In 1885 the Board of Corrections and Charities submitted its First Biennial Report to the Legislature. It was compiled and written by Hastings Hornell Hart, the secretary of the Board. After his appointment in 1883, Hart inspected each of Minnesota's 55 jails and even toured public facilities in other states. He set forth his findings and recommendations in "The Jail System of Minnesota" that was intended to shock the Board and Legislature into reforming the jail system. A superb writer, he skillfully wove anecdotes into his descriptions of county jails to demonstrate their deficiencies:
"In the Nobles county jail is a cell with a ring in the floor. The sheriff explained that when a violent insane man was disposed to break windows or do other damage he was handcuffed to that ring so that he could do no harm."
We can assume from subsequent events that Hart never forgot his tour of Minnesota county jails in 1883 and 1884. He continued to write blunt accounts of individual county facilities for the Board's biennial reports, thereby building such a substantial record of jail mismanagement and neglect that intervention by the state legislature to change the entire system became difficult to resist. His efforts were rewarded in April 1893 when the legislature enacted a massive jail reform act that incorporated many of the recommendations he made in the 1885 report that follows.
Before he was appointed secretary of the Board, Hart had been a Congregational pastor in Worthington, Minnesota. His decision to leave the ministry for a position in the newly-established Board of Corrections and Charities places him within the penal reform movement of the late Nineteenth Century. He may also have been influenced by the Social Gospel movement, an important force in Protestantism in post-bellum America.
Hart was secretary for 15 years and developed a national reputation in penology. He left the Board in 1898 to become superintendent of the Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society. Later, when employed by the Russell Sage Foundation, he published many articles and books on juvenile delinquency and prison reform. He died in 1932 at age eighty-one.
Hart's report on the conditions of Minnesota jails in 1883-1884 is the first of three reports by him posted on the MLHP. The second is "The County Jails, 1888-1890" (MLHP, 2012) (first published, 1891), and the third is "The County Jails, 1892-1894" (MLHP, 2012)(first published, 1895). To appreciate his accomplishments and understand the transformation of the county jail system that occurred between 1883 and 1894, they should be read in chronological order.