Osborne, Thomas Mott

Osborne, Thomas Mott,

1859–1926, American prison reformer, b. Auburn, N.Y., grad. Harvard, 1884. As chairman (1913) of the state commission on prison reform he became a voluntary prisoner in the Auburn penitentiary in order to learn conditions at first hand. Within Prison Walls (1914) records his experiences. At Sing Sing Prison, where he was warden (1914–15), he instituted a system of self-government for the inmates. The program aroused political hostility, and he resigned after a trial for misconduct although he was acquitted. From 1917 to 1920 he was commandant of the U.S. naval prison at Portsmouth, N.H. His views are expressed in Society and Prisons (1916, repr. 1972) and Prisons and Common Sense (1924).


See biography by R. W. Chamberlain (1935, repr. 1972); study by F. Tannenbaum (1933).

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Osborne, Thomas Mott

(1859–1926) manufacturer, prison reformer; born at Auburn, N.Y. After selling his family's agricultural machinery firm to International Harvester (1903), and founding the Auburn Citizen (1905), a local newspaper, he devoted himself to Democratic politics on a state and national level. After becoming interested in prison reform, he was named warden of Sing Sing (1914–16). For fighting the corrupt New York prison system, he was indicted by the Westchester County grand jury on trumped-up charges (1915). The case was dismissed, but he resigned his post soon after to become commanding officer of the U.S. naval prison, Portsmouth, N.H. (1917–20). The author of three books on prison reform, as well as international prison studies, he was also devoted to music and dramatics.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.