‘Defective Delinquents’ or Tragic Heroes? The Legacies of Benny Moreno and Edward Leiva at Whittier State School, California

Lecture Description

This talk examines how and why Whittier State School (later, the Fred C. Nelles Correctional Facility), once hailed as a premiere reform school of the early twentieth century in the United States, declined so significantly in its treatment of incarcerated boys. While the Progressive reform movement of the 1910s, under the leadership of Fred C. Nelles, had brought about dramatic changes in the policies and practices of the school, with the shift away from punitive approaches to rehabilitative ideals, by the late 1930s conditions had deteriorated so badly that two Mexican American boys, Benny Moreno and Edward Levia, committed suicide within twelve months of each other, in 1939 and 1940, respectively. Reform school administrators argued that the boys’ mental deficiencies contributed to their deaths, while former inmates, the boys’ family members, and Latina/o community activists charged unchecked and sustained physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.

CATEGORIES

Childhood and Youth Crime, Violence, Incarceration

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Miroslava Chávez-García

VIEW SPEAKER : Miroslava Chávez-García


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