(Latin: reformare, to reshape)

Institutions in which children with criminal tendencies were educated towards normal law-abiding life. One of the first examples of such institutions was a hall of the hospital of Saint Michael, founded in Rome in 1704 by Pope Clement XI. Over the door he inscribed its purpose: "For the correction and instruction of profligate youth, that they who when idle were injurious, may when taught, become useful to the State." The first reformatories in the United States were privately established, after 1825. Later they were made part of the state organization, and by the end of the century were universally provided. Strict discipline, work at some trade, and a general schooling are the essentials of the plan. Real success in reforming character seems to depend not so much upon the reformatory system as upon the personality of the staff; and the larger the number of the inmates, the more impossible is it to exercise this personal influence. Hence, institutional reformatories are used only for cases of extreme physical and mental defectiveness or hopeless incorrigibility. Under the modern juvenile court procedure, the delinquent boy or girl is kept at home whenever possible, and efforts are there made to treat each case on an individual basis, so that the cause of the delinquency may be eliminated in character or surroundings, and at the same time valuable traits and powers may be developed. This change from a regime of strict institutional discipline to one of kindly sympathy, which of course does not mean laxity, is sound psychology. To be successful it requires untiring effort and constant supervision, and must be more than dull routine. The role of religion in such work is everywhere admitted. If the delinquent can be led to a real participation in the life, doctrine, and sacraments of the Church, reformation is secure.

New Catholic Dictionary

NCD Index SQPN Contact Author