New York House of Refuge
Adjustment To Urban Growth
By the 1870s, the Society was on the defensive, reacting to criticism of the indenture system, religious instruction, and contract labor. To improve the supervision of inmates discharged from their indentures, the Protestant Chaplain was designated Parole Agent in 1863. His duties included inspecting homes of inmates eligible for discharge. However, due to reduced labor costs accompanying an increase in immigration, indenture placements declined in the 1870s and 1880s. At the same time the practice of using female labor to produce commercial products was increasingly criticized, along with similar practices in prisons. Finally in 1884, Governor Grover Cleveland signed a bill banning contract labor, despite the Society's strenuous objections (Ch. 470, Laws of 1884). In addition, in the 1870s there were several outbreaks of violence against the staff, along with repeated charges by former staff and others of inadequate care, exploitation of the inmates in the workshops, breakdown of the classification system, and religious intolerance.
Such accusations led to an investigation and report in 1879 by the State Board of Charities, which had oversight over all social welfare institutions receiving state funds (1880 Senate Document No. 58). The Board's recommendations led to the elimination of contract labor and several other reforms. In 1887, the reformatory adopted a system of industrial education patterned after the program of the State Industrial School (Western House of Refuge) in Rochester. Within three years, classes for boys were held in hosiery, printing, carpentry, painting, tailoring, horticulture, baking, gas and steam-fitting. Girls attended classes in washing, ironing, sewing and domestic work. After 1890, military drill for boys became an important daily routine. Two years after the State guaranteed freedom of religious worship to reformatories and to prison inmates (Ch. 396, laws of 1892), the reformatory began hiring non-sectarian parole agents. These parole agents began a system of post-admission home visits as well as inspections before and after discharge. Commitment of inmates under twelve years old was restricted to those convicted of committing a felony offense (Ch. 216, Laws of 1891). There were also several measures to reduce corporal punishment.