Posts Tagged ‘reform institutions’

“Alcatraz of Canada Groups Troublemakers Behind High Walls,” The Globe and Mail. September 11, 1962. Page 04.

Globe and Mail Reporter

Millbrook, Sept. 10 – They call Millbrook Reformatory the Alcatraz of Canada.

Behind the 20-foot brick wall are 150 prisoners living a regimented life that they leave only when they finish their terms or change their behauviour.

There have been successful or even near-successful escapes from Millbrook in its five years as a maximum security institution. Here are housed the troublemakers of the Ontario corrections system.

A visitor to Millbrook might be impressed by its efficiency, its cleanliness, even its meals. It doesn’t give the impression of tough, steel and stone Big House where defiant men are broken.

‘It doesn’t seem so tough for an ordinary law-abiding citizen,’ said Millbrook’s superintendent, J. M. Marsland, ‘but the prisoners here are essentially manipulators who all their lives have tried to adapt situations to their own advantage. Here, they can’t. This is the most frustrating experience of their lives.’

To Millbrook are sent men from other Ontario reformatories, men who have repeatedly caused trouble, instigated disturbances, or have gotten fellow prisoners into trouble.

Here also are sent drug addicts and sex deviants who are kept in groups so they will not spread their habits to younger and more impressionable inmates in other reformatories.

No maximum security prison in Canada or the United States is more modern than Millbrook, its superintendent says. Prisoners are escorted everywhere by guards. Cell and block doors are electrically controlled by other guards sitting in bulletproof glass booths.

They work together, have recreation and exercise periods together, but eat in their own cells. Because they spend much of their time alone, Millbrook prisoners have time to think about their lives and their crimes.

When a man reaches Millbrook, he spends two weeks in a reception cell during which time he sees only reformatory staff, doctors and psychologists. From then on, he gets privileges as he earns them by good behavior.

He can forfeit his privileges by loafing, failing to obey prison rules or acting up. For repeated infractions, a prisoner can earn a period of solitary confinement.

This is why criminals call Millbrook the Alcatraz of Canada, and this is why Millbrook produces some model inmates.

‘Of course, we’re not as interested in producing model inmates as we are in producing model citizens,’ Mr. Marsland emphasized.

Consequently, prisoners are encouraged to work in one of the shops at the reformatory: the laundry, tailor shop, or license-plate plant. There it is possible to learn skills that could lead to a good job when the inmate finishes his sentence.

A prisoner can also get psychological help  and, in the case of a drug addict, help in curing him of his addiction.

By demonstrating that his attitude has changed, a prisoner can earn a transfer to an institution where discipline and security are more relaxed.

Not everyone in Millbrook is able to accept the reformatory’s way of life. One prisoner collected the hems off blankets, wove them into a rope, and wound it around his waist in preparation for the day he could weight one end, toss it over the wall, and climb to freedom.

‘He wouldn’t have made it anyway,’ said Mr. Marsland. ‘The rope was discovered in a routine frisking prisoners undergo regularly.’

The only organized disturbance since Millbrook was established came shortly after Mr. Marsland arrived as superintendent three years ago.

‘They were testing me,’ he said. A group of prisoners refused to enter their cells to eat. The superintendent, an ex-Royal Air Force fighter and bomber pilot, told the men the strictest disciplinary measures would be taken if they did not go to their cells. They went.

Actually, Millbrook inmates have little cause for complaint. They know ahead of time that it’s tough and are prepared for it. They can’t object to the discipline, and there is no reason to complain about the food, accommodation or clothing.

One prisoner, however, has a decided aversion to life in the institution where all the inmates wear blue denim. Currently confined to the prison hospital, and likely to remain there until his sentence is finished, he lounges quietly in bed counting the days. His sickness: Blue denim allergy.

Caption: Millbrook prisoners line up to leave license-plate plant while guards watch (left). They are searched, then go to cells.

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“A New Home for Tough Guys,” The Globe Magazine. August 30, 1958. Cover and pages 03-05.

Millbrook has a bad name, and its officials are just delighted

…a big bit is preffered


It was a sunny morning in June, the traditional time for graduations. In a rambling red-brick building overlooking the Ontario village of Millbrook – a building with the glass, tile and pastel decor of a modern high school – superintendent Hartley Paterson shuffled a sheaf of papers and glanced up at the youth who stood before him.

‘You’ve done well here,’ he said. The compliment was acknowledged with a quiet smile. ‘So you’re going to have the honor of becoming Millbrook’s first graduate. Tomorrow we’re sending you to Burwash. Congratulations.’

Though the prospect of going to the provincial prison farm at Burwash is normally not cause for rejoicing, the youth in faded blue denims broke into a wide grin and took the superintendent’s outstretched hand. After the months he’d spent behind the towering walls of Millbrook, Ontario’s tough new maximum security reformatory, the chance to serve out the rest of his sentence somewhere else seemed almost as welcome as a parole.

A petty but promising criminal and never a model prisoner, he’d been among the charter inmates of Millbrook when it was opened last September to isolate troublemakers from other reformatories in the province. Some had been released earlier after completing their time – one has since returned for a second stretch  – but this was the first to win a good-behavior transfer.

That same day, a few minutes later, another inmate came before Paterson with a special request. Soon due for release, he wanted to complete the last few days of his term in a regular reformatory. ‘Just having a record is bad enough, he explained with feeling, ‘but a discharge from Millbrook is a worse black eye.’

WITH the men who know penal institutions best – i.e. residents – Millbrook is scarcely the most popular, a fact readily acknowledged by its superintendent. ‘This isn’t the nicest place to do time,’ says Paterson, former governor of Toronto’s DDon Jail,’ and it’s not meant to be.’

What Millbrook is meant to be, what it was specially designed for shortly after an outbreak of rioting at Guelph reformatory in 1952, is a place of stern no-nonsense discipline for the more difficult inmates of other provincial institutions. It differs from most reformatories about as much as Dorchester Penitentiary differs from Disneyland. Unlike the unfenced so-called open institutions – where prisoners usually live in barracks-like dormitories, eat together and enjoy comparative freedom of movement and communication – Millbrook is tough, and a man imprisoned behind its 23-foot wall has a monastic time of it.

The first 16 days of his term there are spent in his closed-in cell, cut off from contact with everyone but his jailers, the reformatory psychologist, chaplain and doctor. His meals are pushed in to him through a small opening in the foot of his cell door and he gets out only for short solitary walks in a small exercise yard.

IF behaves well in quarantine, his life at Millbrook improves slightly. He’s allowed cigarets, visitors, a novel from the prison library and a nightly half-hour period to mingle with the other 25 occupants in his cell block. He also gets to work eight hours a day, scrubbing floors.

In time, he can win other privileges – a thin mattress for his steel bunk, newspapers, mail, movies, sports in the yard, a job making license plates, hobby periods or high-school correspondence classes. At Millbrook, a prisoner has no privileges but those he earned by good behavior. He can lose any or all of them easily – by sassing a guard, loafing at his job, or even swearing at another inmate – and he also runs the risk of solitary confinement ‘behind the little green door’ or, for really serious offences, the strap.

At a time when the trend in penology is clearly toward open institutions for treating criminal offenders rather than merely punishin them, the $3,500,000 stronghold at Millbrook has been criticized for its iron discipline, steel bars, brick walls and bullet-proof glass. As one authority in the field of corrections put it recently, ‘How are you going to prepare a man for the outside world by keeping him in a cage?’

THEN is Millbrook, for all its modern custodial trappings, an anachronism? Far from it, asserts Ontario’s deputy minister of reform institutions, Hedley Basher. You can’t have effective minimum security,’ he says, ‘without maximum security to back it up. Just the fact that there is a place like Millbrook has greatly improved discipline in our other reformatories. Maybe it’s largely a fear of the unknown. At any rate, with the troublemakers moved to Millbrook, we’ve already been able to disarm the guard at Guelph and Burwash and we expect to do a great deal more there in the way of corrective treatment and rehabilitation.’ 

If most reformatory inmates stay in line, and out of Millbrook, what about the others who don’t? There are 125 of them at Millbrook now, in three categories. The first is made up of stars, a misleading term for problem prisoners. Most of these are younger men, in their late teens and early twenties, who have already done time before. Group Two is made up of 25 sex deviates. Not rated as security risks or troublemakers – though sex offenders can disrupt normal prison life – they’re confined to Millbrook chiefly for lack of a better place to keep them. Group Three includes 40 drug addicts.

The youngest convict at Millbrook is a baby-faced 17-year-old who knifed a guard at Guelph, the oldest a sex offender of 61. Most inmates have little education but there are some striking exceptions – a dope-addicted doctor and two high-school teachers, both in for sex crimes.

IT’S worth noting that the star prisoners – the troublemakers – cause little trouble at Millbrook, if only because they get little opportunity. Says Paterson: ‘Most of them come here with that hostile spit-in-your-eye attitude. But after a couple of weeks in their cells, with nothing much to do but think, they usually simmer down.’ One reason for this, the superintendent thinks, is the incentive system of privileges. ‘They soon realize that the kind of life they lead here is entirely up to them. If they behave, it gets progressively easier. If not, they can do hard time. The choice is as simple as that.’

Another reason is advanced by Douglas Penfold, a psychologist with the Department of Reform Institutions who spends most of his time at Millbrook. ‘A lot of these men just can’t seem to adjust to group living in an open institution,’ he says. ‘Here they get lots of time to themselves, away from the influence and distractions of other inmates, and they have a better chance to start thinking seriously about their problems and their future. I’d say the attitude of at least 25 per cent of our so-called disturbers had undergone a distinct change for the better.’

While Millbrook may never set any records for turning out model citizens – since its clients are judged to be the worst of a pretty bad lot – an attempt is being made there to reform them. As well as up-to-date medical and dental clinics, two psychologists, a psychiatrist and a case-worker from the John Howard after-care agency are on hand to help prisoners get at the causes of their criminal behavior and fix on some way of overcoming them.

AFTER careful screening and preliminary treatment at Millbrook, many Group Three prisoners have been sent on the provincial clinic for addicts at Mimico. In addition, one Millbrook psychologist, Gordon Johnson, has recently been working at the forensic clinic of the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital, preparing a rehabilitation program for the reformatory’s sex offenders.

Perhaps the most significant development at Millbrook is the fact that its star prisoners will soon be introduced to group counselling, a form of psychotherapy that has proved highly successful in some of the world’s most advanced penal institutions. Members of the custodial staff, who will act as group leaders, are now attending a series of lectures by psychiatrists and sociologists – on their own time and by their own choice.

All such clinical work has the full approval and support of superintendent Paterson, a breezy 44-year-old onetime Royal Canadian Regiment colonel, and his chief aid, James Rea, a big greying man with 20 years’ experience in prison work.

‘This place could never justify itself,’ Paterson believes, ‘if it was nothing but a lockup for bad actors. True, it’s having a good effect on other reformatories. But we want Millbrook to have some positive value for the men who are here, to help them go straight when they leave. If so, Millbrook could be a big advance in penology in Canada.’

AS for Millbrook’s inmates, its strict discipline and rigid routine affect them in various ways. ‘I guess I’d better behave myself here,’ one prisoner wrote to his wife. ‘They’ve got more strap than I’ve got backside.’ Another, on the eve of his discharge, told Paterson that he’d never, never be back in Millbrook again. ‘Next time,’ he said, ‘I’ll make sure I get a big bit.’ In prison parlance, a big bit is two years or more, a term in a federal penitentiary. Perhaps the most remarkable reaction to Millbrook was expressed not long ago by a 19-year-old star prisoner. He arrived there spouting defiance, paid for it in solitary confinement and wound up meekly asking for vocational guidance and advice from psychologist Doug Penfold. When his behavior had improved so markedly that he was offered a transfer back to an open institution, he astounded all by declining with thanks. ‘I can learn a lot more here and keep out of trouble,’ he said. ‘So I’d like to stay till my time’s up.’

Millbrook officials were secretly delighted at this unlikely testimonial. But they didn’t advertise it. After all, the place just can’t afford to get a good name.

Mr. MacDonald was the author of a recent Globe Magazine article on problems facing the courts


1) If he behaves, he’s allowed a mattress, mail, novels, prison company and visitors

2) The design of Millbrook is modern, but the walls that make a prison haven’t changed much over the years; Millbrook’s are 23 feet high

3) The job of making license plates for cars is a privilege, awarded for good conduct

4) Guard Lawrence Wiles keeps watch as one prisoner cuts another’s hair; at Millbrook, an inmate has to win the right of mixing with his fellows.

5) Head man: Superintendent Hartley Paterson; The resident chaplain, Dr. Harold Neal, conducts a service; Deputy Superintendent James Rea

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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. 

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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. 

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“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.

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“Buckner’s short-lived program at
the Neuro-Psychiatric Clinic (NPC) was the closest Ontario came to transforming
the prison into a therapeutic environment, and to treating sex offenders as
more mentally disturbed than criminally motivated. In this respect, the
transfer of ‘sex deviants’ from Guelph to the newly opened maximum-security
facility in Millbrook was a giant step backward for the prison reform movement.
Touted by the Department of Reform Institutions as the first North American
facility for psychopathic inmates, Millbrook was intended to house the ‘tougher
and meaner breed of inmates’ that guards complained were overrunning the Guelph
Reformatory and corrupting young, first-time offenders. Officials claimed that
the province’s most incorrigible inmates were to be reformed by the new
prison’s highly regimented and strictly controlled environment, in which
treatment, not punishment, would be the guiding spirit. However, it was
precisely the opposite. By the mid-1960s, critics denounced Millbrook as
Ontario’s Alcatraz.

Intended to house the province’s
most violent prisoners, Millbrook was an extremely punitive environment.
Situated on one hundred acres of bucolic Ontario countryside, the prison
buildings were immured in a twenty-foot concrete wall. Eight glass-enclosed
towers housed guards who were on watch twenty-four hours a day. According to
the sentencing guide for magistrates, an inmate was ‘lodged in a single cell
bare of anything but a matressless steel bunk, bedding, and flush-to-wall
button wash-basin and toilet; with a frosted bullet-proof glass window set in
masonry and solid flush-with-wall door. The atmosphere of the place is chill,
clean, silent, and self-revealing.’ Though each cell had a window, it was too
high to look through, and prisoners were forbidden to stand on their beds to do
so. In an effort to prevent organized protests and riots, there were no dining
facilities where inmates could gather. Meals were delivered through a small
opening at the bottom of cell doors and consumed alone. In a letter to his
father, one inmate wrote, ‘You read about the palace a while back how tough it
is. You either resolve to a zombie state of mind or go out of it completely
whether that is the intention or not. All I can say it is a survival of the
fittest this is mentally.’ Indeed, a year earlier Millbrook’s consultant
psychiatrist, F. E. Webb, expressed grave concern over the growing number of
inmates showing signs of severe emotional and psychological damage. At least
one Group II (Sex deviant) inmate was sent to the nearby psychiatric hospital
in Penentanguishene, Webb anticipated that it was only a matter of time before
more would follow.

A major aspect of the disciplinary
regime at Millbrook was the Progressive Stage System, which aimed on the one
hand to force compliance with prison regulations through the withdrawal of
sensory stimulation, and on the other hand to reward compliance by
incrementally introducing the pleasures of food, human contact, and leisurely
pursuits. Upon arrival, inmates spent sixteen days on a ‘special diet’ without
letters, visitors, opportunities to exercise, and with only a Bible to read. At
Stage 2, inmates were permitted regular meals, one non-fiction book, tobacco,
forty-five minutes of recreation, and one thirty minute visit from a family
member each week. The best-behaved inmates entered Stage 3, where they were
granted library privileges, one letter out to family, one movie a week, and the
opportunity to take a correspondence course. Initially, all inmates entered at
Stage 1, but staff pointed out that Group II (sex deviants) and Group III (drug
addicts) were not sent there for punishment, and therefore should not be forced
to endure two weeks of what ammunted to solitary confinement. Soon thereafter,
the policy was changed so that Groups II and III entered at Stage 2. It was a
slight improvement, but they still had to ‘earn’ their way to Stage 3.

Despite promises that Millbrook would be a laboratory for the treatment of
sexual deviation, the reality was that the warehousing of homosexuals, sexual
predators within the inmate population, and men charged with crimes of sexual
violence and the sexual assault if children violated every tenet of the
treatment ideal. First, Millbrook made to distinction between male homosexuals,
male sexual predators within the prison system, and men incarcerated for sex
crimes. While it is true that male homosexuality was medically and popularly
regarded as a sexual deviation, public demands for prison treatment programs
grew out of a concern over sex crimes against children and, to a lesser extent,
women. Most would have agreed that homosexuals should have the opportunity to
receive treatment, but pedophiles were the primary object of concern. Second,
placing sex ‘deviants’ of any kind in a maximum-security facility was
diametrically opposed to the fundamental belief that perpetrators of sex crimes
needed psychological help, not punishment. Sending them to a maximum-security
prison for the ‘disturbers and disturbed’ is ‘really a terrible way to deal
with this type of offender,’ complained Helen Kinnear, one of the three
commissioners who studied and reported on Canada’s criminal sexual psychopath
legislation. ‘[The commissioners] would think that was discriminating against
the sex offender as compared with other offenders.’ Some experts simply
protested against the inclusion of homosexuals in the Millbrook program. For
example, W. T. McGrath, a leader in Ontario’s prison reform movement,
complained that the criminal justice system was being used to enforce a moral
order that ‘made criminals out of otherwise normal people.’ Learning to see
that most homosexuals are ‘in no way dangerous’ would solve the problem of
homosexuality in prison, he argued. It would reduce the number of homosexuals
committee to prisons and would ‘remove the need to plan for these special types
of inmates.’

Department of Reform Institutions
officials were unfazed by their critics. In fact, Frank van Nostrand
acknowledged that there was no plan to treat Millbrook’s homosexual prisoners
and that the policies were intended only ‘to remove them as a disturbance
factor.’ Officially, the primary objective of Millbrook’s ‘sex deviate’ unit was
the ‘complete segregation of some of the sexual perverts … for the protection
of other inmates,’ but even this was a gross abuse of the purpose of treatment
programs for convicted sex offenders. As far as the supporting public was
concerned, treatment was intended to facilitate safe release of sex criminals
into the community, not to provide inmates with protection from sexual
predation within the institution. Yet this is precisely how van Nostrand
justified the sex deviate unit. Providing treatment was never an imperative.

Emboldened by the 1958 retirement
of van Nostrand and the hiring of long-time reform activist J. D. Atcheson as
director of treatment services, Millbrook’s treatment staff, its pastor, and
its pro-reform Superintendent R. H. Paterson appealed to the deputy minister to
move forward with a sex deviant treatment program. Concerned that some staff
treated homosexual inmates poorly that non-homosexual Group II inmates were
distressed by the ‘constant sex talk’ among homosexuals, Millbrook staff
pressed Basher to allow the two groups to be separated from each other. They
claimed that homosexuals showed ‘a higher incidence of major personality
disorder, or potential mental illness,’ and that they ‘present less criminal
tendencies’ than other Group II (sex deviant) inmates. If homosexuals could be
separated, staff that had a strong dislike of homosexuals would not have to
work among them. They recommended hiring ‘Custodial Staff who are manly,
well-adjusted types and who have some understanding and acceptance of their
charges’ to work with them exclusively.

The suggestion that homosexuals
would benefit from appropriate role models whose gender presentation fit the
masculine ideal demonstrates the enduring link between gender and sexuality in
the 1950s and was consistent with popular theories of developmental psychology,
now widely considered oppressive. However, DRI records clearly demonstrate that
Paterson’s advocacy on behalf of Group II inmates was intended to ease the
extremely punitive and hostile conditions homosexual inmates were forced to
endure. At that time, there were a total of forty-four Group II (sex deviant)
inmates, almost half of whom were labelled homosexual (often based on prison
activity, not criminal conviction). Surprisingly, the deputy minister approved
the request and hired two new guards to work in a special wing created for
homosexual inmates. Custodial staff were given the option to refuse work in
that section.

Millbrook had an even worse track
record for providing treatment than did the Guelph Reformatory. Millbrook’s
first consultant psychiatrist, F. E. Webb, prescribed narcotics to the ‘sex
deviant’ population to ‘jump start’ the therapeutic process, and just before
retiring in the early 1960s began to administer ECT to those willing to
volunteer for the treatment. Based on the few surviving case files, it is clear
that he administered both sodium pentothal (popularly known as ‘truth serum’)
and shock therapy to make patients ‘more accessible to psychotherapy.’ …both
types were becoming a popular aid to facilitate psychotherapy. However, at
least one file suggests that ECT may also have been used punitively. In
February 1958, ‘Norman,’ a French-Canadian prisoner in an Ontario facility, was
cited for ‘doing his hair in a feminine way’ and was docked seven days good
conduct remission. One month later, Officer Woodly reported the same prisoner
for ‘biting his lips and rubbing his cheeks to make them red and also plucking
his eyebrows.’ This time Norman was sentenced to three days in solitary
confinement on a rationed diet. On 1 April he received yet another misconduct
report for ‘failing to achieve the required standard in conduct and industry
for 5 weeks,’ and lost yet another five days of good conduct. Two weeks later Norman
was admitted to the prison hospital for a course of ECT. He received a total of
six treatments and was released back into the prison. It is impossible to
conclude with certainty that his refusal to conform to institutional masculine
ideals and the disciplinary regime resulted in his receiving ECT, but given the
absence of any other documented explanation – medical or otherwise – it seems
reasonable to assume that his persistent effort to feminize his appearance was
the problem in need of treatment.

Despite ongoing requests from the
superintendent to create a therapeutic community, Webb’s ECT experiment was the
last significant venture in treating the sex criminal and homosexual population
at Millbrook. Yet, over the next four years, the Group II population almost
doubled from forty-four to eighty-three. In 1962, the few remaining members of
the treatment staff unanimously agreed that a program for sex offenders could
not be carried out at that institution and that other alternatives should be
pursued. Potts cited Millbrook’ss remote location as one of the reasons quality
staff were difficult to attract and retain. Other obstacles to building up a
program included conflict with the prison administration, lack of flexibility,
and the architecture of the building itself. The abandonment of treatment was
abetted by Webb’s successor, B. A. Kelly, who maintained that ‘incarceration is
a useful thing’ for Group II inmates and that most sex offenders were not
amenable to treatment. Even among those who were, Kelly insisted that treatment
in an outpatient setting was most suitable, since ‘sincere motivations for
changed sexual behaviour can only be assessed by a patient’s willingness to
keep appointments.’

In 1957 Minister Major John Foote,
the DRI’s most important advocate, retired. In the six years that followed, the
DRI portfolio changed hands five times. J. D. Atcheson, an outspoken activist
for criminal justice reform and former head psychiatrist of the Toronto Family
and Juvenile Court, was hired as the director of research and treatment
services the year Foote left, but could do little to keep the Ontario Plan
vision alive. In 1958 he complained to the minister that inmates were being
transferred to Millbrook simply to keep the marker plant running at full capacity,
to no avail. A year later, following a series of articles in the Toronto
Daily Star
and the Toronto Telegram denouncing the continued use of
the strap to administer punishment for rules infractions, ministry staff held a
special meeting on the issue, but because of Atcheson’s known opposition to
corporal punishment, he was not invited to attend. In light of the negative
publicity, Ontario Premier Leslie Frost approved its continued use only at
Millbrook. Alarmed by reportss that inmates were actually requesting transfers
to Millbrook Frost warned his deputy minister to ‘Keep Millbrook tough,’ and
custodial officers were told to keep their distance from inmates. Millbrook’s
pro-reform superintendent resigned in disgust.

By 1963 Millbrook’s skeletal treatment team of
two part-time consulting psychiatrists could no longer provide even a general
counselling service for inmates. Staff agreed that the maximum-security needs
of Group I inmates, the ‘troublemakers,’ clashed with the therapeutic needs of
Group II inmates, and the clinical program never got beyond conducting intake
assessments. R. R. Ross, the supervising psychologist for the region, reported
that treatment services would ‘henceforth be extremely limited in scope,’ and
that because of the shortage of staff, ‘there is little room for optimism about
future expansion.’ Ross recommended that the department transfer to a custodial
officer many of the duties that normally fell to the social worker and
psychologist, such as general counselling, psychological testing, and intake
interviewing. Various political appointments and public promises during the
late 1950s and 1960s kept afloat the illusion of the DRI as a therapeutic
haven, and magistrates continued to assume homosexuals and others charges with
sex crimes would receive treatment in prison. However, insiders regarded
Millbrook as little more than a ‘storage bin’ for problem inmates. In 1965 tow
inmates tried to draw public attention to the poor conditions at the prison by
hoarding their lighter fluid rations and lighting a fire. Guards anonymously
met with journalists to describe the appalling conditions inmates were forced
to endure. The opposition party called Millbrook the ‘Alcatraz of Ontario,’ and
demanded its closure.

The problem was not limited to
Millbrook. The treatment sham exploded in 1961 when all but two of the staff at
Toronto’s Juvenile and Family Court quit after the government imposed new and
highly punitive policies on the clinical management of the court’s clients.
Later that same year, eight staff members at the Alex G. Brown Memorial Clinic
resigned en masse. The DRI claimed the problem was budget cuts, but
according to Stuart Jaffary, increasingly rigid custodial regulations and
practices were creating insurmountable obstacles for professional staff who
were operating treatment programs in the clinic. ‘Despite its name,’ Jaffary
argued, ‘ they got little indication that the therapeutic program was really
the primary purpose of the clinic.’ The only hope for saving the system was for
the DRI to take concrete steps toward resolving the conflict between punishment
and treatment. ‘Does the institution exist for the man, or the man for the
institution?’ he asked. ‘If the former, it will have to have a full complement
of treatment services, and use them. If the latter, all you need is a rockpile
and a treadmill.’ As it stands, the pretense of ‘treatment,’ he concluded,
gives a show of humanity with one hand and keeps a firm hold on the inmate
population with the other.

By 1961, the director of treatment
services, director of psychiatry, and director of social work positions in the
Department of Reform Institutions were vacant. F. H. Potts, the first
psychologist hired by the department, was the only mental health administrator
remaining on staff. Minister George Calvin Wardrope announced that he was
retreating from the ‘idea that every offender, given the proper treatment and
assignment, could be successfully molded into a useful citizen. Penologically
speaking,’ he concluded, ‘the pendulum is swinging nearer to where it should
[be].’ Allan Grossman revived the rhetoric of rehabilitation while he served as
minister from 1963 to 1971, but the DRI continued to function in much the same
manner as it had since the Second World War, if not earlier.  

As the only province to respond to
public pressure and provide treatment for incarcerated sex criminals, Ontario
must have appeared progressive indeed. Appearances, however, were deceiving.
Unfortunately, Ontario was not unique in this regard. The conflict between the
postwar treatment ideal and the military-style disciplinary regime played out
whereever treatment staff were hired. Guy Richmond, a psychiatrist at the
British Columbia federal prison, lamented that prison doctors were forced to render
unto Caesar, not Hippocrates. According to another British Columbia
psychiatrist who undertook a study of sex offenders in prison, ‘the real power
structure in the institution is mainly concerned with custody, with keeping the
inmates in line, in order, and above all, inside…This is not an
environment in which the principals of reform and rehabilitation can even exist
and to say otherwise would be a mockery.’ Showing predictable restraint, the
1969 report of the Canadian Committee on Corrections concluded that the
relationship between prison services and treatment professionals in the federal
system was an uneasy alliance of opposing ideologies, the latter lacking the
support of the former.

As for the Group II program, top administrators would concede only that
Millbrook’s remote location and the nature of the work undermined any chance of
success. In 1962 Potts concluded that the only solution was to continue to
court outside help by building bridges between reformatories and faculties of
psychiatry, psychology, and social work. In the meantime, he recommended that a
sex deviant treatment program be set up at the Alex G. Brown Memorial Clinic
(AGBMC), where the DRI ran a pre-release treatment program for alcoholics and
drug addicts. There, he argued, research into the effective treatment of
homosexuals, who constituted approximately 25 per cent of the Millbrook Group
II population and who posed the greatest discipline problem for prison
administrators, could be set up.

If the use of mental health treatment
as a means to control prison discipline can be taken as a measure of the clash
of ideologies, Potts’s last proposal is a clear indication that nothing had
changed. Sex between inmates remained the primary concern. The public demand
for treatment for pedophiles, exhibitionists, and other sex criminals who were
considered a serious danger to the public was of no interested to the
Department of Reform Institutions.”

– Elise Chenier. Strangers in our Midst: Sexual Deviancy in Postwar Ontario. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. pp. 152-159

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Division of Education became the center of rehabilitative programming
leadership within the Department of Corrections, directing the
educational experiments already under way and extending the reform
influence into other institutions. As Wallack, Kendall, and Briggs
saw it, ‘the relationship of the Division to an institution is very
similar to that of a staff or supervisory department in a public
school system.’ The division gained authority over all appointments
to educational programs. The three men logged thousands of miles and
spent six months of the year on the road visiting each state
institution, meeting with wardens and teachers, inspecting schools,
and reviewing educational materials and records. The director of
education position became the link between the division and
institutions as well as between the educational program and other
institutional dimensions.

There were limitations to the
influence of the Division of Education within the Department of
Corrections. The division was largely frozen out of the
maximum-security, old-line institutions for adult male offenders –
Attica, Auburn, Clinton, Great Meadow, and Sing Sing. Albany-based
reformers simply could not exercise effective influence over every
institution in the ‘confederation of autonomy’ that was the New
York prison system. Raymond Corsini described Auburn prison, circa
1942, as ‘an old-line, repressive, unprogressive institution, with
a minimal treatment program and a minimum in the way of professional
staff…The warden, an ex-police chief, was almost completely
unapproachable by the prisoners and discipline was very strict. The
men were kept under constant surveillance and a comparatively large
percentage of their week was spent locked in cells.’

the Division of Education struggled for influence at these prisons,
its staff complained (to little effect) that institutional education
directors were frequently shut out from assignment decisions, inmates
were regularly and easily allowed to drop out of educational
assignments, and the local prison administrators failed to provide
institutional support for educational directors’ annual budget
requests. The same report concluded that no ‘valid’ vocational
training was offered at the high-security institutions. In fact, the
Department of Corrections employed more than 75 percent of its
civilian educational staff in just four of the state’s twelve
correctional institutions. In the old-line, big house prisons,
inmates taught other inmates in a handful of remedial courses, while
everyone else worked on prison industries and maintenance. While
Wallkill, Elmira, and Cosackie enrolled 69, 89 and 86 percent of
inmates in educational programs, Attica, Auburn, and Sing Sing
enrolled just 18, 31 and 23 percent of their prisoners. Most of the
Attica inmates assigned to ‘class’ were ‘men assigned to the
groups who were usually unfit for other services.’

‘reform’ institutions, the creation of service units was an
attempt to strengthen the relative position of rehabilitative
interests. The first such unit emerged at Wallkill Prison in 1936,
followed somewhat later by Elmira and Coxsackie. The service unit –
Walter Wallack selected the name because inmates were prone to
shunning programs too closely connected with treatment – aimed to
consolidate all prison services in a central location and to
integrate those services with parole decision making. The unit became
the surveillance apparatus for the reformers, collecting reports from
classrooms, shops, and custodial personnel as well as helping to
promote like-minded staff. Walter Wallack described the unit director
as the ‘liaison officer of the Warden in his relationship to all
activities which in any way relate to training, or the social and
general welfare.’

efforts at directing the prison bureaucracy toward reform were more
ambitious than the attempt to train new prison guards to become part
of the educational program. Opened in November 1936, the Central
Guard School remains of the most innovative and pioneering aspects of
New York’s reform regime. Begun at a time when formal job training
for prison guards was virtually nonexistent in the United States, the
Central Guard School put recruits through an eight-week residential
training program and offered extensive in-service training for
members of the existing guard force. It remains one of the most
far-reaching programs ever designed to produce a custodial force
oriented toward rehabilitative interventions.

origins of the Central Guard School idea can be traced to the
evaluative stages of the Wallkill Prison programs sponsored by the
Engelhardt Commission. Presiding over a Commission meeting at
Columbia University in 1935, Engelhardt  had quizzed Walter Wallack
and the other representatives of the Wallkill program about the
response of the guards to the new educational programs. Finding a
general concern that prison guards were not adequately prepared to
accept, much less participate in, rehabilitative work, the commission
created a committee on personnel training. As Wallack observed,
‘Inasmuch as the guard is the man who comes into closest contact
with the prisoner, it is highly essential that he should be carefully
chosen, that he should possess the right traits of personality.’
The Division of Education followed up this interest with a proposal
for a Central Guard School, responsible for training all new

proposal likely would have gone nowhere, however, without a
concurrent development in the state legislature, which finally
adopted an eight hour workday law for station prison employees in
1935 (effective July 1, 1936). For more than a decade, prison guards
had been pressing for an eight-hour workday law, many worked
twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week. In order the fulfill the law’s
mandate, the Department of Corrections estimated that it would be
necessary to hire approximately five hundred new prison guards in the
coming twelve months.

school opened with its first group of eighty recruits at Wallkill
Prison on November 7, 1936, graduating the class the following June.
The Division of Education placed the school under the supervision of
Walter Wallack, who designed the training curriculum around the
rehabilitative program. Prospective guards took a ten-course training
sequence, with most the courses designed to introduce custodial
officers to the latest in modern penologial thought. Supplementing
the regular course sequence were a parade of well-known reform
figures: criminologist Nathanial Cantor from the University of
Buffalo, Engelhardt from Teachers College, MacCormick from his
position as commissioner of corrections in New York City. MacCormick
advised the trainees to take an enlightened approach to their work,
saving their prisons and themselves in the process: ‘You can
brutalize yourself if you want to…but it won’t get anywhere and
it won’t get the prison anywhere…Be the right kind of guard, not
just a club swinger.’ Elmira superintendent Frank Christian warned
the recruits to be mindful of prisoners’ humanity: ‘Don’t say
anything to a man that will in any way humiliate him.’ Reformers
sensed that the school presented a unique opportunity to shape the
future of corrections; in the words of Glenn Kendall, named the
supervisor of general courses, the new venture into guard training
packed ‘all the thrills of pioneering.’

Central Guard School is one of the great forgotten chapters in the
history of prison guard-training programs. By 1940 two-thirds of the
active guard force had been through the Central Guard School as a
trainee or as part of inservice training. Did it work? Division of
Education officials never examined (and there is no longer any
definite way to measure) the question of how many guards-in-training
ignored or rejected the reform message drilled into them at the
Central Guard School. Certainly many of the graduates received a
different sort of on-the-job education as soon as they graduated and
were assigned to an old-line state prison. On the other hand, the
school functioned as a kind of classification and reception center,
not unlike the one the reformers wanted to the prisoners. Prospective
guards were given a battery of intelligence, educational, physical,
and psychological tests. Their IQ scores, scholastic achievements,
age, and parentage were all carefully recorded and summarized. Much
as the service units did, the Central Guard School allowed reformers
to identify and promote like-minded custodial personnel, and thus to
perpetuate the reform leadership.

the end, however, the fate of the Central Guard School illustrates
just how tenuous the reformers’ gains could be. A round of late
Depression-era state budget cuts led the department to shutter the
school for the 1939-1940 fiscal year. The Division of Education
secured temporary funding for the 1940-1941 fiscal year through the
federal George-Deen Act, which offered states matching funds for job
training in the public service sector. The permanent closure of the
school arrived with U.S. involvement in World War II – wartime
manpower shortages created a sudden demand for new guards, and the
state found the Central Guard School an obstacle to filling the large
number of new positions. Neither affordable nor immediately helpful
to the Department of Corrections, the guard school closed in April
1942, less than six years after it had begun. To ‘keep the idea of
training alive,’ an introductory course consisting of seven
correspondence units was compiled, but the Department of Corrections
had no good way of ensuring that guards actually fulfilled even this
limited training requirements. Well into the 1940s, the Division of
Education looked forward to the ‘re-opening’ of the Central Guard
School, but not until 1965 would the state undertake systematic
training of correctional officers again, and nothing on the scale of
the Central Guard School would be attempted until after the Attica
riots in 1971 – indeed, current training requirements are not
notably stricter.”

– Joseph F. Spillane, Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 2014. pp. 50-54

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