Posts Tagged ‘juvenile court’

“In so far as education has proved successful, in repressing vagrancy, I would answer, (without intending disparagement of the benevolent intentions of the projectors of the
scheme, or the zeal of the officials employed in its administration) No! 

The children of the dissolute and careless remain, to a great extent, outside its influences; progressing to crime and vagrancy is expanding yearly into still more frightful
dimensions, presenting now too alarming an aspect not to call for prompt and grave consideration
in the proper quarter. 

In the neglect of the proffered advantages of education, the children are frequently
to blame; but the parents are more generally the guilty party. Had they the welfare of
their offspring at heart, they would compel their attendance at school, where the opportunities
were available; but, instead of doing so, they, too often, not only connive at their
truancy, but absolutely encourage it, and find for them, instead, occupations calculated to
make them idlers and rogues; the children thus growing up pests to society, shunning
alike industry and education. 

Those who have gardens within a city, know the aptitude of the vagrant boys to strip
them of everything worth carrying off; and the owners of’ house property are aware, to
their cost, of the sharp artillery practice of this class, when the destruction of the windowglass
of their untenanted houses has to be accomplished. 

The encouragement given to vice, through the random charity bestowed in the public
streets on the “please give me a copper” class of vagrants, is much greater than the
benevolent contributors are generally aware of. The quantity of poison, yelept whiskey;
bought in a week or month with the alms thus given, would make a frightful flood, if collected
in one reservoir. 

Not alone by the parents and their vile associates the baneful beverage thus obtained
is consumed. hie youthful mendicant through whose doleful whines it had been procured, is also a partaker of it, and the harrowing spectacle of the innocence of childhood degraded,
through the example of the parents, to the level of brutality, may be witnessed on walking
through the slums inhabited by this wretched class, in the vagrant of some seven or eight
summers, the tyro drunkard, proud of mimicking, in its little maudlin swagger and hiccup,
the daily action of the miserable parent. 

Should any imagine that the picture here is overdrawn, let them but refer to the police
authorities of our populous cities, and they will receive the saddening confirmation of it.
It is, perhaps, whilst his heart is filled with the courage inspired by the liquor, the
youthful beggar first attempts a higher part in the role of vagrant life. The fear of being
pounced on by some lynx-eyed police officer, is no longer before his fuddled vision.  In
strolling about lie comes across something which his infant intelligence tells him can be
turned into money; he sneaks off with it unseen, and reaches home with it, undetected, where, through the agency of a “receiver,” or the accommodating officers of the grogseller,
it is speedily converted into whiskey.

From thus picking up small waifs on the wharves and market places, carrying home
“stray ” sticks of cordwood, taking off keys carelessly left in doors and such small beginnings,
the vagrant acquires confidence by success, creeping up into the bigher walks of
pickpocket, burglar, counterfeiter, in short everything which an adept in his profession
may aspire to until filling a cell in the Penitentiary…or a felon’s grave. 

The end so shocking, what was the beginning? Too generally, Vagrancy!

If the vagrant is to be reclaimed and the public spared the injury and cost of his misdeeds, some organized agency for the purpose is requisite.

This must necessarily be a state institution. The support desirable from private
beneficence is to uncertain to base on it the maintenance of a permanent undertaking. 

While simply pointing out the necessity that exists for some salutary measure, I do
not intend to enter upon the details of its organization, these would necessarily follow on
the adoption of the principle. 

The plans devised in those older countries, where vagrancy has been a subject of
state legislation, would supply the best information that made valuable by experience. 

That mode of treatment would best succeed, which would be gentle and compassionate.
The proceedings of the tribunal before which the vagrant should be brought for
examination, should be different from those pursued towards adult prisoners, and divested
of the exposure consequent on actual crime. 

The detectives employed (men tender and considerate) should be a body distinct from
the civic police, not alone in the duties discharged, but in the externals of dress. 

The vagrant, when taken up, should not be confined in an apartment used by the
criminals or disorderly classes, nor examined at the same time, or at the same place, with
them. Every harsh and repulsive feature should be put aside, that could give the appearance
of criminal prosecution to this first movement of benevolence in behalf of the vagrant.
The case should be enquired into in the presence of the parents, if the vagrant have
any, and they could be found; and every information possible should be obtained, in the
meantime, touching their reputation and habits. 

As, with every other scheme proposed for public consideration, objection may be made
to this one, on the ground of its expense, there need be but little room for this objection,
I imagine. 

Thus officers, one of them holding rank over the others, and competent to keep the
records of the department, and an office in which to keep these, which would also answer
for the Court, would constitute the bulk oi the expense, and this simple arrangement
would, at least for the present, embrace the necessary machinery for working the system. 

There are benevolent institutions at present in operation in Toronto which, under
suitable arrangements, would be found adequate to give the experiment a trial, and at
very small cost, I would suppose.
In the “ Boys’ Home,” an institution founded by some benevolent ladies of that city, and which has already done much to check the evil which is the subject of these remarks, would probably be found at least for some time a refuge for those vagrants of the Protestant
faith, and in the Reformatory Farm School, established by His Lordship the Catholic
Bishop of Toronto, would, I have no doubt, be received, those belonging to the Catholic

The establishment of such a tribunal and its machinery would, I have little doubt, be
hailed by many a sorrow-stricken parent as a blessing.
For the refractory youth-so often spoiled by blind indulgence, who does truant shuns from school and the parental roof, and associates with none but the worst of companions, and over when the parents have lost all influence, yet whom they cannot bring themselves to place in a prisoner’s dock; this tribunal and its-sentence of committal to a
strange but benevolent home, would be a merciful recourse, and, in all probability, restore
many a repentant prodigal to welcoming parents.”

– Inspector Terence O’Neil, “SEPARATE REPORT FOR THE YEAR 1864,” Annual Report of the Board of Inspectors of Asylums, Prisons &c for the year 1864. Sessional Papers of the Province of Canada, Sessional Papers No. 14, 29 Victoria, A. 1865. pp. 79-82

Read Full Post »

“Destructive Boys To Get Strapping,” Toronto Star. July 30, 1938. Page 05.

Caused Damage at Western Ontario Fair Grounds

London, Ont., July 30. – Two 11-year-old boys, convicted of causing extensive damage to buildings in the Western Ontario Fairground buildings, were sent to the York Street Observation Home for a ‘sound’ strapping, under orders issued yesterday by Magistrate Donald B. Menzies in juvenile court.

Four boys were involved in the affair in which windows were smashed, telephone booths wrecked and showcases broken, but the other two were so young they could not be charged in any court.

Read Full Post »

“Sent to Industrial School.” Kingston Daily Standard. July 17, 1912. Page 08.
In juvenile court this morning a 16 year old lad was sent to the Industrial School. He was found guilty of having stolen a fare box from the Street Railway Company. Another boy who was implicated in the theft was remanded. There were five in the crowd, and warrants are out for the other three.

Read Full Post »

“Burglarized Fruit Store,” Kingston Daily Standard. July 11, 1912. Page 01.

Two Youths Caught in Royal Fruit Store.

One Boy, Aged 14, Was Arrested – The Elder Boy Escaped – Had Beans, Fruit and Cigarettes.

The operations of two youthful burglars in the Royal Ice Cream Parlor were interrupted about 5 o’clock this morning by the proprietor, Michael Pappas. One of the young thieves, aged 14, was captured and appeared before the magistrate in juvenile court this morning. He was remanded until Friday morning.

That the young boys had every detail well planned is evidenced by the fact that they left bicycles in an alley near by. Granting entrance to the back of the shop by the shop leading off Montreal street, the young lads forced this back door and had just taken possession of a can of beans, a tin of fruit and some cigarettes when they were disturbed by the proprietor. A quantity of ice cream had been consumed and destroyed, as well as a number of dishes.

The elder boy escaped but the police will probably arrest him this afternoon.

Read Full Post »

“Bad Boy Makes Escape,” Kingston Daily Standard. July 11, 1912. Page 02.

A boy under twelve years old, who was convicted in the children’s court of theft and forgery and sentenced to two years in the Industrial school escaped when being taken to the railway station.

“Rained In Portsmouth,” Kingston Daily Standard. July 11, 1912. Page 02.

A remarkable phenomenon was witnessed on Tuesday in connection with the rain which fell in the surrounding district. Rain fell heavily in parts of Portsmouth, but while the Penitentiary received a copious drenching, not a drop fell on this side of it. It also rained heavily at Kingston Mills.

Read Full Post »

“Three Years for Youth,” Toronto Globe. April 30, 1914. Page 08.

William Redsell Pleads Guilty of Housebreaking.

In the Police Court yesterday morning William Redsell was given a heavy sentence of three years in the Kingston Penitentiary. Redsell, who is only 17 years old, his two companions, Isaac Levine and Samuel Stein, both 13 years of age, were charged with housebreaking. Redsell pleaded guilty. His two companions were remanded for a week in the Shelter by the Juvenile Court Commissioner.

Read Full Post »

“Served Sentence – Asks Judge for Job,” Montreal Gazette. April 3, 1914. Page 03.

Boy Came From Reformatory to Juvenile Court Promising to Make Good

Has Learned A Trade

Reformed Youth Was Great Contrast to Incorrigible Youngster Who Wanted to Be a Cowboy.

The before and after treatment of effects of the Juvenile Court system in Montreal were strikingly illustrated yesterday when, after Judge Choquet had disposed of a number of refractory cases of youngsters who would not obey their parents, and court had adjourned, a youth of about seventeen, though small for his age, walked into the court room with a bright smile upon his face and extended his hand to the judge and Mr. Owen Dawson, clerk of the court.

‘Why, don’t you remember me?’ asked the youngster, noting the puzzled expression of the clerk and the judge. ‘You sent me to the reformatory two years ago for stealing, Judge,’ he continued, ‘and I’m out now, and I want to make good. Can you help me get a job?’

Judge Choquet did remember then, when the boy had told his name. He also remembered that the youngster had seemed one of the most incorrigible of all the refractory youths that had come before him up to that time, and that he had no alternative but to send the boy to the Montreal Reform School for two years, the apparent change in the boy’s character was therefore gratifying.

Checking up the boy’s story, Judge Choquet found that his conduct had been admirable at the reform school, and that he had learned the trade of a tinsmith. Both the judge and Mr. Dawson are now on the lookout for a job for him.

Somewhat in contrast to this boy’s desire to become a respectable citizen was the case of another youngster, about fifteen years old, whose inclinations ran towards living as a wild Indian, or a cowboy at least. With a large leather belt that he had obtained in a machine shop where he formerly worked, he had fitted up a regular arsenal of cartridge pockets, knife sheath, and revolver holster, an each of these effects, with the exception of the revolver, when his father took him to the Juvenile Court yesterday morning.

The father complained that the boy wouldn’t work or wouldn’t stay at home, and had threatened to stab and shoot his parents when they attempted to correct him. Questioned by Judge Choquet, the boy said he had seen cowboys and Indians performing in the moving pictures, and he was determined that he would go west and become a cow puncher. He wouldn’t promised to do anything unless the judge would help him to get a job out west. The youngster was remanded for eight days to give him time for reflection and if he is still recalcitrant at the end of that time Judge Choquet will try to get work for him on some nearby farm. The belt, cartridges and a dangerous looking sheath knife were appropriated by Mr. Dawson and placed with the selection of weapons he has been making for some time past. The youth was said to have had a revolver which he had hidden.

Another boy charged with stealing […] from an uptown store, was sentenced to four years in the reformatory when he refused to promise amendment.

Read Full Post »

“Louis Gallow Was Too Smart,” Hamilton Spectator. March 1, 1919. Page 23.

Called Back For ‘Sassing’ Magistrate To-day
Term At Burwash Transferred to Kingston

Louis Gallow is a bad boy. Nine times he has appeared before the magistrate on charges varying from disorderliness to theft, and this morning he faced a charge of stealing $223 from George Brooks, an employe of Bowles’ lunch. Detective Shirley told of rounding up Louis with another boy named ‘Mickey,’ who appeared in the juvenile court on the same charge, and of securing a confession from Gallow.

‘I didn’t take the money, your worship,’ pleaded Louis, who is only seventeen years of age. ‘Mickey sez to me there was a guy who gave him some money for something and he knew where the money was, so we went up to the room and Mickey came out with the money and gave me $80.’

Detective Shirley said that he searched Gallow’s house, at 12 Tiffany street, and found the eighty dollars in the cellar. He further stated that while in the cells the boy paid his respects to the police by carving the names of the various officers who had arrested him on his bench and imputing filthy names to them.

‘Won’t you give me a chance?’ pleaded Gallow, as Magistrate Jeifs was about to give sentence.

‘Good gracious! How many more chances do you want?’ asked the magistrate, incredulously.

‘I never had a chance yet,’ insisted the boy.

‘Well, I’m going to send you to Burwash for two years, less one day,’ said his worship.

As he was being taken away, Gallow pulled off a bit of smartness that landed him into still more serious trouble. Turning around, he shouted to the cadi, ‘And thanks for it, too.’

‘Call him back,’ ordered the magistrate. ‘You will now receive 23 months at Kingston penitentiary, where you might learn something.’

Read Full Post »

““The past decade marks a revolution in the attitude of the state toward its offending children,” proclaimed a 1909 Harvard Law Review article by Julian W. Mack. Until then, Mack wrote, “our common criminal law did not differentiate between the adult and the minor who had reached the age of criminal responsibility,” leaving child offenders “huddled together” with adults in jails and workhouses. Before the juvenile justice “revolution” he described, the age of criminal responsibility in U.S. states ranged from 7 to 12.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, reformers pushed for the creation of juvenile court systems that would seek to rehabilitate child offenders.

This harshness toward children derived from traditional English common law, which convicted and punished 7- to 14-year-old children as long as they appeared to understand the difference between right and wrong. There are records of children as young as 10 put to death in eighteenth century England.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, U.S. reformers pushed for the creation of juvenile court systems that would seek to rehabilitate—not just punish—child offenders. As the legal scholars David S. Tanenhaus and Steven A. Drizin outline in a 2002 paper in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, the first juvenile court opened in 1899 in Cook County, IL (home of Chicago), thanks to reformers Lucy Flower and Julia Lathrop. By 1909, more than 30 American jurisdictions adopted similar legislation, as did Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, and Australia.

Writing in 1909, Mack captured the prevailing view toward reform over punishment: “the child who has begun to go wrong, who is incorrigible, who has broken a law or an ordinance, is to be taken in hand by the state, not as an enemy but as a protector, as the ultimate guardian.” Ideally, he wrote, convicted children should be placed on probation, assigned a guardian, and allowed to remain in their own homes and communities. In cases where removal from the home was deemed necessary, the Supreme Court of Illinois ordered that “a real school, not a prison in disguise, must be provided.”

“What they need, more than anything else, is kindly assistance,” wrote Mack. “The aim of the court in appointing a probation officer for the child, is to have the child and the parents feel, not so much the power, as the friendly interest of the state.” He quoted a Supreme Court of Utah decision, which declared that a juvenile judge must be “a man of broad mind, of almost infinite patience, and one who is the possessor of great faith in humanity.”

As the movement toward mercy and reduced culpability for children swept the nation, in 1920 criminal law journal article, Arthur Towne, the superintendent of the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, considered whether New York State should follow other states in increasing its age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, asking:

Does he go to bed the night before his sixteenth birthday, a tender boy in need of the state’s solicitude, and awaken the next morning a bearded man, full-fledged in experience and self-control, and in ability to fulfill his obligations as a citizen? Upon donning his long trousers does he forthwith become a man; or in spite of his somewhat lengthened years and clothes, may he still be in his short “pants” mentally and morally?

Writing in 1920, Towne said adolescence continues through age 25, and that treating 14- or 16-year olds as functioning adults “simply flies in the face of present-day psychology and the hard facts.”


Despite Towne’s advocacy, New York State did not stop automatically charging 16- and 17-year-olds as adults until April 2017. Juvenile courts faced decades of backlash, as prosecutors argued for discretion over whether individual cases should be heard in juvenile or criminal court. In a series of decisions, the Illinois Supreme Court stripped power from the juvenile courts, granting the state’s attorney the authority to decide in which court a child would be tried.

Beginning in the 1930s, prosecutors pushed for more power, claiming that the nation faced a dangerous new class of child murderers. In 1935, the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court declared that juvenile courts were intended for “bad boys and girls who have committed no serious crime,” but were being used to protect “highly dangerous gunmen and thieves, or even murderers.” But even as juvenile courts were being undermined, they were simultaneously legitimized. In the 1960s, U.S. Supreme Court decisions guaranteed due process protections in juvenile court, including the right to counsel.

In 1978, the “automatic transfer law” was born. A 15-year-old New Yorker named Willie Bosket was convicted of killing two men on the subway. He was tried in juvenile court and received the maximum juvenile sentence of five years. Two days later, New York Governor Hugh Carey (in the middle of a tight re-election battle) called a special session of the legislature to produce the Juvenile Offender Act. This “automatic transfer law” required children as young as 13 to be tried as adults for murder.

Attacks on the power of the juvenile court intensified in the 1980s and 90s. “These cries grew to a fever pitch with the birth of the ‘superpredator’ myth in late 1995,” wrote Tanenhaus and Drizin. Academics, prosecutors, and lawmakers criticized juvenile courts, using “the sound bite ‘adult time for adult crime’ as their mantra.”

Between 1990 and 1996, forty states passed laws making it easier for juveniles to be prosecuted as adults, often by transferring power from juvenile judges to prosecutors. Other new laws prevented the sealing of juvenile records, set mandatory minimum sentences, or removed phrases like “rehabilitation” and “the best interests of the child” from statutes, replacing them with “punishment” and “the protection of the public.”

While attorneys and politicians panicked about the rise of the “superpredator,” juvenile crime actually declined between 1994 and 2000.

The new laws kept coming, with 43 states passing similar changes between 1996 and 1999. A 1999 report found that when juveniles were transferred to adult court and convicted of murder, they received, on average, longer sentences than adults convicted of the same crime. In 1998, close to 200,000 kids were tried as adults and 18,000 were housed in adult prisons.

“Teenagers account for the largest portion of all violent crime in America,” declared then-Florida representative Bill McCollum in 1996. “They’re the most violent criminals on the face of the earth.” He was arguing in support of an ultimately failed federal bill that would have required some 13-year-olds to be tried as adults.

As children were increasingly tried as adults, racial minorities suffered the most. In 1997, white children made up 57 percent of juvenile cases involving offenses against others, but just 45 percent of the cases transferred to adult court. And while white youth constituted 59 percent of juvenile drug cases, they made up just 35 percent of the cases transferred to adult court.

Clinging to the “superpredator” myth, prosecutors parroted colorful claims about the nineteenth century mischief-makers that juvenile courts had been created for. According to various District Attorney’s offices, the courts were created “when kids were throwing spitballs,” “when kids were knocking over outhouses,” and “at a time of more ‘Leave it to Beaver’ type crimes.”


While attorneys and politicians panicked about the rise of the “superpredator,” juvenile crime actually declined between 1994 and 2000. A 2001 U.S. Surgeon General’s report found that “there is not evidence that the young people involved in violence during the peak years of the early 1990s were more frequent or more vicious offenders than youth in earlier years.”

As it turns out, there have always been murders by children. Using the Chicago Homicide Database, Tanenhaus and Drizin located the cases of 24 children tried for homicide by juvenile courts in the early 1900s. They wrote that these cases “reveal that the juvenile court was created at a time when kids were not only throwing spitballs and knocking over outhouses, but they were also killing people.” These cases show how children were protected from the adult criminal system, thanks to multiple checks on the power of prosecutors.

In one 1910 case, a 12- or 14-year-old girl (accounts differ) was accused of beating an 8-year-old girl to death with a baseball. A “coroner’s jury” was summoned: a group of citizens convened to determine cause of death. “Owing to the extreme youth of the accused,” declared the coroner’s jury, “the Jury recommend that she be permitted to remain in the custody of her parents for the present until the case is taken up by the Juvenile Court.” The authors note that coroner’s juries were rife with corruption and graft. Yet in this case and others, they did serve as a check on prosecutors, helping keep children out of adult court.

In a 1908 case, twin 13-year-old boys were tried for stabbing a schoolmate to death with a letter opener. Although the coroner’s jury recommended the boys go before an adult court, they were protected by other checks on the system: The grand jury ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute one twin, and the state officially declined to prosecute the other.

In a third case, in 1926, four 15- and 16-year-old boys were arrested in a shooting death. They took various paths through the court system, with some starting in the adult criminal system and some in the juvenile—yet ultimately, none were prosecuted as adults.

The 24 cases studied by Tanenhaus and Drizin are a small sample, but demonstrate that murders by children were far from new in the 1980s and 90s. What was new was the state’s harsh punishments.”

– Katie Rose Quandt, “WHY DOES THE U.S. SENTENCE CHILDREN TO LIFE IN PRISON?JSTOR Daily. January 31, 2018.

Read Full Post »

“Lad Sentenced,” Hamilton Spectator. December 30, 1918. Page 12.

Kemp Got Eighteen Months On Burglary Charge

The trial of John Martin and Edward Kemp, two Grimsby youths, who were charged with breaking into the Village Inn and stealing a number of articles, was held before Magistrate Kidd, in the town hall at Grimsby, on Saturday. Martin was allowed off on suspended sentence. Kemp, however, was given 18 months in jail, the preponderance of evidence showing that he was the one who had suggested the burglary and induced the other lad to join him. Norman Kay appeared for Martin and G. B. McConachie, of Grimsby, for the other defendant.

Read Full Post »


In 1927, The Boys’ Farm considered another strategy for increasing its population:

The Secretary [Owen Dawson] stated that The Boys’ Farm might enlarge its sphere of usefulness if the juvenile age were increased from 16 to 18 years, as provided for in an amendment to the Juvenile Delinquents Act. The President [Beatty] felt that the matter might be taken up with the Federal Government some time in the near future (March 31, 1927).

Reform schools in other provinces had already opposed the policy of extending the jurisdiction of the juvenile court to include boys up to the age of 18 (rather than 16) and continued to oppose the policy in 1929 when the federal government revised the Juvenile Delinquents Act. The issue pitted the interests of existing reform schools against the zeal of juvenile justice reformers who
wished to extend childhood status to older juveniles.

In order to understand why reform schools elsewhere in Canada resisted the age extension policy and why The Boys’ Farm temporarily considered its advantages, it is necessary to look at the effects of juvenile court practices on the populations of reform schools.  

The Montreal juvenile court’s extensive use of probation radically reduced the number of children committed to reform schools during the early 1920s. However, many children originally placed on probation got into trouble again and were older when judges subsequently decided to send them to reform schools. The court’s practice of probation, in other words, eventually produced an upturn in the number of children committed to reform schools. And because these
children were older (often having failed more than once on probation), the court’s practice of committing children only after they had spent time on probation resulted in older populations at reform schools.

While the juvenile court’s jurisdiction was limited to children under 16, the practice of probation in combination with the court’s right to supervise the children who appeared before it up to the age of 21 made it possible for the court to commit children who were 16 years and older to reform schools:

The authority of the juvenile court to impose sanctions does not end with the original disposition of the child. Provision is made in the Act to bring the child back before the court at any time before he has reached the age of twenty-one years. This is extraordinary since the maximum age for original jurisdiction is sixteen or eighteen years of age …. This provision is often invoked when a child has been placed on probation and has subsequently breached one of the conditions of supervision (Wilson, 1982:194).

The aging of reform school populations was evident at The Boys’ Farm during the mid-1930s. At that time, the jurisdiction of the Montreal juvenile court was still limited to boys under the age of 16; yet Boys’ Farm records for boys discharged during the late 1930s show that 23 out of 143 boys were 17 and older on their sentencing date. Thirty-three more were aged 16, though they may have committed their offense prior to their 16th birthday. The aging of reform school populations occurred earlier in provinces such as Ontario where
well-developed probation services were in place before the juvenile court was created. When the federal Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, (at the urging of the Canadian Council of Child Welfare and other juvenile justice reformers) introduced an amendment to the federal Juvenile Delinquents Act in 1921 which would raise the age of juveniles from 16 to 18, Ontario’s reform schools were in a different position to appreciate its consequences than were Quebec’s reform schools. The Boys’ Farm could appreciate the potential advantages of an age extension as a way of reversing the decline in its population (as the board’s discussion of the amendment in 1927). Ontario’s reform schools, on the other hand, saw the age extension as a policy that would simply exaggerate the process already at work: namely, the commitment to their institutions of an increasingly older group of repeat offenders. Their position was that the age extension should wait until new and more prison-like reform schools were created specifically for this older group. (The borstal schools in England were favored as a model.) Their resistance to the amendment successfully blocked the proposed mandatory extension of age. Instead, the amendment granted discretionary authority to provinces to extend the age from 16 to 18..

The age extension continued to pit the interests of reform schools against those of juvenile justice reformers. In 1938, The Royal Commission to Investigate the Penal System of Canada completed two years of hearings and investigations into the Canadian penitentiary system, including the system for dealing with juvenile offenders. The Archambault Report (named after the chairman of the commission) said:

Many conflicting representations were made to the Commission as to whether the age limit of those to come under the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts should be raised throughout Canada to include young persons below the age of eighteen years. Your Commissioners are definitely of the opinion that the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts should be limited to children below the age of sixteen years …. The problem of detention homes and training schools would be clearly aggravated, and, in our opinion, has been aggravated (in British Columbia and Manitoba) where the age limit has been increased.

By this time, The Boys’ Farm was enjoying a population boom. Its superintendent, Major Willcock, told the administration committee:

A great many more boys were appearing repeatedly in the Juvenile Court before being sent to The Farm, resulting in boys coming to the School at the ages of 15 or 16 and generally for longer terms. It was suggested that more boys might be sent by the Juvenile Court and for shorter terms. Mr. Dawson undertook to take the matter up with the Juvenile Court authorities (Administration Committee minutes, November 24, 1938). 

At this point, The Boys’ Farm administrators were beginning to perceive older boys sent for longer terms as “hard core” and more troublesome residents. They began to favor shorter terms, therefore, in the hope that the court would send younger and less troublesome boys. When Quebec extended the juvenile age from 16 to 18 in 1942, The Boys’ Farm was already crowded. The influx of older boys over the next several years, amplified by the court’s practice of turning to reform school commitments during wartime, added to the internal problems of control that already existed as a result of overcrowding and an older population.

The number of runaways rose (and, incidentally, divided the board on the issue of whether to pursue runaway boys who wished to enlist in the army); the use of corporal punishment continued to rise; and concern mounted over the exposure of younger boys to the influence of older boys more experienced with crime. When the Second World War ended and reform school commitments fell to pre-war levels, The Boys’ Farm administrators saw a second, and more fundamental, consequence of the age extension. Because the court sent older boys to The Boys’ Farm (and to the other reform schools for French-speaking children), it was increasingly reluctant to commit younger boys there, where they would be exposed to the influence of older boys. By 1948, the population at The Boys’ Farm had dwindled to about 100 boys, and it was fast becoming the last resort for the hard-core, older offender that it had originally set out not to be. Moreover, The Boys’ Farm had long since come to appreciate what Ontario’s reform schools appreciated in 1921: namely, that as an increasingly older group of juveniles were defined as children rather than as adults, and sent to reform schools rather than to adult jails and penitentiaries, existing reform schools would have to become juvenile prisons unless or until newer juvenile prisons for this older group were created. Even then, reform schools, if they were to survive, would have to lay new claim to the younger, “normal delinquent” boys they had lost and would continue to lose as the result of probation, foster homes, short-term sentences, and other decarcerating measures.

– Prue Rains, McGill University, “Juvenile Justice and the Boys’ Farm: Surviving A Court-Created Population Crisis, 1909-1948.” Social Problems, Vol. 31, No. 5, June 1984. pp. 509-12

Photographs are both Conrad Poirier, “Boy’s Farm and Training School, Shawbridge.” 1947-11, P48.S1.P15234 & P48.S1.P15221, BAnQ. 

Read Full Post »

The federal Juvenile Delinquents Act (1908) did not mention the indefinite sentence directly; nor did the detailed commentaries on the federal legislation by its authors and promoters. And since the Quebec legislation (1910) simply proclaimed the federal act as relevant to Quebec and authorized the creation of a juvenile court in Montreal, it also did not mention the indefinite sentence directly. But definite sentences were not mentioned either. Juvenile justice reformers, and the text of the legislation itself, so clearly favored methods
for dealing with children other than incarceration that the commitment of children to reform schools was itself scarcely mentioned. The indefinite sentence was, nevertheless, a core tenet in the movement to reform children rather than to punish them. It was implicit in the discretionary powers and wardship hold over children given to the juvenile court by the act, and in the law’s provision that the court should not authorize a child’s release without a recommendation from
the reform school. This provision was intended to permit reform schools to release children when successfully reformed rather than at some arbitrary date; fully implemented, this provision would have transferred control over the length of children’s sentences from the juvenile court to the reform school.

Judges at the Montreal juvenile court were reluctant to sentence children to indefinite terms. In 1922, Superintendent Barss of The Boys’ Farm observed at a board meeting that the indefinite sentence was not being used by judges at the Montreal juvenile court; and in 1924, the secretary-treasurer, Owen Dawson, reported that the newly appointed judge of the Montreal court was “not a believer in the Indefinite Sentence as provided by the Juvenile Delinquents Act” (January
31, 1924). Judges at the Montreal court were not only trained as lawyers but still worked in courts other than the juvenile court; they continued to adhere to an older model of justice, and were reluctant to turn their control of sentence length over to reform schools.

The Boys’ Farm began to lobby for the indefinite sentence in 1922. In March, E. W. Beatty, president of The Boys’ Farm, reported to the board that: 

He had gone into the question of the indefinite sentence with [premier] Taschereau, the Provincial Secretary, and Sir Lomer Gouin [former premier], all of whom were in favor of the plan (March 8, 1922).’

It may seem odd that the board of directors first approached executive rather than legal or judicial authorities about implementing indefinite sentences. Eventually the board did seek a legal interpretation of the Juvenile
Delinquents Act (1908). Because the act was federal legislation enacted provincially by executive proclamation, however, there was some ambiguity about which authority was responsible for interpretation of the act. The board’s initial approach also reflected its own contacts and prior experience with provincial authorities about institutional matters. These were customarily handled by the provincial secretary. The Boy’s Farm favored indefinite sentences for two reasons: to increase its control over troublesome inmates; and to counter the effects of short sentences on its population [and thus its revenue].

In part, The Boys’ Farm’s preference for the indefinite sentence was an extension of its earlier efforts to gain control over the decision to release or parole. In the early 1900s, all reform schools in Quebec objected to government pardons as a form of early release, arguing that early release (parole) should depend on good conduct alone. Definite sentences limited the effectiveness of
parole as a device for maintaining internal control; in fact, the most troublesome boys, by definition, were the most likely to be still at The Boys’ Farm when their sentences expired. In the early 1920s, The Boys’ Farm made persistent and largely unsuccessful attempts to persuade the provincial secretary to extend the sentences of boys “unfit for discharge.” For example:

The Superintendent submitted a list of 14 boys whose time expires before the close of this year and who were entirely unfit for discharge. He recommended that the provincial Secretary be requested to extend their terms. The President [Beatty] reported that he had an appointment with the Hon. Mr. David [the provincial secretary] for the following morning, when he would request him to grant a temporary extension of the terms of the boys referred to until their cases could be more carefully studied (June 21, 1922).

Four months later, Beatty reported:

The request for the extension of the terms of the 14 boys at The Farm had been refused by the Provincial Secretary. The question had [subsequently] been a matter of serious discussion between himself [Beatty] and [Taschereau] and the Hon. Walter Mitchell [provincial treasurer]. The [premier] requested that in future all such matters be taken up direct with him (October 26, 1922).

Because The Boys’ Farm only occasionally succeeded in having the sentences of individual boys extended, it turned to the indefinite sentence as a method for gaining control over the release, and therefore conduct, of its more troublesome boys.

The population at The Boys’ Farm could be increased either by more court commitments or by longer sentences. Attempts by The Boys’ Farm to lengthen the sentences of boys it regarded unfit for discharge addressed the issue of population as well as the issue of internal control. But The Boys’ Farm was concerned with the length of sentences for another reason, too. The Montreal juvenile court was increasingly implementing the principles of the juvenile justice movement.

Not only was it placing more boys on probation rather than committing them to reform schools, but it was also reducing sentences for those it did commit from the previous three-to-five years down to two years or less. Shorter sentences added to the population troubles created by the greater use of probation. While the board of directors could not reasonably hope to increase the number of boys committed to The Boys’ Farm by opposing the use of probation, it could at least hope to increase the population by invoking the Juvenile Delinquents Act of 1908 to gain control over the lengths of their sentences.

Faced with continuing resistance on the part of judges to the use of the indefinite sentence, The Boys’ Farm planned a legal challenge to the definite sentence in 1924. Walter Mitchell, provincial treasurer under both Gouin and Taschereau and, by this time, a member of the board of directors at The Boys’ Farm, offered to seek the legal opinion of his former law partner, N. K. Laflamme, and to take the matter up with Quebec’s attorney general. In February, 1924, Laflamme reported to the board that he:

… believed that the Judge of the Juvenile Court had the option of giving an indefinite sentence under the Juvenile Delinquents Act, or a definite sentence of not less than two or more than five years under the old Prisons and Reformatories Act. Mr. Laflamme stated that, in his opinion, any definite term of less than two years was illegal (February 28, 1924).

The board agreed to take the matter up with the attorney general after the legislative session ended in Quebec, and once a “parole board” had been created within The Boys’ Farm “to deal with the discharge of committed cases” (March 27, 1924). 

The Boys’ Farm eventually established procedures for allocating parole and a committee that reviewed boys for parole, but not until the 1940s when it had acquired control over the release date of boys (even then, the control was within the limit set by the definite sentence). The plan to establish a “parole board” in 1924, therefore, was something of a rhetorical device designed to express a form of control over sentences that The Boys’ Farm hoped for but did not have.

Four months later the board planned to convey the legal opinion it had solicited to the Montreal court:

The question of short-term sentences was discussed and it was agreed to admit boys from the Juvenile Court for short terms in the meantime. The Secretary was asked to convey the opinion of Mr. N. K. Laflamme in this connection to the Juvenile Court authorities and if no satisfactory conclusion was reached to take the matter up with the Hon. Walter Mitchell (June 26, 1924).

In May, 1925, the board took action to resist admission of boys for terms shorter than one year: The question of admitting short-term cases from the Juvenile Court was discussed, and it was decided to request the Judge of the Court not to send boys for a shorter period than one year (May 28, 1925). These shorter sentences also decreased the populations of reform schools because they were served in detention homes rather than reform schools. Schlossman observes: “While the juvenile court sent relatively few children to reformatories, it held large numbers on short-term sentences in the detention center before, during, and sometimes after trial.” In the absence of adequate detention facilities, the Montreal court held both French-speaking and English-speaking children at the Montreal Reformatory (the French reform school for boys). The large number of children held there “provisionally for inquiry” suggests that during the 1920s the Montreal court used short-term detention in much the same way-that is, as an alternative to outright commitment to reform schools.

In May, 1925, the board took action to resist admission of boys for terms shorter than one year:

The question of admitting short-term cases from the Juvenile Court was discussed, and it was decided to request the Judge of the Court not to send boys for a shorter period than one year (May 28, 1925).

The Boys’ Farm was not successful in convincing the court to use the indefinite sentence, but it did persuade the court to extend definite sentences. Records for boys discharged from May, 1939, to May, 1941, (and who were therefore sentenced in the mid-1930s) show that boys were sentenced for definite rather than indefinite terms. None of the 143 sentences, however, were for less than two years and most were for three, four, and five years (the mean sentence was 3.67 years). The Boys’ Farm appears, therefore, to have been successful in temporarily allaying the threat of short sentences.“ And it was successful in acquiring recognition of its right to be consulted by the court regarding the actual release date of sentenced boys:

Colonel Magee [a board member] reported that he had had a very satisfactory interview with Judge Lacroix [of the Juvenile Court] in reference to the releasing of the Wilson boys [two brothers]. The Judge has promised that he would not release any more boys without first asking for a report from the Farm management (October 30, 1924).

By 1930, the population crisis was over at The Boys’ Farm and the province’s other reform schools (the largest of these were the two French reform schools in Montreal, also supplied by the Montreal juvenile court). From 1930 to 1945, the population of the province’s reform schools reached record levels; at The Boys’ Farm it reached more than 200. While longer sentences contributed to the rise, increased court commitments were the major factor. In 1927, the number of court commitments to The Boys’ Farm had risen to pre-1920 levels and continued to climb. The population crisis had passed, but not primarily as the result of lengthened sentences.

– Prue Rains, McGill University, “Juvenile Justice and the Boys’ Farm: Surviving A Court-Created Population Crisis, 1909-1948.” Social Problems, Vol. 31, No. 5, June 1984. pp. 505-09

Photographs are both Conrad Poirier, “Boy’s Farm and Training School, Shawbridge.” 1947-11, P48.S1.P15232 & P48.S1.P15235, BAnQ. 

Read Full Post »

“The Boys’ Farm and Training School was founded in 1908 in Shawbridge, some forty miles northwest of Montreal, by a group of philanthropic Protestant Montreal businessmen. Built on the “cottage model” and in the countryside, it was intended to reform Protestant delinquent boys in a non-prison setting through outdoor work and living. There were no locked doors and no fences, and the boys spent their days doing farm work (5 hours a day) and going to school (3 hours a day). It was the province’s only reform school for non-Catholic, non-French-speaking delinquent boys. It received all of the province’s court -committed, non-French-speaking delinquent boys (including children of immigrants who … came to populate reform schools during times of high immigration). The Boys’ Farm benefited from the charitable involvements and sense of mission of Montreal’s wealthy and influential Protestant male business elite.

The Province of Quebec established its first juvenile court in Montreal in 1912. The Juvenile Delinquents Act, which authorized provinces and cities to establish juvenile courts, was  passed by the federal government in 1908. The Province of Quebec’s Act Respecting Juvenile Delinquents was passed in 1910. The Montreal juvenile court was the province’s only juvenile court until the early 1940s. It was, therefore, the sole supplier of boys to The Boys’ Farm. It sent French-speaking delinquent children, to two reform schools in Montreal run by Catholic orders, and English speaking delinquent girls to The Girls’ Cottage School. In theory, the court was committed to placing children on probation rather than in reform schools. In practice, however, it did both, and benefited existing reform schools by expanding their populations, facilities, and budgets. …over the first eight years of the court’s operation, the number of children in reform schools rose steadily from 367 in 1911 to 678 in 1919. The court’s initial failure to substitute probation for incarceration seems to have been a result of the First World War. The reform school population rose dramatically during the latter years of the war when the court provided a new resource for controlling the wayward children of absent fathers and working mothers. The effects of the court’s operation on The Boys’ Farm were especially pronounced; from 1911 through 1919, the population more than tripled, from 42 to 133. And because The Boys’ Farm received a per diem subsidy from the provincial government for each court-committed boy, its expanding population brought in increased revenue from the province.

The court did not have a negative effect on reform school populations until the early 1920s. In the court’s early years, which coincided with the First World War, the court both put children on probation and placed children in institutions. By the early 1920s, however, probation had clearly become the court’s preferred response. Court statistics for 1921 show that while the number of children appearing before the court had increased since 1915, the number of children sent to reform schools declined from 159 in 1915 to 92 in 1921.

In 1924, Judge J. 0. Lacroix of the Montreal juvenile court said:

My first duty is to try to reform the boys and girls through themselves, and I have hundreds under the supervision of my officers, and many come regularly and report to me. I give them a little talk privately, and in that way help them along the right road. If after a trial of this system I find it is impossible to cure them I will send them away (Montreal Star, 1924).

The impact of probation on reform school populations and budgets was serious. During 1921, the number of boys committed by the Montreal juvenile court to The Boys’ Farm dropped by half – from 30 to 15 – and did not reach the former level again until 1927. From 1921 through 1927, The Boys’ Farm faced a population crisis which it, like other reform schools, attributed to the use of probation; in 1923, a member of the board of directors of The Boys’ Farm
observed, following a visit to two training schools in New York State:

The superintendents of both schools report that the number of boys sent them has declined and this is due to the influence brought to bear on the judges by social workers and others to give the boys more chances on probation (Montreal Star, 1923).

Faced with a dwindling population and revenue, The Boys’ Farm’s board of directors brought its considerable influence to bear on the provincial government. Their activities shed light on the role of business and ruling-class interests in the shaping of criminal justice policy, and of juvenile justice policy in particular. The board of directors was composed of members of the Montreal
business elite. …while they worked hard to influence juvenile justice policy, particularly on behalf of the indefinite sentence-these efforts more clearly expressed their commitment to making a pet charity work than an ulterior interest in turning delinquent boys into docile and disciplined industrial workers. That is, board members volunteered their services as a matter of conscience, and out of a general – and increasingly inaccurate – view of The Boys’ Farm as an alternative to prison for young, wayward, and still reformable boys. Specifically, what they had to offer as board members was their social contacts and know-how in making enterprises work. In this sense, they employed their values and skills to ensure the financial viability and continued existence of The Boys’ Farm, rather than to affect the boys themselves.”

– Prue Rains, McGill University, “Juvenile Justice and the Boys’ Farm: Surviving A Court-Created Population Crisis, 1909-1948.” Social Problems, Vol. 31, No. 5, June 1984. pp. 502-04

Photographs are both Conrad Poirier, “Boy’s Farm and Training School, Shawbridge.” 1947-11, P48.S1.P15229 &

P48.S1.P15230, BAnQ.

Read Full Post »

Offender Act and the Elmira Reception Center

the New York Department of Corrections (NYDOC) established its
network of specialized institutions for the young male offender in
the mid-1930s, it did so without any ability to control the
assignment of convicted felony offenders to specific institutions.
Instead, criminal court judges across the state were at liberty to
sentence young men to whatever institution they saw fit, as long as
the offenders met whatever basic age and offense guidelines were laid
out by the legislature. This lack of control was a constant source of
frustration for correctional administrators, and it inspired the
pursuit of an ambitious two-part reform legislation
that would allow them to take adolescent offenders directly from the
courts and make institutional assignments from within NYDOC, and
additional legislation that would authorize creating a distinct
reception center where evaluation of newly received inmates could
take place. By 1945, the correctional reform interests had succeeded
on both counts, achieving the high-water mark in their campaign to
remake the correctional system in New York.

The origins of
this last project can be traced back to a 1935 decision by the chief
city magistrate in New York City to allow a magistrate’s court in
Brooklyn to give its exclusive attention to the hearing of criminal
charges (both misdemeanor and
felony) against boys ages 16 to 18, following years of agitation from
the Criminal Courts Committee of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities.
The Brooklyn Adolescent Ccourt, as it was known, was able to
circumvent the absence of any legal foundation for this specialized
court by extending the wayward minor designation and for juvenile in
this older age group. The authors of Youth
in the Toils
observed, ‘This court has exercised power and followed procedures
which are frankly admitted to be extra-legal. The penal code has been
‘flung out the window’ and the protective wayward minor act has
been substituted therefor.

Brooklyn experiment remained an isolated (though well-publicized)
example until 1940, when New York district attorney Thomas Dewey
promoted his own comprehensive plan for adolescents between 16 and
18, in which defendants would waive a public arraignment and trial in
lieu of a wayward minor designation and supervision until age 21. The
publicity-conscious Dewey proclaimed his plan the first of its kind
in the country (which immediately drew protests from Brooklyn), as he
posed for reporters next to a 17-year-old defendant who had been
indicted for auto theft and was now being accorded the celebrity of
appearing in court as the first case processed under the new rules.
At the same time, however,
Dewey called for a new and comprehensive policy from the 1941 state
legislative session, to bring the handling of adolescent offenders
into line with actual law.

same year, the American Law Institute (ALI) published a model Youth
Correction Authority Act. The ALI had committed itself to this
project after receiving early copies of Youth
in the Toils
in late
1937, establishing a working committee on criminal justice comprising
several figures in liberal correctional thought. Their plan featured
the first comprehensive model of both a youthful offender designation
and a central located reception center that would receive convicted
offenders directly from the courts and hold the authority to assign
them to an institution.

ALI report received considerable attention in New York State and a
joint legislative committee (the Young Committee, chained by Fred A.
Young) was formed to review its recommendations and make a proposal
for the state. The first recommendations went before the legislature
in early 1942 and included establishing a Youth Court Division in the
New York City Domestic Relations Court, where 16-to-19-year-old would
be designated  as ‘youthful offenders.’ The New York City model
would then be employed throughout the state. Young’s bill sparked
intense opposition. The New York State District Attorneys Association
joined some legislators in denouncing the proposal as ‘pampering’
and ‘coddling’ serious criminals, while Mayor LaGuardia and the
New York City magistrates
objected to the cost of a new court (the bill, in its own way, sided
with Dewey and against the chief magistrate in their ongoing turf war
– Dewey broke from his fellow district attorneys to support the
bill ‘in principle’).

legislation was delayed less by the objections of coddling than by
the conflicts between those who wanted a distinct youth court and
those who wanted to continue a Brooklyn-style approach, in which
youth were handled by regular criminal court judges under different
rules. The Youth Offender Act would not be signed until early
1943, after Dewey had taken office as governor. Dewey acknowledged
that the final legislation was a compromise that did not provide for
distinct youth courts, but it did allow 16-to-19 year-old criminal
to be designated as youthful offenders. This designation would spare
adolescent offenders the lasting consequences of a felony conviction
and would provide them with the ‘protective cloak’ of the
less-formal process that juvenile defendants typically received.

protective cloak was a substantial one, at least in strictly legal
terms. Defendants could be adjudged a youthful offender either
directly by the judge or on the recommendation of a prosecutor or
grand jury. Once that determination was made, the disposition of the
case would not result in a felony conviction, and all proceedings and
outcomes would be outside the public record. Youthful offenders would
then receive an indeterminate sentence with a a three-year maximum
limit. As an ALI report later concluded,  New York’s Youthful
Offender Act probably established more legal fictions than any other
legislation dealing with offenders over the age of juvenile
jurisdiction: ‘that an
arrest shall not be deemed a criminal prosecution, that an
adjudication shall not be considered a conviction, and that a finding
of guilt on a felony charge either may or may not be ‘certified’
as a felony.

youthful offender designation also gave courts considerable
discretionary authority over adolescent defendants. In essence, New
York State was placing the young adult male in the same procedural
category as juvenile delinquents and, in the process, rendering them
just as vulnerable. In a telling letter, Austin MacCormick made just
this case: ‘There is one point many people never think of: if you
handle a case in juvenile court, you can get an adjudication of
delinquency with very little evidence, even if it is a felony case
which an adult could and would fight to the limit. If you put the
case in criminal court, you run into the rules of evidence, clever
defense lawyers, and frequently into juries more lenient than the
juvenile court judge would be.

election to governor in 1942 gave an important boost to the other
component of the youthful offender reform package: a centralized
authority within the Department of Corrections that would receive
youthful offenders directly from the courts for assessment and
institutional assignment. The department, particularly the Division
of Education, lobbied hard for the creation of such an authority,
‘more keenly aware each year of the absolute necessity, if
scientific classification of inmates if education is going to be most
effectively administered.’ Dewey regarded the ALI ‘youth
authority’ model as the best opportunity to make something of a
legislative mark in this field, and he supported the creation of an
interdepartmental committee, which issued two reports endorsing the
idea of a reception center to be housed at the Elmira Reformatory for
16- to 21-year-old offenders committed to the Department of
Corrections. The overlap between the
proposed reception center and the Youthful Offender Act was not exact
– the reception center would handle inmates up to age 21, and it
would handle all inmates in that age range, not simply those who had
been designated youthful offender.

placed the proposal for the Elmira Reception Center (ERC) before the
Republic-controlled legislature in the 1945 legislative session at
just the right moment. He was near something of a political high
point in New York, enjoying a streak of success with his legislative
proposals. The reception center proposal also benefited from
apprehension over a looming postwar juvenile crime wave, the subject
of intense public discussion in New York during the war years. Dewey
packaged the reception center legislation alongside a series of
juvenile delinquency measures, most of which focused on prevention
programs. Reformers within the Department of Corrections were savvy
enough to sell the proposals in similar terms; Glenn Kendall warned
that the ERC was ‘the final attempt by the State to understand and
rehabilitate young offenders before they become seasoned to a life of

Elmira Reception Center opened in November 1945, as a separate unit
within the Elmira Reformatory, with a capacity of 352 inmates. The
ERC staff numbered
seventy-four, which included twenty-two professional personnel,
fifteen clerical employees, and thirty-seven guards, giving the ERC
the highest ratio of treatment personnel to custodial personnel in
the NYDOC. Each inmate received from the criminal courts spent sixty
days in the ERC, undergoing
a series of examination. As it was originally constituted, the ERC
program had four stages: reception (two to three days), orientation
(two to three days), examination (seven to 10 days), and program.
Staff claimed that ‘a careful analysis can hardly be prepared in
less than sixty days,’ and that ‘under ideal conditions, three
months at the reception center would be more suitable length of
time,’ but any longer of a stay would meet objections from
reformatory superintendents for cutting too far into the short
sentences of most youthful offenders. The ERC operated a high-volume,
high-intensity workload,
with more than one hundred young men arriving each month – the
center ‘celebrated’ its twenty-five thousandth case in 1961 (the
young prisoner asked, ‘If it’s such an honor, why don’t they
send me home?’).

public philosophy of the ERC was that the inmate should ‘make time
serve him’ by using these two months of assessment to explore his
interests and capacities. In theory, the conclusion of this
evaluation period would then produce a report indicating the optimal
institutional assignment. Inmates were then shipped off to serve
their sentences (about twelve to fifteen arrived at Coxsackie each
week), accompanied by the full ERC report (averaging about twelve
pages), which included specific recommendations with respect to
subsequent institutional treatment programs.

sign of the importance of
the Elmira Reception Center for the reform regime in New York State
was Glenn Kendall’s move from the Division of Education to lead the
Elmira Reception Center (much as Walter Wallack had earlier been
shifted to Wallkill Prison). Kendall was fully invested in the ERC
and made it clear that the program there required ongoing promotion
to politicians and to the general public ‘through talks, radio
addresses, motion pictures, and other media in order that there will
be the tupe of general understanding that will accept and support the
work of the center.’ At the same time, Kendall was realist enough
to know that the ERC faced ‘serious hazards from some of [their]
overzealous and overoptimistic, uncritical advocates…too much may
be expected from classification itself, with too little effort in the
total process of handling the offender.’ The challenge of
integrating the ERC within institutional programming in New York’s
prison system, of defending it against the critics of coddling, and
sustaining the integrity of its own processes would become Kendall’s
consuming mission.

Elmira Reception Center’s 1945 opening marked the final piece in
the construction of a new system for the young male offender in New
York. The reform project begun fifteen years earlier, in the wake of
the Auburn Prison riot, had realized many of its ambitions. The
educational reformers first brought together by Austin MacCormick and
Sam Lewisohn had assumed control of the Elmira Reformatory and helped
build and administer Wallkill, Woodbourne, and Coxsackie. The
Division of Education gave the reformers a vital administrative
foothoold in Albany, and the appointment of institutional educational
directors gave them a toehold (though no more than that) in the
state’s maximum-security prisons. The opening of the Elmira
Reception Center (also administered by the educational reformers) and
the passage of a youthful offender law promised a future in which
adolescent males could be rationally distributed within
the Department of Corrections. Most notably, the reform project that
had been explicitly endorsed by governors Roosevelt and Lehman seemed
likely to continue under Governor Dewey, giving the reformers
continued and criticial executive support in state government.”

– Joseph F. Spillane, Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 2014. pp. 54-58.

Read Full Post »