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Research Tip of the Month: Prison Records

The Silver Crescent Standard
Fri, 10/01/2021

A Blog Post by Michael Fondren



Federal Records

United States Federal Census

One way of discovering an incarcerated individual is through the United States Federal Census. The census will record inmates at the time of residency in the prison during the census year, rather than where they were living before incarceration. Although the census does not list when they first entered the prison system, finding an inmate’s residence in a previous census before their incarceration can narrow down the years of when they were admitted.


1940 Census Example
1940 United States Federal Census for the Spartanburg County Prison Camp


Although different censuses record different statistics, they typically include the name, relation to the head of household shown as “inmate,” sex, race, age, marital status, and birth state of the inmate. Inmates are typically grouped together under the name of the prison recorded along the side of the census rather than by a street address.

County Records


Knowing the location and rough date of incarceration of a prisoner, a common next step for additional details is through the indictments of a county Court of General Sessions or criminal court. Although SCDAH has a large collection of indictments, we do not hold these records for every county. Patrons can check the county Summary Guide to see which indictments SCDAH holds. Patrons may contact the county’s Clerk of Court for records not held at SCDAH. Some counties are indexed on the Online Records Index, others in volumes or on microfilm.

An index will usually list the defendant’s name, offense charged, disposition (guilty, not guilty, etc.), date of the ruling, and file number. This file number then leads to finding the full indictment file.


Richland County Indictment
“Indictment for Estelle Whitton, 1934,” L 40059 Court of General Sessions (Richland County), Indictments


The indictment may show the dates, case title, indictment charges, solicitor, jurors, witnesses, name of parties, details of the charge, verdict, sentence, and date of sentence. There may also be other documents that will provide additional information such as a coroner’s inquisition for murder cases. Typically, the indictments will indicate a sentence to either the local or state prison. Though much less extensive, the SCDAH does hold a few local prison records within the county which are listed on the Summary Guide.

State Records

Central Registers of Prisoners

If an indictment shows the date sentenced to a state institution, additional records can be found within the records for the Department of Corrections. One source is the S 132001 Central Registers of Prisoners, 1867-1938. Entries are by chronological date of admission and prisoner number.


Central Register of Prisoners
“Sample from Volume 9, page 57, 1934-1938” S 132001 Central Correction Institution (S.C.), Central registers of prisoners


This register includes the prisoner’s name, admission date, assigned number, former occupation, age, gender, race, former place of residence, height, hair color, eye color, offense, sentencing court, number of convictions, sentence, name of sentencing judge, and remarks of other physical features.

Commitment of Prisoners

Records of inmates may also be found in the S 132003 Commitment of Prisoners 1900-1964. These are organized by county and then by date of leaving prison.

Much like the indictments, information can include the prisoner's name, county of conviction, list of crimes, sentence, sentence date, and name of presiding judge.  Additionally, files may also contain other documents relevant to their individual case, including information on paroles. Correspondence and other attachments may be included that describe the conviction in more detail.

Record of Deaths, Discharges, Escapees, Pardons, and Paroles

A more organized set of records can be found in the S 132008 Record of Deaths, Discharges, Escapes, Pardons, and Paroles, 1867-1965. One set of volumes is arranged by category (death, discharge, etc.) thereafter chronological and another set of volumes is arranged by inmate surname and prison number assigned that are found in the Central Register of Prisoners series. These records mainly list a single entry of the inmate’s prison number, name, type of leave (death, discharge, etc.), and date of activity.

There are also a separate series of S 132009 Discharge Books, 1903-1986. These volumes are arranged chronologically by date of discharge. These records mainly list a single entry of the inmates, number, name, length of sentence, and date discharged. There is also a separate series of S 132013 Escapee Books, 1924-1948.


Of particular interest are records of inmates sentenced to death by the state. Execution information may also be noted in the Central Registers of Prisoners series or in the Commitment of Prisoners series.

A good place to start is with the S 132109 Register of Prisoners Sentenced to Death, 1912-2004. For those executed between 1912-1937, these are the only record SCDAH holds involving executions. These are recorded on microfilm reel ST 1685 in the Research Room.

Details of each entry are organized roughly chronologically by a unique prisoner number system. Each entry may include the prison number, name, date admitted, date filed and executed, offense and presiding judge, race, county birthplace and last residence before arrest, education, occupation, age, height, weight, eye, hair, and complexion, any notable marks or scars, where the body was disposed, and other remarks.

On the same microfilm reel is the S 132004 Record of Prisoners Awaiting Execution, 1938-1968. Using the prisoner number from S 132109 Register of prisoners sentenced to death series will locate the record as they are organized in reverse numerical order with a name index on microfilm.


Evans Execution File
“Willis Evans Execution File, 1941,” S 132004 Central Correctional Institution (S.C.), Record of prisoners awaiting execution


Information found within the record include the prisoner number, name, fingerprints, color and sex, county of residence, alias, conviction, sentence, admission, and execution date, presiding judge, age, height, weight, hair, eye, and complexion color, build, marriage status, occupation, religion, education, residence before arrest, birth location, relatives, scars or mark descriptions, and other remarks.

Governor Pardons, Paroles, and Commutations

Inmates and/or their advocates who applied for a pardon, parole, or commutation while serving their sentence may have records within the Governor’s papers prior to 1950. Governors with series to pardons, paroles, and commutations can be checked within the Summary Guide of the Chronological List of Governors.


Parole, Commutation, and Pardon
“Parole for Rufus, Norris, 1918,” S 534004 Governor Richard Irvine Manning (1915-1919), Pardons, Paroles, and Commutations

Records for each individual can vary as not all requests were granted. Information may include applications and petitions, correspondence reviewing the request, and documents granting or denying the request for a pardon, commutation, or parole.

Pardons granted for 1866-1950 as well as paroles and commutations granted for 1909-1950 are also recorded within the Secretary of State in the S 213055 Pardon books series. These records are indexed by surname for 1880-1919.

Governor Extraditions

If a suspect or inmate leaves or enters the state of South Carolina to/from another state, the Governor’s office may have records requesting other governors to extradite or transport the individual back to the state they were charged in. These governor’s records can be checked for an extradition series within the Summary Guide of the Chronological List of Governors.


Governor's Extradition
“Extradition of Jim Caswell, 1915,” S 534015 Governor Richard Irvine Manning (1915-1919), Extraditions file

Records for each individual can slightly vary, but typically include correspondence requesting and processing the extradition and the official sealed documents granting the request.

Other Records of Interest

These are the most commonly used records within SCDAH, but there are other smaller series that could be of use to patrons:

  • S 132002 Central Correctional Institution (S.C.), Farm and contract detail central registers, 1881-1952
  • S 132005 Central Correctional Institution (S.C.), Farm and contract detail registers, 1893-1897
  • S 132006 Central Correctional Institution (S.C.), List of prisoners available for work in the shoe and tailor shops, 1877-1878
  • S 132007 Central Correctional Institution (S.C.), Local prisoners book, 1867-1919
  • S 132075 Dept. of Corrections, Division of Administrative Operations, Inmate records and paroles ledger books, 1954-1970
  •  S 132106 Dept. of Corrections, Certificates of execution, 1990-2004