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Ossining Almanac: Sing Sing Prison

Like many Hudson river towns, Ossining features a train station and public park overlooking serene river waters, but there is also something darker along the banks of the Hudson: the Sing Sing maximum security prison.

The Sing Sing Correctional Facility houses 1,730 maximum security inmates and employs 824 staff.

The imposing structure first opened its doors in 1824 at 354 Hunter Street . It sits on on 75 acres of riverfront propertywith 40 acres within the prison's secure perimeter, and 30 acres beyond, consisting of parking lots and open land

The prison, which opened when James Monroe was President of the United States has a long, sometimes dark history, Brutal punishments such as the electric chair, whipping, absolute silence and cold water treatments took place within its walls many years ago. Today, however, under the administration of Philip Heath, the prison superintendent since 2009, it has many forward-looking, positive rehabilitation programs such as a Master's program in theology, a theater and arts program, and a wide variety of educational programs in custodial maintenance, electrical trades, computer operations and repair, welding, and more.

"The whole essence of our system is to prepare the rehabilitee for reentry into our society," said Peter Cutler, a public information officer for the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Sing Sing is one of 17 maximum security prisons in the state. Its name comes from a native American tribe called Sinck Sinck who sold the in 1685 to European settlers and named the land Sing Sing. . Since the late 1800's, people have often used the term "sent up the river" as a way of saying that a convict had been sent to Sing Sing prison 30 miles up the Hudson River from New York City

Elam Lynds, the original warden of Sing Sing in 1824, hand picked 100 inmates from Auburn State Prison upstate to be sent to the Sing Sing site to build a new prison out of stone that was available on site. Notable wardens after Lynds include Thomas Osborne, from 1914 to 1919, who took away privileges from officers who had been bribed by inmates, and Lewis Lawes, warden from 1920 to 1941, who instituted sports teams, educational programs, new methods of discipline, and other programs tilted towards rehabilitation. .

Sing Sing's "Rehabilitation Through the Arts program," established in 1996, encourages prisoners to use acting to help them to deal with underlying issues that landed them in prison in the first place.. A 2010 study by the John Jay College for Criminal Justice showed that spending time in the program resulted in fewer violations and less repeating of negative behavior. Because of its success, the theater and arts program now operates at five other state prisons.

But many locals would still like to see the venerable structure closed and the prime riverfront property put to better use. In April 2011, several local legislators including Ossining Mayor William Hannauer wrote a letter to state Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to close Sing Sing.

Cutler did not comment on the letter, other than to say there is an "overall process in place" to consolidate correctional facilities in order to allow for the removal of 3,700 beds from the system as part of the 2011 adopted state budget.

Should the state close Sing Sing?

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