West Virginia Reform School

Report of the Board of Directors, of the West Virginia Reform School, for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 1890. Charleston, WV: Moses W. Donnally, 1890.

Report Of The Board Of Directors.

To His Excellency, Hon. A. B. Fleming, Governor of West Virginia:

The Board of Directors of the West Virginia Reform School respectfully submit the following report of their transactions and the operations of said Reform School from the date of their appointment and the organization of said, school, up to the end of the fiscal year ending September 30, 1890.

The Site, Buildings, &c.

The West Virginia Reform School was established for the reformation of male minors under sixteen years of age, by an act of the legislature passed February 11, 1889, being chapter 3 of the acts of 1889.

The commissioners appointed under section 12 of said act to select a site for the Reform School, after examing [sic] various localities and considering a number of propositions made to them, finally during the summer of 1889 accepted the offer of citizens of Taylor county and located the Reform School at Pruntytown, the former county seat of said county. The citizens of the county donated the former courthouse and jail and $5,000 in money for the use of the Reform School, and the commissioners purchased about 126 acres of land adjacent to the town of Pruntytown and partially adjoining the courthouse and jail, for which land the commissioners agreed to pay $ _____ as will appear from the report of said commissioners which was made to the Governor. The whole of this purchase money was paid by order of the commissioners, except a balance of $2,500 due to David Woodyard, which was made payable in two deferred payments with interest. The $2,500 has not yet been paid, but Mr. Woodyard has since died, and we learn that his executors desire to settle this matter up.

Owing to some delay in procuring the title to the property and to other causes, the Board of Directors was not called together until December, 1890.

Upon inspecting the property we found the courthouse to be a large substantial brick building, very much out of repair and in a dirty and unsightly condition, both inside and out. The jail which is also a substantial brick building but not very large, with heavy stone work for the portion which had been used as a jail, was also needing considerable repairs.

The greater portion of the land purchased by the commissioners, is of good quality, though generally hilly. There are several good meadows on it and a considerable part of it is adapted to raising the usual farm and garden products. There is a large number of fruit trees on the land. The property has several buildings on it, but they are old, dilapidated and useless, with the exception of a large unfinished frame dwelling known as the Davidson house.

This house was erected a good many years ago, but was not finished inside, with the exception of two or three rooms. It is two stories in height with attic and basement, and when remodeled and finished can be utilized for the purposes of the school to advantage. But it may require a considerable amount of money to put it in condition to be used.

Election of Superintendent.

The meeting of the legislature in January, 1890, some members of the Board of Directors being also members of the legislature, and the winter weather, prevented the board from taking any active steps to start the school until the spring of 1890.

After several meetings and consultations the board on May 13, 1890, elected Professor C. C. Showalter, of Preston county, Superintendent, at a salary of $75[.]00 per month and board.

Visit to Other Reformatories.

As this was the first reformatory institution that has been established in this State and the members of the Board of Directors had had no experience in conducting such an institution, and no practical knowledge as to the best plans of the building, and the most approved methods of governing and caring for the inmates, it was decided by the Board to visit some of the well established juvenile reformatories in other States, so as to get the benefit of their experience in these matters.

Accordingly accompanied by the newly elected superintendent we visited the Maryland House of Refuge and St. Mary's Industrial School at Baltimore, and the National Reform School at Washington D. C., and through the courtesy of and the information derived from the managers of those institutions, we were enable to get an insight into the practical workings of and to form an estimate of the advantages and disadvantages of the different systems under which those institutions were conducted, each one being different in some respects from the others.

Repairs to Buildings, Etc.

Profiting by what we had seen and learned on this trip we endeavored to adopt such features of the different institutions we had visited as met our approval and as seemed best adapted to the property turned over to us, and to the means at our disposal.

We at once proceeded to have the court house remodeled, painted, cleansed and repaired inside and out, and also had the jail repaired and the whole property fixed up.

And on the 21st day of July, 1890, the school was formally opened for the reception of inmates.

Your Excellency is respectfully referred to the Report of the Superintendent which accompanies this report for a detailed account of the repairs to said buildings and the changes made therein, and to their present condition. The expenditure on this account has been considerable, but was absolutely necessary to put the property in a condition suitable for our purposes, and we now have very comfortable and creditable quarters for the school.

A considerable amount of work has been done of the farm in the way of building and repairing fences, cutting brush and cleaning up generally, and the appearance of the property is very much improved.

The court house has been fitted for dormatories [sic], offices, school room, library and play room. The jail for quarters for the Superintendent, matron and assistant and for kitchen, dining room, and store-room, leaving one cell for refractory inmates who can not be controlled in any other way than by confinement.

It will be necessary to have an additional building for a kitchen and dining-room annexed to the jail, as the present rooms used for those purposes are too small to accommodate any large number of inmates.

As it is necessary to keep the boys employed and important that they should learn some useful trade or occupation, it is of the first importance that shops should be built at an early day.

The Davidson building would answer for this purpose but as the law requires that colored and white boys should be kept separate [sic], we have thought that that building might be fixed up for the use of the colored boys; it being a considerable distance from the other main buildings.

A barn is very much needed for the farm and it is estimated that such a barn as will be necessary will cost about one thousand dollars.


During the period of a little over two months that the school has been in operation from July 21, 1890, to September 30, 1890, six boys have been received as stated in the Superintendent's Report. Nearly all of these boys were accused of crime, some of them convicted in the courts and others arrested and committed to the Reform School by Justices with consent of their parents in order to prevent their being sent to jail or the penitentiary.

At the Reform School these boys are given comfortable quarters, and good substantial food, are treated kindly, taught the usual English branches and made to work at some useful employment; but they are under constant watch and subject to firm and rigid discipline.

They are not allowed to indulge in and [sic] evil or perenicious [sic] habits and the effort is made to give them a good moral training and inspire them with self respect and laudable ambition.

Acting upon the experiment of other States we have not adopted the old prison system, which has been discarded by nearly all the juvenile reformatories of the country. We have no high wall around the institution, no armed guards or barred windows.

The West Virginia Reform School is what its name imports, and industrial school, not a prison; but dealing as it does with the criminal class its decipline [sic] is rigid, exacting and unyielding, though just and kind.

Defects in Law.

Several questions have arisin [sic] as to the proper construction of the law establishing the Reform School and also showing that said law is deficient in some respects.

First. There is no provision made for paying the expenses of the transportation of boys to the school. We presume that where a boy is convicted in any of the courts of felony and sent to the Reform School such expenses are, under a liberal construction of the present law, payable out of the State Treasury, but there is no provision of law for the payment of such expenses in cases where boys are convicted of misdemeanors by the Courts, or committed by Justices as incorrigible or vicious. The law ought to be made plain on these points.

Second. The present statute does not specify plainly the period for which boys are to be committed to the Reform School. Our construction of the statute is that whenever a boy is committed to the Reform School he is to remain there until he is twenty one years of age unless sooner discharged by the Board of Directors upon being reported fully reformed or for other cause. If this is not the law, it should be.

The Reform School is not simply a place of confinement, it is intended as a plan of reformation, and experience has taught that if boys are committed to such an institution for limited periods there is much less likelihood of their reformation than if committed until they are twenty-one, or until they merit their discharge by good conduct and availing themselves of the benefits of the institution.

Under the regulations and system of training adopted by this board a boy may obtain his discharge at the end of two years by uniform good conduct and attaining a certain standard of education.

We recommend, therefore, that the law be amended so as to provide that every boy sent to the Reform School shall remain until he is twenty-one years of age, unless sooner discharged by the Board of Directors, but that no boy be retained after he is reported to be fully reformed. This is the law in all the States so far as we have any information.

Third - There should also be a penalty imposed on any one who shall entice any boy away from the school or harbor or conceal any one who has escaped, and also empowering the Superintendent and the assistants or any peace or police officer to arrest and return to said school any boy who has escaped therefrom.

Fourth - The law is not clear as to whether the Reform School has the right to receive boys convicted of crime by the United States Court of the District of West Virginia. We have been informed by the U. S. District Attorney of West Virginia that he has induced the Attorney- General of the Untied States to designate this Reform School as a receptacle for juvenile offenders convicted in the U. S. Courts for this State, instead of sending them to a reformatory in Maryland, as heretofore. And that the Government will pay a reasonable compensation for their maintenance at the Reform School.

We respectfully recommend that the law by amended so as to clearly give the right to the Reform School to receive such convicts from the U. S. courts.

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