These two men look nearly identical, they had the same name, and they were sent to the same prison. Before imprisonment, they had never met. They are the reason why fingerprints are now used to identify people.
1903 – The William West – Will West Case at a Federal Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, changed the way that people were classified and identified.
When a man named Will West entered the Leavenworth Prison System, in 1903, he was “booked” into the prison, as all other inmates. His face was photographed, and his Bertillion measurements were taken. Upon completion of this process, it was noted that another inmate, known as William West, who was already incarcerated at Leavenworth, had the same name, Bertillion measurements, and bore a striking resemblance to Will West.
The incident called the reliability of Bertillion measurements into question, and it was decided that a more positive means of identification was necessary. As the Bertillion System began to decline, the use of fingerprints in identifying and classifying individuals began to rise. After 1903, many prison systems began to use fingerprints as the primary means of identification.