The Early Years: The American Foundation (part three of an 8-part series)

Erica SmithBlog Tower Garden, HistoryLeave a Comment

This eight-week blog series will delve deeper into the history of Bok Tower Gardens and provide a rich historical accounting of the early days. The source document is from a collection of statements entitled “Its Origin, Meaning, and Purpose” created by The American Foundation, Inc. You can read the First Installment and Second Installment at Blog Tower Gardens.

This third section outlines the Foundation’s contribution to national Penal Reform. Edward Bok and the American Foundation were instrumental in the fabric of our great nation and left a living legacy for generations changing the way Americans feel about these important topics.

William G. Nagel whose work on the Foundation spanned from 1969 to 1983 originally penned today’s blog. He was recruited from a top position in Pennsylvania’s state government and his career included positions as a WWII military officer, a correctional administrator, a national consultant on criminal justice matters, and Pennsylvania’s statewide planner and coordinator of the Commonwealth’s broad range of human services.

In 1969, Nagel came to Philadelphia as Executive Director of the entire Foundation and as Director of the Foundation’s Institute of Corrections. In 1974, his title was changed to Executive Vice President. In 1979 he became the Foundation’s first staff person to also be its President. Nagel retired in 1983 and was asked to serve on the Foundation’s board which he did for one year to facilitate the transition and wrote much of the historic accounts of the Foundation’s activity during his tenure.

Penal Reform
Edward Bok had a long interest in criminal justice matters but it was his son, William Curtis Bok, who plunged the Foundation into the murky penal swamp. By this time William Curtis Bok was a judge, and like other judges, especially his friend Gerald Flood, was conflicted about sentencing human beings to benighted prisons and “correctional” institutions. Judge Flood, for years, had been President of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a Quaker prison reform created in 1775 by Ben Franklin, Anglican Bishop William White, and other products of the enlightenment.

Flood had his own reasons for wanting reformation to the prison system. He had visited scores of prisons and jails in American and abroad and was appalled by the conditions that he witnessed. In 1952, a semi-retired Judge Flood was engaged as “an advisor on penology” and for several years kept the board informed about correctional conditions.

For a short time, the Foundation hired Dr. Clyde Sullivan as the full-time director of the correction programs. Not much is known about his time in this position.

In 1965, Frank Loveland joined the Foundation to assist with penal reform programs. He had retired early from a post as Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and was extremely creative with his suggestions and led the Foundation to take a progressive stance.

During his time with the Foundation, Loveland created a series of four public information/training films. These films were created in 1965, a relatively early time in the era of television, and TV stations were hungry for usable material. The Foundation purchased scores of reels and through a distributor and made them available for public affairs meetings and the films were shown in schools and colleges across the nation. These early training films received many prizes and had a very wide distribution. Unfortunately, Loveland became ill and had to tender his resignation. He passed away shortly after leaving the Foundation.

My approach to the corrections job was different from that of my two predecessors, Sullivan and Loveland. Dr. Sullivan was an academic and wanted more research to be performed. Loveland was a career employee of a huge prison system and was cautious in his approach to change. I was neither a scholar nor a bureaucrat. I wanted to rock the correction boat.

The Institute of Corrections during my tenure became an activist organization. My method was to locate the pressure points in the system and apply the pressure. Almost immediately after my appointment with the Foundation, Congress passed legislation that would give huge grants to state and local governments for prison and jail construction. I immediately argued to the Law Enforcement Assistance Agency (LEAA) that it had to set standards for that construction. I offered to review free of charge at every bit of recent penal construction to see if there was anything worth replicating. LEAA and the Foundation approved this endeavor. I assembled a team of an architect, an environmental psychologist, an intern, and me and we traveled the country.

The result was the Foundation’s publishing in 1972 of two books on prison architecture. Simultaneously the Department of Justice had created a National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals to which I was appointed. I wrote the chapter of the final report dealing with correctional institutions, and its recommendations became the basis for federal funding of institutes and programs.

During our prison architecture travels, we visited a new prison in Alabama in which the conditions were inhumane. I shared these experiences in the books published by the Foundation. A public interest lawyer read this and decided to sue the state of Alabama on behalf of the inmates. I was the principal expert witness. Federal Judge Frank Johnson found the whole Alabama system to be in violation of the Constitution and ordered massive reforms. Suits followed in other states – Tennessee, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Missouri, Texas, New Hampshire, Nevada, Utah, Montana, and North and South Carolina and jurisdictions including New York City and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Always the courts decided in our favor. This caused the entire correctional community, through the American Correctional Association to implement a progressive certification and inspection program to bring state and local institutions to Constitutional standard. Our legal partner in much of this litigation was the National Prison Project which was funded by Edna McConnel Clark Foundation on whose criminal justice I served. The Clark Foundation was generous during the financially glum 1970s.

The Foundation also undertook to reform the Prison Industries system and did this with significant funding from the LEAA. The staff and I spent much of our lives traveling the nation consulting, lecturing at universities, haranguing, and testifying before legislatures. We also did studies and made recommendations for state and local governments including an interesting one for Polk County, Florida. The one ought to be available if you like horror tales.

The Foundation terminated the Institute of Corrections on May 10, 1979. The funds from a large LEAA prison industries grant and the Foundation’s correction staff were transferred to a successor organization that we created. Remnants of that organization remain active today.

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