Transition Years: 1957-73
Under the original defective delinquent law, commitment required only that an individual be "charged with" or "arraigned for" a criminal offense. In 1931, after Commissioner of Corrections Walter N. Thayer, Jr. informed Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt that the commitment law was being overused by courts as an easy way out of hard cases, the law was amended to require a criminal conviction. . . .
In 1932, the Attorney General recommended that legal hearings be held at the time of commitment, even though the law did not require hearings. Cases decided in the 1940s introduced hearings at the time of decisions to extend terms of confinement as well. A 1945 amendment to the Mental Hygiene Law provided that allegedly "dangerous" mental defectives had the right to call witnesses and be represented by counsel before they could be transferred from a state school to the IDD.
The 1966 Baxtrorn Decision ruled that inmates of the Dannemora State Hospital could no longer be retained beyond their maximum prison term; if still mentally ill and considered dangerous, such patients would have to be committed to a civil hospital under the same procedures as applied to free citizens.
Though most inmates were clearly limited, we would not today always agree with the diagnosis of "mental deficiency" for all of them. Even Napanoch sometimes disagreed. Direct commitments were "occasionally returned to court as unsuitable... due to high mental capacity" (Dr. Thayer had pressed for legislation -- passed in 1931 -- giving IDD officials this means to remedy abuses of judicial authority).
The Schuster case, decided in 1969, ruled that in order to transfer inmates to a prison mental hospital, they must have a full hearing and accorded full 14 th Amendment due process and equal protection rights. . . When a 1974 act prohibited Mental Hygiene from transferring dangerous, but unconvicted, defectives to correctional institutions, the reversal of the 1921 criminalization of mental retardation was complete.
Napanoch began to receive normal inmates in 1957, and the next year was renamed the Eastern Correctional Institution to indicate the change in population. At the close of 1966, the last 400 defectives were transferred to a new unit (the Beacon State Institution) set up on the grounds of the Matteawan State Hospital. Eastern was now designated the Catskill Reformatory, indicating the Department of Correction's intent to house and program younger inmates there. But in 1970, with a significant drop in the number of inmates sentenced to State penal institutions, Napanoch was loaned to the NYC corrections department. For three years, Napanoch housed misdemeanants serving sentences of a year or less. Then, in 1973, with the state prison census on the upswing, Napanoch's cells were again designated for State prisoners.