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Convict Labor
 

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The California Legislature passed a law in 1915 (the first page of which is shown below) providing for the employment of convicts in the construction, improvement, and maintenance of the state highway system. 

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This is the first page of Assembly Bill 547, introduced by B.B. Meek in 1915.  The act, called the Convict Labor Law, authorized the use of convict labor on state highways.  Governor Hiram W. Johnson signed the bill into law as California Statutes 1915 chapter 124 on April 27th of that year.

AB 547 (1915)

This is the first page of Assembly Bill 547, introduced by B.B. Meek in 1915. The act, called the Convict Labor Law, authorized the use of convict labor on state highways. Governor Hiram W. Johnson signed the bill into law as California Statutes 1915 chapter 124 on April 27th of that year.

Original Bills, Records of the Secretary of State, California State Archives.


The employment of convicts under the Convict Labor Law was strictly voluntary.  Inmates had to submit a formal application to the State Prison Board in order to work in the camps.  The camps were run on an honor system, by which the convicts gave their word of honor that they would not try to escape.  None of the convict laborers wore striped prison garb.  Each inmate received one day of commutation from their sentence for every two days of labor at the state road camps.

The employment of convicts under the Convict Labor Law was strictly voluntary.  Inmates had to submit a formal application to the State Prison Board in order to work in the camps.  The camps were run on an honor system, by which the convicts gave their word of honor that they would not try to escape.  None of the convict laborers wore striped prison garb.  Each inmate received one day of commutation from their sentence for every two days of labor at the state road camps.

The employment of convicts under the Convict Labor Law was strictly voluntary.  Inmates had to submit a formal application to the State Prison Board in order to work in the camps.  The camps were run on an honor system, by which the convicts gave their word of honor that they would not try to escape.  None of the convict laborers wore striped prison garb.  Each inmate received one day of commutation from their sentence for every two days of labor at the state road camps.

They Wear No Stripes

The employment of convicts under the Convict Labor Law was strictly voluntary. Inmates had to submit a formal application to the State Prison Board in order to work in the camps. The camps were run on an honor system, by which the convicts gave their word of honor that they would not try to escape. None of the convict laborers wore striped prison garb. Each inmate received one day of commutation from their sentence for every two days of labor at the state road camps.

These photographs depict a group of Folsom State Prison convicts and their guards working on roads in El Dorado County, in 1916.

Records of the Department of Public Works, Division of Highways, California State Archives.


San Quentin Inmate #25367. In 1911, Harry W. Dunphy, Jr. was sentenced to  15 years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder.  He served over three years in San Quentin  State Prison before applying for transfer to the state road camps in September  1915.  Dunphy was shipped to State Road  Camp “B” two months later, where he remained until being paroled in 1917.

San Quentin Inmate #25367. In 1911, Harry W. Dunphy, Jr. was sentenced to  15 years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder.  He served over three years in San Quentin  State Prison before applying for transfer to the state road camps in September  1915.  Dunphy was shipped to State Road  Camp “B” two months later, where he remained until being paroled in 1917.

San Quentin Inmate #25367

In 1911, Harry W. Dunphy, Jr. was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder.  He served over three years in San Quentin State Prison before applying for transfer to the state road camps in September 1915.  Dunphy was shipped to State Road Camp “B” two months later, where he remained until being paroled in 1917.

San Quentin Mug Books and Prisoner Case Files, California Department of Corrections Records, California State Archives.



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