Clinton Prison, often referred to as “Little Siberia,” opened in 1845, the fourth state prison built in New York. This collection includes inmate admission ledgers for the years 1851–1866 and 1926–1939. Volumes for intervening years do not survive. The earliest registers included the prisoner’s name, date and county of conviction, crime, sentence, and physical description. The receiving blotters asked for more information and grew more detailed after 1931. They can include details about the inmate's personal and criminal history and some information about his family:
- prisoner name, alias(es), and number
- sentencing and receiving dates
- county of conviction
- city or town where the crime was committed
- charges, plea, and sentence
- accomplices and whereabouts
- birth date and place
- mental health diagnosis
- nativity and date and port of entry of immigrants
- whether naturalized and when
- parental nativity
- age of prisoner when parents died
- whether prisoner had siblings
- marital status and number of children
- physical description
- whether literate and able to speak English
- employment history
- name and address of nearest relative
- criminal history
- possessions at time of admission
Clinton Prison has deep roots in the Dannemora community, employing generations of residents. Originally built to house about 500 inmates, it grew to incarcerate more than 2,700. The original wooden fence was replaced with walls of stone mined from a nearby mountain and later by concrete. Inmates labored at iron ore mining and manufacturing and road work initially, branching into other industries when this proved unprofitable.
In 1900, Dannemora State Hospital for Insane Convicts opened in the prison (no records of inmates in that facility are listed in these registers). Tubercular convicts found the Adirondack air at the prison beneficial, and prisoners with TB were sometime transferred from other New York prisons to Clinton. Until a new prison opened in 1902 those with the disease were not separated from the general population.
In 1929, a riot resulted in several deaths and many injuries, which led to some reform and reconstruction at the prison during the subsequent decades.