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Prison CP - April 1894

Corpun file 19381

New York Times, 10 April 1894

In Defense of Mr. Brockway

Warm Indorsement of the State Reformatory Work.

Strong Words From Rev. T.K. Beecher.

He Says the Recent Investigation Has Been Infamous.

Approves Brockway's Methods.


The Most Expert Penologist of His Time to be Made the Victim of a Conspiracy, His Methods of Reform Condemned, and the Managers Removed in Disgrace by Enemies of the Institution, Who Base Their Action on the Words of Felons -- Public Sentiment Manufactured from the Same Source -- An Institution Which Has Been Studied by Penologists from All Parts of the World and Approved So Far that Those in Many States Have Been Modeled After It -- Misrepresentation of the Facts Developed at the Investigation.

Part of press cutting

ELMIRA, April 9. -- The Rev. Thomas K. Beecher was in the parlors of the Congregational Church, where he has preached for forty years, when a reporter for The New-York Times asked him for his opinion as to the management of the State Reformatory by Superintendent Brockway, the methods of discipline which prevail there, and the value of the investigation which has recently been conducted under authorities of the State Board of Charities.

Mr. Beecher arose and walked for a moment up and down the room, his hands crossed behind him.

"I have refrained from saying anything to any newspaper man with reference to this investigation, although several have come to ask me what I thought of it," he said. "I kept out of it entirely, thinking that as the case progressed I might be given an opportunity to say something to the committee which was conducting the investigation. [...]

"The State of New-York tried an experiment in reformatory methods. It has established an institution to which criminals are sent for no definite period. A new method of procedure with people of this class is put into effect. There is a little world in that institution. Unusual rewards are offered to those who choose them; unusual punishments for those who choose that alternative. [...]

"Mr. Brockway has doubtless made mistakes. He is not perfect. He has struck harder than he intended, perhaps, but where is the physician fifty years of age whose patients have not died? [...]

"Are you familiar with the so-called 'paddling'?"

"Time and again I have discussed it with Mr. Brockway. I have seen the paddle. Any one who has been interested to do so has seen it. The method of inflicting corporal punishment has not been kept a secret. The Board of Managers has known of it. The Board of Charities has discussed it and approved it. It has been no secret. I approve of it.

"I am familiar with the discipline in the navy, and I believe that the punishment inflicted on the inmates of the reformatory is not as severe as that of the navy. I do not believe it is as severe as the discipline at the West Point Military Academy. [...]

"What do you think of the investigation which has been made by the Board of Charities?"

"I think it is infamous. It began in a nasty fogbank and ends in a stink. The fogbank was the mass of testimony from convicts and ex-convicts, who were the worst of those who have been in the reformatory. The stink is the final recommendation of the Board of Charities, and the requests for removal of those who have been responsible for making the institution what it is.


How the Experiment Has Been Carried on under State Laws.

The State law provides that a male convict between the ages of sixteen and thirty may be sentenced to the reformatory. When the court determines to send him there the length of time which he is to stay is not stated. He cannot be compelled to remain longer than the maximum term prescribed by law for the crime of which he has been convicted. [...] If he chooses to obey the orders and regulations, to behave himself according to certain prescribed rules, to show that he can obey, and is disposed to do so, he is released as soon as he has demonstrated these facts.

When a man is reduced from the neutral grade he puts on a red suit of clothes and is in the convict grade. His hair is cropped closely. He wears underclothing of a coarse texture. His cell has no furniture except a table and chair. [...] He gets the bitter dregs of a prison life. It is this grade which gets the spanking -- the "paddling." It is from the convict grade only that transfers are made to other institutions, as a rule. It is this class which has given the testimony by which the enemies of the institution are attempting to wipe it off the earth.


Something as to the Character of the Prosecution's Witnesses.

The men who have given the evidence against the institution are the worst of those who have been sent to the institution. This is made evident from the fact that a large proportion of the testimony is from men who are now in the State prisons at Clinton and Dannemora, having been transferred from Elmira. [...]

Who are the people with whom Mr. Brockway has been dealing? [...] By the determination of the court they are felons, or they would not be there. By the statistics taken from them after they reach that place, they are the toughs, the rogues, the ignorant, the vicious, the intemperate, the hard-headed, hard-fisted criminals of the younger class which the net of the law gathers in and the law itself punishes. The majority of them come from New-York and Brooklyn. [...] The common impression that they are sent there for misdemeanors is a mistake. They have committed high crimes. They are not accidental criminals, nor are they first offenders. [...]

Is it necessary to be severe in dealing with these people? The law allows the infliction of corporal punishment at this institution. A system of spanking, or "paddling," is the one most commonly practiced in effecting discipline. It has been found that from 70 to 80 per cent. of all the prisoners fulfill the obligations of the institution under the influence of moral means alone. The other 20 or 30 per cent. must be forced to the performance of duty and good behavior. Sentimental considerations do not enter into the account. In summing up the cases of discipline of this sort the one-man commission makes it appear that a wholesale business has been done. A record is kept of each blow that is struck. From this record it is shown that the percentage of the daily population of prisoners who are spanked is but one-twentieth of 1 per cent., and when the character of the inmates, the great freedom which is allowed them within the institution, and the fact that this is almost the only method of punishment save for reduction in degree or in grade, the testimony of the committee, instead of appearing as a horrible mass of abuse and inhumanity, is strong proof of the generally well-behaved condition of the inmates.

Samuel Gross testified in New-York that he was kicked by Mr. Brockway so that a rupture was produced. This took place, he swore, on one occasion when he was spanked in the bathroom. This has been used as an illustration of the brutality of Mr. Brockway. On this case the defense says:

"We keep in the reformatory a complete record of the name and number, the date, the time, and the number of blows inflicted upon every person that is subjected to bathroom treatment. So that, starting to-day and running back through the past decade, or so far back as those records go, we have a completely history identifying the man, the time, the place, and the number of blows that were inflicted [...]

[...] The records show that Gross was reduced to the lowest grade on the 2d of July, 1891. He was spanked for the first time July 29, 1891, according to these records. The proof in the case is by the records of the reformatory and the sworn testimony of Dr. Wey, the regular physician, and Dr. H.D.V. Pratt, one of the leading physicians of the city of Elmira. The record and the proof both is that they both operated for hernia upon this man June 24, 1891, more than a month before he was ever spanked in the history of the institution. [...] Further than that, the records of the reformatory establish that this man Gross, immediately after this spanking, returned to his work, and lost no labor by reason of what transpired."

John McCormick testified that he was suffering from spinal curvature, brought on by spankings which he received while at the reformatory. In consequence of this, he said, he was not able to stand up straight while at his work. [...] Dr. Smith then examined the back of the witness, and said: "I discover no spinal curvature. It seems to me to be a healthy, well-formed spine, and in good condition."

An attempt was made to connect the death of Edwin T. Smith with the treatment he had received at the reformatory. It illustrates the desperate methods employed in the manufacture of a feeling hostile to Mr. Brockway.

Mrs. Madeline Smith of the City of New-York testified that Edwin T. Smith, her son, after he had been in the reformatory two and a half years was visited by her. At her request he was paroled. He died ten months afterward. He had said to her that he had been paddled. The record introduced shows that Smith was spanked twice while in the reformatory, the 27th of September, 1886, and March 1, 1887. He was paroled May 25, 1889, two years after the spanking. Dr. Wey testified that he had enlarged glands of the neck, caused by the tuberculous disease, and that he was under the doctor's care, employed at light work as messenger in the shop.

John Murray is another who the prosecution alleges was spanked repeatedly and death was the result. That testimony is controverted by Dr. Wey, who says Murray died from pneumonia, following influenza. The record shows that Murray was spanked in April, 1893, taken sick with influenza May 30, a little over a month later, and that he died in the hospital June 10 from pneumonia, following influenza. Dr. Wey says he examined his person on diagnosing his disease, and discovered no marks or bruises upon him. The hospital steward, Peter Finnegan, swore he saw Murray's person; there were no marks, and he did not complain of severe punishment.


A Legislative Committee Indorsed This Form of Discipline.

In 1882, a committee, composed of members of the Committee on Prisons of both branches of the Legislature investigated the State Reformatory. One of the charges at that time was cruelty in the enforcement of discipline. In making its report, that committee said:

"In announcing the conclusions at which we have arrived in reference to the allegations of cruelty, we might content ourselves by saying, 'We find them not proven.'" This same committee said, in the same report:

"The infliction of corporal punishment in any form is repugnant to the general sentiment of the community. The mind instinctively revolts at the recital of the details of this system of punishment as is now occasionally inflicted in the reformatory, and in our State Prisons; we at once associate it with other rude and barbarous customs of ages long past. [...] We are met, however, by the statements of men of large experience in prison management, and of undoubted kingly and humane temper, that corporal chastisement in some form is indispensable to the maintenance of proper discipline in our penal institutions. They insist that the simple fact of the power to inflict it has a restraining influence on the prisoners, and often renders its actual infliction unnecessary. It is also claimed, and we think justly, that, if any form of corporal punishment is to be maintained in our prisons, the punishment by paddling, or, more properly, spanking, with a strap of sole leather, is the least objectionable and the most effective."

[...] "Suppose in this institution a man refuses to obey," said Attorney Stanchfield. "He is given written admonitions, to which I will advert later. He is given warnings by word of mouth. Everything in the world is done first to induce this man to obey [...] A man does not respond to warning, he does not respond to admonition, he is taken to the bathroom for treatment. What occurs?

"There are men in that institution perfectly callous, devoid and destitute of all feeling -- fellows who want to carry the air of the heroic around among their fellow-convicts, who come in braced and determined that they will stand there and take any amount of punishment without flinching or the shedding of a tear. That is one class of man. [...]

"The summary of the number of occasions of spanking during the past five years shows that there were during the year ending Sept. 30, 1889, 261, or a daily average of .71 per cent.; the year ending Sept. 30, 1890, 480, or a daily average of 1.31 per cent.; the year ending Sept. 30, 1891, 535, or a daily average of 1.46 per cent.; the year ending Sept. 30, 1892, 621, or a daily average of 1.70; the year ending Sept. 30, 1893, 618, or a daily average of 1.87.

"Covering the same period of years the average of inmates runs as follows: 1889, 922; 1890, 1,070; 1891, 1,204; 1892, 1,397; 1893, 1,470, showing that the percentage of average daily spankings to the average daily prison population, which all of you will agree with me is the only competent criterion or test upon which to predicate an opinion on that subject, is as follows: In 1890, .126 per cent.; in 1891, .122 per cent.; in 1892, .122 per cent.; in 1893, .127 per cent., showing conclusively that there has been no gradual increase in the number of spankings in the last four years. The number of inmates who were spanked during the five years ending Sept. 1, 1893, was 1,150, or 230 individuals per year, an average of one-twentieth of 1 per cent. per day."


Ex-Judge Dexter Speaks Warmly for Him and His Management.

"The institution stands for Mr. Brockway, and Mr. Brockway stands for the institution," said Seymour Dexter, the President of the Second National Bank of Elmira.

Mr. Dexter was formerly a Judge. He is an old-time resident of Elmira, a man of the highest standing and character, and has, for years, been deeply interested in the work of the reformatory. Some years ago he delivered lectures before the inmates. He has studied closely the system of reform which Mr. Brockway has carried out in the institution, and he is thoroughly familiar with the class and character of convicts who are sent there. [...]

"Are you familiar with the system of punishment known as spanking?"

"I am," said Mr. Dexter, "and I approve of it. I do not believe in the stories of abuse which have been distributed by the convicts who have given their evidence against the institution. [...] Not one of those convicts ever claimed that he was whipped or otherwise punished after he had agreed to do what was wanted of him. they were taken down to the bathroom and spanked because they refused to obey orders. Many of them who were taken down there were not punished, because they gave evidence before a blow was struck that they were ready to do what was wanted of them. In the course of punishment is one of them ever indicated that he was willing to obey orders punishment was stopped. I take no stock in all those convicts' stories that they were kicked, unmercifully beaten, and generally abused by Mr. Brockway.

"I believe that spanking, as it has been practiced in that institution, is a much better form of discipline than to make convicts stand handcuffed fastened to a cell door, as some of the sentimental people profess to believe is the proper way to punish a refractory convict. The actual suffering to the convict is less, from a physical standpoint, and it leaves him much better, not only physically, but mentally, than a long period of confinement, standing with nothing to do, nothing to occupy his mind."

"What do you think of the investigation as it has been conducted?"

"I consider it an attack on the institution which is an outrage. I approve of the reformatory methods. [...] I believe that his management, his system of reforming a man, the treatment which he gives to a criminal, are wise and in accordance with the system of prison reform in which he is an expert. [...] the Elmira Reformatory is pointed to as the model all over the country and in other countries. [...]"

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