A Tale of Two Populations

On Oct. 8, 1957, inmates of normal intelligence passed through Napanoch's gates for the first time in 36 years. At the end of the fiscal year, the facility had 129 "normals," 13 percent of its total population. For the next nine years, while the overall census remained at about 1,000, the proportions steadily reversed. Within two years, "normals" were nearly a third of the population; in 1962, they surpassed the defectives. By Sept., 1966, Napanoch had over 600 normal inmates and slightly more than 400 defectives. In that month, the shipment of defectives to Beacon State Institution commenced; the last was transferred on Dec. 31, 1966.

The new inmates were very young -- "increasingly younger each year," officials said. The number of 16 to 20 year-olds jumped fourfold in the five years following the admission of "normals". . . .The defectives, on the other hand, were getting older. By the mid-1960s, Napanoch had nearly 400 geriatrics and invalids who did not belong in prison but could not be released because they were incapable of self-support in the community. The superintendent urged that the Department of Mental Hygiene be prevailed upon to accept these men who were "not vicious or essentially criminalistic." His pleas were ignored.

Age and mentality were not the only differences between the two populations. As in the regular prisons, the majority of Eastern's new admissions were Blacks and Hispanics from the inner cities. . . . by 1967, the population was 54 percent Black, 30 percent Hispanic, and 16 percent white -- about what it is today. The new inmates . . . had not been committed under the defective delinquent statutes. . . Whatever their actual intelligence, the new inmates - - inner city, poor, recent arrivals from the Jim Crow South, and monolingual Hispanics -- tended to be less educated than earlier generations of [normal] prisoners . . . Most had no employment histories, handicapping the industrial program and institution maintenance.

The new "normals" also included great numbers of drug addicts . . . by 1970, Napanoch estimated that 80 to 85 percent were addicted. . . .

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