Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
1897 Year Book of the New York State Reformatory at Elmira
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General Superintendent’s Report.


ELMIRA, N. Y., SEPT. 30, 1897.

To the Board of Managers:

Together with the usual tables and statistics there is also appended hereto the reports of the heads of departments as follows:

Director of the School of Letters;
Lecturer (non-resident) Lecture Department;
Director of the Trades-School;
Director of the Manual Training Department;
Military Instructor’s Report;
Director of Physical Instruction;
Physician’s Report.

All of these departments are in good hands and in satisfactory condition.

In the report of the last year, mention was made of the application of the principle of classification in administering for the training of the inmates and the seven several classified divisions of them were each described. Next in order after classifying is the need of complete records so arranged as to be convenient for ready reference. Such records are kept at the Reformatory here. There are fifty record ledgers, biographical and conduct ledgers, of which two pages at least are devoted to the record of every inmate. The books contain more than 16,000 pages upon which facts are recorded relative to more than 8,000 prisoners. Such of these record books as have the records of resident and paroled inmates are in constant use by the General


Superintendent, his assistants, the heads of departments and by the eighteen clerks engaged in keeping them. The Biographical Register has a succinct summary of the close scrutiny of every prisoner, always personally made by the General superintendent when they are at first admitted to the Reformatory. It is a record of diagnosis and summary of the judgment then formed of the prisoner himself; his mind, his moral susceptibility and the rating of his animal organism, all with a view to his treatment for reformation. The plan or prescription made at the time, with notations afterward of changes and progress and results is also included upon the pages of the record of each inmate.

It is true of these records, made at the time of the prisoner’s admission to the Reformatory, that they are, when studied in the light of the subsequent performance of the prisoner, shown to be generally correct. They reveal much that relates to the conditions and incentives attendant upon the crimes committed, and force upon the mind the inquiry whether, after all, the crime is not the natural, possibly the necessary consequence of causes which lie behind and beneath the criminal and the occasion of his crime, in the very constitution of society in the faulty civic community. These records strongly suggest as to the criminals themselves, that they are wayward weaklings rather than of such positive characteristics as the romance of modern sentiment attributes to them. They must be held responsible to society for their behavior and may properly be restrained of their liberty, and, compulsorily trained out of their criminousness, for the protection of society from them and their possible criminal acts; but it cannot be affirmed of them that they are always altogether morally responsible for their acts. It is evident that a better state of society, more effective direction of their early environments, at the period of their lives when they did not, could not, control themselves nor their surroundings, might have prevented much of the physical degeneracy, mental insufficiency and moral instability which makes them unusually susceptible to temptations, and also might have removed out of sight the outward unfavorable facts presented at the time of their crime.

Wherever lies the real responsibility for crimes, the evidence of the unfitness of the inmates of this Reformatory for free life is shown by


the recorded history of that period of their lives which is previous to their commitment to the Reformatory, and is also very clearly shown by their recorded inability, when unaided or compelled, to so manage themselves while here as to successfully achieve the supreme desire of every one, namely: their release from imprisonment. They are unable, a considerable number of them, to arouse and exert themselves so as to observe the conditions established for their improvement, and the regulations that are necessary to maintain an orderly prison community, conditions and regulations of simple requirements easily observed by any ordinary young man whenever he puts himself earnestly to it. With a large company of these laggards and the incorrigibles this fault of character is shown in all three of the departments of their record, namely: their lack of self control, their feeble mental effort in the School of Letters and by their faulty examination percentages in the trades classes. It is also interesting to observe with others of a better class of them that their defect is specific: that is to say, the school record will be defective, with good examination percentages in their trade and good demeanor record. With others there is good progress in school with defective trade and demeanor record, and with still others, a limited number of then, the demeanor record alone is defective, they making good progress in trade and school. A non uncommon characteristic of the records of prisoners is the periodicity of impulsiveness as shown by recurrent lapses from good to bad record. As an inebriate or epileptic lapses at more or less regularly recurring periods of time, so, many of these prisoners seem to brace themselves now and then making a good record for two, three, four or six months and then suddenly surrender themselves to their impulses, rallying again afterward to renew the conflict—this over and over again. It is encouraging to not as to such, that when once, by watchfulness and better effort, induced by the strong motives pressing constantly upon them, the lapse period is passed, the record is maintained; then not infrequently the prisoner easily complies with the requirements and steadily progresses to his early release.

It is of great importance to such defective characters, as the records show these men to be, that the discovered defects be overcome before they are released to freedom in any community. It is not kindness to the men under such training, and it is quite wrong as towards society,


to bestow the good record for the sake of sympathy and charity, when really the prisoner has not earned it, and it is probably fatal to reformations if by fraud he obtains it, or, by the laxity and indulgence of the disciplinary control or by clemency, or in any other way he receives a meritorious record unworthy or is prematurely released. Prisoners are more liable to fall into crime again by reason of their successful avoidance of the training as well as by the loss of the training itself.

The records show that ninety-four per cent of the prisoners are convicted of crimes against property. This class of crimes is not an evidence of excessive acquisitiveness on the part of the criminals surely, for they are prodigal of expenditure of that which they may at any time possess. The fifteen hundred and more of the prisoners, brought in with them, on their arrival at the Reformatory, only $480.83 altogether. The instructions in trades and the motive of the wage-earning system adopted here is especially appropriate, it seems, because of this improvidence and prodigality so characteristic of the prisoners.

Of obstacles to the reformation of the inmates, such as are within the power of the State to remove, there are two clearly apparent to the management: The first is the weakening of the motive to self improvement, a motive which inheres in the indeterminate sentence principle with its marking system and its conditional liberation, weakened through the determinate feature of the indeterminate principle as supplied under the limitations of the present laws. Any predetermined maximum limit to the period of possible imprisonment, except upon the conditions of reasonable and properly to be demanded improvement of the prisoner himself, diminishes, in proportion to the brevity of the maximum, the motive the indeterminate sentence is supposed to supply towards self-effort and self-improvement. It is the motive the indeterminate sentence system supplies to the prisoner for his effort at his own recovery, more than any other single feature of it, that constitutes the value of this system of sentences over other systems for a reformatory prison.

To change the habits is a serious exercise of mind and will, and so it is always a reluctant process. It is for the average criminal an exercise so


contrary to the tenor of his whole life that he will always turn from it, although it is the open avenue of escape from continued imprisonment, and will avail himself of any opportunity to evade the experience, whenever there is hope of release in any other direction, whatever it may be. The straight and narrow way has no attractions for them until they have learned at first and usually by compulsory experience, that it is actually a way of pleasantness and a path of peace.

The other obstacle mentioned, which we are encountering here latterly and now is, the insufficiency of separate cells or sleeping rooms. The evils incident to lodging two or more prisoners in the same room, without constant surveillance of them ought to be apparent to everybody at the mere mention. It is an evil of housing criminals which is recognized the world over with all civilized nations. The English government at first enacted partial prohibition of the practice in the English prisons limiting the minimum of occupants of one room to three persons, but never two, and later the association of prisoners together in the same sleeping apartment has been entirely prohibited and is not now practiced there.

To avoid this serious evil which arises from the cell association of prisoners—this danger of injury to the good work of the Reformatory, some additional sleeping rooms are required. The proposed construction of such rooms is not at all for the purpose of accommodating an additional number of prisoners, but solely to provide separate rooms for those already incarcerated here. To provide these rooms and complete the façade of the Reformatory structure, making the North and South wings of equal length and appearance, an addition on the South must be built corresponding to that erected on the North in 1892. Funds for this purpose should be appropriated this year and the work should be commenced at once. The cost of it all, if erected by the labor of the prisoner pupils of the trades-school, will not be more than $150,000.
[Signed] Z. R. BROCKWAY
General Superintendent