Article by Marylou Elton
Downloadable documents related to this post can be found at the end of the article.
Morningside Hospital was not a prison. In 1917, Dr. Henry Waldo Coe was proud to note that the new “Parole Home” had “neither bolts, bars or restraining screens”. “Without doubt”, wrote Coe, “the humane phase of our non-restraint at Morningside, aids greatly in the large percentage of recoveries at Morningside, the records showing, as on file in the Department (of Interior), the largest percentage of recoveries of any institution in the United States, the value of the change of climate, of course, being the greatest factor therein.”
But what was to be done with the criminally insane? Those who were repeat violent offenders or committed multiple murders? The law at that time was clear that someone found insane at the time they committed a crime could not be convicted of the offense. The law also stated those found insane in the Territory of Alaska should be sent to an institution designated by the secretary of interior (Morningside Hospital) – where there was a danger of them being discharged upon recovery or eloping.
By 1917 the issue was coming to a head. Several individuals convicted of criminal offenses and sent to Morningside escaped and then went on to commit additional crimes. A discussion of the problem can be found in letters between Dr. Coe, Alaska district judges in Valdez and Juneau, and the departments of Justice and Interior. Dr. Coe’s letters deny any carelessness on the part of Morningside and note that criminals escape everywhere. The judges lobby for a change in the law that would send those found criminally insane to facilities where adequate lock-up could be provided. Read More