The state prison in Hudson, New York is an old institution in a very old city. In 1606, Henry Hudson landed here, 115 miles north of Manhattan and 30 miles south of Albany, on the east bank of the river named after him. Commercial development began shortly after the Revolutionary War, when merchants from New Bedford and Nantucket purchased land and laid out streets. In 1785, Hudson became the third city to be incorporated in the state of New York. Once a flourishing whaling port and shipbuilding center, later known for brick manufacture, Hudson’s economy now is based on art galleries, antique shops, tourism, agriculture, light manufacturing and the state prison.

Like its home city, the prison in Hudson has had a long and varied history.

The House of Refuge for Women, 1887-1904

Josephine Shaw Lowell (1843 - 1905)

Opened in 1887, the House of Refuge was only the second reformatory for women established by law in the United States and the only prison in New York at that time for women sentenced by the state. Previously, such women were confined either in New York City or at the state reformatory for men in Elmira, NY. At the time, women were also often confined in local county jails. Appalled by conditions in the jails and poor houses of the day, Josephine Shaw Lowell - Brahmin, Progressive reformer, anti-poverty activist and first female commissioner of the New York State Board of Charities - campaigned for the establishment of a separate correctional facility for women in New York.

Lowell (1843 – 1905) fought for policies that she thought would eliminate poverty not just deal with its consequences.  She became a leader of the new "scientific social reformers" who focused on family patterns as the primary source of poverty and social disorder and on the role that 'indiscriminate charity' played in perpetuating those patterns. In the 1870's, fears about the formation of a permanent underclass of paupers and criminals had turned the Victorian era "cult of true womanhood" on its head: the "fallen woman" was seen as the creator of idle and vicious generation that drained the nation’s resources and threatened its stability.

Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain — Bryant Park, Manhattan, NY

Guided by the belief that older women were unredeemable, the House of Refuge at Hudson accepted only young women, ages 15 to 30 and later 15 to 25, convicted of petit larceny, habitual drunkenness, and prostitution.

Prison historian Nicole Han Rafter observes that life at the House of Refuge for Women was also delineated by two other characteristics – the apparent exclusion of black women and the acceptance of babies born to its female residents. 

Josephine Shaw Lowell Fountain Inscription

The House of Refuge for Women, like other reformatories of the time, kept custody of women according to the principles of indeterminate sentences. Young women were confined for up to five years, believing that such a period under custody was necessary for the "breaking of pernicious habits."

The House of Refuge at Hudson was also the first prison for adults in the United States to adopt the cottage plan, breaking from the custodial architecture then prevalent in this country. It adopted the European system of complexes of cottages in rural areas organized to provide a home – or family-like atmosphere. The location of the prison, on 40 acres overlooking the Hudson River, reflected the growing faith of that time in the curative powers of the rural countryside. The House of Refuge For Women closed following a series of scandals and a declining population. Its demise coincided with the construction of two new reformatories built for adult women. One prison in Albion, New York near Buffalo, which opened in 1893, was designed for women from upstate and western sections of the state; the other prison, in Bedford Hills, New York, opened in 1901 for downstate and New York City women.

New York State Training School for Girls, 1904-1975

Training School For Girls in Hudson, NY postcard. Photo from  Museum of disABILITY History

Training School For Girls in Hudson, NY postcard. Photo from Museum of disABILITY History

In 1904, when the New York House of Refuge for Women closed, the New York State Training School for Girls took its place to establish a separate place of confinement for “incorrigible” girls between the ages of 12 and 15 who had previously been housed with boys on Randall’s Island in New York City or at the State Industrial School in Rochester. 

At one point the Hudson Training School held as many as 500 girls but the population declined significantly as it neared closure in 1975.

During its 70-year existence the Training School was a site for new ideas in social work, psychological assessment, and sociological research. In the late 1930s and 1940s, psychologists J. L. Moreno and Helen Jennings established a new school of psychological inquiry (sociometry) at Hudson. In the late 1950s, the sociologist Rose Giallombardo conducted a groundbreaking 10-month field study of social organization among girls and staff members at the school.

The Training School also came under close scrutiny for penal practices, including solitary confinement, judged to be harsh by standards of the day.

In the mid-1930s, a 16-year-old Ella Fitzgerald, whose famous career as a jazz singer began while she was on parole, was incarcerated at Hudson, a period of her life she never spoke about in public. In the 1960s, a New York City court sentenced a young 13-year-old girl named Shirley Wilder to Hudson, and she later became the lead plaintiff in a landmark court case bearing her name.

In 1975, the New York State Training School for Girls closed despite local community and political opposition. Most of its remaining girls returned to their homes in New York City and elsewhere.

Hudson Correctional Facility, 1976-present

Photo:   Aerial image of Hudson Correctional Facility, Hudson, NY.   Courtesy of Google Earth imaging services.

Photo: Aerial image of Hudson Correctional Facility, Hudson, NY. Courtesy of Google Earth imaging services.

When the New York State Training School for Girls closed, the prison experienced a radical change. In 1976 it was taken over by the state Department of Corrections as a minimum-security then later a medium-security prison for adult male felons.

The Hudson Correctional Facility was used for the general confinement of males 16 years of age and older, work release, and, beginning in 2009 as the Re-Entry Services center for people leaving prison and returning to live and work in the Capitol Region of New York (Albany, Columbia, Rensselaer, and Schenectady).

In December 2015, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Executive Order 150 directing the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and the NYS Office for Children and Family Services to remove minors from adult prisons in the state. In 2016, the adult male prisoners at Hudson Correctional Facility were transferred to other prisons in New York and the Hudson prison was transformed to house those 16- and 17-year-olds removed from the adult system, including all medium- and minimum-security, general-confinement male youths; and all female youths.