The Ohio State Reformatory, also referred to as the Mansfield Reformatory, is a historic prison located in Mansfield, Ohio. Constructed between 1886 and 1896, it remained in operation until a 1990 federal court order required it to be closed. The facility is best known for its role in The Shawshank Redemption.


The campaign for a prison began with the insistence of General Roeliff Brinkerhoff’s after the conclusion of the Civil War, but it was not until April 14, 1884 4 that the state legislature passed a law that created the then-titled Intermittent Penitentiary that would 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 the site offered by 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 the ideal site. The board returned to Mansfield on May 23 and examined the site once again.

A general meeting was held on May 25 in the probate courtroom for the purpose of appointing a committee for the prison project.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 site had previously served as one of the city’s Civil War camps and was close to the Erie Railroad and two major roads, and had ample space for a prison farm.

On June 2, the Board met in Columbus and announced that the reformatory would be located in Mansfield.4 It authorized the purchase of the remaining 150 acres for $20,000.1 2 4

Levi T. Scofield of Cleveland was hired to design the prison,2 which was expected to cost $1,326,769 million.1 2 Scofield modeled the facility after the Old World castles in western Europe and designed the new building in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style.1 2 3 It was to be the largest publicly commissioned building erected in this style.3 Scofield specified that the prison’s frontage measure 679-feet across, the height of the administration building reach 110-feet in height and the water tower measure 160-feet high. Its two main wings was designed to hold four tiers of cells, each numbering 150, with the possibility of vertical expansion for an additional tier for the increase in capacity from 600 to 750. Additionally, Scofield designed the prison to be expanded with another cell block to accommodate 250 additional prisoners.

The administration building was to hold a reception room, the board of manager’s room, the warden’s office, a clerk’s office, book keeping offices and restrooms 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, of Columbus, 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. The first construction contract was let on June 9, 1886 to Hancock & Dow of Mansfield. The cornerstone for the new prison was laid on November 4 and the occasion was heralded as “Mansfield’s Greatest Day” by the Richland Shied & Banner.1 A parade was led from downtown to the new prison site, and the celebration was attended by over 15,000 residents.

The new prison 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 lavish opening ceremony. The construction contract went to Hancock and Dow, a local Mansfield firm. The exterior was comprised of locally quarried stone and brick.2

Funding problems plagued the project, as the state was facing deficits in the years succeeding the beginning of construction.4 A  crisis in 1890 did not help, when the majority of the House, as well as a majority of the finance committee, voted in favor of changing the prison into a insane asylum in a bid to control finances.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 Elmire, New York to inspect the New York State Reformatory.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 larger appropriations were made from year to year.

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

On September 154/172, 1896, 150 inmates that were brought from Columbus by train to become the first inmates at the new Ohio State Reformatory.2 4  With much of the prison unfinished, inmates were used as laborers and installed a sewer system and 25-foot stone wall,2 and later a larger heating and lighting plant and six brick structures.4 A trade school was established, and inmates manufactured shoes, furniture, vehicles, hardnesses, tools and other implements for the state.4 The east cell block, the largest free standing steel cell block in the world at six-stories high, was opened in 1908.1


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 “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. In 1978, 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. 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, known as the Boyd Consent Decree, was pushed back to 1990 due to delays in constructing the replacement facility adjacent to the Ohio State Reformatory. The replacement complex required the razing of the rear support buildings and the rear outer wall.

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

In 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 spend some time behind bars at the penitentiary.1 The prison 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. The prison was also seen in Air Force One in 1997, which was used for scenes of a Russian prison for General Ivan Radek.

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