State Archives >  Research Topics  > Genealogy > Prison Records
Prison Records

The Commonwealth was one of the first political entities to abolish the use of corporal punishment for crime and to replace it with a system of rehabilitation through incarceration. In 1818 the legislature provided funds for the construction of the state's first penitentiary, the Western State Penitentiary in Pittsburgh. Subsequently, approval for the erection of the Eastern State Penitentiary at Philadelphia in 1821 and for the Industrial Reformatory at Huntingdon in 1878 was granted. The Division of Archives and Manuscripts has population records for these three penal institutions plus those of the Allegheny county Work House. Please note that few indices exist for these records. 

Allegheny County Work House (Manuscript Group 197)

Located at Claremont (Blawnox) the workhouse was established in 1866 and maintained a prison population from 1869 to 1971.

Eastern State Penitentiary (Record Group 15)

Although construction of the prison at Philadelphia was authorized by the state legislature in 1821, the first inmates were not received until 1829. The Act of April 10, 1826, stipulated that prisoners sentenced from Adams, Berks, Bradford, Bucks, Centre (as of 1833), Chester, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Montgomery, Northumberland, Perry, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wayne, and York counties were to be incarcerated at this penal facility.

Pennsylvania Industrial Reformatory at Huntingdon (Record Group 15)

In reaction to public pressure for the creation of a middle penitentiary district, the state legislature in 1878 authorized the construction of such a facility at Huntingdon. In 1881, because of Governor Henry Martyn Hoyt's reforming influence, the legislature converted the institution from a prison to a reformatory for first-offender males between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five.

Western State Penitentiary (Record Group 15)

Although the state legislature authorized the erection of the prison on the outskirts of Allegheny City (now part of Pittsburgh) in 1818, the first inmates were not received until 1826. The Act of April 10, 1826, stipulated that prisoners sentenced from Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Clearfield, Crawford, Eire, Fayette, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, McKean, Mercer, Mifflin, Potter, Somerset, Venango, Warren, Washington, and Westmoreland counties were to be incarcerated at this penal facility.