Kansas State Industrial Reformatory (KSIR)
In the mid 1880s, the State of Kansas recognized the need for a reformatory in Kansas. Modeled after the nation’s first reformatory established in Elmira, New York, the reformatory concept focused on reforming first-time male offenders between the ages of 16 and 30 through vocational training and academic education. The reformatory system also introduced the concept of indeterminate sentences whereby an offender could be sentenced to a range of years that then could be shortened if the offender exhibited good behavior while in prison.
Work on the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory (KSIR) began in 1885 when then-Governor John Martin authorized the purchase of land to build a reformatory. Following concerns that the state institutions were all located in the eastern part of the state, legislation was passed that new institutions had to be built in the western half of the state, areas west of Highway 81. Several Kansas communities vied for the reformatory including Belleville, McPherson, Newton, Wichita and Hutchinson.
The City of Hutchinson raised $25,000 and a group called the Hutchinson Sewing Circle contributed $1,000 for the purchase of 640 acres of land for the reformatory. The innocuous-sounding group was made up of a group of Hutchinson-area prostitutes who believed that the reformatory was a good concept and that youth should be separated from adults in the prison system.
On July 2, 1885 news reached the City of Hutchinson that it had been selected as the site for the new reformatory. A holiday was declared and the newspaper gives the account that throngs of people crowded Main Street, bells sounded and fireworks were shot off during a celebration that continued into the night.
Initiated with a $60,000 legislative appropriation, construction began on November 19, 1885. However, the project that encompassed building one cellblock that would house 100 men soon became beleaguered with delays that would hamper the project for the next decade. By March of 1887 all appropriated funds had been exhausted though an additional estimated $300,000 was still needed in order to complete the cellblock. At one point, the project came to a standstill for four years when the legislature failed to appropriate additional funds.
In 1894, Governor Merrill promised that if he were elected governor a reformatory would be completed in the next year. Governor Merrill was elected and held true to his promise. In August 1895 a 50-man brick cellhouse was completed and the first 30 inmates were transferred from the Kansas State Penitentiary (now Lansing Correctional Facility) to KSIR. Unfortunately, the first cellhouse was constructed of Hutchinson brick which was made from clay that was dug out of the banks of the Arkansas River. This clay contained so much sand that most buildings built of Hutchinson brick deteriorated rapidly.
The second cellhouse was completed in 1906. Both cellhouses were tied together by the rotunda which at that time was the administration building. By 1898, 185 inmates were housed at the reformatory. From 1895 to 1898, 240 inmates had been received and 270 paroles had been granted.
All inmates at KSIR went to school for two hours every night after a regular 8-hour work day. They also went to school all day on stormy days and on Saturdays. KSIR’s first vocational program was stonecutting. Many of the buildings built in Kansas around the turn of the century were built by men who were ex-inmates who had learned stonecutting at the reformatory.
Also of note in the reformatory’s history:
- In 1895, legislation passed that allowed both male and females to be housed at the reformatory. Between 1898 and 1900, two females were sent by court to KSIR. Both were later returned to the sentencing court and the law was changed in 1900.
- In 1900, the legislature approved the creation of a parole officer position and a transfer officer position that would pick up parole violators who were released from the reformatory.
- Also in 1900, a lower court ruled at the prompting of a lawsuit brought by an inmate that the Department of Corrections policy to transfer recalcitrant inmates to Lansing was unconstitutional. In 1901, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Corrections had the authority to transfer inmates as the agency deemed appropriate.
- In 1903, the reformatory had its first successful escape. On December 19, 1903 inmate Elmer Slider, who was a trustee at the director's residence, slipped off into the night and was never heard from again.
- Also in 1903, the reformatory adopted the policy of photographing all incoming inmates to aid in the apprehension of escapees and parole violators who had absconded from supervision.
- In 1907, the term “prison guards” was changed to correctional officers as staff were responsible for more than simply guarding inmates. Staff also were responsible for counseling and providing guidance to inmates.
- During World War I, the reformatory's population dropped from 430 to 326 by January of 1918. Most of the inmates who wanted to volunteer for the draft were given that option rather than serving their prison term. A report at the time indicated that most of the inmates who served in the war had received honorable discharges.
- During the years between 1916 and 1918, records indicate leaves were granted to inmates from 30 to 90 days in order to assist area farmers in bringing in the crops.
The reformatory’s name was changed in 1990 when the facility became the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.