[DOC Shield]
Richard C. Patterson starts Social Service Bureau
[Richard C. Patterson]
[DOC 1919 report cover]

NYC Correction Commissioner Richard C. Patterson, who can be considered the Father of both the Rikers Island prison/jail complex and the Correction Academy, initiated in 1929 an innovation ahead of its time then and perhaps still so even in our own time: a Social Services Bureau.

Its staffers -- all DOC employees -- actually visited the families of female prisoners to help them solve or at least amerliorate various problems which, if left unresolved, would likely impede prospects that the inmates, upon release, would find and stay on a "path which will make them useful citizens. . . ."

Patterson continued to expand the bureau's staff throughout the rest of his 5-year tenure as Commissioner.

Front hard cover of NYC DOC Commissioner Richard C. Patterson's annual report for 1929.
Excerpted from Pages 79 -- 84 of the 1929 NYC Department of Correction annual report --


In the early part of the year the Department began the organization of a social service bureau by appointing Miss Elizabeth R. Butler, social worker at the 2nd District Prison. In the latter part of the year Mrs. Margaret R. Millar was appointed social worker at the Workhouse on Welfare Island.

It was subsequently decided to transfer Miss Butler to Welfare Island under the direction of Mrs. Millar who, because of the excellence of her work, was made Social Service Director of the Department. The social service bureau at the present time consists of these two and Mrs. Ceil Lifton, who acts as secretary and assistant to Mrs. Millar.

The social service bureau was in the nature of an experiment, but in the few months in which it has been functioning it has proven its worth and the necessity for its existence many times over. Many of those who go to penal institutions, particularly for the first time, are not real criminals in the ordinary acceptation of that term, but those who yielded to an impulse to do wrong or because of circumstances which appeared beyond their control at the time.

Many of these inmates feel completely isolated and friendless after the prison gate closes upon them. They are worried about themselves, their families, their jobs and their business affairs generally. It does not take an inmate long who feels that no one has any interest in him to become embittered against the society which imprisoned him. It was for the purpose of alleviating this feeling of forlornness in some measure and of doing what we could to maintain a liaison between the inmate and the outside world that the social service bureau was organized.
[old HMD
Sewing Room, Correction Hospital (Workhouse), Welfare Island. (Left half of photo on Page 88 of 1929 annual report.)

Our social workers interview the prisoners, ascertain their family, educational, environmental and employment background where necessary, see that their indigent families are taken care of by some organization, endeavor to effect reconciliations between prisoners and their estranged families where families are of good repute, and generally endeavor to make the inmates feel that the Department is taking some interest in them other than merely trying to keep them from escaping.

As has been stated, this bureau has been a success almost from its inception. Perhaps the most enthusiastic advocate of the bureau is the warden of the Workhouse, who states that it has contributed more than any other agency to raising the morale of the inmates of his institution. It must be remembered that many of the inmates who come to our institutions are ignorant of their rights, and even where they are cognizant of the fact either that they have been imposed upon or that it might be possible for them to secure help out of their difficulties, they are too inarticulate to make their real situation known.

It is necessary in many instances to cultivate them over a considerable period of time in order to gain their confidence, as they are suspicious of anyone representing authority. Due to the fact that our social workers are in intimate contact with them every day, and the further fact that the story of how one has been helped flashes from one to another, the inmates soon come to look upon the social worker as a friend and to voluntarily cooperate with her in the solution of their troubles.

When Mrs. Millar was first appointed a meeting was arranged to which officers representing various social service organizations throughout the City were invited to meet her. The purpose of the Department in starting the bureau was explained and the various representatives present pledged their cooperation and support. This has been given in full measure, and the social service bureau works at all times in perfect harmony with various organizations throughout the City.

Where necessary cases are referred to various other organizations such as the Charity Organization Society, Jewish Social Service, Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, Women's Prison Association, Catholic Charities, the Big Sisters, the New York Association for the Blind, and similar organizations.

[old HMD
Sewing Room, Correction Hospital (Workhouse), Welfare Island. (Right half of photo on Page 88 of 1929 annual report.)

Any number of unusual matters are attended to which are of assistance to the inmate and in which she is unable to help herself, as for instance, the collecting of money due her from employers, recovering clothing which they have left at home, attending to the signing of insurance papers and other matters of a similar nature.

Some idea of the character of the work being performed by the social service bureau may be gained from the report for the month of December of this year, which shows 107 interviews with inmates, 6 interviews with friends and relatives, 10 visits to homes, 16 cases referred to outside organizations, 6 cases of clothing recovered, 3 cases of employment secured and numerous other activities.

In many, if not the majority of cases, had there been no social service bureau, no action in all probability would have been taken and the inmate would have remained estranged from her family, or secured no employment and taken to stealing or have failed to secure money which may have changed the entire current of her life upon her release. In many cases girls are returned to their families even when the latter live in other states and cities. . . .

[The middle part of this Social Services Bureau section of the 1929 annual report was devoted to six case histories illustrating the work of the new unit.They recounted assistance given to inmate families with immigration, employment, health, child-caring, housing and personal relationship problems.]

The Department feels that it will be generally agreed that work of this nature is decidedly worthwhile, not only for the sake of the unfortunate individual whose life is changed for the better, but also, and what is far more important, in the effect which such work has in diminishing crime, as many of these people would in all probability have continued their anti-social careers.

Husbands, children and other relatives have been located. Reconciliations have been effected. Clothing, personal belongings and household goods have been recovered and taken care of for prisoners. Jobs have been obtained and money due penniless inmates collected for them.

This work is not completed in the institution, as the social workers endeavor to keep in touch with inmates after their release unless they have been turned over to some other organization. As the work develops, a realization of what has necessarily been left undone is overwhelming.

The possibility of tremendous achievement shows itself more and more, one that promises results not only to the individual prisoners but also to society. There will be failures of course, but there will be many of these women who will respond to the new opportunities given them for rehabilitation and readjustment and who will never return to serve another prison term.

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So far, the salary and other expenses incidental to the administration of this bureau have been paid out of the profits of the Inmates Commissary, a semi-official organization which furnished to prisoners various articles of food and clothing which are not provided by the City. The City, of course, is receiving all the benefit. In next year's budget we are asking for two additional social workers, these to be paid out of City funds. It is most earnestly urged that this request be granted.

Nothing that the Department is doing is of more vital importance than the work that is being carried on by this bureau. It is giving the human touch to the prisons and assisting in the solution of the human problem comprehended therein which has been ignored by prison administrations and society generally for so many years.

It is proving specifically and by actual cases that it is possible, by the display of a little sympathetic and intelligent interest and understanding, to turn the anti-social;even those who have pursued that line of conduct for many years,into paths which will make them useful citizens instead of parasites.