MAY 1, 1958
NEW YORK—I said yesterday that I wished we might stop giving publicity to all juvenile crimes and I wish newspapers in this metropolitan area could agree to do this for two months, just as an experiment.
On Monday I paid a visit to the Brooklyn House of Detention for Men at the invitation of Commissioner Anna Kross. I came away more convinced than ever that a complete lack of publicity concerning juvenile crimes would be a valuable deterrent.
This newly built house of detention is a most modern institution—a good building, well planned. It was to replace an old and rundown institution, but already it is overcrowded, housing at least 100 more young people than are supposed to be detained there, many of them for as much as from eight to 11 months.
The old jail it was to replace still has more boys and young men in it than it originally was intended to house, so the Commissioner wonders how she is to get on if it is to be destroyed, as it should be.
Detained there are young men from 16 to 21. Some of them have been in the Army; some already have started on a fairly set pattern of crime; some are first offenders.
There are colored and white, Puerto Ricans, youngsters from families of many different nationalities. But all of them are Americans and of an age when every effort should be made to give them a better chance than they have had before and, if possible, to return them to society equipped to earn a living instead of committing another crime.
Many of them need psychiatric care, and I had a chance to watch a psychiatrist and his assistant conduct a group class. An effort is made to make the boys talk about their problems and understand them better, but if a boy needs individual care, the psychiatrist has a real problem, for he can only give a very limited amount of time to each of his cases. Here are nearly 800 men, and the psychiatrist cannot give this institution full time because he also serves another institution.
The most encouraging part of my visit was to a gymnasium where a good athletic director was giving the boys a good chance to work off some of their energy, and these boys are old enough to keep themselves fit by really working hard in the gymnasium.
There was another group waiting in the library to go into the gym and, to my surprise, I did not see a single one reading a book. Yet many of them, when questioned, had some two, three, and four years of high school, but almost all of them confessed to reading difficulties. One boy who wanted to write his mother's name for me hesitated because he was not sure how to write it.
As you look at these boys you realize that the blame is not just on them as individuals, nor entirely on the school, nor on the home.
We should get rid of poverty in this country, poverty of the kind which forces a family of 14 to live in three rooms. We need to improve our housing and our society generally, and no community should be without a center where all the young people of the neighborhood can find occupation and guidance.
Such a community center should be open winter and summer. It should not be a question of charity; it should be a question of civic responsibility in which every taxpayer pays his share.