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Jürgen Harder

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Youth Welfare and the Practice of German Reformatories in the Weimar Republic: Between Social Reintegration and Exclusion of the “Behaviorally Maladjusted”

Based on a case study of a German reformatory for young men, this article analyzes the core problems of youth welfare confronted by religious organizations during the Weimar Republic. In particular, it focuses on a critical essay written in 1926 by a nearly 21-year-old inmate who was shortly to come of age and leave a reformatory run by the Protestant Home Mission (Diakonie). This essay addressed serious grievances that the author had against the educational practices of German reformatories. It did so before the onset of the crisis of correctional education, diagnosed soon afterward by specialists and the general public on the grounds of increasing educational, economic, and conceptual problems in modern German youth welfare. The allegations made in this essay prompted an official inquiry. As such, it affords a closer look at the different perspectives of contemporary actors in this field. How did the inmates and their mentors experience the endeavors to reintegrate reformatory inmates into society? How did welfare authorities, religious welfare bodies, and heads of reformatories respond to critical comments made by young inmates? To what extent were they influenced by the social Darwinist and eugenic discourses, which had been on the rise since the mid-1920s?

religious reformatories, correctional education, Weimar Germany, welfare authorities, social Darwinism

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 38, No. 4 (2011): 11-30

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