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REPORT ON THE SANITARY CONDITION OF THE STATE
PRISON AT CHARLESTOWN.*
Hon. J. C. ROBINSON, Secretary Board of Prisons Committee.
DEAR SIR : In compliance with a request made to the Chairman of the State Board of Health, we, as a Committee to whom the matter was referred, desire to make the following statement in regard to the State Prison and the land connected with it, considered from a sanitary point of view :
In the location of the prison, we agree with its founders, officers and inspectors in the opinion, as generally expressed, that there is nothing in that of itself absolutely prejudicial to health, although, for many reasons, the place is not desirable; the present yard of five acres is smaller than the demands of health would require, and thorough ventilation and drainage are difficult of attainment, if at all possible, on such low land.
The fact, too, that the floors of the various wings are even with the surface of the soil,—which is only two feet above the level of the water at high tide, and quite near it,-must, as stated by the inspectors in their report for the year 1852, cause dampness in some of the lower cells, which is " hazardous to health.” This evil is, however, to a great degree obviated, from the fact that the floors of the cells rest upon stone foundations several feet deep, and not directly upon the ground.
External to the prison, and not far distant, is an evident source of danger to health in the flats upon which the sewage of Charlestown and of the prison are spread and exposed to the air; so that, for several years, it has not infrequently been necessary to close windows, in order to avoid the intol
• The previous papers were sent to the Senate in manuscript, January 20, 1875; and this report was made while the others were going through the press.
erable stench, and that, too, in summer, when the necessity for ventilation by open windows is the greatest.
In regard to the health of the prison itself, an examination of the annual reports for the past fifty-five years discloses the following facts :
From 1805—the date of completion of the original prison —to 1828, inclusive, there were 2,176 prisoners committed, and 114 deaths, or 47.8 to each 1,000 commitments. This death-rate was then thought to be great, and to call for a remedy. The convicts slept in dormitories containing from six to sixteen individuals each, with close doors, and with little chinks in the walls to admit air and sunshine.
In 1829, the new prison (the present north wing) was completed, with small windows. It contained 304 cells, with close doors, each containing a space of 171} cubic feet; and from that date to the end of 1865, when crowding began to be marked, the mortality was only 34 to each 1,000; while from 1866 to 1874, inclusive, the death-rate has been a trifle under 50 to each 1,000 commitments.
A glance at the following table shows these facts :
In the days of the old prison (since remodelled in 1852, enlarged in 1867, and constituting the present west wing), the mortality was considerable, being 17 to each 1,000 residents per year for the ten years ending in 1829. This high rate has already been explained.
In 1830, after the occupation of the "new prison,” when one would have expected the death-rate to fall, it remained stationary; and in 1831 it rose considerably,-facts difficult to explain, unless it came from living in a newly-finished, incompletely dried, and consequently damp, stone building.
During the year of the cholera epidemic (1832), there were in the prison 195 cases presenting more or less the symptoms of that disease, although none died directly from it; but the general death-rate was 'excessive (42.9), as was to be expected.
In 1833, when the mortality was great, Dr. Walker stated in his report, that " low fever, of a typhoid character, was prevalent."
In 1834, the mortality of the previous three years had caused some alarm, and great efforts were made to improve the sanitary condition of the prison. These efforts bore fruit in the lower death-rates of the three succeeding years,—a fact which was noticed in the report of the physician in 1836. The weak convicts in the prison, too, had probably many of them died during the epidemics of 1832 and 1833.