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West Side Studies

Boyhood and Lawlessness

301 pages
Library of Alexandria
When the Bureau of Social Research began, early in 1909, an investigation of the Middle West Side, it was soon realized that of all the problems presented by the district, none was more urgent and baffling, none more fundamental, than that of the boy and his gang. His anti-social activities have forced him upon public attention as an obstruction to law and business and a menace to order and safety. Because of this lawlessness and because of New York’s backwardness in formulating wise preventive measures to meet it, a special study of the West Side boy was begun. In order to gain an intimate knowledge of neighborhood conditions which affect the boy, two men workers, Edward M. Barrows and Clinton S. Childs, went to live in the district, the former remaining for nearly two years. During their residence they came in close touch with several gangs and clubs of boys. Their experiences, while they yielded some of the most vital and significant material of our study, did not lend themselves to statistical treatment; they were not recorded in the form of family and individual histories, but as a running day-by-day diary, which formed the basis of the chapters dealing with the activities and the environment of the boys. Since the West Side boy, either through personal contact or through association with gang leaders, is inseparable from the Children’s Court, attention was naturally drawn to the extent and the result of his relation to this institution. For this reason the Bureau made a special study of 294 boys2 selected from the district with particular reference to their delinquency and their court records. Of these boys 28 were under twelve years, 71 more were fourteen, and 102 more were under sixteen. In view of these significant facts it became necessary not only to examine the environment of the West Side boy, but also to estimate the influence of the Children’s Court and other institutions upon him when toughness, truancy, gambling, or other temptations had carried him over the brink into real delinquency. That society should feel itself compelled to resort continually to the arrest and trial of children is in itself a confession of defeat. But when even these resources fail, it becomes imperative to analyze all the factors in the situation; to set the destructive and the constructive elements over against each other, and to determine the chances which the boy and the various public and private agencies organized to regenerate him have of understanding one another. To many the study may serve to show at their doors a world undreamed of; a world in which, through causes which are even now, removable, youth is denied the universal rights of life, liberty, and happiness. To the court it may be of use in throwing light into dark places and in showing where old paths should be abandoned, as well as in offering suggestions at a critical period in its history.