JULY 25, 1955
HYDE PARK—Most of us are very much concerned at present about the whole question of juvenile delinquency, but very few of us take the trouble to study the situation in our state institutions where young offenders are sent for rehabilitation.
These institutions are in some ways more important as places for confinement than the regular prison. By the time a man reaches a regular prison he is usually set in a criminal pattern, whereas young offenders are sent to reformatories in the hope that we will be able to keep them out of prisons or mental hospitals in the future.
As a result of asking questions about practices in New York State, I was stunned by the fact that there is not sufficient diversity of institutions to give proper care to young people who come in contact with the law.
For instance, youngsters, who are not declared legally insane but are quite evidently mentally disturbed, are apt to be put in a mass institution. There the entire group receives the same attention—and, of course, all do not suffer from the same difficulties.
A young epileptic who is a delinquent, for example, can have no special treatment in a mass institution where he is just one of a large group of young offenders. In some institutions the care or training must be conditioned by the minority of the group confined, and very often these comparatively few require more strict custodial care than the majority of young offenders.
The case loads that one finds for psychiatrists in some of our institutions are so unbelievably heavy that any doctor must feel it impossible to give proper care to any of his patients.
The question of salaries for professional jobs such as guidance counselors and teachers is another sore point. The maximum salary of a prison guard is $5,388, which includes overtime for a 48-hour week, but the maximum for a guidance counselor is $4,490 in New York State institutions, and the maximum for institution teachers and instructors is $4,720.
Our teachers in institutions have a most complicated problem, and we have to face the fact that they will be poorer teachers than the average because in many of the conventional educational school systems of the state a teacher can reach a higher maximum salary. This low ceiling on salaries also holds true for social workers, who are very important to young offenders.
We should make every effort to allocate much more carefully our young offenders. They should be sent to institutions where the particular kind of care they need can be given. This, of course, might mean more institutions and smaller ones, but it would bring better results.
Our state is a very big state, but I believe that we could do a service to the whole country if we made some very careful studies of this whole question of juvenile delinquency. The studies might well turn out to be valuable in other states, even though other states may have to deal with fewer people.
I should like to discuss this question further in a subsequent column.