Location is primary and immediate in identifying crime. The format of a news alert makes essential the “what” and “where” for citizens’ precaution and for the attention of authorities. Outside of their primary functions, criminal reporting, as well as perhaps a separate perception of crime, have seldom appeared to be homogeneously distributed in space in socio-political theory. As early as 1833, in the first American translation of Gustave de Beaumont and Alexis de Tocqueville’s book, On the Penitentiary System in the United States and Its Application in France, New Yorker Francis Lieber claimed simply in his introduction that “cities produced more crime than rural regions”. The theories of influence Lieber accounts, including those that population “size equaled deviance” were questioned since American Urban Analyst Adna F. Weber in The Growth of Cities. Weber’s analysis went beyond sheer measures of population to refine theories of crime’s causality, relating nefarious activity to the number of saloons and bars per capita, to public anxieties and infrastructural decay from overcrowding, and to the development of shared ideology in packed spaces, with basis in German Analyst Dr. George Hansen. Though these theories held some clout during the 19th and turn of the 20th centuries, many are objectively fallacious (Erik H. Monkkonnen counted the conflation of a greater sample size in a populated city with more crime per capita). In his study on homicide cases in New York City in the late 19th into the turn of the 20th century, Eric H. Monkkonen asserts that Lieber’s and Weber’s analyses are empty abstract logic. Though their theories are unfounded, independent of actual observation and analysis of urban populations, some social clout was falsely created when observable realities were rationalized in academic work to fit the theory. Of Webner’s analysis in 1833, as well as the mistake of conflating sample size with inflated crime per capita, Monkkonnen finds that “if this was popular perception, which then was reinforced by sociological theory, and then, after the mid twentieth century, even came to be true, these confluences may be the source of our misconceptions. By the mid twentieth century, the association of big cites with crime had changed to conform to the theory [that] big cities did tend to have more crime per capita.”
The original Sing Sing cell block first housed prisoners in 1828. By 1830, a hospital, kitchen, and chapel were added to complete the structure. During the 1830’s through the turn of the twentieth century, most hospital beds were housed on the top floor of the main structure. By 1900, the new hospital building was erected. Within the hospital, physicians, nurses, and inmate volunteers worked to maintain the health of the prison population. Dentistry, patient rooms, a pharmacy wing, and outpatient clinics were also created to allow for the treatment of chronic disease and tooth decay. In the main hospital wing, physicians employed by Sing Sing performed two essential duties: entrance examinations and urgent care. Although the hospital allowed for certain treatments, some conditions were beyond the capabilities of the Sing Sing facilities. According to records from the National Committee on Prisons in 1916, the hospital was equipped to treat most illnesses and perform emergency surgeries such as appendectomies, but specialized procedures such as brain surgery were not performed on site. Should a situation arise when the amenities at Sing Sing’s hospital were not sufficient, prisoners were sent to Matteawan State Hospital nearby and returned to Sing Sing at their recovery .
Late eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century prisons were places of unbridled misconduct, overcrowding, illicit activity, and disease. Ironically, within prisons constructed before germ theory, the push for solitary confinement was not affected by the knowledge that human contact spreads disease; rather, the purpose of constructing individual cells was to prevent the spread of moral disease from inmate to inmate. The notion that constant silence and solitude can instill virtue, although it seems draconian, was a driving force behind penal reform that inspired the construction of silent and separate prisons around the world. A prison that was both silent and separate forbade communication between inmates, or speech in general, and housed each inmate in his or her own cell. Comparison of varying silent and separate prison systems gives context to reform taking place specifically within prisons such as Sing Sing.
The pseudoscience of phrenology became an integral part of prison healthcare in the mid nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. Scientists, criminologists, and psychiatrists began to theorize that the shape of a person’s head directly correlated with their character and behavior. Phrenology asserted that the “brain is the organ of the mind…and without brain there is no manifestation either of feelings, or intellectual functions.” Earlier philosophers such as Hippocrates speculated that the brain controlled psychological properties, and phrenologists sought to understand this belief by providing scientific evidence. Specific portions of the skull were thought to control certain aspects of a person’s behavioral traits. Phrenologists believed the physical shape of the brain corresponded with physical bumps on the skull, and observing the external head could determine the internal mind.
In 1914, Dr. Amos O. Squire accepted a full time position as chief physician at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. Thanks to public fascination with the prison system, Squire became a minor celebrity in Ossining and began to record his experiences in writing following his retirement. Through numerous newspaper interviews and the final manuscript of his autobiography published in 1935, Sing Sing Doctor, Dr. Squire offered little known insight into prison healthcare in the early 1900’s.