Rules for the Government of the County Jail of Seward County, Nebraska [1888 typescript with manuscript emendations and corrections].
Rules for the County Jail of Seward County, Nebraska and more
Rules are essential for keeping good order in jail. Everyone must know his or her place. The sheriff, the jailer, legal counsel, prisoners. Those in charge have duties and obligations.
In 1888, a typed list of 14 rules for jail was prepared. Rules for the Government of the County Jail of Seward County, Nebraska was signed into effect by District Court Judge Theophilus L. Norval. It was properly docketed, by hand, signed by the County Clerk, R. T. Cooper. There are minor manuscript emendations and corrections on each page of the typescript.
The rules enjoin specific duties on the jailer, sheriff, and county board. These rules cover the treatment, housing, hygiene and medical care, and employment of prisoners. Rules about association among prisoners were of particular concern:
Rule II. When possible, the prisoners shall be classified and kept apart, as follows:
Females shall be kept separate and apart from males. The young of those sentenced and committed for minor offenses shall be kept separate and apart from the old offenders, and those committed for capital or heinous offenses. The young shall always be kept separate and apart from prostitutes.
Furthermore, it was declared:
Lunatics and idiots must in no case be confined in a cell or apartment occupied by those charged with crime, or those already sentenced, and they shall be kept separate, lunatics from idiots, and the harmless from the dangerous. …Persons charged jointly with any crime shall be kept separate and apart from each other.
Prisoners were allowed to communicate with their legal counsel or with a “reputable clergyman,” but their incoming and outgoing mail was to be read by the sheriff. Rule XI regulated communication between prisoners:
No communication of any character shall be allowed between prisoners of opposite sex, or of different classes of offenses; nor shall any communication be allowed with persons outside the jail, except on written permission of the sheriff, or the judge of the district court.
Prisoners were to wash and comb their hair before each meal and bathe and change underwear every week: “…water, tubs, basins, towels, soap and combs are [to be] furnished…” (Rule III). Hygiene among the captive population was a necessity:
Rule IV. All beds, bedding and bed frames shall be examined at least once a week for vermin, and each cell or apartment, and corridor of the jail shall be carefully aired and swept…Beds of straw in coarse brown duck sacks shall be provided for prisoners; and all bed sacks shall be washed and re-filled with bright, fresh straw on the first of April and the first of October of each year… all other work about and around the jail, that can be performed by them, shall be done by the prisoners, under the direction of the jailer.
The jailer was to “carefully observe” that the prisoners’ cells were kept at a comfortable temperature and properly ventilated and lighted. The State of Nebraska, Rule VIII reminds the jailer, required that each prisoner be furnish with a Bible. The jailer was responsible for daily inspections and daily reports to the sheriff:
Rule I. The jailer show make a daily personal inspection of the sales, rooms and apartments of the jail in which prisoners are confined, and daily report to the sheriff the condition thereof, and the prisoners contained in said jail.
District Court Judge Theophilus L. Norval was born in 1847 in Fulton County, Illinois. He received a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Michigan in 1871 and the following year he moved to Nebraska where he practiced law throughout the state. In 1879 he was elected from Seward County to the state legislature and was appointed judge of the sixth judicial district in 1883.
During his tenure as District Court judge, Norval signed the present Rules for the Seward County Jail. In 1889 he was appointed to the Nebraska Supreme Court and served on that bench until 1902. During his tenure on the Supreme Court, from 1894 to 1896 and from 1900 to 1902, he served as Chief Justice. Norval died in 1942.
Norval’s Rules seem enlightened and commonsensical. Treatment of the prisoners was to be humane and there was particular concern for their hygiene. Youth, women, and the mentally handicapped were to be protected. Convicts and the merely accused were to be kept apart. And there was transparency. Rule XIII says that a copy of the Rules was to be posted conspicuously in every room or cell of the jail and in the office of the county judge.
Description: Rules for the Government of the County Jail of Seward County, Nebraska [1888 typescript with manuscript emendations and corrections].
[Seward, Seward County, Nebraska, December 6, 1888]. ff. Typescript. 13 x 8 inches. Onion skin paper; typed on rectos only; manuscript docketing on verso of final leaf. Emendations and corrections. Folds, very good.
Refs. Calendar of the University of Michigan for 1871–2 (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1872). Wolfenbarger, ed., Nebraska Legislative Year Book for 1897 (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1897).