The State Asylum for the Criminally Insane

In 1855, a growing reform movement opposed housing the mentally ill with common criminals.  The New York State Legislature approved an expenditure of $20,000 to build a separate asylum for “lunatic criminals” at Auburn Prison in 1857.

The Asylum opened in February 1859.  It was immediately adjacent to Auburn Prison, but surrounded by its own 12 foot wall.  The grounds eventually included a conservatory, chapel, carpenter and blacksmith shops, meat and ice houses, green houses, piggery and barns.  The rooms, 8 x 10’ with 13’ ceilings and large windows, were worlds away from the cramped stone cells of the regular prison.  Much of the therapy involved working outside in the gardens and barns.

In 1879, the State Asylum for Insane Criminals held 121 inmates, 109 men and 12 women – less than its maximum capacity of 160.  With rising costs, facilities available elsewhere and a growing need for a women’s prison, the State Asylum in Auburn closed in 1893.

The buildings were converted to the State Prison for Women, which opened the following year.