Jane Addams: The Juvenile Adult Offender, October 1913

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LESS than two years ago Chicago was horrified by a very brutal murder committed by six young men and boys, apparently without any object, not even that of petty theft, as the truck gardener whom they killed early one morning as he was driving into the city had in his possession but a few dollars which he vainly offered in exchange for his life.

Four of the young men suffered the extreme penalty of the law, capital punishment. Two of them, brothers, were twenty-four and twenty-one years old, and another was less than nineteen. Two other boys, both under seventeen years of age, who were associated with the crime, were sent to the State Penitentiary. The boys confessed to the revolting crime, which was apparently without mitigating circumstances, and throughout the trial bore themselves with unbroken bravado; until confronted by the death sentence, they exhibited no remorse.

Although a protest was made by many citizens against the brutalizing effect upon the community of such a wholesale execution, and although these citizens added to the usual arguments against capital punishment the plea that many States had abolished it for minors even when retaining it for adults, it was evident that public sentiment as a whole upheld the drastic punishment.

Parents Who Know Little About Their Boys

AT THAT time, however, the whole subject of the "Juvenile-Adult" Offender -- a phrase borrowed from the English to designate offenders between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one -- came up for discussion in Chicago, and many conditions were discovered which stirred a careless city to a new sense of compassion. Among these findings were those of an experienced Settlement worker who visited the homes of all of the young men and boys involved in the crime. She discovered that all but one of them had been born in "the old country" and brought to America when quite young. The parents were laboring people without education or privilege. The fathers were absorbed in earning food and shelter for their large families in this new land where work is none too plentiful and where there are so many problems for the immigrant. The mothers were absorbed in the care of their younger children. One mother said: "I have had fourteen children and have had no life outside my kitchen. You see how that is. How could I see where my boy was going?"

All of the mothers admitted that they asked no questions about the work their boys were doing or the conditions under which it was done, whether it was work of a kind tasteful to the boys or distasteful. The only question was, "How much money on Saturday?" The father of two of the boys said, less than a week before the day set for the execution: "I don't care what they do with them; they may hang them, shoot them or cut them into pieces; it is nothing to me." On being asked how he, the father, could speak so brutally of his own sons, he answered, with a shrug of his shoulders: "Neither of those boys ever brought home a penny."

In one of the other homes, where eleven people lived in two dark, unsanitary, rear basement rooms, the old father, a ragpicker by profession, recounting the circumstances of the crime, told how the other boys had urged his son Philip to go out with them on the night of the murder. He left the house saying he would return soon. In the morning the old father, coming from the bedroom of the shack into the kitchen, "looked all around on the floor, but Philip was not there." The members of the family discussed the probable hanging, saying that if Philip "swung," John, a younger brother, would have to bear alone the expense of the insurance on the life of the mother, and "she might die any day."

The mother of the youngest boy, crying over the tub as she bent to the family washing, said that he had "always been a good boy at home." She was much distressed that his little sister, twelve years old and suffering from tuberculosis, had become so excited over the news of her brother's fate that she had had a hemorrhage and would probably die. When asked where her boy had spent his evenings she replied: "Maybe by the fence over there; maybe at the corner; how should I know? He never tells me."

Something is Wrong With the Home

NOW the reasoning of these parents was not altogether illogical -- that if their boys were old and wise enough to find work for themselves, and could go off to another part of the city of which their parents knew nothing, they were also old enough and wise enough to find their own amusement in their hours out of work, and, at least, it was utterly useless for the parents to interfere. They had all been brought up in Chicago's most congested area, where, because the housing is the worst in the city, they lived in homes small and uncomfortable. The only amusements within walking distance were connected with saloons and designed primarily to lure their earnings from them.

America has been slow to regard the "Juvenile Adult" from the Juvenile Court point of view, although if these ill-fated boys had been but a year or two younger they would have been wards of the Juvenile Court, where the judge is free -- as no judge in the long history of jurisprudence has ever been before -- to dispose of the defendant, not so much in consideration of his actual offense as in regard to his reclamation. The overt disobedience to the law on the part of a child brought into the Juvenile Court is regarded as a symptom not only that something is wrong with the child himself, but also that something is wrong with his home, his school and neighborhood surroundings. The probation officers and others interested in the Court have already done much to uncover untoward city conditions and to place a new responsibility upon adult shoulders.

Chicago was startled by the number of children brought into the Juvenile Court during the first ten years of its existence -- 14,183 delinquents, of whom 11,413 were boys and 2770 girls. The large figures in themselves show that, in addition to these boys under the age of seventeen and girls under the age of eighteen, there must be in Chicago almost an equally large number of "Juvenile-Adult" Offenders who are arrested at an age when the young person is as badly in need of legal protection and help as during any time of his life; yet so far as any legislation is concerned nothing has yet been undertaken to give him any special protection, nor when he is arrested and brought before the Court is anything done at the trial to give him treatment other than that accorded to the adult offender. It is quite obvious that publicity given to the conditions surrounding these young people is the first step toward securing for them the treatment which their age and condition demand.

Demoralized Condition of Lockups and Cells

QUITE recently the Juvenile Protective Association of Chicago made a careful study of one hundred boys between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one who at that moment were confined in the County Jail. The boys who were arrested had been put through the regular police and court machinery designed, of course, not for curing boys but for the treatment of criminals. It was discovered that some of these boys had suffered outrages to which the adult criminal ought not to have been subjected, while others were experiences from which a boy, no matter what his crime, should have been exempted. One of these was the generally demoralized condition of the lockups and cells in police stations. In most of the stations the cells are in the basement and are dingy, damp and unsanitary -- vermin-ridden in many instances. There is usually more than one prisoner in a cell, and in many cases the cells are so packed that the prisoners are obliged to stand all night. This overcrowded condition also extends to the County Jail. At this very moment when I am writing there are four men in the Cook County Jail in one cell, which measures seven by nine feet. Being designed for two persons it contains but two bunks, so that the men are obliged to sleep by turns. They are, moreover, kept in their cells twenty hours out of the twenty-four. The investigator of the Juvenile Protective Association found four boys in one cell, although their condition was relieved by the fact that they were out of the cell during the hours when they attended a school provided for the boys in the County Jail.

The investigators also came upon the trail of police abuses, some of which called for the trial of those implicated. Frequently the parents of arrested boys were not notified by the police of the plight of their sons, the police giving as their alleged excuse that the boys often gave fictitious names and addresses in order to save their parents from disgrace. While it is doubtless difficult to find the parents, certainly in many cases no vigorous attempt had been made.

Worse than this, however, were the complaints of ten of the boys in the County Jail that in the police station they had been kicked, beaten and terrorized in order to force a confession. Certainly Case 53 had lost a tooth when a police lieutenant tried to make him confess by hitting him with his fist, while Case 63, in addition to a beating, had a bucket of cold water poured over him when the beating did not produce the wished-for effect. When these cases were brought to the attention of the Trial Board they replied that the Board could not consider accusations against officers brought by prisoners. Some means should therefore be found whereby this last practice could be brought to light and eradicated. The whole question of the "Third Degree" used by the police is so vitally important to the community that it is difficult to understand why action has been so long delayed which would make this practice an impossibility.

Another injustice perpetrated upon the boys came through the Identification Bureau. The "Mugging System," as it is called, photographs and describes the prisoners for future identification, but out of 5338 cases thus subjected to the "Mugging System" only 2383 were found guilty and sentenced to some penal institution, while 2955 were discharged. This means, of course, that almost 3000 innocent persons had their pictures placed in the Rogues' Gallery; only those who were able to secure bail were not subjected to this indignity, inasmuch as they did not return to their cells even when held to the Grand Jury. It should, of course, be the invariable rule of the Department that as soon as the defendant was found not guilty his photograph should be destroyed, for when it is held it is hard to estimate the handicap and wrong done to a boy who is under police suspicion and whom the police feel that they have a perfect right to arrest.

Short Sentences in Jail are Not Effective

IT WAS also thought that the short sentence was most injurious. When the offense was a slight one many of the judges seemed to consider that it was "fitting the punishment to the crime" to impose a sentence of two or three weeks in jail. This practice is denounced by students of penology on the following grounds: First, that it familiarizes the delinquent with the jail without making him afraid of it; second, that it gives him an opportunity to come into contact with criminals, and, third, that it embitters him against the law and at the same time gives him a certain contempt for it.

Of the boys interviewed by the investigator twenty-six had been arrested five times and twenty-seven innumerable times, so that it is clear from practice as well as theory that short sentences are not effective. No doubt the judges in Chicago, as elsewhere, should be allowed more latitude in imposing indeterminate sentences; also that the Adult Probation system, which happily is being extended, should be first applied to these juvenile offenders.

Another abuse consisted of keeping a boy in jail before his case was brought before the Grand Jury. Of course, in some of these cases the Grand Jury returned no bill, but the boy had suffered the indignity of prison life; in one instance a boy was held in jail for twenty-two weeks! Whatever may be said concerning the retention of the Grand Jury -- and Minnesota and some of the other States seem to get on very well without it -- certainly these cases involving boys should be managed in some other way.

It was not surprising that, when the Juvenile Protective Association made a study of the health conditions of these one hundred boys, it disclosed the fact that a large number were mentally defective and that many more were undernourished and underdeveloped.

Were the "Juvenile-Adult" Offender treated in a separate court presided over by a judge who had at his command a well-organized psychopathic department, as the Juvenile Court of Chicago now has, it would give to every defendant who there was reason to believe was defective or abnormal a thorough examination, so that the judge might determine how far he needed medical treatment or segregation in a hospital for the feebleminded.

There Should be a Court for "Juvenile-Adults"

THE sense of justice, as well as of compassion, demands some such treatment for these unfortunate boys. We consider it a cruel wrong and an outrage to justice that children should be treated as delinquents before an examination has determined whether or not they are subnormal. Certainly some such right must be accorded to the "Juvenile Adult" as well. It is to be hoped that this investigation of the Juvenile Protective Association may be the first of many others to reveal the condition of these unfortunate young people, so that they may have a court fitted to their needs as the Juvenile Court has become fitted to the needs of the delinquent child.

Miss Julia C. Lathrop, head of the Federal Children's Bureau, once wrote: "Important as are the immediate services of a Juvenile Court to the children who are daily brought before it for protection and guidance, painstaking as are the Court's methods of ascertaining the facts which account for the child's trouble, his family history, his own physical and mental state, hopeful as are the results of probation, yet the great primary service of the Court is that it lifts up the truth and compels us to see that wastage of human life whose sign is the child in court. Heretofore the kindly but hurried public never saw as a whole what it cannot now avoid seeing -- the sad procession of little children and older brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, cannot keep step with the great company of normal, orderly, protected children."

Jane Addams