JULY 26, 1955
HYDE PARK—As I mentioned in my last column, I should like to continue my discussion on juvenile delinquency and consider further one or two other aspects of the situation in our institutions for young offenders. Of course when I say "our" I am referring to New York State.
One thing which was done in previous administrations seems to me a policy which might well be changed. I am referring to the promotion to superintendent and warden in these institutions under the Prison Department which has been restricted to custodial personnel. Almost no professionally trained men enter the custodial field. So this restriction has meant that very few trained men eventually become heads of institutions for young offenders.
Prior to 1943 a few trained men were appointed, but to the best of my knowledge, the last few appointments were men who had no special training for these jobs. The Department of Social Welfare is not restricted in this way and the institutions under this department all have trained administrators at present.
One of the most important things in dealing with young offenders is to know something of the background and family from which they come, since it is essential to try to improve conditions and prevent the reoccurrence of the situation which brought the young offender into court. Yet, there is almost no provision for family case work in any of these custodial institutions. What little is done is done personally and incidentally by individuals who are interested in trying to help.
Some states, such as California, Michigan and Massachusetts, have a type of youth authority under which institutions for young offenders are administered which keep them out of the prison department. These states operate youth camps, which are in some ways similar to the old CCC camps that were in existence during the depression.
Our State of New York has just enacted legislation to make it possible to run such a camp but the appropriation is very inadequate. In order to get started those in authority will have to practice all kinds of economies, such as moving old equipment and borrowing personnel from other institutions, which is going to be a serious handicap and a very unwise beginning.
Almost all people interested in the prison field are anxious to see changes brought about, particularly in the institutions for young people where there is more hope for complete rehabilitation than among hardened criminals. But the people working in this field have a feeling that the public has little knowledge and less interest in the fact that both money and brains are required to bring about changes that are essential if a better job is to be done with such juvenile delinquents in our reformatories.
You may say that the fault lies with the people in the prison field, themselves, who do not exert leadership in telling the public and the state government of the situation that exists and how their problems could be met more adequately. But the type of professional leader who is capable of putting his case before the public the legislature, or the governor must be a trained man—and, at least in New York State, trained men at the head of institutions are decreasing in number.