Wednesday, May 21, 2008


New York, 1895

Three Hundred Prisoners in the Jail.


Liberated in Gangs Before Sentence Has Expired.


Are Justices Bribed to Send Vagabonds to Jail?


Trying to Make the County Pay for Deputies' Badges that He Sells for $5 Apiece and Pockets the Money.


A disgraceful state of affairs has arisen in this county since Henry Doht became Sheriff.

Tramps have been taken out of the county jail, appointed deputy sheriffs, invested with the badge of office, armed with revolver and club, and sent to Maspeth and Ridgewood to do duty as policemen.

The county has been charged, and has paid, $3 per day for the services of these tramps as peace officers. Sheriff Doht broke the law when he liberated these vagabonds. He disgraced civilized methods when he made them officers of the state. What right had he to charge the county for the services of convicts?

Here is another disgraceful state of things. There are 300 or more prisoners in the county jail. That is 200 more than the jail can properly accommodate. Four-fifths of the number are tramps. Certain Justices of the Peace are making as many as 50 commitments a month. They show as much ardor in crowding the jail as if they were getting an extra fee. It was once the practice in this county for a certain Sheriff to give justices a private fee of 50 cents for each tramp committed. We have no proof that that is being done now, but never were so many tramps committed as now.

Only the other day the Sheriff, it is alleged, turned a lot of tramps and disorderly persons out of the jail before their terms had expired. Some had been in jail but a few days, it is said. Some had been sentenced from Jamaica. They came right back to this town, and sought to be committed over again. Doubtless the same thing happened in other towns. No doubt many of them were recommitted. Why should Sheriff Doht turn these prisoners out to let in others? He broke the law when he did so.

It costs $8 to $12 for each tramp committed. If the tramps that to-day are committed for 30 days should be let go one week hence, and should then be recommitted for another 30 days, and this practice should be continued, the county would be robbed of thousands of dollars. It does seem as if this is what is being done.

The late Grand Jury in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Judge Bartlett presiding, made an investigation of the jail, and presented the following strong condemnation of some things that astonished them. The organs that are bribed by patronage to make excuses for the Sheriff and abuse THE FARMER will have trouble to get around this. The Grand Jurors say:

COURT HOUSE, Queens County, Jan. 28, 1895.

To Honorable Willard Bartlett, Presiding Judge:

DEAR SIR — We, the undersigned Grand Jurors, drawn and empanelled to serve at a Court of Oyer and Terminer held at the Queens County Court House, Long Island City, Jan. 7, 1895, do make the following presentment as to the sanitary condition, management, &c., of the county jail, as instructed by the court and as the law directs:

First — We have carefully gone through the jail and inspected the different wards, cells, corridors, kitchen and yards, and find them in as clean and good sanitary condition as the over-crowded condition of the jail will allow, and do so report.

Second — We also find that there are now confined within said jail nearly THREE HUNDRED PRISONERS, committed either for criminal offences or vagrancy. Fully four-fifths are able-bodied vagrants. We find it the practice of the town constables to arrest them, take them before a justice, who commits them to the County Jail for terms varying from thirty days to six months, where they are boarded and lodged at a weekly expense of three dollars per head to the county. When their term expires the same process of commitment is repeated at a cost to the county of about $8 for each commitment. To keep this army in good health, the Supervisors of the county provide crude rock for them to break into fragments, suitable for builders or roadmakers' uses, which, when duly prepared, is sold for a less sum per cubic yard than the crude rock cost the county delivered at the yard.

Third — In view of the fact that this county is now taxed heavily for the purpose of building new roads and repairing those already constructed; also for building and repairing the various county institutions, and the average taxpayer has to labor hard and practice the closest economy to meet this tax, while these lazy drones are reposing in this public hive in idleness, it is the opinion of this body that the board of Supervisors should devise some measures to correct this growing evil, and to provide some employment whereby vagrants may be made to contribute to their own support, and benefit the county, and if not within their powers to do so, to try and devise some legislation that would cover the ground, clear this county of this horde of tramps, who terrorize the inhabitants during the summer months, and then have to be supported by this county during the winter months in idleness.


What the Grand Jury say about the stone breaking abuse is precisely what THE FARMER said several weeks ago. The Grand Jury might have gone farther and stated that very much of the broken stone was stolen from the county. Contractors who got the stone said they had paid certain Supervisors for it. The Supervisors denied it. The county never got a dollar for the stone.

At the last meeting of the board of Supervisors a bill was presented for audit for making Deputy Sheriffs' badges. The county has no right to pay such a bill. Sheriff Doht sells badges to Deputy Sheriffs at $5 apiece and puts the money in his pocket. If the county must pay for making the badges, then the profits, about $4.60 on each badge, should accrue to the county. No other sheriff ever sought to make the county pay for his badges. The bill should be thrown out.

If the badges were needed for the tramps who were made policemen, the county should not pay the bill. The Sheriff charged the county $3 per day for the services of these convicts, therefore the Sheriff should pay the badge bill.

Sheriff Doht has had a bill audited in his favor for $3,000 for the services of deputies at Ridgewood and Maspeth during a part of the strike on the city railroads. If some tax-payer would bring an action to restrain the payment of this bill the court would knock a big chunk out of it. The sum of $3 per day is charged for the service of these deputies. It is a notorious fact that most of them received but $2.50 a day. The sheriff is not entitled to a profit of 50 cents a day on each deputy. He is simply entitled to have what he pays out returned to him, and to be personally compensated for his services.

In another matter the county was made to pay $194 for services to the sheriff that the county was not liable for at all. The sheriff got the benefit of it personally. The tax-payers are being imposed upon unlawfully and unreasonably, and the Supervisors should make a stand against it.

We see it stated in the Long Island City Star that the Sheriff wants the board of Supervisors to pay out of the public treasury for an inside watchman, an outside watchman, and a jail keeper. There is not a jail in the state of New York where the Sheriff does not pay these expenses himself. In Mr. Norton's time two watchmen were employed for a time, and later but one, and the county paid them, but it was all wrong, and THE FARMER said so at the time. Sheriff Norton did not ask the county to pay his jail keeper, nor has any other Sheriff ever asked such a favor. As well might the county pay the Under Sheriff, and the Chief Clerk, and it may come to that, under Mr. Doht.

The board of Supervisors should stand as a barrier between the tax-payers and the greed of the Sheriff's office.

—The Long Island Farmer, Jamaica, NY, Feb. 8, 1895, p. 1.

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