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Military Training at New York's Elmira Reformatory, 1888-1920

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Volume: 52 Issue: 1 Dated: (March 1988) Pages: 33-40
B A Smith
Date Published
8 pages
The 19th century introduction and development of inmate military training at New York's Elmira Reformatory was instituted to meet an emergency, but survived long after as a means to discipline the inmates and organize the institution.
The military organization permeated every aspect of the facility: schooling, manual training, daily schedules, supervision, and even parole practices. Most numerous among the primary agents of the system were the regimental officers, who at one time, from colonel to noncommissioned officers, were all inmates or former inmates. Lieutenants acted as monitors in the shops, trade schools, and cell house corridors. Noncommissioned officers were turnkeys on the cellblocks. Around the turn of the century, inmate officers were replaced by civilian guards in an attempt to make the military organization more permanent and less subject to fluctuations of changes in inmates. During World War I, ex-Elmira inmates signed up to fight, and the institution geared up to train those still incarcerated. After 1918, negative attitudes toward war and a loss of confidence in the military as an enervating moral force, the advent psychological testing, and the concept of defective delinquency as an explanation for inmate recidivism and recalcitrance led to a disillusionment with military training. While the regiment remained in place in limited forms in the 1920's, it became little more than a means of ordering the institution. 41 footnotes.