Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/June 1915/The Ohio Plan for the Study of Delinquency

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BY the careful study of the problems of human heredity in the last few years, eugenic workers have brought about a more general appreciation of the tremendous burden and waste brought about by the propagation of misfits. It is generally accepted that the principles of breeding, which hold for Guernsey cattle and navel oranges, hold also for human beings—that social misfits reproduce their defects quite as certainly as do long-haired guinea-pigs and corn grains, rich in starch content, reproduce their respective qualities. Mendel's Law is valid for all living forms. Furthermore, high-grade defectives are very prolific. Restraints, which affect the numbers of children borne by normal mothers, have no effect upon the amount of progeny of the feeble-minded, so they tend to reproduce much faster than the normal persons around them. It is therefore self-evident that society must impose artificial restraints, for its own safeguarding.

1. The first suggestion, which occurs to every one, is to segregate the misfit and thus prevent propagation. With the estimates of the numbers of defectives, it is quite impossible to provide asylums, schools and custodial farms for all defectives. Such institutions as are provided by states and private munificence are everywhere overcrowded and holding long waiting lists, while normal children in the public schools are hindered in their education by the presence in their classes of feeble-minded children. It is much too great a burden for society to undertake the lifelong segregation of all the feeble-minded. Furthermore, it is not an intelligent procedure, until we are better informed as to different sorts of defect, and their respective viabilities in the stocks.

2. Again, sterilization has been proposed as a panacea for this social ill—the threatened enormous increase of the feeble-minded. But this is by no means a solution of the problem. Sterilization would certainly stop the breeding of the sterilized, but the consequences of known immunity from conception through salpingectomy of the female or vasectomy of the male, would lead to much increase of immorality and spread of venereal diseases. Such operations do not remove sex feelings for a considerable period of time.

Twelve states have passed sterilization acts. Seven of these specifically provided for the sterilization of the mentally defective; three others, of inmates of state hospitals, reformatories and prisons; and two, of habitual criminals and persons guilty of abuse of girls under ten years of age. The law has been declared unconstitutional in one state. Public opinion is by no means ready for such treatment, even of the confirmed criminal or very dangerous imbecile. And it is quite out of the question to get sterilization enforced in cases of high-grade defectives. These are often attractive, and do not seem to be defective to casual observers. They are, however, most fertile sources of burdens to the state.

3. For delinquent minors, most states have provided reform schools and homes. At these schools, industrial education is emphasized, and this, with able field officers, is depended upon for turning these social misfits into useful law-abiding citizens. A very fine service has been rendered by these institutions. Many successes decorate their annals. It is, however, recognized that the institutionalizing of many boys and girls is a positive damage to their characters. Some acquire many antisocial habits and traits therein.

Most important in regard to the organization and work of these institutions is the question of mental deficiency in the delinquent. The high-grade defective has not been commonly recognized, and we now know that many such are and have been in these reform schools, and the officers of such institutions have entertained hopes of eliminating further delinquencies through education. But the education of defectives is a very special process, and it is well known that no education can overcome the defect in the native endowment of the individual.[1]

If, therefore, the delinquency is directly chargeable to the defect, the optimism and the procedure alike are ill founded. In so far, the state is misdirecting her energies, and wasting her funds. It is wise, therefore, to ascertain in the case of each delinquent, whether or not he is educable, and if so, in what direction and how far. Of course, practical psychology is far from giving us specific answers to these questions. But, we can ascertain whether or not there is definite feeble-mindedness in any given case, and the search for better answers to the above questions is a line of activity wherein research should save the state both money and citizens. The two classes, defective delinquents and delinquents in which no defect can be found, require different treatment. It is unfair to both to keep them together in one institution.

4. Another and newer agency dealing with juvenile delinquency is the Juvenile Court. The first of these was provided for in Chicago in 1899. There can be no doubt as to the value of this court with its probation system and social workers. They have saved many a child from a life of crime. It is a much saner system than its predecessor for supplying intelligence and authority to the management of children with whom the home is unable to cope. The older plan was that of the regular police and common pleas courts. It is, however, most important for these Juvenile Court officers to know whether or not the so-called badness of the child is due to defect, and in what direction and to what extent he may be educated for useful citizenship.

The question of defect, therefore, is looming large in the whole field of delinquency. . In order to economize effort at reform, and at the same time make the greatest social salvage possible from these threatening wrecks of lives, we must know what is reformable. Clear defectives can not be trained into responsible citizens. They must have the education, which will bring them the greatest amount of happiness and make them as nearly self-supporting as possible, but they are not to be expected to become self-directive. They must be directed, and they must be prevented from propagating their defects.

There are cases of delinquency in which experts will agree that there is deficiency of the moral or social organization, while no definite defect in intelligence can be made out. There is defect in the organization of the self, and in the power of self-control. This defect is inherent also, and can not be remedied by education. This class of cases, some are classifying with defective delinquents. They are close to what have been called psychopathic personalities and cases of moral insanity. The defect is, of course, more difficult to define than a definite intelligence defect. It is also less certain that it is congenital and nonrecoverable. For these reasons, attempts to reform, through most skillfully guided education, should be made. This is the class for our reform schools. No clear defectives should be sent thither.

There are other delinquents coming to probation officers, and some to reform schools, who are in no sense defective. They are purely the product of mismanagement or lack of management. They are delinquent because society has not socialized them, and not through any lack of capacity to become socialized. These should never be sent to institutions. They need good home environments.

The large economic problem of delinquency has thus defined itself. No one can doubt the economic importance of making investigations into the causes of delinquency in each case, and the application of psychology and sociology to whatever extent possible in every case. Many cases are clear-cut. The relatively untrained person knows this one to be feeble-minded, and that one to be purely the product of a bad environment. But the doubtful group, a large one, demands expert talent for investigation.

Another field of research, and closely akin, is immediately suggested to the alert student of these problems. It is not only the scientific handling of the individual delinquent, so as to make the most social salvage of him, and save society the expense of supporting him, if possible. It is much more important to stop this social waste—this production of misfits, at its sources. We need a social survey of large bodies of our population, so as to map out the tainted stocks. Such, a thoroughgoing study of kakogenics in the territory of a given state would enable that state to develop principles to guide in the practise of breeding out these bad strains. All agree they are just as dangerous and expensive as smallpox, typhoid or tuberculosis, and that we should proceed by equally radical measures for the extermination of such strains as are used to rid communities of these diseases.

This view of the problems involved in delinquency, through the insight and persistency of Dr. E. J. Emerick, superintendent of the Ohio Institution for Feeble-Minded, and of Dr. A, F. Shepard, member of the Ohio Board of Administration, secured legislation during the winter of 1913-1913, providing for the establishment of a Bureau of Juvenile Research, July 1, 1914. The provisions of the statute are as follows:

Section 1841—1.—All minors, who in the judgment of the juvenile court require state institutional care and guardianship, shall be wards of the state and shall be committed to the care and custody of the "The Ohio Board of Administration," which board thereupon becomes vested with the sole and exclusive guardianship of such minors.

Section 1841—2.—"The Ohio Board of Administration" shall provide and maintain a "Bureau of Juvenile Research" and shall employ competent persons to have charge of such bureau and to conduct investigations.

Section 1841—3.—"The Ohio Board of Administration" may assign the children committed to its guardianship to the "Bureau of Juvenile Research" for the purpose of mental, physical and other examination, inquiry or treatment for such period of time as such board may deem necessary. Such board may cause any minor in its custody to be removed thereto for observation and a complete report of every such observation shall be made in writing, and shall include a record of observation, treatment, medical history, and a recommendation for future treatment, custody, and maintainence. "The Ohio Board of Administration" or its duly authorized representatives shall then assign the child to a suitable state institution or place it in a family under such rules and regulations as may be adopted.

Section 1841—4.—Any minor having been committed to any state institution may be transferred by such "The Ohio Board of Administration," to any other state institution, whenever it shall appear that such minor by reason of its delinquency, neglect, insanity, dependency, epilepsy, feeble-mindedness, or crippled condition or deformity, ought to be in another institution. Such board before making transfer shall make a minute of the order for such transfer and the reason therefore, upon its record, and shall send a certified copy at least seven days prior to such transfer, to the person shown by its records to have had the care or custody of such minor immediately prior to its commitment, provided that, except as otherwise provided by law, no person shall be transferred from a benevolent to a penal instution.

Section 1841—5.—"The Ohio Board of Administration" may receive any minor for observation from any public institution, other than a state institution, or from any private charitable institution, or person having legal custody thereof, upon such terms as such board may deem proper.

Section 1841—6.—Each county shall bear all the expenses incident to the transportation of each child from such county to such "Bureau of Juvenile Research," together with such fees and costs as are allowed by law in similar cases, which fees, costs and expenses shall be paid from the county treasury upon itemized vouchers, certified to by the judge of the juvenile court. Section 1841—7.—The provisions of this act shall become valid on and after the first day of July, 1914.

It is thus seen that Ohio plans through the "Bureau of Juvenile Research," to study the problems of delinquency from the points of view of the best technology afforded by sociology, psychology and the biologic sciences. The law contemplates in this bureau a great laboratory for the study of vital phenomena—of sociologic material in the widest sense. The records of observations and examinations upon children, in the first place, will be expected to enable the authorities to deal with each child much more intelligently than they have been able to do heretofore. The reasonable expectations in regard to education will be set forth clearly in each case. Futile efforts to overcome native defect will be avoided. Doubtful cases of defective delinquents will be given experimental treatment in reform schools, till they are proved to be unimprovable or are improved. The non-defective delinquents will be saved from institutionalization, which will result in great economy both to the individual and to society.

There will result a new conception of the work of our reform schools, and also a new conception of the work of its field officers. The reform school is not to be expected to overcome native defect, but it is to be an experiment station trying out doubtful cases, ascertaining what retardations may be overcome. The field officer is to be a very highly trained practical sociologist, skilled in all the arts of guiding into proper lines the forces of socialization. His is to be the art of making personalities.

The lines of work undertaken in such technological studies are sure to result in new conceptions and divisions of feeble-mindedness. They are also likely to bring new visions as to the relations of intelligence to the will and emotions—the relations of knowledge to the springs of action and conduct.

It is also reasonable to expect that the clinic with its constantly flowing stream of delinquents, and the archives resulting from exhaustive physical, mental and social examinations made in the clinic and in the field will become a great museum for research into the kakogenics of the state. Society is not ready to demand eugenic marriages, but the accumulation of such material as this Bureau of Juvenile Research is making constitutes a most intelligent procedure to prepare us to control and to eliminate the propagation of the unfit. These investigations will also make contributions to pure science in psychology, sociology and biology.

  1. For statistics concerning extent of feeble-mindedness among delinquents, see H. H. Goddard, "Feeble-Mindedness," 1914, p. 9.