The Ohio State Reformatory is a historic prison in Mansfield, Ohio in operation from 1896 to 1990. The facility is known for being the setting for the movie The Shawshank Redemption.


The campaign for a prison in north central Ohio began at the insistence of General Roeliff Brinkerhoff’s after the Civil War had concluded. 4 It was not until April 14, 1884, that the state legislature passed a law that created the Intermittent Penitentiary to serve as an intermediate step between the Boys Industrial School in Lancaster and the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. 1 The State Board of Managers, which consisted of ex-congressman John Q. Smith, John M. Pugh, a former judge from Columbus, and Frank M. Marriott of Delaware, 4 examined a site offered by the city of Mansfield on May 9, 1885. On May 20, a delegation consisting of Hiram R. Smith, M.D. Harter, S.N. Ford and M.B. Bushnell met with the Board in Columbus and pitched Mansfield as an ideal location for a state prison. The board returned to Mansfield on May 23 to review the site again.

A general meeting was held on May 25 to appoint a committee for the construction of the prison. 4 Four businessmen in Mansfield, Martin Bushnell, B.F. Crawford, Samuel N. Ford and Michael Harter, offered the state 30 acres of land with an option for an additional 150 acres. 2 The city, after much fundraising, came up with $10,000 to acquire the initial 30 acres of land. 1 2 The acreage had been served as one of the city’s Civil War camps. It was close to the Erie Railroad, two major highways, and ample land for a prison-run farm.

The board met in Columbus on June 2 and announced that the penitentiary would be located in Mansfield. 4 It authorised the purchase of the remaining 150 acres offered by the businessmen for $20,000. 1 2 4

Levi T. Scofield of Cleveland was hired to design the prison, 2 expected to cost $1,326,769. 1 2 Scofield modelled the facility after several castles in western Europe and designed the new building in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. 1 2 3 Its two main wings were designed to hold four tiers of 150 cells each, with the possibility of a vertical expansion for an additional level. Scofield also designed the prison to be expanded with another cell block to accommodate an additional 250 inmates.

Ohio State Reformatory

Scofield planned the administration building to feature a reception room and offices for the Board of Manager, warden, clerk, and bookkeeper on the first level, and living rooms for the deputy warden and other officers on the second and third floors. 2 The warden’s residence was to be separated from the administration building with a garden court.

George S. Innes was appointed surveyor of the grounds. 4 A contract was let by the board to Cohen & McCabe, of Columbus, for grading with work commencing on July 21, 1886. The first construction contract was awarded on June 9 to Hancock & Dow of Mansfield. The cornerstone for the new prison was laid in a grand ceremony on November 4. 1 A parade led from downtown to the new prison site and was attended by over 15,000 area residents.

The penitentiary was constructed under the supervision of F.F. Schnitzer, and in return for his services, Schnitzer was presented with a silver double inkwell by the governor at the opening ceremony. 2 The construction contract went to Hancock and Dow, a local firm.

Funding problems plagued construction over an economic crisis in 1890 and state deficits. 4 Additionally, the majority of the House, as well as a majority of a finance committee, voted in favour of changing the prison into an insane asylum. 2 4 The idea of reforming young men did not appeal to lawmakers and regarded it as nothing more than an experiment. 4 But with some political maneuvering by Hon. C.M. Gaumer, then a member of the House from Richland County, the reformatory project was put back on track.

To further solidify support for the prison, Mansfield citizens invited the legislative branch on a trip to the New York State Reformatory in Elmira, New York. 4 The legislators were impressed by New York’s system that there was no further opposition to Ohio’s reformatory. An appropriation of $180,000 was granted that year, and more significant contributions were made from year to year.

The facility was renamed the Ohio State Reformatory by an act of the legislature on April 24, 1891. 2

The first 150 inmates were brought to the new prison on September 15 4/17 2, 1896. 2 4  With much of the prison unfinished, inmates were used as labourers, installing a sewer system, and a 25-foot stone wall, 2 and later a more considerable heating and lighting plant and six brick structures. 4

A trade school was established, and inmates manufactured shoes, furniture, vehicles, harnesses, tools and other implements for the state. 4 In 1908, the east cell block, the largest free-standing steel cell block in the world at six-stories, opened. 1


As early as 1933, the Ohio State Reformatory was cited as being overcrowded and unsanitary. 1 A report noted that a large number of inmates resulted in “mass rule” and inmates had “little or no rehabilitative values.” An evaluation of the prison in 1973 called for the prison’s demolition and for the construction of several institutions that could hold no more than 500 inmates total. The Counsel for Human Dignity, a coalition of church and civic groups, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the 2,200 inmates at Ohio State in 1978. The lawsuit claimed that the prisoner’s Constitutional rights were being violated due to the inhumane conditions of the facility.

As a result of a prisoners’ class action suit, District Judge Frank J. Battist of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in 1983 ordered the prison closed by the end of December 1986. 1 The order to close was delayed to 1990 due to delays in constructing the replacement facility. The replacement complex required the razing of the rear support buildings and the rear outer wall of the historic prison. Upon completion of the new complex, the Ohio State Reformatory closed.

The Ohio State Reformatory was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. In 1995, the Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society was formed to conduct tours and raise funds towards the building’s rehabilitation.

In the Media

The Ohio State Reformatory has been featured in numerous television programs and movies. In 1975, Harry and Walter in Harry and Walter Go To New York spent some time behind bars at the prison. 1 The facility was used for several scenes in Tango & Cash in 1989, and again in the Shawshank Redemption in 1994, which involved the creation of Brooks’ apartment, an officers’ quarters, the warden’s office and a replica cell block inside the administration building. The prison was also used as a Russian prison for General Ivan Radek in the 1997 movie Air Force One in 1997.