East Jersey State Prison
Criminal Justice System
In 1895, the New Jersey Legislature voted to establish the state’s first reformatory. A year later, construction began at Rahway on state property known as Edgar Farm. When the institution first opened in 1901, the prison held 193 young men. Rahway was run on a “grading” system that graded the conduct of each inmate. A book of rules and regulations supplied to each inmate when he arrived discussed what was expected of him and the consequences of violating the rules. All inmates entered the prison in the “second grade” and had the opportunity to advance or be demoted depending on their behavior. Inmates in different grades were granted different privileges. The inmates’ day at Rahway consisted primarily of school and work. They woke at 5:45 a.m. with lights out at 9 p.m. Those who had to attend school went to classes half the day and worked the other half. Vocational training and jobs were offered, including tailoring, cooking, shoemaking, printing, electrical work, farming/gardening, plumbing, and painting. On Thanksgiving Day in 1971, five hundred inmates held six hostages, including the warden, for 24 hours. Six officers were injured, three with stab wounds in the early hours of the riot. In August 1980, in an effort to reduce the numbers of escapes, prisoners were issued gray prison uniforms. The inmates housed at the prison today are some of New Jersey’s worst criminals ranging from 18 to 65 years of age. The prison is known for three high-profile professional boxers who were at one time incarcerated there. Former middleweight contender Rubin Carter, freed in 1985 after being sentenced to two consecutive life terms, was featured in the 1975 Bob Dylan song "Hurricane" and the 1999 film The Hurricane.
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