February 9, 1908


Unlike Toledo Judge, He Has No
Sympathy for Those Upon Whom
His Sentence Falls -- Life in
the Local Reformatory.

No criminal who violates the law of Kansas City and is subject to a sentence which will confine him to the workhouse can expect a particle of sympathy. Unlike the Toledo, O. judge who went to the workhouse as a prisoner and afterwards thought the prisoners were probably too severely dealt with, Harry G. Kyle, police judge of Kansas City, contends prisoners at the local workhouse are treated well enough, and his belief is that work is the best cure for a criminal.

Judge Kyle declares he has never yet felt sorry for any person whom he has sentenced, because he believed he was doing the criminal a great deal of good by putting him where he would have to work.

"It would be foolish for me to go to the workhouse and serve as a prisoner," said Judge Kyle yesterday. "I find out how those prisoners are treated by asking them when they are before me. Enough of them go the second time so I know, from their own statements, what kind of treatment they get. They never want to go the second time because they do not like to work, but they do not complain about the treatment or food. It is the best.

"I believe in work. Criminals do not. I believe the best way to make a man better, of purifying him body and soul, is to keep him at work. I do not believe in jails for close confinement. That satisfies the criminal because he can continue in idleness and at the same time get his living.

"There are two kinds of criminals: one is the man who violates the law because there is a personal profit in so doing; the second is the man who violates the law because of some internal weakness which he is unable to control. The first is the hardest to deal with and the hardest to cure. The second sees his faults and tries to remedy them.

"Sympathy spoils criminals. The Toledo official who sentenced himself to the workhouse, that he might see how men are treated, made a grandstand play. I have confidence in Superintendent James L. McCracken and Assistant Superintendent W. D. Heacock, who have charge of the workhouse here, and know prisoners will be well treated. The guards are all responsible men. They feed the prisoners well and I believe this is only right. If men work they should have good, substantial food. To starve them would not cure them of being criminals.


A visit to the Kansas City workhouse will convince any fair minded person that the criminals confined there are as well treated as in any prison in the country. Their food is wholesome and well cooked. With the exception of superintendents and guards all the work is done by prisoners. As almost every trade is represented there it is easy to obtain cooks, barbers, barn hands and waiters.

The bill of fare at the workhouse is much better than the daily diet in many homes. For breakfast each prisoner gets a quart of coffee, a pan of gravy, hot roast meat, fried potatoes and bread and butter. For dinner they have corn bread, boiled potatoes, cold sliced roast meat, turnips, onions, cabbage or other vegetables, and coffee. For supper they are served corn beef and cabbage or pork and beans, boiled potatoes, soup and bread. Dressings and other things of this nature are also served for some meals. The dining room and kitchen of the workhouse are clean, three men being kept busy all the time caring for this part of the institution.

The cells and beds are always clean. White prisoners are entirely separated from negro, except while at work. There are now 129 men and twenty-two women prisoners in the workhouse, and twenty-five men prisoners at the house in Leeds. There are so many prisoners there now that only half of them work at a time, although the authorities expect to have it arranged soon so that every prisoner can be kept at work.

Prisoners are called at 6 o'clock in the morning and wash for breakfast. They sit down to breakfast at 7 o'clock and at 8 are lined up to go to work. Each one is shackled and taken to the stone pile, where most of the work is done, this being the only kind afforded at present, although a few are used on the streets to spread the stone for paving. They work until noon, when they are given an hour for dinner. At 5 o'clock they eat supper and are locked in their cells at 6 o'clock. At 8:30 a signal is given for them to prepare for bed and at 9 o'clock the lights are turned out. Women at the workhouse do the laundry work and cleaning, although few of them are employed all of the time.


James Austin, Jr., is the Toledo, O. police judge who sentenced himself together with a prosecutor and three newspaper reporters, to the workhouse so that he might see what punishment he was daily inflicting on men in his court. Unlike Judge Kyle, he believed they were getting rather harsh treatment. His commitment had been arranged under due process of law and, handcuffed, he was taken in a patrol wagon to the workhouse and thrown into a cell block with pickpockets, thieves, vagrants, drunkards and other prisoners. No one at the workhouse knew who he was and before he had been there long he realized that to be a prisoner was no snap.

On commitment he was commanded to "peel off his clothes" and get ready for a bath in the shower bath room. He obeyed and got ready for dinner. While in line waiting for dinner he remarked to one of his companions that he was hungry and was severely shaken by a guard who told him to "cut out that talking in the line." Judge Austin looked sheepish and obeyed. He was put on a gang to cut ice. The judge joined this gang without a word and worked hard all afternoon. Clad in the regular prison garb of gray he toiled alongside men he had sentenced. He was taken back to the prison after the day's work and given a cup of water, just the same as a regular prisoner. No favors were shown him and he actually experienced the life of a criminal for one day.

After the men were released Judge Austin is quoted as having said: "That first hour was the longest one I ever put in. It is an experience I will never forget, and I tell you I will do some tall thinking before I sentence another man to the workhouse. But I found conditions ideal and have nothing but praise for the manner in which the superintendent is conducting the institution."