Papers of Lewis E. Lawes

1883 - 1947

Warden of Sing Sing Prison, 1920 - 1941

Lloyd Sealy Library, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Special Collections X101 - 13 Boxes

Finding aid written by Eileen Rowland, Professor Emerita

A world famous penologist, Lawes was best known for his twenty-one year stint as Warden of Sing Sing, and for his often extraordinary ability to keep himself and his viewpoints on crime and punishment in the public eye. An exemplar of the prison reform movement, Lawes was a strong believer in rehabilitation as the function of the penal system, and an outspoken opponent of capital punishment. During his administration rehabilitation programs at Sing Sing ranged far beyond traditional educational and work programs to encompass the care and maintenance of an aviary and a greenhouse, a near professional-level football team, and a Sunday night lecture series that featured eminent personalities from the arts, sports and religion.

Lawes reputation and ideas reached well beyond the correctional community through a long running radio program, numerous books and articles, a Broadway play, and a film adaptation of his best know book, "Twenty Thousand Years at Sing Sing."

In so far as was possible, the collection has been arranged to reflect the order imposed by Lawes himself. The principle Series are:

Supplementary Collection I - 3 Boxes

Materials in this supplement to collection "X101" add significantly to the documentation of Lawes' life and career. Correspondence files, scrapbooks, photo's and artifacts expand on the materials acquired earlier. The Sing Sing administrative files however, strike a totally new note. Communications between the warden's office and prison staff are stylistically and substantively at a far remove from the sentimentalized versions of prison life prepared for popular consumption.

Similarly, the numerous unsuccessful attempts at producing a major post-humous biography illuminate not only divergent family interests but also reflect a social ethos increasingly uncomfortable with images of paternalistic prison wardens and their strayed-sheep charges.

This collection was acquired many years after collection "X101" although internal evidence suggests they were originally a unified collection. The principle series in this supplement are:

Supplementary Collection II - 1 Box

This collection is comprised of photocopies of two scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine clippings (408 p.), miscellaneous correspondence, and receipts for the National War Fund effort (1942-1945).

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For access to the collection, contact Prof. Ellen Belcher, Special Collections Librarian via e-mail at or by mail at the Lloyd Sealy Library, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 899 Tenth Avenue, New York, NY 10019.

Last updated 8/96.