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To the general assembly of North Carolina of 1917.1

In obedience to the joint resolutions2 passed by your honorable body directing an investigation of the affairs of the penitentiary of North Carolina, and giving us power and authority to subpoena witnesses for this purpose, the undersigned members of said committee beg leave to report:

1st. That during the limited time at their disposal, consistent with their other legislative duties your committee devoted several days with long sittings to the investigation of the matters to be inquired into. They examined some 50 or 60 witnesses, relative to the condition of the state farm, central prison, at Raleigh, and several prison camps in various parts of the state under the care and supervision of the board of directors of the state prison.3

These witnesses gave their evidence in detail and the board of directors through the superintendent of the state prison had full opportunity to cross-examine all witnesses.

Full opportunity was given to the said board of directors and the officers of the state prison to introduce what evidence they saw fit, relative to the matters under investigation and to present any records or documents they had in reference thereto.

All evidence so taken by the committee was taken down by a stenographer, typewritten and a copy of the same accompanies this report.

From the evidence above referred to we make the following finding of facts:

We find that the plant for the housing, feeding and providing for the prisoners on the Caledonia farm4 is entirely inadequate for the purposes for which it was intended. The sleeping quarters used for the colored prisoners is a room 97 feet long, 29 feet wide, with a 12 1-2 foot pitch; along both sides of this room is a series of beds or bunks in three teers, and in the room there are two stoves for heating purposes. The prisoners sleep on these bunks two men, under a blanket, and the mattresses on these beds constitute one continuous bed, the whole length of the room. In this room, at times, are confined as many as 187 prisoners. The ventilation of this room is utterly inadequate. When the number of prisoners, size of room and number of windows is taken into consideration it is equivalent to 15 men sleeping in a room 15 by 15 with a 12 foot pitch with only one window. It was in evidence that the proper amount of air for a person is from 500 to 1,000 cubic feet, which should be changed every 20 or 30 minutes. Under the conditions existing in the above described sleeping quarters there is 177 cubic feet of air which changes only about twice a night.

The youthful and old and hardened criminals are herded in this room indiscriminately, and permitted to bed together, the old with the young. There are cases of loathsome diseases not contracted in the camp, but brought there by prisoners, necessarily making it dangerous for other prisoners to associate closely with them, and incipent cases of tuberculosis. It was in evidence that the prisoners expectorated on the floor while lying in the beds, and conditions were considered by experts upon the subject to be ideal for the propagation of tuberculosis and other infectious and contagious diseases, and that these conditions were inducive to immorality of the worst kind, and especially of sodomy.5

It was in evidence that the sleeping accommodations provided for the whole prison was practically the same as provided for the negroes except that there are not so many white prisoners and consequently the crowding is not so bad.

The dining room is a long room with a stove at one end, and it was in evidence that in cold weather this stove was not sufficient to heat the whole building. The prisoners are seated on long benches before a rough table, the whites on one side of the room with an alley way between and the blacks on the other side. At the present time they are furnished with heavy crockery plates and cups and with knives and forks but it was in evidence that until quite recently they were furnished with tin plates, tin cups and no knives and forks, and that the prisoners were compelled to eat meats and vegetables furnished them with their hands.

The prisoners arise during the whole year in time to leave camp for work by sun up. As soon as the prisoners are dressed the doors to the rooms occupied by the whites and blacks are opened and both races proceed to wash together at a trough about 30 feet long with 10 spigots, the prisoners washing in the water as it runs from the spigots and not in the trough. It was in evidence that the white and the blacks crowd along this trough, indiscriminately, jostling each other and wash as best they can. As soon as the washing is over the prisoners proceed to the dining room where they are furnished breakfast consisting of one large wheat biscuit, known among the prisoners as a “duffy,” a piece of white meat, molasses and a cup of coffee without sugar or milk. The prisoners then proceed to the fields where they work at their various tasks. Their dinner consists of corn bread, one vegetable, a piece of side meat, the vegetable being peas, cabbage, collards, or something of a similar nature. This meal is cooked in the prison kitchen, brought to the field and placed upon the ground. The result of this is that the prisoners receive their food cold, and when in the fields they are forced to eat same with their hands, and they have no opportunity of washing their hands before eating. They leave the fields in time to arrive at the camp by sunset, where they are served with a supper practically the same as breakfast, except that corn bread is substituted for the “duffy,” and soon thereafter they are locked in their sleeping quarters. There is a bath house attached to both camps and the prisoners are supposed to bathe twice a week in the summer and once a week in the winter, but it was in evidence that this requirement is not always enforced. Prisoners were not furnished with towels until recently and then only to a limited number. They all wear one uniform with no distinction. Each uniform is marked with the number of the prisoner, but it was in evidence that occasionally the clothes would become mixed and the white prisoners would receive the underclothes and uniform of the negroes, all clothes being washed together without distinction to the races.

At camp No. 2 there are 30 women prisoners.6 So far as could be learned these women receive about the same accommodations as the men, they work in the field and help wash and mend clothes. The women are housed at night in a room to themselves. When they retire a curtain is drawn across the opening between their quarters and the guard’s room, but after they are disrobed this curtain is removed. There is no matron on the farm in charge of the women, but they are practically under the charge and supervision of the male guards. There was evidence of immorality between the women prisoners and some of the prisoners or guards, and as a result of these conditions a child was born in the camp several years ago. Much of the immorality referred to above is attributable to the method and manner of housing the prisoners growing out of inadequate quarters, and is unavoidable under the present conditions.

It was in evidence that no recreation is provided for the prisoners, no reading matter is furnished by the state, that there is no limitation upon the hours of their work except the length of the day, though it was in evidence that during the summer months the prisoners are allowed one hour and a half to two hours for dinner time, and the prisoners are not worked in bad weather.

No means of enjoyment is provided for the prisoners while not at work on Sundays and holidays, but they are thrown entirely upon themselves and upon their own resources for entertainment. No chaplain is provided by the prison board, though the last legislature passed an act (chapter 15, public laws of 1915.) directing such a provision. The only religious instructions received by the prisoners is that voluntarily rendered them by private individuals who were encouraged by camp supervisors. These men, several of them ministers of the Gospel, testified that the conditions at the camp, especially the housing of the men, are very bad, and as a result of the failure to provide recreation for the men, gambling is very prevalent, and punishment for this frequently inflicted.


It was in evidence that the general method of discipline in vogue on the Caledonia farm and at the other prison camps is that of whipping, except at camp No. — less severe methods were used. The following are the causes for which the prisoners were whipped, to wit, talking, leaving work without permission, refusal to work, indifference to work, cursing, fighting, insubordination, theft, taking provisions out on works, careless or wilful damage to tools, careless or wilful damage to work.

They are whipped generally by the supervisor either upon his own initiative, or after investigation upon reports by guards and other subordinate employes. The whip with which this punishment is inflicted consists of a hickory handle about 18 inches long, to which is attached a lash about 36 inches long, 2 1-2 inches wide, consisting of two pieces of hardness leather sewed together. In many instances the blood is brought with this lash and blisters raised, which in some instances confine the prisoner receiving the whipping to the hospital for at least a week. At one time the prisoners were strapped or tied across what was known as a “goat.” This was a round instrument in the nature of a large barrel, the prisoner’s feet being tied on one side and his hands tied on the other. For some reason this was discontinued, and for a while a rope was placed around the prisoner’s crossed hands and run through a ring to the ceiling and drawn tight by a third person while the whipping was administered. At the present time the prisoner is made to lie flat on the ground on his stomach, and if necessary other prisoners hold him in position while the whipping is administered. The prisoner is stripped of his clothing and received the whipping on his bare skin. It was in evidence that 224 whippings were administered at camp No. 1 in a period of two years, 110 different prisoners were whipped at this camp during this period of time, 110 prisoners were whipped for indifference to work. During this same period 96 prisoners were whipped at camp No. 2, only 10 of whom were whipped for indifference to work. These two camps are on the same farm about a mile apart, and about the same number of prisoners except at farm No. 2 30 female prisoners are confined. Over camp No. 1 Capt. C. N. Christian is superintendent and over camp No. 2 Capt. C. J. Rhem is superintendent. Many creditable and reputable witnesses from Halifax county and other parts of the state testified to the good character, humanity and ability of both these men.

It was in evidence that on more than one occasion a half crazy prisoner was whipped, and in one instance a half crazy man was shot while attempting to escape. This was a negro about 55 years old, who had crawled over the stockade fence, and could have been easily retaken without firing a shot. He was wounded but recovered. There was one instance of a trusty being shot by one of the guards without justification. This man was discharged by Captain Christian, and an indictment suggested by the authorities, but so far as could be learned no prosecution followed. It was in evidence that a half-witted white man, named George Snyder7, who was paralyzed on his entire left was forced to work in the field along with other prisoners, and on one occasion when a whipping was about to be administered to him for an assault on another prisoner he retreated to a cell. He was knocked down by a blow from a guard, dragged out by the collar across the yard 40 feet and a whipping administered. A negro prisoner named ----------who was suffering from hernia and a leaking of the heart, although he had been placed on the sick list by the doctor was forced to go in the field against his protest where he died. Upon his complaint he was allowed to stop work and sit under a tree where he soon thereafter died. The superintendent testified that he did not know the weak condition of the prisoner’s heart, though he did know that he was suffering from hernia, and was under the doctor’s care. The supervisor, superintendent, and guards all testified that the prisoners were humanely treated and that excessive punishment was not administered, and other reputable citizens testified in corroboration of this.


The hospital consists of one room in which both the white and negro prisoners are treated; the whites occupying the beds on one side and the blacks on the other side. This room is heated by a stove in the center, around which convalescent prisoners gather irrespective of color. It was in evidence that the food furnished those in the hospital was of a better quality than ordinarily enjoyed by the prisoners, and came from the dining room of the guards and was ample and sufficient.

Dr. F. M. Register, a capable, humane and efficient physician is employed by the state as resident physician on the Caledonia farm. He gives the greater portion of his time and attention to the welfare of the prisoners and always responds immediately to the call of the superintendent for his attention to anyone that is sick. Dr. Register testified to the inadequacy of the prison quarters for the housing and keeping the prisoners and condemned the same as inhumane and insufficient for the purpose for which they are intended. He also testified to corporal punishment which was sometimes administered, which in his opinion was excessive.

Improvements in the Prison.

It appeared from the evidence that little or no effort is made for the moral or mental improvement of the prisoners, the paramount object of the present system being to procure the largest results from their labors, and to punish them for their crimes. It was in evidence that few prisoner are benefited morally or mentally by the prison term, and that many youthful prisoners are injured in this respect by their association with old and hardened criminals.

It was in evidence that prisoners effected with tuberculosis, as soon as the presence of the disease was discovered by the physician, are sent to the central prison at Raleigh, where they can be isolated from other prisoners, and where they can receive better treatment, but it was in evidence that some of the prisoners were returned from the central prison to Caledonia farm, from which place they were again set back to the central prison.

There was evidence that the steward at camp No. 19 was occasionally under the influence of whisky while at the camp but not while on duty.

Method of Punishment.

The only method of punishment is the system of whipping, which has been in vogue under the several state administrations for the last 50 years. This whipping has been administered solely upon the discretion of the supervisor upon infraction of prison rules observed by himself or reported to him by inferior employes. Each time a prisoner is whipped a record is made of it, and furnished to the board of directors, giving the name of the prisoner, the offense committed and the number of lashes administered. Although many hundreds of whippings have been administered during the last few years there appears to be no record of disapproval by the board of directors of any punishment so administered. The same method of discipline practiced upon the Caledonia farms seems to be followed at the central prison, and at other prison camps in various parts of the state, a record of all of which is kept on file at the central prison. It is also practiced in many of the county chain gangs.

Whitney or Baden Camp.

It was in evidence that the prison officials have leased to the Hardaway Construction company a force of hands varying from 180 to 200. These hands at the present time and for the last two years have been employed at the Whitney dam. It was in evidence that the work upon which they are employed is dangerous and hazardous to the prisoners, who are forced to work in quarrying, removing rock and placing the same in position in constructive work, the result of which is at least half a dozen prisoners were injured and two or more killed. For their work up to January 1, 1917, the state received $2 per day10 for each prisoner, the state furnishing the guard and food. It was further in evidence that free labor during this time received from $1.25 to $1.60 per day.11 The prison physician testified that he had seen a number of men return from Whitney camp and they appeared to him to be “broken men.” It was further in evidence that the prisoners dreaded Whitney and rejoiced to return to the farm.

In the judgment of your committee the conditions existing at state camps is more attributable to the system than to the officials in charge of the camp. The present system has been handed down from administration to administration for the last 50 years, during which time little, if any, effort has been made on the part of the prison officials, or on the part of the state of North Carolina to better the condition of the prisoners. The theory of the punishment seems to have been the pnishment of the criminal for his offense against society, and the production of the greatest profit out of his labor, rather than his reformation and the return to society of a better man when discharged than when received. In our opinion the prison system of North Carolina is inadequate and crude, and we consider it the duty of the state of North Carolina to place its prison system abreast with that of other enlightened communities, looking not only to the punishment of the prisoners but to his reformation as well, with the view of making a useful citizen out of him when discharged at the end of his term; money resulting from the labor of the prisoners should not be paramount to that of reformation.

We find that the larger per cent of the criminals are not known as hardened offenders against the law, but many of them are young men from 16 to 20 years of age, who are committed to the prison for the first time, and that there is a possibility of their reformation, and of making of them citizens that will be useful after their discharge. In the language of Dr. F. M. Register “the basic principle of a reform prison system should be reformation and general betterment of the prisoner so that if possible they should be sent out from the prison better men than when they entered in body, mind and in character. There should be a separation of the whites and blacks and the youthful offenders should be kept separate from the old and hardened criminals; and youthful prisoners, so far as practicable should be sent to Stonewall Jackson Training school rather than the state prison. Indeterminate sentences would be valuable for the reformation of prisoners, as well as an inducement to his observance of the rules of the prison. The parole system would be advantageous in the government of the prisoners, as it would tend to make them better and more faithful to their work and obedient to the laws of the prison.

There should be a classification of all male prisoners in the prison, in the first class should be placed these prisoners who have given evidence, for a long while, that they are worthy of confidence, or whom it is believed would observe the rules and regulations, and would work diligently, and in the second, should be included those prisoners who have not yet evidenced that they can be trusted, but are competent to work and are reasonably obedient to the rules and regulations of the institution, and in the third class should be those prisoners who have demonstrated that they are incorrigible. They should be given reasonable compensation for their work and many other reforms might be inaugurated that would result in the moral reformation of the prisoners.

Physical Condition of the Farm.

The evidence tended to show that the state property at the Caledonia farm is in splendid condition, that it is well farmed, and that large and profitable crops are produced every year. The farm implements and stock on the farm are in excellent condition, and are well housed and cared for. It was in evidence that the stock is much better housed and taken care of than the prisoners. Each mule is provided with a box stall in stables that cost approximately $60,000.12 These were erected five or six years ago, since which time there have been no improvements in the buildings on the farm.

We did not examine the camps of any of the counties of the state of North Carolina, but did bring a prisoner who had been in one of the camps in Wake county before the committee. He was committed to the prison for 30 days for being drunk; he made complaint that he was sick and unable to work and was compelled to spend several days in the county jail on account of sickness, after which he was taken back to the camp and put to work, and was shackled with chains, and was afterwards cruelly whipped. While this was not in line with our inquiry, and the state prison authorities in no wise responsible for it, our only purpose in making the exhibition of the wounds was to show the effects of corporal punishment.13

We recommend new quarters at both camps No. 1 and No. 2, said quarters to be built of suitable material and to provide separate cells for each prisoner with proper bathing, heating, ventilating and sanitary provisions; also a general reading room with separate accommodations for the races, in which the prisoners could meet when not at work and in which they could receive religious and other instructions.

We further recommend that the superintendent of the state prison should be a man of executive ability, business qualifications and practical farming experience and knowledge. We also recommend that the supervisors should be humane men of discretion, wisdom and practical farmers.


The committee further finds that the superintendents and others in authority over the convicts have not acted in any wise inhumanely, but on the contrary have been as lenient and considerate and humane and diligent in the performance and discharge of the duties and obligations placed upon them by the present system.


1. Contemporary newspapers covered the testimony that informed this report extensively. Two newspapers devoted a large amount of space to the unfolding investigation: the Raleigh News and Observer and the Greensboro Daily News. For the News and Observer, refer to issues dated February 15, 16, 17, 22, 23 and 24 of 1917. For the Greensboro Daily News, refer to issues dated February 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, and 24 of 1917.

2. The joint resolution (S. R. 826 and H. R. 905) called for the investigation of charges against prison management. It called for the creation of an investigatory committee comprised of two senators and three representatives and was formally enrolled and ratified on February 9, 1917. Journal of the Senate of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, Session 1917 (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1917).

3. At the time this report was made, the state prison’s board of directors consisted of chairman H. B. Varner, Thomas Gilliam, R. H. Buckingham, N. E. Edgerton, and R. M. Chatham. R. D. W. Connor, ed., North Carolina Manual Issued by the North Carolina Historical Commission for the Use of Members of the General Assembly Session 1917 (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1917), 143.

4. The Caledonia farm was located on the Roanoke River near Tillery in eastern Halifax County. In the antebellum era, Caledonia was one of several plantation properties owned and operated by Gov. Samuel Johnston. The state’s penitentiary system purchased the farm in 1899. NCPedia, s.v. “Caledonia,” by Elijah Gaddis, accessed September 25, 2019,

5. It is important to note that the state prison system incarcerated a small number of minor children. As of November 30, 1916, there were 17 prisoners under the age of 16. Exactly how many of this number were incarcerated at the farm is currently unknown. Annual Report of the Board of Public Charities of North Carolina, 1916 (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1917), 30.

6. Our understanding of the prison system at this time indicates that all thirty women referred to here are African American. A 1916 report indicates that as of November 30, 1916, the female population of the state farm consisted of 25 black women and no white women. The investigative committee reports that there is only one room at the farm for women, which, according to segregation laws of the time, would not allow for the housing of white women in this space. Annual Report of the Board of Public Charities of North Carolina, 1916 (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton Printing Company, 1917), 30.

7. In September 1912, George Snyder murdered a prominent farmer named W. Strawther Cook in the Pilot Mountain area of Surry County following a falling out that occurred the day prior. Newspapers at the time described Snyder as a “cripple” who was “not regarded as well balanced mentally.” He was convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to fifteen years in November 1912. “W. S. Cook Killed at Tobacco Barn Near Mt. Airy,” Winston-Salem Twin-City Daily Sentinel, 13 September 1912; “George Snyder gets Fifteen Years,” Mount Airy News, 28 November 1912.

8. The name of the prisoner referred to here is omitted for reasons unknown. Cross referencing this report to the testimony of state farm physician Frank M. Register, which had been widely printed in period newspapers, reveals that the prisoner was a black man named Calvin Meares. “Condemn Prison Farm Buildings: Legislative Committee Starts Investigation into Convict Conditions in State,” Raleigh News and Observer, 15 February 1917.

9. In sworn testimony before the investigative committee, mail carrier I. G. Shaw identified this steward to be D. R. Ball. At the time of the testimony, in February 1917, Ball had been moved to a prison facility down in Raleigh. W. T. Bost, “Officials’ Characters: Heads of the Prison Are Declared by Their Neighbors to be Fine Men. Some Conflicting Evidence for Committee,” Greensboro Daily News, 17 February 1917.

10. When adjusted for inflation, this amounts to $42.76 in today’s currency. All adjusted figures presented herein were calculated using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator.

11. $26.72 to $34.21, when adjusted for inflation.

12. When adjusted for inflation, this amounts to more than $1.28 million in today’s currency.

13. The young man referred to here was eighteen-year-old white man named Paul Jacobs. While serving a sentence of thirty days for drunkenness, Jacobs was brutally beaten by a guard named Vassar Thompson at the direction of C. M. Miller, an engineer at the Wake County convict camp. “Wake Whipping Case is Presented: Paul Jacobs Goes Before Committee of Legislature to Show Effects of Punishment,” Raleigh News and Observer, 22 February 1917.