The Department of Justice represented the government in litigation involving the Commonwealth and is responsible for providing legal advice to the governor and all departments, boards and commissions. The head of the department and chief law enforcement officer of the state was the attorney general, whose appointment is first mentioned in the Constitution of 1776. Prior to 1923, the Department of Justice was known as the Attorney General’s Department. Included in the Department of Justice was the Board of Pardons, first established in 1874, and the Bureau of Correction, which was created in 1953 to administer the state correctional institutions formerly maintained by the Department of Welfare. The attorney general became an elected officer in accordance with a constitutional amendment approved in 1978. The first elected attorney general assumed office in 1981, and the functions of the Department of Justice were transferred to the office of the Attorney General, and to the governor’s office Bureau of Corrections, which later became a department in its own right.

The Commonwealth was one of the first political entities to abolish the use of corporal punishment for crime and to replace it with a system of rehabilitation through incarceration. In 1818 the legislature provided funds for the construction of the state’s first penitentiary, the Western State Penitentiary in Pittsburgh. Subsequently, approval for the erection of the Eastern State Penitentiary at Philadelphia in 1821 and for the Industrial Reformatory at Huntingdon in 1878 was granted.


General Correspondence, 1958, 1963, 1965, 1967-1970. (83 cartons) Arranged chronologically by year and thereunder alphabetically by individual or subject. A record of incoming and outgoing correspondence of the attorney general. For the years 1967-1970 there are several letters relating to African Americans. Relevant subjects include the 1970 Black Panther Convention at Temple University, the investigation into the Get Set Day Care program where an African American woman was found to be embezzling money, and the 1971 investigation into the status of Black special agents in the Bureau of Investigation. Especially notable in the latter investigation is the case of George Howard, who was fired and then rehired with back pay after winning his claim of racial bias. Also included is a file discussing the details of the 1971 requirements of the State Human Relations Commission, requiring all employment applications to ask the race of an applicant for a job. A 1969 survey of non-white employees in Pennsylvania provided support for this measure.


Press Office History File, 1829-1981. (22 boxes) Arranged alphabetically by prison name. Newspaper clippings, photographs, annual reports, and miscellaneous articles pertaining to the state prison system. Examples of items relating to African Americans are photographs taken at the Camp Hill prison facility showing a men’s choir singing at a dinner or banquet function, two ministers including African American minister Rev. George N. Spells of York, a large group of African American prisoners singing at an event, an inmate going into a building wearing a graduation robe, an inmate receiving his diploma, a graduating class, a graduate speaker, inmates in the audience, a band playing, a choir singing for a Christmas program, a cafeteria and its workers, a religious service with an African American minister speaking, and Joe Louis and Gill Turner boxing in Harrisburg on October 20, 1952.

State Prisoner Statistical Reports of Weekly Admissions and Discharges, 1953-1962. (13 cartons) Arranged chronologically by week. A record of criminal institution statistical reports maintained by the director of research and statistics. The files are broken down into three categories: Population Counts, Admissions and Discharges. Information on the population counts (categorized as white and negro) include the number of adults, juveniles, lifers (murderers), habitual criminals (lifers), defective delinquents, death house criminals, and infants. The admission and discharge statistics are broken down into the following categories: institution number, name of the convict, parole number, date of admission, county that committed the convict, offense, sentence time, race, county of birth, age, and marital status.


Clemency File, 1874-1900, 1906-1907, 1948-1962. (3 boxes, 70 cartons) From 1790 to 1873 the documents are filed chronologically. All other materials are arranged alphabetically according to petitioner’s surname. Individual case files contain diverse documents (summary sheet, letters, petitions, court transcripts, newspaper notices, copies of death warrants, pardon proclamations or respites) about persons seeking pardons from the president of the Supreme Executive Council, the governor, or the Board of Pardons. The information found in the file varies with each dossier and the time period. While one case file may merely provide a person’s name and reason for being imprisoned, another may also list the incarcerated individual’s occupation and particulars about his or her life and family. Records concerning African American prisoners include the file for Mamie Alexander, who was imprisoned for larceny in the Philadelphia County Jail. Requests dating from February 18, 1895 cite the condition of her deteriorating health and the lack of available health care as the cause for her pardon.

Pardon Books, 1874-1934. (23 volumes) This series is broken down into two categories: applications and proclamations. The application volumes are, in most cases, a complete record of the progress of an application for pardon. Information provided includes a brief case history, usually in a narrative form, and a written recommendation by the Board of Pardons. The Board of Pardons only provides the reasons for its recommendations for the period 1874-1877. During the period from 1882 to 1930 records of commutation actions are included. For 1931 to 1934, only the dates of the application, hearing, re-hearings and actions are provided. Unlike previous records, these consist mostly of commutation records with only a few pardon actions. The proclamation volumes contain Board of Pardons recommendations and the reasons for its judgments. A separate volume dated April 25, 1889-February 27, 1895 and labeled No. 1 contains only the Board’s reasons for their judgments. There are many accounts of African Americans being sentenced and paroled, such as:

• Junius Alston was tried for murder on April 26, 1916 and sentenced to be electrocuted the week of December 11, 1916. He had come to Pennsylvania from North Carolina in February 1916 and was employed at a lime quarry in Cedar Hollow, Pennsylvania.

• Armistead Randolph of Philadelphia was sentenced January 1913 to be hanged.

• James Frazer from South Carolina moved to Steelton, Pa. and was employed at Bethlehem Steel Co. He killed Charles Smith Hopper at Brougher’s Hotel, Walnut and Cowden Streets, Harrisburg.

• Isaiah Croson, a thirty-seven year-old black coke drawer, was sentenced August 4, 1914 to be hanged for first degree murder. On December 22, 1914, the sentence was commuted to life in prison.


Although construction of the Eastern State Penitentiary at Philadelphia was authorized by the state legislature in 1821, the first inmates were not received until 1829. The Act of April 10, 1826, stipulated that prisoners sentenced from Adams, Berks, Bradford, Bucks, Centre (as of 1833), Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montgomery, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wayne, and York Counties were to be incarcerated at this penal facility.

Prison Population Records

Admission and Discharge Books, 1844-1888. (3 volumes) Entries are arranged numerically by prisoner number. A record of prisoners admitted and discharged at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Normally the books list the name (after July, 1866), prisoner number, race, age, sex, marital status, nativity, occupation, date of admission, length of sentence, and date of discharge of the prisoner; the amount of time that was spent in jail; and the number of previous convictions. Information concerning the inmate’s moral habits, hereditary diseases, vaccinations, and physical and mental health (at the time of commitment and discharge) is also included. The admission and discharge of African American photographer Glenalvin J. Goodridge, charged with rape, appears in the first volume, Admission and Discharge Book, 1844-1865.

Commitment Papers, 1841, 1861-1904. (7 boxes) Arranged chronologically by date of the fine. A record of individuals convicted of a crime in the Court of General Sessions, Court of Oyer and Terminer, and Court of Quarter Sessions from various counties in Pennsylvania. Information provided includes the convict’s name, prisoner number, type of crime committed, court date, and the court’s verdict. A sample entry is: Commitment no. 4763, received February 19, 1863, whereby Glenalvin J. Goodridge, son of the William Goodridge of York, was charged with rape and sent to prison for five years. To locate records of African Americans the series Admission and Discharge Books, 1844-1888, which shows the convict’s race, must be consulted first.

Descriptive Registers, 1829-1903. (5 volumes) Arranged and numbered according to date of admission. Alphabetical indices are available for prisoners received from October 22, 1829, to June 13, 1895. A descriptive record of prisoners entering the Eastern State Penitentiary. Information provided includes date of admission and prison number; name, age, and nativity; occupation; complexion, eyes, hair, stature, distinguishing marks and length of foot; crime, sentence, where sentenced, and number of convictions; when and how discharged, time expired, when received, and remarks. Included is information on Glenalvin Goodridge who was committed on February 19, 1863.

Discharge Descriptive Dockets, 1873-1934. (4 volumes) Arranged chronologically by discharge date. A register of prisoners discharged from the Eastern State Penitentiary. Information provided includes prisoner number, name, color (white, mulatto, black), weight, age (at discharge), sex, crime, and sentence of the prisoner; the dates of admission and discharge; the method of discharge; the period of incarceration; the occupation practiced (until 1917) and the education (until 1906) received during imprisonment; the intended residence after release; and the amount of money that was earned in overwork (until 1907) and received upon discharge (from 1908 onward). From 1882 and beyond, the county responsible for sending the criminal to the penitentiary is noted, and occasionally the date on which the person might have been returned to custody is recorded. The amount of property owned by the individual is also sometimes mentioned in the dockets. Examples of African Americans include prisoner number 6892, John Agnes, a mulatto, imprisoned in 1871 at age 29 for murder in the second degree and prisoner number 2392, Mary Hamilton, an eighteen year-old black woman imprisoned for larceny in 1884.

Medical Statistics Books, 1883-1900. (3 volumes) Arranged numerically by prisoner number. A prisoner record kept by W. D. Robinson, resident physician at the Eastern State Penitentiary. Information provided includes each convict’s name (until January 30, 1886), prisoner number, age, color, sex, occupation, nativity, marital status, social habits (temperate or not), date of reception, sentence, number of convictions, the state of the inmate’s physical and mental health, and whether the person had any hereditary diseases in his family or had been protected against small pox. Occasionally the person’s crime and physical location within the prison are also mentioned.

Reception Descriptive Book, 1879-1884. (1 volume) Arranged and numbered in order by admittance date. Indexed internally, alphabetically by name of prisoner. A descriptive list of inmates from January 2, 1879 to November 27, 1884. Basic information provided for each inmate includes name, number, age, marital status, color, occupation (before and after arrest), county of birth, and physical description (complexion, color of eyes and hair from November 19, 1884 onward).

Scrapbooks, 1884-1893, 1908-1917, 1925-1926. (3 volumes) The clippings are grouped by the date of publication and thereafter labeled with a prisoner number. Newspaper clippings that contain data about inmates, including particulars about their crimes and trials. At times photographs or newspaper sketches are also affixed. Examples of such articles are: "Colored Citizens Register Protest," "Prison for Negro Slayer," "Negro Women Rob and Kill Farmer in Den," "Arrest Negroes for Robbing Gypsy Woman," "Negro Woman Is Guilty of Murder," and "Negroes Admit Plot to Rob the Turners."

Statistical Books, 1835-1852, 1871-1909, 1911-1913. (7 volumes)

Medical Statistics Book of W. P. Robinson, House Physician, 1835-1852. A statistical record kept by the by the house physician. Information provided about each prisoner includes name, reception date, color and sex, age, bodily health, social habits (drunk or sober, marital status,), whether or not inoculated for small pox, hereditary diseases, number of convictions, length of sentence, and occupation. One sample entry is: Mary Johnson, received January 23, 1884, convict number 2002, 23 years of age, in good bodily health, colored female, abstainer, married, vaccinated against small pox, hereditary disease gout, one conviction, sentenced to 1 to 6 years, Pennsylvania native, houseworker.

Statistical Books, 1871-1879, 1899-1915. Volumes which record the number of crimes committed per year per county. Information includes the number of convicts received by sex and color, age of the convicts, marital status, parental status (living or dead), level of education, and type of conviction.

Statistical Book, 1880-1883. A record of the number of crimes committed per month, the number of convicts received by sex and color, level and type of education, age of the convicts, and type of crime committed.

Medical Statistical Record Book, 1883-1886. A volume which records the number of crimes committed per month, the number of people who committed those crimes, the number of people received to date at the Eastern Penitentiary by sex and color, the marital status of the convicts, their social habits, level of education, the type of crimes committed, the location of crimes committed by county, and the location from which they were sent to the penitentiary.

Statistical Book, 1884-1892. A record of the number of crimes committed per year per county. Information includes the number of convicts received by sex and color, age of the convicts, marital status, parental status (whether living or dead), level of education, type of crime, the number of convictions received per year, nationality, and occupation.


In reaction to public pressure for the creation of a middle penitentiary district the state legislature in 1878 authorized the construction of such a facility at Huntingdon. In 1881, however, because of Governor Henry Martin Hoyt’s reforming influence, the legislature converted the institution from a prison to a reformatory for first-offender males between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five.

Prison Administration Records

Scrapbook, 1889-1929. (1 volume) Unarranged. Consists of newspaper clippings that contain data about inmates, including particulars about their crimes and trials. Items relating to African Americans include printed programs for prisoner entertainment events such as: "Entertainment by the inmates of the Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory," Huntingdon, Pa., Friday, November 28, 1890 (Part II cites "Colored Quartet and Solo . . .The Old Home Ain’t What It Used to Be"); a program dated June 30, 1893 citing "Negro Melody - Old Joe’s Dream - Washington"; a program dated June 29, 1893, Descriptive Fantasia "On the Plantation," Orchestra and Colored Quartet; a program dated June 29, 1897 citing "Colored Quartet Uncle Tom’s Cabin" by Numbers 1838, 1084, 101, and 2151; a program dated May 30, 1903, Recitation, "The Negro Soldier" by No. 3365; and Commencement Exercises of the School of Letters and Exhibit of the Industrial Departments, June 28, 1923. A few of the printed programs will give the last name of the inmate participating in the productions, but in most cases prisoners’ numbers are given. Included in this scrapbook are also newspaper "wanted" and "reward" advertisements for slave runaways.

Prison Population Records

Biographical and Descriptive Registers, 1889-1932. (12 volumes) Arranged numerically by prisoner number. These registers contain biographical data and physical descriptions of inmates confined at the Industrial Reformatory at Huntingdon. Some of the registers indicate race or color for African Americans who are identified in the Registers of Prisoners, 1889-1899, 1901-1925. Biographical and descriptive information can be obtained by researching the prisoner’s number and name in these records.

Conduct Ledgers, 1889-1898, 1903-1905, 1916-1918. (5 volumes) These ledgers give the following information for each prisoner: number, name, age, offense, maximum years to be incarcerated, age when received into the prison, county, year and month, report number, marks and scars, weight loss or gain, and remarks.

Physicians’ Record of Prisoners, 1889-1910. (10 volumes) Organized chronologically by examination date. Two types of records comprise the series:

Physicians’ Record of Prisoners Examined, 1889-1896, 1903-1907. Information includes the name, prisoner number, age, color, nativity, occupational training, occupation before conviction, schooling, habits, marital status, number of any children, sentence, names of any relatives, parental relations (i.e., living or dead, cause of death and age at death), and his state of physical and mental health. Diverse information about hereditary diseases and parental traits also appears.

Additional Physicians’ Record, July 25, 1898-February 7, 1910. Besides listing the name, prisoner number, age, color, date of birth, and date of examination of the inmate, the record gives a brief medical history of the person and mentions the birthplaces (state or country) of his parents, the occupation of his father, and the parent that he most resembled.

Prisoners’ Record, 1889-1921. (4 volumes) Arranged numerically by prisoner number which was assigned chronologically by reception date. A listing of inmates at the Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory. Information found includes each inmate’s name, age, alias, prison number, age, color, nativity, crime and maximum sentence of the offender; the dates that he was convicted, sentenced and received; the name of the court and county where he was tried; and the dates that he was discharged, paroled, reparoled, or escaped (when pertinent) from prison.

Registers of Prisoners, 1889-1899, 1901-1925. (2 volumes) Arranged numerically by prisoner number, which was assigned chronologically by reception date. Register that provides the name and prisoner number of each convict, the crime for which convicted, the sentence imposed, the dates of sentencing and reception, and the name of the county and court where tried and convicted. Occasionally, the age, color, and nationality of the individual are given along with the date discharged or paroled. The following are examples of prisoners identified as African Americans: Alonzo Maso, #2944; Albert Moore, #1945; John Stuart, #2096; LeRoy Profater, #3308; Arthur Goens, #3309; Robert Lane, #3916; Robert Carter, #4045; Thomas Durnin, #4132; Robert Henson, #4630; and George Moore, #4734.


Although the state legislature authorized the erection of the prison on the outskirts of Allegheny City (now part of Pittsburgh) in 1818, the first inmates were not received until 1826. The Act of April 10, 1826 stipulated that prisoners sentenced from Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Clearfield, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, McKean, Mercer, Mifflin, Potter, Somerset, Venango, Warren, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties were to be incarcerated at this penal facility.

Prison Population Records

Admission and Discharge Books, 1872-1900. (3 volumes) Arranged numerically by prisoner number which was assigned chronologically by date of admission. A record of admissions and discharges from 1872-1900. From 1872 to 1891, entries show prisoner number, color, marital status, age, nativity (state or country), sex, occupation, and habits (whether temperate or not) of the convict; the admission and discharge dates; the amount of time that was spent in county jails; the length of the sentence; the time that was actually served in prison; the number of convictions; and the individual’s physical and mental health before, during, and after imprisonment. In addition the books indicate when the prisoner was vaccinated or paroled. After 1891 the discharge sections of the books were not completed. Entries in these latter volumes simply record the convict’s name, prisoner number, color, age, sex, marital status, and mental and physical health.

Commutation Books, 1917-1958. (4 volumes) Arranged chronologically by month of commutation. A record of sentence reductions granted each month to inmates of the Western State Penitentiary. The four volumes overlap in dates as follows: Vol. 1, 1917-1958; Vol. 2, 1919-1945; Vol. 3, 1928-1950; and Vol. 4, 1941-1958. Data contained in Volume 1 for each prisoner listed include inmate number, minimum or maximum expiration of sentence, action of the board (paroled, rejected, or continued), discharge number, day of the month, and remarks. Also listed are occasional delinquents and violators. Data contained in the other three volumes include prisoner name and number, date of sentence, minimum and maximum terms, minimum and maximum expiration of sentence, date prisoner was transferred to Rockview, date prisoner was returned from Rockview, date of release, date of return for violation of parole, date of maximum sentence to be served for violation, date final discharge was granted, date declared delinquent, and remarks (paroled, died, etc.).

Convict Description and Receiving Dockets, 1872-1957. (7 volumes) Arranged numerically by prisoner number which was assigned chronologically by reception date. Descriptive register of prisoners entering the Western State Penitentiary. From 1872 to 1926, entries normally give the name, prisoner number, age (when received), color, sex, nativity (up to October 30, 1926), physical description (complexion, stature, scars, foot size, height, weight, color of eyes and hair), occupation, mental condition (until October 27, 1927), schooling, physical health, habits, parental relations, civil condition (marital status and number of living progeny where appropriate), industrial relations (data on apprenticeship and trade skills), crime and sentence of the inmate; the dates of sentencing, reception and discharge; the number of previous convictions; and the name of the county and courts where he or she was convicted. Information regarding the method by which the prisoner was released appears, and sometimes the amount of property that he or she possessed is included. From 1873 to 1926, data about whether the person served in the army or navy are also recorded.

Convict Docket, 1826-1859. (1 volume) Arranged chronologically by date. Indexed internally by surname of prisoner. The docket records the name, prisoner number, and sentence of the convict; the dates of sentencing, admittance, and discharge; the method of discharge; and the name of the court where he or she was tried. Physical descriptions sometimes appear that may indicate the person’s age and race, while in other instances the record may state that the offender was a young man or woman. Between April 10, 1837, and February 22, 1839, the docket contains a brief account of the prisoner’s trial and sentence instead of descriptive data.

Descriptive Books, 1826-1873. (4 volumes) Arranged numerically by prisoner number which was assigned chronologically by reception date. Descriptive lists which, in most instances, record the name, prisoner number, age, sex, color, nativity, mental condition, occupation, marital status, number of any living children, religious affiliation, physical health, residence, habits (abstainer or not), physical description (build, scars, height, foot size, complexion, and eye and hair color), fingerprint classification (from March 31, 1922, onward), and sentence of the prisoner; the dates of sentencing and reception; the number of convictions, former prisoner numbers; the places of previous imprisonment; the nativity of the person’s parents (from January 17, 1897); and the name of the court where he or she was convicted. In addition these books mention whether the inmate served in the army or navy, worked as an apprentice, was naturalized or an alien (as of September 24, 1897), could read and write, or attended a public or private school. From 1876-1939, detailed physical measurements (length of arms, trunk, left middle finger, forehead, etc.) of the convict are given. After August 16, 1922, the prisoner’s place and date of birth are recorded.

Descriptive Register, 1826-1876. (1 volume) Arranged numerically by prisoner number which was assigned chronologically by date of reception. A register that lists the name, number, age, occupation, nativity, stature, complexion, foot size, marks (scars), and eye and hair colors of the inmate; the dates of sentencing and reception; the crime and sentence; the method of discharge; the number of previous convictions; and the date that the sentence was due to expire. Remarks recording the date on which the imprisoned person died or escaped are sometimes found as well.

Discharge Descriptive Dockets, 1873-1957. (9 volumes) Arranged chronologically by prisoner discharge date. A record of discharges at the Western State Penitentiary. Information includes the prisoner’s name, number, age, color, physical condition, mental state, sex, crime, sentence, and occupation (up to February 27, 1923 only); the date of sentencing and discharge; time served in prison; weight when admitted and discharged; and from 1930 onward parole statistics.

Record of Parole Violators, 1942-1954. (1 volume) Arranged chronologically by date parole violator was returned. A record of parole violators at the Western State Penitentiary. Information given includes the prisoner’s name, number, and color; whether or not paroled or returned as a parole violator; county from which returned; by whom returned (sheriff, patrol agent, State Police, etc.); the maximum time for parole, and remarks.

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