Institutional Newspapers and Institutional Printing Offices
by W.A. Hunter, Warden, penitentiary at Anamosa

With the facilities offered by labor-saving devices has come the multiplication of industries. With advancing ideas has come the progress of civilization. That which a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago satisfied our progenitors—nay, that which a few decades ago, even in the youthful days of many now living—was deemed of the highest value, has been relegated to a place among the curios.

Within the living memory is the recollection of the predominance of private educational institutions; of the prevalence of private institutions for the care of the sick, the crippled, the permanently helpless, the aged and the insane, with the many heart-rending stories of inhuman and incompetent treatment. Now we have great public institutions supported by the state, and every inmate should be its ward, whore life is made a hundred-fold more bearable and where any bartoarlty or carelessness or inefficiency demands a prompt and searching inquiry.

To aid the more efficient management of these institutions, State Boards have been established, whose duty it is to keep a watchful oversight of all that tends to the comfort and well-being of those committed to their care. It has been the policy of Iowa—and a most commendable one—to assist in providing amusements of various kinds, for the inmates of her institutions. This clearly indicates the passing of the hard and heartless treatment which, for centuries, has been the lot alike of the innocent, the helpless and the vicious.

Another factor contributing to the happiness of unfortunates is the establishment of libraries of carefully selected works of fiction, history, biography, science, literature, etc., giving a means of pastime, recreation and instruction, and likewise showing a healthy condition of public sentiment, in whatever contributes to the amelioration of the conditions surrounding public wards. As an indication that this is appreciated it Ib but necessary to state that the library at the Penitentiary at Anamosa last year issued 29,246 books, almost as many as the Cedar Rapids Public Library, which circulated 33,939 for the same period, in a city of 25,000 inhabitants, against a prison population of 500.

The latest innovation, and one to which the public is slow to give its approval, is the introduction of the institutional newspaper. The telegraph and the telephone eliminate distance; the newspaper acts as a receiver of the intelligence they convey,' and gathers the condensed thoughts of many minds, brings together the ends of the earth, and puts into our homes a wealth of information about the most recent happenings in all parts of the world, at a price the poorest can afford. Facilities for the cheaper production of the newspaper are yearly presenting themselves, so that now there is scarcely an organization which does not have its official and representative newspaper. This spirit of enterprise has entered public institutions and there is a growing tendency in all the states to issue, either weekly or monthly, a newspaper, devoted to the work of that particular science represented by the institution, also to seek to furnish to its interested constituency, such Information of the happenings within their midst as may prove of interest, and at the same time, make known matters of importance which are transpiring outside, so that upon an inmate's release he may not, by his appalling ignorance, give evidence of having spent his time, Rip-Van-Winkle-like, away from the busy world.

The value of the institutional newspaper is apparent in the encouragement offered local talent to exercise itself. Take our institution as an example. We have in our care those who have received a good education—perhaps they are graduates of the foremost educational institutions in our land. The columns of the Prison Press furnish to them an opportunity to exercise those gifts which otherwise would become weakened. If these men can be induced to render assistance in the maintenance of an institutional paper, they are thus afforded a help to mental stimulus, and at the same time, are contributing to the delectation of others.

We have another class whose education has been neglected or whose advantages have, through no fault of their own, been limited. These men are encouraged to cultivate their gifts and tastes for literary pursuits, by compelling themselves to read and study and think on given lines, and then formulate that which they have gathered In contributing articles for the Press. One who has recently been discharged from the institution, and who contributed regularly to the paper, informed the Chaplain that the work of furnishing articles for the Prison Press had been to him of the greatest advantage in the cultivation of habits of clear and concise expression, whilst the editor's criticisms upon his productions would be of lasting benefit to him.

The discussion of various themes in the columns of the institutional paper conduces to the development of the logical mind, and the interest shown in controversy has diverted the mind of many an inmate from a morose dwelling upon his past and saved him from yielding to that terrible depression, so often the evil spirit dogging the waking hours of the incarcerated.

The value of the institutional newspaper is shown in that it becomes a permanent record of the topics of current interest, and also a partial history of life within the institution. It becomes a court of appeal upon many questions of fact when, later, doubts may arise. In case of the Prison Press we find it necessary, occasionally, to refer to the pages of previous issues to fix definitely dates and circumstances. This feature is so appreciated by some of the inmates that they become subscribers for the paper and keep a file for personal use and reference. Another feature attesting the value of the paper, is the interest taken by the friends of the inmates; it becomes a partial means of communication. The fact that no less than 118 copies of the Prison Press, subscribed for by 88 inmates, are being sent weekly to the relatives and friends of those in confinement, proves the interest of the sender and the receiver. We receive [illegible] frequently, asking publication, expressing their interest in, and approval of such an enterprise. We also receive contributions from men of recognized standing in the state, which we cheerfully publish. The value of the institutional paper is proven by the eagerness with which its arrival is anticipated by the inmates from week to week. It is their paper. They are as anxious to know what changes are taking place among them as is the resident of any town in the outside world. This eagerness shows that the labor sxpended upon the production of the newspaper is not wasted, for he who is anxious to receive the printed sheet will, we believe, be eager to peruse its contents. This eagerness is shown by the deluge of inquiries, "Where is the Press?" when the paper is belated.

Another benefit derived from the publication of an institutional newspaper is the provision it makes for teaching one of the most useful branches of industry. This is really a philanthropic and industrial plan of education, providing the inmates with means by which, if they so choose, they may thereafter gain their livelihood. In this respect the office of the Prison Press has been a hive of learning to young men, who, coming into the institution without a trade, have gone forth at the expiration of their sentence with, at least, the rudiments of the trade— enough to give them a start in life.

In establishing a newspaper at the Penitentiary at Anamosa, I realized that it was a venture that might call forth criticism and even censure, since it was an advance in the work of criminology in Iowa. That mistakes have been made cannot be gainsaid, but I realized the importance of this work and cheerfully assumed the responsibility, believing that great good could be accomplisehd through this medium, not only as a means of transmitting wholesome and beneficial reading to the inmates, but as an educational and moral factor in the reformation of men on whom had fallen the shadow of crime.

The Institutional Printing Office is of inestimable value, both as a convenience and as a matter of economy. In our office are printed all blank forms, bound and otherwise, used in our work, as well as letter heads, catalogues, etc., at a nominal expense, avoiding annoying delay that usually occurs in ordering from regular houses. Since establishing our printing office, July '98, the following is a summary of the transactions:

Original Investment, $324.35
Supplies, 1898 to 1899, $193.00
Supplies, 1899 to 1900, $363.03
Supplies, 1900 to 1901, $341.21
Postage to 1901, $21.56
Total $1,243.15

Subscription to Press, July '98 to July, 1901 $362.87
Job Work, '98 to 1901, $929.25
Printing and Binding Library Catalogues, $125.00
Weekly Press, furnished each inmate free, from '98 to 1901, estimated 500 copies per year, at 75 cents, $1,125.00
Invoice of Printing Office, July 1, 1901, $762.16
Invoice of Bindery, July 1, 1901, $26.34
Total $3,330.62

Showing a balance in favor of the Printing Office of $2,087.47, and this with a crudely equipped office.

In connection with the printing office we have a bindery that is a useful adjunct. By this means we are able to keep the library books in perfect condition. As soon as a book becomes broken or worn we send it to the bindery to be repaired or rebound. We have rebound more than 500 and repaired 1,500 books that would otherwise be cast aside as unserviceable and lost—also Wooks printed for use of prison, are bound before being sent out.

In this connection I might suggest the feasibility, that with a properly equipped office, the entire work of printing and binding could be done for every state institution under control of the Board, at Anamosa.

The Anamosa Prison Press is a retrospect and commentary from the prisoner's standpoint. The humblest prisoner who has a thought, worthy of expression and knows how to express it, may, through the Prison Press, add his mite to the world's stock of knowledge. There are men in this prison who have noble thoughts, elevated sentiments and advanced ideas that are worth the recording, worth the reading and worth the heeding. The small dark cell will yet throw light on some dark questions, especially criminology. These men are students of their condition; the scholars of misfortune; the pupils of prison life, tutored by steel and stone; the graduates of grief, and masters in the art of suffering. Their grievous experience, coined into golden counsel, may yet pass current with the intellectual wealth of the reformer and philanthropist. In fact, they must do so, because there can be no effective prison reform, nor great diminishment of crime, without a thorough knowledge of the prisoner. But in him, his emotions, his likes and his prejudices, his fears and aspirations, there is a wealth of lore—a wisdom that must be added to the world's stock of knowledge, and ought to have been learned several centuries ago. There is no vehicle for the conveyance of this knowledge equal to the institutional newspaper, and the time is coming when the press of the outside world will pay as close attention to the prisoner and his experience to diagnose that disorder we call "crime," as is now bestowed upon the bacterium of consumption, finance, or expansion—subjects not a whit more important.

To me, proof conclusive that, at least, the Prison Press has been of lasting benefit to the inmates at Anamosa.


~ source: Bulletin of Iowa Institutions (Under the Board of Control), Volume IV, 1902; pg 19-23
~ transcribers note: The Anamosa Prision Press was established in 1898 and printed under that name until July 1907 when it was renamed The Reformatory Press; parts of various issues appear on Iowa Old Press in the Jones co. section.
~ transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall for Iowa Old Press . April 2010.

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