Sing Sing

views updated May 23 2018


SING SING is the familiar name of New York State's notorious prison, located at Ossining on the Hudson River north of New York City. The description of imprisonment as being "sent up the river" originated there. Sing Sing was constructed in the 1820s by inmate labor under the direction of the first warden, Elan Lynds. Initially the institution operated under the "silent" system. By night prisoners were confined to single-occupancy cells of less than thirty square feet. By day they worked together quarrying stone. They were required to remain silent at all times. When they moved about, they marched in lockstep with their eyes downcast. They were brutally whipped for any transgression.

The "silent" system was abolished at the end of the nineteenth century. In the 1930s Sing Sing provided the model for gangster movies, which created vivid imagery of the harsh prison culture. New York's electric chair was located at Sing Sing, and Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed there in 1953.

Sing Sing remains a maximum-security prison for violent offenders. Most of the original structure has been replaced, but the first cell block is preserved and is listed in the National Registry of Historic Sites.


Conover, Ted. Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing. New York: Random House, 2000.

Lewis, W. David. From Newgate to Dannemora: The Rise of the Penitentiary in New York, 1796–1848. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1965.


See alsoPrisons and Prison Reform .

Sing Sing

views updated May 18 2018

Sing Sing a New York State prison, built in 1825–8 at Ossining village on the Hudson River and formerly notorious for its severe discipline.