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STATE BOARDS OF CONTROL WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO THE EXPERIENCE
OF WISCONSIN. The recent development of administration in the United States affords abundant evidence of a tendency towards centralization. This centralization may be considered as a phase of the general tendency towards combination and organization in industry which has characterized the closing decades of the last century. The rapidly increasing number of state offices and boards bears witness to this movement to enlarge the sphere of our commonwealth administrations. But in addition to the extension of central authority recent legislation has strengthened the control and supervision exercised by the educational, public works, police, charitable, correctional and other departments of the state over the work of the localities in the interest of uniform and economic methods of administration. It is probable that no other phase of the administrative systems of our states has been so unsatisfactorily organized as that of our charitable and correctional institutions. In order to correct loose and irresponsible methods in this department there has been a noticeable increase in the number of central responsible boards in the states. In 1899 there were operating in thirty states charitable and correctional boards exercising varying degrees of control over the state and local institutions. In certain of these states, as Minnesota and Texas, the control of the state board extends only to a few of the state institutions; while complete centralization and concentration of power has taken place in but seven of the thirty states, viz., Kansas, Rhode Island, Arkansas, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa and Wisconsin.
The rise of the state boards of charity and correction has been a gradual one, beginning during the period of the Civil War. From the time of their origin, these boards have been subjected to the passing whims of changing legislatures. Their powers and organization have been frequently altered, and often the original boards have been subdivided. An increasing population and the growth of humanitarian sentiment have resulted in a rapid increase in the number of state institutions for the care of the unfortunate and the reform of the unsocial members of the community. The growth of interest in this field of work has demanded not only more careful attention to its scientific phases, but also better business methods. Hence this movement toward centralization, which has not been confined to any one section of the country, but which has reached a more advanced stage of development in the newer and more progressive states of the West.
The boards of charity and reform, as they are now organized in the various states, may be grouped into two classes: the first have the powers of supervision, inspection and recommendation, but leave the business management of each institution to a local board of trustees; the second exercise a positive control over the state institutions and assume full responsibility for their management, and also exercise a control over the localities in certain phases of their charitable and reformatory work. Boards of the first class are usually composed of honorary officers who give but a por. tion of their time to the work without pay; while the members of the second class or executive boards devote their whole time to the work and receive salaries commensurate with the responsibilities which they assume. In some of the states, as in New York, the system of administration combines both the professional state board, and the honorary local board of trustees. This, however, only extends to the care of the insane.
There exists a divided opinion among those engaged in charitable and correctional work concerning the practical merits of these two systems. In passing judgment upon them a careful distinction should be observed between sentimental and scientific charity. The dominance of the first idea in the early years of charity organization led to the prevalence of “sentimental boards," engaged in both state and local charitable work. The growth of the second idea is in response to a more enlightened humanitarian spirit, which recognizes that public and private charity demands the most careful business methods and the scientific treatment of the questions of reform which come under the jurisdiction of the authorities. There is consequently involved in the choice of a system the question as to whether the executive board is in a better position to follow out scientific principles than the board which possesses only supervisory powers. A full discussion of these questions must be in the light of experience, and not merely through the collation of opinion. It must also be borne in mind that careful business and scientific methods under ample authority have been so recent that a comparison of the executive and supervisory systems is in a sense premature.
Among the state boards of charity and reform which have combatted the tendency towards centralization, the state board of Illinois has been especially conspicuous. It has been an open advocate, through its reports, of a supervisory state board with local boards of trustees in charge of each institution. These reports may be selected to defend the merits of this system. Sentiment has favored the retention of the advisory board, on the ground that "the essential principles of thorough and effective organization are the division of labor, accountability, and the spirit of emulation." It is urged that these are secured under the advisory board by committing to the local boards the care and responsibility for the many different state institutions.
A perusal of the reports of the Illinois state board reveals many complaints which suggest the need of a larger authority for the state board, and particularly in the treatment of the insane by the county authorities. The board complains of political influences in appointments, and doubtless could urge with equal reason the support of thrifty lobbyists by each institution at the legislative sessions in order to procure appropriations for their respective institutions. At least this practice has been quite general in those states employing the system of local trusteeships. One of the most urgent reasons for the creation of the state board of control, in Wisconsin, was the wasteful competition for appropriations between the trustees of the various state institutions, in their efforts to secure favorable appropriations. The institutions were constantly lobbying against each other, and the most liberal appropriations were secured by those who clamored with tact and influence, even, often, in opposition to the advice of the supervisory board. It is not at all improbable that similar practices prevail in other states where the state board possesses only supervisory and visitorial powers. Viewed as a business proposition, the careless and unsystematic methods of the local boards of trustees have led to wasteful expenditures, which have shown these boards to be deficient if not dishonest. Among the members of these local boards, it must be admitted, will be found men of earnest philanthropic purpose, as well as of thorough business training, but they are not in a position to give to the public the full value of their observation and experience, since only a portion of their time is devoted to their work. In addition, the limited business field prevents the utilization of the advantages of the market in purchasing supplies. And still further, these boards are compelled to combat the strong feeling that the trade of a particular institution exists for the business men of the locality in which it is situated. But the strongest argument which can be urged against the supervisory system is given in a forthcoming report of the Illinois state board. This report contains an admission on the part of the board of the failure of the supervisory system, and strongly recommends the substitution of a board of control. The merits of the two systems will further appear as we follow the evolution of the board of control in the State of Wisconsin, which has passed through the different stages of development through which the boards of other states are now passing.
The history of the state charitable and correctional institutions of Wisconsin may be conveniently divided into four periods: First, from the establishment of the first institutions to the year 1871, a period when the different institutions were under the management of local boards of trustees, without any supervising state authority; second, from 1871 to 1881, during which time the boards of trustees still managed the different institutions, but did so under the general direction of a State Board of Charities and Reform, which was created with powers of an advisory nature; third, the period from 1881 to 1891, marked by the creation of the State Board of Supervision of the charitable and reformatory institutions, which divided responsibilities with the previous board, but did not destroy it; and finally, the fourth period, since 1891, characterized by the creation of a State Board of Control of reformatory, charitable and penal institutions, which supplanted the two boards of the third period, and under whose management were centralized all of the charitable and correctional institutions belonging to the state.
During the first two periods, covering about thirty years, the local boards were appointed by the governor, for a term of three to five years, the members retiring on different years and receiving no salary. The state board of charities and reform was created in 1871, to the end that the administration of public charity and correction might be "conducted upon sound principles of economy, justice and humanity," and that the relations existing between the state and its dependent and criminal classes might become better understood. The board was composed of five members, who retired on different years, and who held two annual sessions. The duties of the board were to investigate and supervise all charitable and correctional institutions supported by the state, or receiving aid from the state treasury.