Abstract: (Withdrawn) Unstable Discourses: Social Work and the National Association of Training Schools (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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(Withdrawn) Unstable Discourses: Social Work and the National Association of Training Schools

Friday, January 13, 2023
Laveen B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Sam Harrell, MSW, Doctoral Student, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Background and Purpose: This paper explores the institutional life and legacy of the National Association of Training Schools (NATS), a Progressive Era organization that brought together leaders of reformatories (prisons) for women and children. Founded in 1904, the NATS was originally called the National Conference on the Education of Backward, Truant, Delinquent, and Dependent Children, renamed the National Conference of Juvenile Agencies in 1921, and finally renamed the National Association of Training Schools in 1937. While historians and other scholars have conducted thorough histories of individual institutions (e.g., Rembis' 2011 study of the State Training School in Geneva, Illinois), the professional body (NATS) presiding over such institutions has been curiously ignored. This archival research study asks, a) What role did social workers play in the NATS? and b) How did unstable discourses of corrections, welfare, and education shape the NATS’ approach to prisonwork?

Methods: I locate, evaluate, and systematically analyze proceedings from the NATS, the National Conference on Social Welfare, and the National Prison Association. I supplement these materials with information from national and local newspapers. Source selection is limited to the Progressive Era (1904 - 1930s for the purposes of this study). I use social documents (internal communications documenting organizational processes and routines) and narrative sources (external communications documenting past memory) to understand the organizational history of the NATS. I thematically analyze sources using a combination of inductive and deductive approaches. Where possible, I triangulate claims using multiple types of archival data.

Results: The NATS initially organized under the National Prison Association, but later transitioned to the National Conference of Charities and Corrections. The NATS’ shift in parent organizations is reflective of the organization’s broader professional crisis: administration of prisonwork with women and children primarily the role of social workers, educators, or penologists? Throughout the Progressive Era, prominent criminal-legal reformers struggle to reach consensus. The shifting discourses used to describe the NATS’ work allow it to easily escape most social work histories of juvenile justice and child-saving. The reformatory or “training school” played a key role in the marriage and alleged divorce of “charities and corrections” in the early 20th century.

Conclusions and Implications: The organization of Progressive Era reformatory (prison) superintendents (wardens) has received minimal attention in both social work and criminal justice history. When found, stories too often rely on narratives of benevolent humanitarianism. This archival study offers new context and organizational history relevant to social work with women, youth and the criminal-legal system. A better understanding of the organizational history of the NATS can inform the future choices we make at the national level (i.e., Smart Decarceration projects and research).