Library Collections: Document: Full Text

It's Different In Connecticut

Creator: Charles X. Hutchinson (author)
Date: February 20, 1946
Publication: The Christian Century
Source: Available at selected libraries

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SIR: Thank you for the brief article on the institutional side of mental deficiency, "A Hundred Thousand Defectives," in your issue of January 23. I am glad that a member of Civilian Public Service has developed the kind of interest that leads him to publicize the problem as he sees it. The contribution of the C.P.S. units to our state training school for mental defectives can scarcely be exaggerated. As a trustee I will not allow myself to contemplate the loss to our institution when the C.P.S. program is completely liquidated. I wish Mr. Richardson could hear our band, trained and directed by a c.o., and watch our football team in action, coached by c.o.'s.


In fairness to the work of our training schools for mental defectives, I wish to make a few comments on Mr. Richardson's article. I offer no rebuttal because I do not know where he has been working. I speak for the two Connecticut schools which I know well. It is not true that "the defective committed to -our- state institution-s- . . . receives little better than custodial care to the end of his days." Of course that is true as far as low grade patients are concerned. They are sent to us for that single purpose. But the training received by middle grade and high grade patients is carefully related to their mental capacity. I am grateful to Mr. Richardson for outlining his conception of an ideal total program. He says it is "on paper." As far as our schools are concerned, I say it is our real program. I stress our placement and parole system under which we restore hundreds of our patients to self-support and useful citizenship and "insure -them- against exploitation."


Mr. Richardson does well to stress the problem of discipline. He gets to the core of the problem when he states that "more and more delinquents have been sent to defectives' institutions." We have a state "Committee of Fifteen," including the juvenile court judges and representatives of our schools for defectives and correctional schools, working on the matter at the moment. Procedures of transfer and recommitment of problem patients are complicated. State statutes must be amended. However, if and when we are able legally to transfer the I per cent of our patients who show marked delinquent tendencies, 95 per cent of our disciplinary problem will be solved.


I must correct the statement, "Force, violence and restraint are the daily procedure for an attendant. . . -whose- first contact with the system is to be handed a stick." Again I emphasize that I am speaking for our Connecticut schools. We have one cause for the immediate and automatic firing of an employee. If any employee hits, slaps, kicks or beats a patient, out he or she goes! There is no second chance. I want to reassure the parents of children in state institutions for mental defectives by saying that I am confident this is the rule and not the exception. Mr. Richardson must have had his experience in a rare institution if the kind of discipline of which he writes is generally practiced.


Our discipline problem is difficult. We have no barred windows, no confinement facilities. We operate a school and not a reformatory. We allow our student-patients a maximum degree of freedom. When they abuse their almost unlimited privileges, there are relatively few sanctions and restraints which may be imposed. Considering the limited means at our disposal, it is amazing that we are faced with so few disciplinary crises. Perhaps it is because our school approximates "a pleasant home."


"Improvement in the type of employees attracted to these institutions is the first requirement for all progress," writes Mr. Richardson. He implies that higher wages and better working conditions will prove to be the attraction. I second his criticism of "penny-pinching by state legislatures," but many of them have forgotten how to pinch. The main quarrel in most states today is connected with the lack of wisdom and social conscience in the spending spree. I have voted for every proposed raise in pay for our institutional employees, and sponsored several. Our training schools for defectives offer as close to ideal working and living conditions as any other in the country. But if you had the most desirable institution in the world, and doubled the wage, I am far from convinced that you would change the character of attendants one bit. In my opinion the same type will follow the trade regardless of any incentives. And it is the attendant who is the backbone of the care given our mental defectives. It will be interesting to know how many of the c.o.'s who have given themselves so effectively to this special service under war compulsion will be prevailed upon to carve out a career in the field of mental deficiency.


Methodist Church,
Danielson, Conn.