The New York House of Refuge was the first juvenile reformatory in the nation. It began as a product of a humanitarian association. Organized in 1815, it was originally called the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism. The Reverend John Stanford founded this Society. During the year 1820 and continuing through the middle of 1821, the Society completed a survey of the United States prisons. Upon completion, the Society then appointed a committee to study the findings.
The report the committee put out criticized the treatment and the handling of prisoners. It also showed great remorse for the imprisonment of individuals regardless of age or the severity of crime. After the report was adopted in 1824, reorganization was called for by the Society, for the purpose of establishing a reformatory. After the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism ceased to exist as an organization in 1823, the Society for the Reformation for Juvenile Delinquents took its place.(Pickett, 1969)
Even though the New York House of Refuge was managed privately, the State of New York was involved form the beginning. It participated in establishing inmate commitment procedures, developing treatment programs, funding and in the organization process for the program.
Members of the Society appointed a thirty-member Board of Managers. Meeting weekly as the policy making section, an Acting Committee, consisting initially of five and later seven Board members was also implemented. Appointed by the Acting Committee, a Superintendent was responsible for daily management and last but not least; a matron was to supervise the Female Department.
The first Superintendent for the New York House of Refuge was Joseph Curtis. He was a businessman, who upon hearing about the House of Refuge, immediately volunteered his services for the position. (Garland Publishing, Inc., 1987) Upon taking the position he had dreams of ministering and supporting the children in a positive manner. After the House of Refuge opened, he soon realized that the way he envisioned it would work - did not work at all. He remained Superintendent until 1926, when he was replace with Nathaniel C. Hart.
Hart was very much a disciplinarian. He possessed an iron will and seemed to be everything that Curtis was not. He was also a man of seemingly invincible integrity. Where Curtis had been inconsistent with his treatment of the inmates, Hart was very systematic. This pleased the committee very much.
Public funding was one of the primary goals of the reformatory's sponsors. Blaming immigration, hedonism, and commercial entertainment for juvenile crime, the State Legislature began providing funding from the use of excess monies collected from a head tax on arriving transatlantic passengers. They also used proceeds from the license fees for New York City's taverns, theatres, and circuses and also from legislative appropriation. This funding from the State Legislature began in 1825.
In July of 1824, an anonymous contribution was...