Lawes, Lewis Edward

Lawes, Lewis Edward,

1883–1947, American penologist, b. Elmira, N.Y. As warden (1920–41) of Sing Sing Prison, a New York state prison located at Ossining, N.Y., he carried out many reforms, advocating vocational training for convicts and the abolition of capital punishment. Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing (1932) is the best known of his books.


See study by R. Blumenthal (2004).

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Lawes, Lewis Edward

(1883–1947) prison administrator, reformer; born in Elmira, N.Y. Son of a prison guard, he worked as an apprentice reporter at the Elmira (N.Y.) Telegram, spent three years in the army (1901–04), and worked temporarily in the insurance business until offered a position as a guard at Clinton Prison, Dannemora, N.Y. (1905). He then became a guard at New York's Auburn prison (1906) and at Elmira Reformatory (1906–15), where he was chief guard and later head records clerk. He was named overseer of the New York City Reformatory (1915) and then was allowed to establish a new reformatory at New Hampton in Orange County, N.Y. As warden of the notorious prison Sing Sing, Ossining, N.Y. (1920–41), he introduced extensive educational and recreational programs, transforming Sing Sing into one of the most progressive prisons of its time. He literally broadcast his reform message on the radio, wrote several books, and coauthored a prison melodrama that had a brief Broadway run. Pragmatic as he was humanitarian, an opponent of the death penalty who, nevertheless, presided over 302 executions, he was one of America's most liberal prison wardens.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.