Jun 25, 2018 in Research

James Healy: The Man and His Work


This paper is organized as follows:

Introduction and the Life of William Healy:

This part covers the birth date, what he studied and what he spent his life doing

The Contribution to Understanding Juvenile Delinquency:

This part is a thorough revelation of his involvement in juvenile delinquency research as well as what that research did for the field of juvenile delinquency issues.


Has a summary statement reflecting what the entire essay is all about.

James Healy: The Man and His Work

The man who takes credit for introducing a new way of looking at children in crime was born in the year 1869 and died in 1963.He was trained as a medical doctor, particularly a physician and later took up the work of a criminologist and a psychiatrist. William Healy is known for the pioneer clinic whose purpose was the guidance of children classified as disturbed or disorderly. This happened in the year 1909.

William Healy is known to have dedicated a great length of his time to trying to understand the reason behind juvenile delinquency. He carried out observations of individual cases of children who were involved in crime and the European-based explanations did not make sense. They always stressed heredity as the reason for child involvement in crime, something Healy found to be unsustainable. He met a number of good parents who had not gotten involved themselves in crime and their families were clean all through to the sixth generation backwards only to find the children getting to crime. This made the hereditary explanation a superficial theory to him and he decided to look for more. He therefore undertook to explore the works of early psychologists such as Hall and even Sigmund Freud in a bid to understand whether there was a psychological explanation behind the involvement of children in crime (Snodgrass, 1984).

The movement in this direction was supported by a group of people from Illinois who had established a children’s’ court movement in the year 1899.They requested William to take his and time and use his professional training and psychiatric grounding to carry out a comprehensive analysis of people who repeatedly committed crime. They also asked him to use all the cases before him or at his disposal in the course of doing this analysis to come up with a clear way of understanding the nature of children and their involvement in crime. William Healy together with his team of researchers did a terrific job that was later to be the basis for the inclusion of the psychological perspective in the juvenile delinquency establishment in the United States of America.

The cornerstone of the arguments that he made were that a child criminal is not just someone who has inherited bad genes, criminally inclined to become a criminal. He brought out the argument that there are numerous factors at play when a child or a youthful person is involved in criminal activities. This argument was contrary to the earlier one that was being used whereby all young offenders especially the repeat offenders were accused of having genetically engineered criminal mentalities. These arguments led to the unfortunate case of institutionalization of young offenders.

William Healy’s argument meant that instead of taking young offenders as a bunch of other criminals who just need to be locked up, there had to be a system through which their surroundings were to be examined so as to find out whether there was a way of not only getting them out crime but also ensuring that others did not get into crime. The set of conditions that William and his colleagues had in mind included the home set where the children were brought up, the school environment and the peers. All that was to be looked for were the psychological factors that were most likely to be behind the encouragement or motivation of the young person to get to into the world of crime (Healy & Franz, 1935).

Upon the attainment of all the relevant data regarding the conditions that William Healy and his team of researchers had proposed, then the responsible department was to come up with a way that was suitable for assisting the young people to get out of the world of crime. This led to the emergence of such areas as counseling and guidance in the legal system. The aim was to use the opportunity to look back into the child’s life and try to correct the disorganized past so as to completely clear the criminal mentality from the child offender. William was equally immersed in the work of helping young people to lead orderly lives in his private practice. He was taken as director of the Judge Baker Foundation in the year 1917, an organization he led till the year 1947 when he retired. Youths from all walks of life, in and out of school got assisted for their emotional disturbances from his clinic.

The Contribution to Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

From the time William Healy joined the medical profession, his psychiatric background cautioned him against buying into the argument that all the child offenders were genetically inclined to be criminals. Having explored the theories of people like Hall and Freud, he was made to think that there should be more into human behavior than just genes as the proponents of the European view of child offenders made everyone in the legal system to think. He therefore took his time and examined a number of cases and the conclusion he made was that it was very possible to get children from non-criminal parents engaging in criminal activities of all sorts(Jones 1999). On sharing his ideas, they were accepted and he received a responsibility of assisting in the assessment of youthful offenders within the legal and criminal system and later this responsibility was expanded to include the establishment of a way in which the whole child misconduct chain can be understood with an aim of coming up with a remedy.

It is with this opportunity that William Healy was able to come up with the psychologically inclined interpretation of the delinquency that is exhibited by juveniles. The designing of the structure that is used in the clinical services given to children in the field of psychology as well as psychiatry is also the work of William Healy. In a general sense, he is the man who made the psychological interpretation of the misconduct of young people popular in the United States.

His major Undertaking: The research and what he found out.

After being given the responsibility of trying to assess young offenders and come up with an explanation on their misconduct and how the rest of the world can understand their behavior, William Healy carried out a significant research. The objectives that were of major concern were the connection between genes and crime, the role of the environment in the misconduct of youth, the relationship between abnormality and delinquency and a number of other issues that they would find necessary in understanding juvenile delinquency.

The Results and their Significance:

In a set of results that did not surprise him but shocked the system, he found out a number of issues that he had all along suspected to be important in dealing with youthful misconduct or juvenile delinquency. He confirmed that the condemnation of juvenile delinquents as genetic misfits who were inclined from the time of birth to the world of crime was baseless and unsustainable and if the system was to be any better, then a new system was necessary where a host of other factors had to be looked into when dealing with young offenders, whether they were repeating the offenses or offending for the first time. What did William find out?

First, William found out that the culture of committing crimes among criminals of any age, young ones included begins early. This means that behavior is formed when the child is still young and if not stopped, it goes up as the child grows. This therefore meant that if misconduct was to be stopped, there had to be a way in which young children were to be guided into taking up or learning good behavior and shunning bad behavior. This would lead to good behavior at the time of their adulthood (Healy, 1969, p.32). This was a warning to the system that the rate of success of reforming adult criminals would always be significantly low and the solution is to ensure that it is controlled when the children are young.

Secondly, William found out that the conditions o f youth determine the possibility of getting into misconduct. According to what they found on the ground, the atmosphere in which young people were brought up was highly influential in the young person’s criminal life. Young people who were exposed to conditions that drove them into admiring crime or taking crime as a way or rebelling against a non-responsive society were more likely to become delinquents.

Thirdly, William came to a conclusion that he also had all along. That knowledge of the development of the young people who are involved in crime is very important. From knowing for instance that a certain youth was abandoned by the mother when he was ten and he began abusing drugs at twelve, the legal system can be able to see the genesis of the young person’s crisis in development and come up with the appropriate intervention measures instead of just locking up an otherwise good child whose only problem was being abandoned.

Also, William made another critical inference in the course of his research. He discovered the importance of data associated with the characteristics of the families where these young people came from as well as the general environment in which they were brought up. The aim here was to come up with data that would be compared for patterns so as to give recommendations for corrective measures to every segment of society that was in charge of children(Healy, 1969,p.32).For example if the traits of a particular family were found to include alcoholism and ever-present family disputes including lack of love for the young people in the family, it would be possible to tell the parents in that family as well as parents elsewhere that it was necessary to avoid conflicts in the family since it was bound to make their children misbehave. The same was equally true for environment. In case a child was brought up in an environment where there was no restriction as to the way women were treated by men and such a child went ahead to become a rapist, then the significance of gender respect would be stressed to that particular part of society with an aim of ensuring that the young people from that area grew up with respect for their ladies.

Perhaps the most significant conclusion that was arrived at by William is that if the youth offenders were to be assisted, it was necessary for both the system and society to work with them. The aim here according to William was to try and understand their areas of concern and the dissatisfaction they have with society that has driven them into delinquency. He found out that youth were more willing to open up to whoever they were in contact with over time so long as they were treated with love, respect and genuine concern. He therefore made a strong case for therapeutic solutions that had the grounding of working with the juvenile delinquents as the key to ensuring that young people who were involved in crime did not go back to crime again. This type of mindset became a preferred mode of operation in his private clinics where young men and women who had a wide range of emotional discomforts were attended to in a simple friendly manner. He treated many cases of young people some of them with severe disturbances that society had feared would not heal.

Also, William’s research was able to show that there was no connect between the state of abnormality and delinquency. It is worth noting that before this study, delinquent youths were declared abnormal by the system leading to institutionalization. But the research had different findings that dismissed that earlier notion. The new explanation was that delinquent young people were perfectly normal only that they were brought up under different conditions and this misconduct was rectifiable. This was good news for a system that was getting stretched with confinement of people who were normal and only needed psychological understanding and assistance in order to resume the normal path of development free from crime (Healy, 1969, p.31).

Another point that William stressed was that crime was individual. He therefore emphasized that the acquisition of define and practical knowledge of the individual was something that would not be done without. The blanket treatment of cases of juvenile delinquency even from a psychological standpoint was not something that was practical in any way. The circumstances surrounding the development of a certain youth were localized to that youth and therefore were to be understood at that level for the assistance to that youth. Even if generalizations were to be issues on preventive measures, it was still necessary to have information pertaining to individuals.

As a way of making his findings more understandable, William formulated what he termed as the mental bases of delinquency. These were mental dissatisfactions developed from not necessarily morally powerful reasons and those with justifiably noble ambitions, obsessional criminalistic imagery that drove youth into crime, irritative mental reactions to environmental conditions, the impulses and instabilities of adolescent life, worries, repressions and mental conflicts that affected the inner life and aberrational mental states that cover fully developed psychoses to border-line psychotic defects (Healy, 1969, p.32).


From the life and works of William Healy, it is quite clear that he made a major contribution to the understanding of juvenile delinquency in the modern society. He assisted in eliminating the mindset that young people who engaged in crime were abnormal and set to be criminals in their lives. Because of this contribution, the psychological analysis of juvenile delinquency now assists in understanding the reason and possible remedies of juvenile delinquency.

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