In 1891, the State Board of Corrections and Charities published its Fourth Biennial Report to the Legislature, covering the years 1888-1890. As usual, it included a report from its meticulous, reform-minded secretary, Hastings Hornell Hart, on the conditions of each jail he had inspected during this period. Hart's descriptions were short, candid and fair. He quoted inmates on the quality of their meals, grand jury recommendations and even listed the exact dimensions of cells in some facilities, as for example, Stearns County's:
"The jail has been reconstructed. The old cells have been taken out and a new cage has been put in, consisting of three steel cells, three iron cells and a middle corridor. The cells are each 6½x8x7 feet. The front of each cell is of open lattice work, except about 18 inches wide. The rear of each steel cell is of solid jail plate, with a solid door. The rear of each iron cell is of open lattice work. In the centre corridor is a bath tub and water closet."
But he could not resist adding, "The water closet seat is of cast iron--good for nothing--was broken before being put in."
Taken together, Hart's biennial reports document the failures of county-run jails over a period of ten years. By accumulating examples of design deficiency, bad construction, and negligent management of county jails over time, Hart built a powerful case for state intervention. While he did not explicitly advocate new legislation in the following report, it is evident that he continued to believe that system-wide change was necessary. This occurred two years later, when a jail reform act was enacted. After reading Hart's biennial reports, it cannot be doubted that he was the inspiration if not one of the drafters of the reform legislation.
Hart's report on the conditions on Minnesota jails in 1888-1890 is the second of three reports by him posted on the MLHP. The first is "The Jail System of Minnesota" (MLHP, 2012) (first published, 1885); and the last is "The County Jails, 1892-1894" (MLHP, 2012) (first published, 1895). To appreciate his accomplishments and understand the transformation of the county jail system that occurred between 1883 and 1894, they should be read in chronological order.