NYC Parole Commission letterhead, 1941. Founded in 1915, NYC PC was the first US city parole board.

In its own words, how the NYC Parole Commission worked --

first Black officer
Samuel Jesse Battle, as NYC Parole Commissioner, took keen interest in anti-JD programs, declaring: Juvenile delinquents are not born that way but, if neglected, they can grow up that way.


Here is presented all 14 double-spaced typewritten pages -- the complete text -- of what serves as an introduction to the 1937 annual report of the NYC Parole Commission. The rest of the report is filled with statistical tables related to its activities for that year.

The 1937 document is one of only a half-dozen Parole Commission annual reports -- all typewritten -- available at the Municipal Reference Library. Of the half dozen, only this and the 1936 report had any text other that directly related to statisical tables.

But the 1936 report's "introduction" ran only 4 pages long. The 1937 introduction substantially incorporated all 4 of those 1936 pages (except for two paragraphs) and added another 10 pages detailing -- virtually step-by-step -- how the commission functioned in making its parole decisions.

Therein lies the reason for reproducing the 1937 report's introduction here: It is the most complete and detailed discription of the city Parole Commission operations yet encountered in NYCHS research.

Obviously not part of the 1937 report, all the images and their captions inserted into the page have been added as web design features.

Appreciation is owed and expressed to the staffs of the Municipal Archives and the Muncipal Reference Library for their help.

Thomas C. McCarthy,
New York Correction
History Society

Complete Text of the
Introduction to the

YEAR 1937

In 1914 the Commissioner of Correction, Katherine Bement Davis and a group of prominent citizens comprising judges of the Court of General Sessions and Magistrates Courts, together with a representative from the Prisons Association and others interested in the crime problem of New York City met and made a careful study of all available statistics relative to those who had been sentenced to various institutions under the jurisdiction of the Department of Correction of the City of New York. Their findings were very enlightening.

They discovered that many of those who were sentenced to the local prisons had neither home, food or shelter and that no authoritative agency existed which might solve their immediate problems. They also discovered that many of those who were released from our local penal institutions were, in some cases, again arrested within twenty-four hours after release. It was shown quite clearly that one of the many excuses offered by those arrested was: It was necessary for them to resort to crime in order to maintain their existence. At this time those sentenced to the jurisdiction of the Department of Correction were given, what is known as a definite sentence (not exceeding one year). As soon as the sentences imposed by the Courts were served, inmates were released without supervision or guidance of any kind.

After a thorough study of this question, a bill was introduced in the State Assembly to cope with the appalling conditions found to exist. Therefore, in the year 1915 on recommendation of the committee, there was introduced in the legislature an act setting forth as its purpose the following:

Extending and developing the reformatory and correctional functions of Workhouses, Penitentiaries and Reformatories under the jurisdiction of the departments of correction in cities of the first class, providing for the sentence, commitment, parole, conditional discharge and reapprehension of persons committed to such institutions and for the establishment of a parole commission in such cities.

On May 10th, 1915, the State Legislature passed this act (Chapter 5792 Laws 1915) enabling cities of the first class to establish in such cities a parole commission, the members to be appointed by the Mayor. This act met with the approval of the Governor. Shortly thereafter the Board of Estimate of the City of New York took advantage of the enabling power granted in the act and established the New York City Parole Commission, which began to function in the latter part of December, 1915.

Needless to say, parole is not a panacea for all social ills. It must be remembered that in many cases parolees are the failures of society in which very often every known agency for good has evidently failed to bring about a proper social adjustment. Our records indicate that the home, school, church and various social agencies which have had contact during the adolescent period of those now on parole, have apparently made little or no impress.

Therefore, those who are critical of parole must realize the complexities of our problems, as there are no formulas which will accurately measure or anticipate human reactions or emotions after release from a penal institution.

It must also be remembered that all those committed to our jurisdiction must, within a period of three years, be released from prison and it is the belief of those who made a study of this grave social problem that society receives a greater form of protection when a person is released from a penal institution with supervision rather than without.

We believe Mr. Justice Greenbaum, in rendering his decision: "In People ex rel. Hendrick v. Kernochan, N.Y. L.M., December 28th, 1916 (affid 177 App. 922)" set forth the value of parole to the people of the City of New York. Mr. Justice Greenbaum said:

The Parole Commission is the result of a progressive and humanitarian movement designed to benefit the prisoner-and society and comes well within the police power of the State. It aims by humane and sympathetic treatment to elevate the standards of the criminal, giving due heed to his mental and moral deficiencies and thereby to lessen criminology in the community. It may be that the human agencies engaged in such beneficent work will at times fall short of what would be executed of men and women entrusted with a most serious and delicate task, but that is a matter that concerns the due administration of the laws and may well be left to the vigilance of the people and the consciences of officials.

For The Correctional
Connection of
Some NY "Firsts"
*Copyright on text. © 2002 by the New York Correction History Society and Thomas C. McCarthy. Noncommercial use of text permitted with citation of the society and the web site

The theory, therefore, motivating the Parole Commission of the City of New York when allotting time to any of the men and women under its jurisdiction is to treat with quick and decisive severity all those who, in the past, have shown no aptitude in conforming with the standards as laid down by society.

For those who have led an orderly and responsible life, but who have unfortunately slipped into the way of the wrong door, it is our opinion that they should not be severely dealt with, but should be detained long enough to make them realize their wrongdoing, and then placed under strict supervision and the results carefully watched. As each case is followed closely, we, in the main, can quickly discern whether the individual in question is making an effort to reestablish himself along the lines of righteous and honest living.

On the whole the Commission feels that its record, since its inception justifies high hopes. In all cases, we attempt to provide, as far as possible, an incentive for the ambitious and repentant man or woman. We try, as far as we can, to help their families while the main support is confined. Whenever it is possible, we provide work for them when released and we are continually giving encouragement and counsel during that period of time when they are on parole.


When inmates are committed to an indeterminate period to any of the city penal institutions by the local criminal courts, they are either sent to the Workhouse, Reformatory or Penitentiary. A Workhouse commitment carries with it a maximum period of detention equal to two years. Penitentiary and Reformatory commitments are for a maximum of three years.

Following their incarceration, they are interviewed by one of the active members of the Parole Commission. During the course of the interview, all details pertaining to their particular offenses are examined with a great degree of thoroughness; their past and present conduct are given strict attention. They are individually brought before the interviewing Commissioner in a room reserved for such interviews at the institution where confined and a general review of all circumstances pertaining to their arrest is discussed. All the mitigating and aggravating aspects, if there be any, are obtained. His home surroundings, associates, industrial history and his criminal record are discussed with him.

The gist of the conversation with the inmate is recorded and attached to the case papers for future reference. The austere and legalistic atmosphere, which usually surrounds a court of justice, is not present. The inmate is made to feel mentally at ease and, as a rule, he talks quite freely and a fairly accurate impression can be gained as to his character truthfulness and personality.
small Lou Gehrig
This graphic pen sketch depicts NY Yankees' legendary first baseman Henry Louis Gehrig being congratulated by Mayor LaGuardia after being sworn in as NYC Parole Commissioner as city parole board member Mary A. Frasca looks on. Miss Frasca and commission chairman John C. Maher, both on hand for the Gehrig ceremonies in 1940, were signatories of the 1937 report whose introduction text is reproduced here.

After a day of interviewing, the Commissioner returns to his office, places the interviewed cases in the hands of the secretary of the department who, in turn, makes a proper assignment of the cases and the investigation pertaining to the inmate’s past is begun. This involves considerable time, inasmuch as many of the men and women committed to us have migrated from other cities and, in some cases, immigrated from foreign lands.

Former employers are interviewed; relatives, friends, neighbors and complainants are questioned and if conditions surrounding the crime warrant it, the Police Department or correctional institutions, where the inmate may have been confined, are communicated with. If possible, the town or city of his birth is contacted, to obtain information relative to his adolescent period. A copy of the court record is obtained and the District Attorney's office is consulted and a report or recommendation obtained from the Prosecutor.

In all cases, reports from the arresting officer are submitted together with the inmate’s previous criminal history, if any. The Department of Correction also submits to us a report on the inmate’s physical condition and where mental defects exist, a psychiatric examination is made and forwarded to the Commission for its information and guidance.

When the investigation has been completed, it is then submitted to the interviewing Commissioner, who studies the case in its entirety and recommends a period of time in "marks" which will be necessary for the inmate to earn before his parole takes place. The recommendation is then brought before the Board, which holds an executive session on Thursday of each week. After the case has been thoroughly reviewed and discussed by the members of the Commission, a vote is taken and the recommendation is either adopted or rejected.

Recommendations bring forth much discussion from the members of the Commission as, in some cases, the recommendation may be too severe whereas at other times, too lenient. However, before the case is finally settled, a definite minimum number of "marks" is established and it is up to the inmate to earn these “marks" before his release takes place. This allotment of "marks” is then forwarded to the committing Judge or Court and he may approve or disapprove of the recommendation made by the Commission as his judgment directs.

Under the law, the Court in its wisdom, may increase the allotment of "marks" made by the Commission, but cannot decrease them. The court occasionally makes a recommendation to the Commission and it is likewise discretionary with the Board to increase the period of incarceration recommended by the Court.

For example: If the Commission recommends an allotment of “marks" equal to two years in the case of A and the Court feels A should serve eighteen months and so states, it will be necessary for A to serve two years before his release takes place. If the Commission recommends an allotment of "marks" equal to eighteen months and in the opinion of the Court he should serve two years before his release, the inmate must serve the two years. However, the Court and the Commission usually concur as to the "marks" the inmate must earn before his release takes place.


A few weeks prior to the inmate’s earning his marks, a pre-parole report is submitted by the Warden of the institution to the members of the Commission, which sets forth in detail the institutional record while confined. If he has a contagious disease, the information regarding the same is furnished us by the medical staff of the Department of Correction. If psychiatric treatments are required while on parole, recommendations are made by the Psychiatric Division attached to the Rikers Island Hospital. If the pre-parole report contains information which, in the judgment of the Commission, requires further confinement, the inmate’s release is withheld, pending further investigation by the Commission.

NYC DOC's first
female commissioner Katharine Bement Davis had a long and varied career in correctional and social reform fields. When she retired in 1928, the list of sponsors and guests attending her testimonial dinner read like the Who's Who of New York and Progressive America. Among the program speakers saluting her was Mrs. Mortimer Menken who detailed the NYC Parole Commission initiative in which Dr. Davis play the leading role. Above is the official photo for the printed program.

The allotting of "marks" is a grave responsibility placed on the Commission and the members accept it as such. However, the intense and constructive work does not begin until the inmate is released. On release day, the inmate, who now becomes a parolee, is brought to the office of the Commission and is again interviewed and questioned regarding his future.

If he is without friends, relatives or a home, the Commission locates him temporarily through one of the various welfare organizations, both public and private, and an effort is made to procure a livelihood for him. This is difficult, as most employers refuse to engage a man who has a criminal record and the task of securing employment for a parolee gives the Commission grave concern.

During normal years willful and continued idleness is considered a violation of parole. However, during the depression years, this point has not been pressed, as it is well known that the obtaining of legitimate employment is some times impossible, even for a man without a criminal record. The parolee is given specific instructions regarding his parole obligations.

A parole card is given him and he is required to report in person at a designated reporting place approximately twice each month. Sex offenders are required to report weekly. The reporting places are scattered in convenient locations throughout the city and each location is manned by a parole officer covering that area. Reports, in most cases are received during the evening so as not to interfere with the working hours of those who are employed.

When reporting to the parole officer, the parolee is questioned as to where he is working, how much he is earning per week, what portion of his earnings is given to his dependents, how he invests his leisure, etc. Questions are put to him which relatively fit his particular type or case. If employed, particular stress is laid upon such employment, as we consider it one of the most important conditions of parole. Officers are required to verify employment in a discreet manner as soon as possible. Considerable caution is used so as not to endanger the parolee’s job.

Each time the parolee reports, he is advised as to when his next reporting date is and it is so indicated on his card. Frequent visits are made to the parolee's home, and constant contact is maintained with his family, if a parole officer discovers that parolee made an untrue statement to him, such parolee is severely reprimanded, even though the untruth be trivial. If the parolee deliberately misleads the parole officer as to his place of employment or residence, he is immediately apprehended, brought before one of the Commissioners and a thorough inquiry is made.

If the Commission feels that the parolee is making no effort to rehabilitate himself, he is then considered a violator and returned to the institution for such violation. The frequenting of dance halls, poolrooms, associating with evil companions or those with criminal records is each considered a definite violation of his parole and if he does not heed the warnings given him a warrant is issued declaring him a delinquent and he is returned as a violator.

Ben Malcom
NYC DOC's first Black Commissioner Benjamin Malcolm started his correctional career as a NYC Parole Commission officer and eventually became a U.S. Parole Commissioner.

The parents, wives, brothers and sisters are consulted and sometimes neighbors and friends who may have a deep interest in the parolee and firsthand knowledge is often obtained from them regarding his conduct and attitude. We might say, that in many cases, particularly parents, are very cooperative and helpful to the Parole Officers, because they fully realize that the Officer is acting in a beneficial capacity and is just as anxious as the parents for his complete rehabilitation.

Very frequently young men are committed to our institutions who have come from other cities. Prior to their release, contact is made with their homes or relatives and if they are acceptable, arrangements are made for their transportation to such cities. We usually communicate with the Probation or Parole systems functioning in such cities or counties, asking them to cooperate with us in the supervising of the parolee. [The] Parolee is required to report to us by mail twice monthly, unless excused, as is done when we know he is receiving direct supervision from a Probation or Parole agency. The parolee is forbidden to return to New York during his parole period, unless permission is granted.

Parole officers are assigned to various Courts throughout the City and one attends the daily line-up at Police Headquarters. If a man on parole appears before the Courts or at the line-up, the Parole Officer in charge immediately files a warrant which is not bailable. His case is held in abeyance until the decision of the Court is rendered regarding the new charge and even though he may be discharged by the Court for lack of evidence, the Commission often returns him as a violator, as the investigation made by us indicates that although the parolee has not been convicted of a new crime, we believe he is guilty and, therefore, is considered a parole violator.

Each case that is brought before us is a distinct problem in itself and it is somewhat impossible to establish any set rule of procedure in respect to the character of offenses or offenders. In some cases a man with an ideal working record and no previous criminal record, who is unfortunate enough to succumb to temptation and may steal a substantial sum of money, is dealt with in a comparatively lenient fashion. In other cases, one may be found guilty of stealing a comparatively small sum of money, nevertheless, due to his previous criminal record and his past attitude toward life, it is often recommended and adopted that he serve the entire three year term, which is the limit of our jurisdiction.

The object of the Commission is to make the punishment fit the criminal rather than fit the crime. The work of reclamation, in our opinion, is just as important as police work and we feel that a study of the cause or causes of the offense for which an individual is convicted should go deeper than the offense itself. This point was brought out very forcibly by His Eminence Patrick Cardinal Hayes of New York City in a pastoral letter, in which he says:

Man is not an automaton; crime is not a disease or a mere abnormal mental condition. The individual is composed of a body and a soul, is gifted with an intellect and a free will. If he has chosen to do wrong, we, his brothers should study to discover the influence which led him to so choose, and then with all energy and ingenuity we should apply the remedy which will help him to rise again. In some cases a prison sentence is the only proper treatment. In others, stern punishment and continued disgrace will lead to nothing but despair, a broken family, and hopeless degradation.

May we also quote the words of the late President Coolidge in discussing the subject of probation which also applies to parole:

Justice requires as strongly the saving of that which is good, as it does the destruction of that which is evil. The work that the probation officers are doing is the saving of that which is good in the individual, along with the correction of that which is evil. Probation is the right hand in the administration of justice.

Any attempt to dragoon the body when the need is to convince the soul, will end in revolt.

Psychiatric and medical treatment is administered to those who, in the opinion of competent authority may require it. Their immediate physical needs are adequately taken care of and, because of the vast relief projects now going on throughout the country, no person with any degree of justification can claim that it is necessary for him to resort to crime in order to obtain an existence.


Shall we keep the lawbreaker out of jail? With half the states of the Union rebuilding and enlarging their penal houses, employing more officers and expending larger sums annually for the confinement of criminals, this question must strike the average citizen with some degree of perplexity. Yet the proposition of finding a substitute for imprisonment is just as perplexing. The suspicion must grow in the minds of people not associated with parole or prisons, that in the main, prisons do not rehabilitate and that prisons in general are part of crime rather than of rehabilitation.

Lewis J. Valentine
Lewis J. Valentine rose through the ranks to become Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's Police Commissioner. By virtue of that post, Valentine also served as a member of the NYC Parole Commission. He was a signatory of the 1937 report whose introduction is presented here.

What are we going to do about this perplexing question? Cities and states cannot go on building institutions for housing the criminal which run into millions of dollars to construct and millions more to maintain. If prison does not rehabilitate, what can we do about it? The best answer we can give is a compromise.

The cure-all for crime has not been found, but we do know that if favorable readjustment takes place, it must take place through normal, productive pursuits in the every-day work-a-day world. Therefore, the object of parole is to restore to society, through natural and scientific means those who have fallen by the wayside and who, in the opinion of parole authorities are fit subjects for reformation.

To determine who is a fit subject for reformation is a very difficult task, inasmuch as all agencies such as the school, the church, the home and society in general has had its opportunity with the law-breaker before he comes under the jurisdiction of a Parole Commission. Many of these men are mentally retarded, with minds like children and come into the world handicapped and cannot compete against the normal or superior types of individuals and they usually go down in this unequal conflict and in some cases, succumb to crime.

At the present time, every penal institution in the State of New York is greatly overcrowded. Building more prisons is not going to solve this growing problem. Enlarging the Police force, increasing the number of Judges, making further additions in the form of assistants to the Prosecutor's staff will also fail and will not solve the question. It costs the City of New York approximately $450 per year to maintain a man in the Penitentiary. It costs the people of this city about $22 annually to keep the same fellow on parole. Therefore, from an economic standpoint, we cannot continue to keep law-breakers in prison for the remainder of their lives or for a substantial period of years, as the cost is prohibitive.


The most natural question for the taxpayer to put to a Parole agency is, "What are your results?" The results are as follows:

In the year of 1937 this Commission had on parole 5,150 parolees. These parolees were released from the Reformatory, the Penitentiary or the Workhouse.

In the case of the Reformatory commitments, 7.35% returned for committing new offenses; 15.22% were returned by the Commission for violating some condition of their parole, such as refusing to work, giving false names and addresses of working places, associating with bad companions, using drugs, etc.

Austin H. MacCormick, as NYC Correction Commissioner (1934-40), was an ex-officio Parole Commissioner. One suspects that he played more than a nominal role on the board and had a guiding hand in the 1936 and 1937 report introductions. He is regarded as the Father of the Correctional Education in America. His book The Education of Adult Prisoners: A Survey and a Program (1931) is considered the seminal work on the subject.

In the case of Penitentiary commitments, 6.19% were returned for committing new offenses and 13.74% were returned for disregarding their parole obligations.

In the case of Workhouse commitments, 2.29% were returned for committing new offenses and 44.82% were returned as delinquents for failure to report, soliciting, intoxication etc. We might also say with regard to Workhouse commitments, that in the main they comprise those who violate City Ordinances and are committed on minor charges and not serious crimes. Most of them are of the nondescript, panhandling type and cannot be classified as a menace to society. They are more of an injury to themselves than to the public at large.

These figures boiled down, show that in Reformatory commitments approximately 92% make good, as far as not committing crime while under our supervision. In the case of Penitentiary commitments only 6% are convicted of committing new crimes while on parole.

Therefore, the taxpayer, as a matter of fairness, must keep before him the ideal that the only parolee he ever hears of is the one who does not "make good." Some newspapers and some periodicals have the happy faculty of holding before the public the failures on parole, by exploiting very prominently those who have failed, but no mention is made of those who are making good.

In conclusion, we might say that a well-regulated, liberally supported parole system is a protection to society, as the parolee has continually hanging about him the possibility of his being returned to prison, not necessarily for the commission of a new crime, but simply because, in the opinion of the Parole authorities he is making no earnest effort towards readjustment.

We cannot close this report without giving due recognition to the Courts and the various District Attorneys, who have cooperated with us in a constructive manner and have displayed a willingness in helping us solve our many-sided and difficult problems.

We also wish to recognize the Commissioner of Correction, his deputies, wardens and the entire staff for the able and efficient assistance they have rendered to us during the year of 1937.

The Police Department, in particular, must be congratulated in view of the countless number of services they render us during the year. Time and time again we call on them to assist us in rounding up those who are violating their parole and the willing and spontaneous cooperation given is to be commended.

John C. Maher

Mrs. J. Ramsey Reese

Miss Mary A. Frasca

Austin H. MacCormick
Member, Ex-Officio
Department of Correction

Lewis J. Valentine Member, Ex-Officio
Police Department

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