″N 85°24′57″W / 38.40361°N 85.41583°W / 38.40361; -85.41583Coordinates: 38°24′13″N 85°24′57″W / 38.40361°N 85.41583°W / 38.40361; -85.41583
Status open
Security class medium
Capacity 2,005
Opened 1939
Managed by Kentucky Department of Corrections

Kentucky State Reformatory is a medium-security prison for adult males. The prison is located in unincorporated Oldham County, Kentucky, near La Grange,[1] and about 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Louisville.[2] It was completed in 1939[3] to replace the Kentucky State Reformatory located in Frankfort after a flood damaged the original property. The 43-acre (170,000 m2) facility has the capacity to house 2,005 inmates, thus making it the second largest prison in the state.[2]


The original Kentucky State Penitentiary was built in Frankfort in 1798. In 1879, a branch penitentiary was built in Eddyville. In 1912, the prison in Eddyville was renamed the Kentucky State Penitentiary. The remaining structure in Frankfort was renamed the Kentucky State Reformatory. Reformatories typically house younger, first-time offenders and offer programs that are intended to rehabilitate inmates after they are released. Despite the implications of the name change, the Kentucky State Reformatory continued to incarcerate inmates of all ages.

1920s era at Frankfort[edit]

The original cell house in Frankfort contained 648 single-occupancy cells measuring only 7 by 3.1 by 7 feet (2.13 by 0.94 by 2.13 m) on six tiers. In the 1870s, a second cell house was built. This cell house contained 408 cells that were slightly larger than those in the original cell house, measuring 7 by 4.1 by 7 feet (2.1 by 1.2 by 2.1 m). These larger rooms contained a double-deck bunk for two inmates. None of the cells had plumbing. By the 1920s, three dormitories had been built. Two of these dormitories were reserved for white inmates and one was reserved for black inmates. Two of the dormitories contained 152 cells and the third contained 100.

The prison in Frankfort housed a small population of female inmates. They lived alongside the prison in a separate cell house. In 1928, female inmates numbered 85. By the end of the 1920s, there were only 70 correctional officers watching 1,649 inmates. These correctional officers worked seven days a week, eight hours a day and only received two weeks of vacation.

Inmates at the Kentucky State Reformatory labored in workshops during the day. The Reformatory had contracts with the Gordon Shirt Company, the Frankfort Chair Company, the Hoge Montgomery Shoe Company and the Frankfort Broom Company. The Kentucky State Reformatory paid inmates between 5 and 20 cents per day. All of the industries were under the contract system in which the prison leased the labor of inmates to private industries. Inmates worked in the prison workshops making products for these private industries. Prisons that used the contract system often made a great deal of revenue from the system. The system was also profitable for the private industries. Inmate labor was always abundant and available, the labor was cheap and prisoners could not form unions or misbehave. Because the workshops were located in the prison, private industries did not have to pay rent.

Unlike other prisons of the early 20th century, inmates were allowed to speak to one another. They could write a one letter per week to their families. Movies were shown weekly and there was at least one radio in each dormitory. Prisoners were allotted one hour every day in the recreation yard during the summer and 15 minutes during the winter.

In the 1920s, the reformatory was still using harsh punishment methods to discipline inmates. One tactic was to chain prisoners in the punishment section of the institution. These prisoners could be found "standing with one hand cuffed to the cell door and the other cuffed to the post supporting the upper gallery". The punished prisoners would remain in this position for the entirety of the workday for a succession of 5 to 20 days. Other prisoners were placed in solitary confinement and were given only bread and water for their meals.

Establishment of Kentucky State Reformatory at La Grange[edit]

Despite construction of new dormitories and a cell house, the prison experienced major overcrowding problems. In 1936 there were only 1,056 cells for 1,600 inmates. In the same year, a flood damaged much of the original property of the prison. In 1936, Governor Albert Benjamin Chandler authorized an inspection of the Kentucky State Penitentiary and the Kentucky State Reformatory by the Prison Industries Reorganization Administration. The report that was submitted in May of the same year described both institutions as having "deplorable conditions of idleness, over-crowding, lack of sanitation, educational facilities, medical care, or any attempt at rehabilitative work.". Governor Chandler requested about one million dollars from the 1936 General Assembly that were matched by the federal Public Works Administration.

Using these funds, the construction of a new Kentucky State Reformatory located in LaGrange began in 1937. Some inmates were housed in the Kentucky State Penitentiary as construction took place. However, most inmates were moved to LaGrange and lived in barracks where they helped with the construction of the new reformatory. The Reformatory in LaGrange opened in 1939. The new prison had open-winged dormitories instead of the traditional individual cells. It was surrounded by 900 acres (3.6 km2) [6] of the new state-owned farmland that the inmates managed. In addition to running the farm, the inmates also worked in the rock quarry nearby. The spacious new dormitories and farmland were designed to encourage prisoners to reform.

Consent decree[edit]

In July 1980, inmates at the Kentucky State Penitentiary filed a federal lawsuit against the state prisons of Kentucky. They claimed that the living conditions constituted cruel and unusual punishment. In addition, inmates claimed to have been harassed by correctional officers at the Kentucky State Penitentiary. In November 1981, the court issued a consent decree that extended to the Kentucky State Reformatory. Among other changes at the Kentucky State Reformatory, the consent decree:

  1. Capped the population at 1,200, thus requiring a reduction in the number of inmates by 600.
  2. Banned double bunks in the dormitories.
  3. Called for a three-step living skills program that educated inmates on how to make healthy decisions in prison and how to transition from confinement into life outside prison.
  4. Called for additional educational and vocational programs.
  5. Required the Reformatory to open a law library containing public federal documents including current Supreme Court rulings and federal statutes as well as current Kentucky State legal documents.
  6. Ordered the improvement of medical and mental health services and implemented more staff training.
  7. Called for a new visitation building.
  8. Mandated specialized training programs for staff as well as a 20% pay raise for corrections officers.

In March 1992, Judge Edward Johnstone ruled that the Kentucky State Reformatory had complied with the requirements of the consent decree.

KSR programs[edit]

The Kentucky State Reformatory uses a unit management system. Inmates and staff are separated into smaller groups or units. The staff members of each unit include a unit manager, an assistant unit manager, correctional officers, engineering staff, and classification and treatment officers. According to the Kentucky Department of Corrections, the purpose of the unit team is to help inmates with issues such as institutional programming, parole board preparation, classification reviews, and developing release plans. The Kentucky State Reformatory also offers academic and vocational programs. The academic courses include adult basic education, GED preparation and college courses. The vocational programs include welding, plumbing, electrical, masonry, carpentry, auto body repair, and auto mechanics. The Kentucky State Reformatory also offers counseling services, religious services and organized sports and recreation.

Notable inmates[edit]


  1. ^ "La Grange city, Kentucky." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on July 20, 2010.
  2. ^ a b "About KSR". Kentucky Department of Corrections. Retrieved April 15, 2017. 
  3. ^ "Kentucky State Reformatory historical exhibit opens". WAVE. January 7, 2017. Retrieved April 15, 2017. 
  4. ^ "Carneal, Michael A." Kentucky Department of Corrections. Retrieved on July 20, 2010.


  • Colvin, Mark. Penitentiaries, Reformatories and Chain Gangs, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
  • Hayes, Fred E. American Prison System, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1939.
  • Garett, Paul and Austin MacCormick The Handbook of American Prisons, NY: National Society of Penal information, Inc., 1928
  • McKelvey, Blake. American Prisons, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1936.
  • 1981 Supreme Court Case Consent Decree of Kentucky State Penitentiary
  • 2008 Overview of Kentucky State Reformatory, Kentucky Department of Corrections
  • "Assessing Correctional Education Programs: The Student's Perspective", The Journal of Correctional Education

External links[edit]