In April 1893, the state legislature passed a law that transformed control and management of the county jail, an important segment of the criminal justice system. Because the elected county board was frequently reluctant to use public funds for necessary repairs and upkeep of the jail, the reform act restricted county commissioners' operating authority over the jail while requiring them to fund the sheriff's jail budget; it increased the responsibilities of jail keepers while imposing penalties on them for violating their new duties; it empowered the State Board of Corrections and Charities to review new jail remodeling and construction projects; and it authorized district court judges to condemn jails and even approve the hiring of additional personnel by the sheriff.
For a decade, many of these changes had been advocated by Hastings Hornell Hart, the secretary of the State Board of Corrections and Charities. It is, therefore, tempting to view the 1893 jail reform legislation as "The Triumph of Hastings Hart" but he likely would have credited Governor Clough, a receptive legislature and a supportive Board of Corrections and Charities for the result. Nevertheless, he is the rare reformer who saw many of his ideas become law.
Hart's report about the condition of particular county jails and the immediate effects of the reform legislation is part of the Sixth Biennial Report to the Legislature by the State Board of Corrections and Charities, issued in 1895. It is vintage Hart: blunt, precise, thorough, at times sharp and other times complimentary, but always well-written.
Hart's report on the conditions of Minnesota jails in 1892-1894 is the last of three reports by him posted on the MLHP. The first is "The Jail System of Minnesota" (MLHP, 2012) (first published, 1885); and the second is "The County Jails, 1888-1890" (MLHP, 2012) (first published, 1891). 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.