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The almshouse is intended for those who are unable to care for themselves by their own efforts. Modern society has developed a class of able-bodied persons who are determined to live without work. Many of this class are criminals by profession; others remain within the law and obtain their livelihood by practices which, while legal, are morally wrong. Still others fasten themselves upon charity, and in our almshouses are numbers of this class who have there settled down to live without work, at public expense.
What to do with the able-bodied pauper is a grave problem. How to know him even is sometimes a matter of difficulty, for every able-bodied pauper will complain that he is afflicted with all the diseases known to the medical profession. Something should be done of a work-test” character to rid the almshouses of able-bodied paupers who can earn their own living.
One of the difficulties in decreasing the number of able-bodied paupers in our almshouses is due to the seeming unwillingness of committing officers to exercise the right conferred by law. Vagrants taken before police justices are sent to the almshouse, when in ninety-nine cases out of every hundred they should be sent to the penitentiary. Your committee believes in the exercise of charity toward the unfortunate, and would go as far as any in relieving distress, but it does not believe that society should permit itself to be imposed upon by the vagrant and disorderly characters of both sexes for whom some justices of the peace have such tender consideration.
It is unjust to the worthy poor that such persons are placed in an almshouse. They subvert discipline, promote immorality, are quarrelsome and impose upon those whom the law had in contemplation when it made provision for a public almshouse.
The last Legislature passed a bill through both houses which was intended to correct this evil. The Governor withheld nis approval, and it died in his hands after the Legislature
adjourned. It is hoped that further consideration of the necessities of the case will secure such legislation as may in a large measure cure this evil. To this end the definition of vagrancy as embodied in the code should be enlarged so as to make it equivalent to tramping, and a crime punishable by hard labor for an indeterminate period of not less than six months. The law at present provides for the commitment of “tramps” to prison; it should do the same for able-bodied vagrants of sound mind. This should not be left to the discretion of police justices, for discretionary power may nullify the law.
In every county jail and penitentiary this vagrant and tramp class could be profitably employed in breaking stone for the highways, and if the daily task were sufficient to tax the strength and tire the arms, one term of six months would be enough for very many of the vagrants. They would either go to work on their discharge and thus earn their own living, or else leave the State. In either case the public would be relieved of their support. In order to save the taxpayer and the hard-working citizen from imposition, it is hoped that legislation of this character will be enacted without delay.
The administration of the Civil Service Law has not hitherto covered county almshouses. It is hoped that the constitutional provision will be extended, through legislative enactment, so as to cover the employes in this class of public institutions. The beneficent provision which insures tenure of office to the competent has a tendency to improve the service. Men and women feel that there is much to work for, and with the assurance of continued employment exert themselves to improve the condition of the institutions in which they serve.
In one way the people of several counties are recognizing the principle of civil service. They continue capable officials in office term after term. Some county superintendents have been in service for twenty years or more, many for a shorter period, and few for only a single term. This popular approval of faithful. ness is sometimes overridden by the supposed needs of political parties. If it were possible to assure superintendents and others charged with the administration of the poor laws of a long period of service regardless of changes of political control, there can be no doubt the almslouses of the State would be greatly benefited. In the same way, if the minor officials connected with these institutions, the keepers and matrons, could have an assurance of permaneney during efficiency and faithfulness, much more might be expected from them than at present.
Our whole system of supervising and administering public charity should be beyond the control of partisans, and be safeguarded by the strongest application of the laws governing the civil service. This would secure the retention in office of competent and deserving men and women whose work deserves the highest commendation.
THE DEFECTIVE CLASS.
The intention of the State as expressed in its laws is to relieve the several counties of the support of all indigent members of the defective class. For this purpose it has established asylums, schools, hospitals and colonies in which, classified according to disability, the defectives may be gathered and receive humane, scientific and curative treatment.
As a general thing these defectives are very difficult to manage when inmates of almshouses. The idiots and the feebleminded are subject to abuse from other inmates, and in turn are prone to mischief, often immoral, and, because of their lack of mental power, generally filthy and destructive. The epileptics, owing to the peculiar character of their disease, the suddenness of the seizures and the dangers attendant thereon, are most unfortunate when their only refuge is the ordinary almshouse.
All of these people require scientific treatment, and the State institutions which have been established for their reception ought to be enlarged so as to make provision for all dependents of this class in the State. The moral danger connected with the care of the feeble-minded and idiots requires that for their own
sake and for the future welfare of the State they be closely guarded in custodial institutions. The increase in the number of idiots and feeble-minded persons is largely due to the liberty which has been accorded this class of unfortunates in the past. The females are liable to abuse when away from the oversight of friends, and oftentimes even their own families are negligent of this duty. Every idiot and all male persons of feeble mind, incapable of self-protection, should be maintained in a custodial asylum during life; and all females of feeble mind be kept in a similar asylum during the child-bearing period.
The facilities for the care of this class of dependents are taxed to the utmost in Craig Colony, and as a consequence large numbers of epileptics are compelled to find refuge in the almshouses of the State. The resources of the almshouses, the character of the attendants, and the nature of the disease from which these persons suffer are such that almshouses are altogether unfitted for them. “That terrible form of insanity which precedes, is coincident with, or follows an epileptic convulsion ", known as "epileptic mania”, is a form of disease most dangerous in an almshouse. The violent character of its victims, their destructiveness and irritability, require restraint and control which can only be provided in an institution especially equipped for the treatment of epilepsy.
For this reason the enlargement of Craig Colony should be pushed as rapidly as possible. The almshouses of the State must be freed from all those who are not proper inmates, and the process of classification continue until the almshouse assumes its true form of a home for the aged dependents who may find therein an expression of the sympathy and charity of society.
CHILDREN. The law which prohibits the commitment, to the almshouses of the State, of children between the ages of two and sixteen years has been generally complied with. There are few instances where children of the prohibited age have been maintained for any length of time in an almshouse. It happens sometimes that a child is temporarily kept in an alms house because of difficulty in arranging for its future. Instances of this character are infrequent, and the reports during the year show a purpose on the part of superintendents to comply with the spirit and letter of the law. The only instances which indicate an evasion of the spirit of the law is where it has been necessary to make provision for idiotic children or those suffering from some disease.
In one instance a county superintendent has maintained a child in an almshouse for several years contrary to law, and for no apparent reason other than that it would cost the county a considerable sum to maintain the child in a hospital where he would receive proper treatment. In another county an idiot child of seven years is maintained at the present time. In neither of these instances is there good excuse for the retention of the children. The first instance has deprived the child of all hope of recovery. Had he been taken in time it is possible he might have been helped, but associated for several years with the inmates of the county almshouse, dependent to a large meas. ure upon their attention, he has reached a condition where it is impossible now to give him any permanent relief.
HOMES FOR CHILDREN. The county superintendents of the poor have generally taken a decided interest in securing homes for such children as become county charges. In some counties placing-out agents are employed; in others the superintendent makes all arrangements. An instance of commendable work in this direction is shown by a recent letter from Mr. Alberti D. Smith, Superintendent of the Poor of Essex county, who reports that during the year 1900 he placed in homes, for adoption, eight children who had been committed as county charges, and for the year 1901, fifteen children, making a total of twenty-three, of whom twenty-two were placed in homes without any expense to the