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To the State Board of Charities:
Your Committee on Reformatories would respectfully report that the several institutions of this class which come under the supervision of the State Board of Charities, have been duly visited by the members of this Committee, and inspected by the special inspector of this Board during the past year.
In reviewing the conditions existing in the several institutions, State and private, your Committee has the satisfaction of recording progress in some important particulars. This is more noticeable in some institutions than in others, but all have been striving to gain a position abreast with the most advanced sentiment and reformatory methods of the times. Some anticipated changes in the location of one of the State institutions of this class will, if accomplished, open questions relating to the establishment of certain technical pursuits and training for special occupation which have not heretofore found a place in the general scheme of our reformatory method. The necessity for the removal of one or more of these institutions, now situated in thickly populated centers, into a rural district where a sufficiently large section of land can be had for the development of agricultural and kindred pursuits, will present a new phase in the industrial resources for reformatory training. This is also to some extent anticipated for the new reformatory for women recently opened at Bedford, which institution has a considerable acreage of land included in its grounds and which can be devoted to such uses.
The addition to the State's resources for reformatory work among women in the establishment and opening of the institu
tion at Bedford will give opportunity for more preventive work than has yet been accomplished by providing for the commitment and care of a class of young girls who are wayward and need to be removed during an important formative period of their life from the great centers of population in which they find those temptations which their environment is not of such a character as to enable them to resist.
Much stress has been laid in previous reports of this Committee upon a classification of the inmates of these several institutions as far as possible based upon character, rather than upon the age of the inmate. In some of the reformatories for women very appreciable advance has been made in this respect by the gathering into cottage families of certain classes of inmates, and of placing them under officers especially fitted for the proper control and direction of such cases.
The changes made during the past two years in the several boards of managers of the reformatories of this State have resulted in marked advance for such institutions in important respects. The introduction of new managers into such boards, who represent the most advanced opinions and experience in reformatory work, has accomplished a wide departure from the long-cherished but unfortunate traditions of obsolete systems.
While congratulating ourselves upon the lines of development and advance, we are still compelled to recognize the existence of some important failures to develop, in a co-ordinate and satisfactory manner, a system of technical instruction for the male and female inmates of these institutions, which shall prove to be the most desirable resource in securing to such individuals a means of self-maintenance on their return to society after their temporary absence from the same. While much has already been developed along these lines in some institutions, and a varied and extended course of technical instruction has been established, the question whether the results obtained from such instruction are the most satisfactory cannot at this time be affirmatively answered. Technical instruction and labor in such institutions are not only required to afford proper
mental development and education for the individual, but it is also demanded to afford to such individual those resources which will enable him or her to secure a sufficient and selfrespecting maintenance in the life in society for which the reformatory effort has been invoked. This question is still a problem for whose solution the most earnest and efficient thought is demanded.
Another conspicuous lack noticeable in the results accomplished from year to year, is a failure to secure the contributions to our scientific knowledge, which these institutions present. In them are gathered a large number of defectives, who, though styled "delinquents," are mainly so because defective. These defectives are such either from hereditary entailment, or from defective early environment, or from a combination of both. Heredity, however, proves the less important factor in the problem, and we must look for an explanation of conditions which exist, to an early environment which has failed to provide for these unfortunates those circumstances which are essential to normal physical and mental development. This idea is rooting itself more and more deeply in the minds of students of sociology, and those who follow the development of our reformatory system with close observation will recognize this as an underlying consideration in the most important lines of reformatory effort as established in our several institutions of this character.
We would emphasize the importance of a general recognition of this fact. In these institutions are gathered a large number of defectives, and it is a necessity for their proper treatment that they should be considered individually; that is, instead of a general line of instruction and discipline, to which all are committed as a matter of course, each individual on entry should be examined by expert officers, who should make a careful and minute record of his or her physical or mental condition of all attainable information regarding the family history and the life history of the individual up to the time of coming under observation in the institution. These details, if
systematically recorded, afford a basis for the proper treatment of such individual cases, as well as a source from which generalizations can be drawn, which will prove an invaluable contribution to scientific knowledge. At the present time no organized system of this character exists in the several institutions, and, hence, this valuable scientific information which might be accumulating, goes largely to waste. It is true that in some of these institutions an effort is made to obtain and secure some portion of this information, but such effort belongs to individual institutions and forms no part of a general plan established by the State and uniformly maintained in each institution of this class. One of the fundamental causes of failure in this respect is observed in a policy, seemingly unwise, of failing to employ the most competent medical service obtainable. for such an institution. This fact is not due to parsimony on the part of the State and its officials, but to a failure to recog nize the importance of the scientific aspect and needs of these institutions, and the erroneous tendency of regarding them as custodial efforts.
These institutions are, in one sense, a branch of the hospital work of society in that they have to do with the care of its defective members. In our hospitals for the treatment of acute diseases, a staff of the ablest, and best equipped physicians of the community is called into service. The same rule should be maintained throughout the entire system of reformatory effort.
We would urge, therefore, a recognition of the importance of an adequately compensated and carefully chosen body of medical officers for the necessities of these institutions and the establishment of a general system of observation and record which shall furnish to the State the information to which it is entitled in regard to its wards, and also shall secure and contribute for the benefits of the students of sociology, that knowledge and information of the causes of dependency and delinquency, in our communities, for the attainment of which earnest efforts are now being pushed in so many directions.
In concluding this report, we feel that emphasis should be placed upon the importance of removing from our centers of population those reformatory institutions which are, at the present time, included within the boundaries of the same. This committee has, in previous reports, dwelt upon the importance of rural life and surroundings in their influence upon the mind and body of the adolescent. For the child, a close touch with nature is all important, and the crowded thoroughfare affords little during the plastic period of life which contributes to physical or mental development of a high order. The proposition, therefore, to remove certain of our reformatory institutions into rural surroundings is insisted upon in this report.
Your Committee feel that they should give equal emphasis to a matter which has been referred to in a previous portion of this report, involving a more perfect and extended scientific study of the inmates of these institutions. The causes of defect and delinquency being known, intelligent measures for their prevention and amelioration can be established. Without searching deeply into the causes of these conditions, any effort for their relief or removal must be partial. We would, therefore, recommend that the Committee of this Board upon reformatory institutions, be instructed to call the attention of the managers of the several institutions of this class within whose province such matters directly fall, to the importance of special consideration of these and kindred questions. This recommendation is made with the belief that, through such effort, steps may be initiated which will lead to the desired improvement in this respect.
A special report upon the special features of each institution is hereto appended.
EDWARD H. LITCHFIELD,
ANNIE G. de PEYSTER,