Icon Agency History for maryland penitentiary


The Maryland Penitentiary was the first prison established by the state and the second of its kind within the United States. The maximum security facility was authorized by Resolution 15, Acts of 1804, and opened in 1811. Prior to its establishment, criminals were housed in county jails or workhouses and "made to labor upon the public roads." Significantly, when the legislature rewrote the Maryland criminal code in 1809, the new law designated a maximum time of "confinement in the penitentiary" for the conviction of most criminal offenses (Chapter 138, Acts of 1809). The prison was designed to house both male and female convicts. However, following the transfer of all female inmates to the Maryland House of Correction in 1921, the penitentiary held only one or two female prisoners in subsequent years until 1947. After that, it held only male convicts. Prisoners convicted in federal courts were also incarcerated in the Maryland Penitentiary (Chapter 55, Acts of 1819). The practice of holding federal prisoners continued until 1922. From its earliest years, the penitentiary benefitted from prison labor. Beginning with the manufacture of cotton and woolen goods, prison labor expanded to include boot and shoe making, carpet weaving, and stone cutting, among others. An 1834 law called for the construction of workshops within the prison to eliminate the problems associated with convicts working in "scattered location[s]" (Chapter 308, Acts of 1834). Prison workshop labor was often purchased by commercial manufacturers. The use of contractual convict labor continued unabated until the creation of the Board of Prison Control which was mandated to eliminate the contract labor system (Chapter 556, Acts of 1916). Thereafter, an increasing amount of convict labor directly benefitted the state under Maryland's State Use System. Prisoners began to work on road crews, as printers of state documents, or making license plates. Although an overwhelming majority of prisoners were still employed by commercial contractors throughout the 1920s, the contracts diminished during the Depression and disappeared entirely by 1935. Since its inception, the Maryland Penitentiary has been administered by several boards and/or agencies. Until 1916 it functioned as an independent agency, governed at first by a Board of Inspectors and after 1817 by a Board of Directors (Chapter 72, Acts of 1817). Originally composed of twelve members appointed by the Governor and Council with the governor as an ex-officio member, the board was required to meet at the penitentiary once every quarter. Although the daily penitentiary operation was the responsibility of the warden, the board designated a two-member committee to visit the prison at least once as week to inspect the management of the penitentiary and the conduct of the keeper and his employees (Chapter 138, Acts of 1809, sec. 38-39). In 1837, the duties of the Board of Directors were redefined (Chapter 302, Acts of 1837). The new law reduced the board from twelve to six members and no longer included the governor as an ex-officio member. The legislation empowered the board to exercise complete control over the institution's financial affairs and personnel matters, with the exception that the governor retained the power to appoint its warden. The two-member inspection committee evolved into a three-member monthly committee which, in addition to its former duties, represented the entire board when it was not in session. As a result of progressive reform (forcing the resignation of its warden in 1913), the Board of Directors was abolished and the Board of Prison Control assumed authority over the penitentiary (Chapter 556, Acts of 1916). Management changed again six years later when, under the State Government Reorganization Act, the Maryland Penitentiary fell under the purview of the Board of Welfare (Chapter 29, art. vii, Acts of 1922). In 1939, the Board of Correction, within the newly created Department of Correction, assumed supervision of the state penal system (Chapter 69, Acts of 1939). Beginning in 1953, the superintendent of prisons administered the department (Chapter 578, Acts of 1953), but was replaced by the commissioner of correction nine years later (Chapter 123, Acts of 1962). The Department of Correction was renamed the Department of Correctional Services in 1968 (Chapter 137, Acts of 1968). Two years later it was subsumed by the Department of Public Safety and Correction Services. At that time, the Department of Correctional Services was reorganized as the Division of Correction which maintains its authority over the Maryland Penitentiary (Chapter 401, Acts of 1970). See also: Board of Prison Control. MSA SH34. Board of Welfare. MSA SH35. Department of Correction. MSA SH36. Department of Correction Advisory Board. MSA SH37.