By 1917, as Governor R. Livingston Beekman described it in his annual message, a commission to investigate the various public welfare programs in the state (the State Public Welfare Commission) found that the missions of the State Board of Charities and Corrections and of the Board of Supply and Control overlapped, and seemed at times to be in conflict. To solve this problem the government replaced the two boards with the Penal and Charitable Commission, which was renamed the State Public Welfare Commission in 1923.
This Commission formed the managerial layer of the state’s welfare system. The commission’s personnel included a Chairman, a secretary, a Director of State Institutions, and a Director of Mother's Aid. These individuals oversaw the state's Penal, Charitable, and Reformatory Institutions, which included the State Workhouse and House of Corrections; the State Hospital for Mental Diseases; a State Infirmary; a State Prison; the Providence County jail; and the State Reform School for Boys and Girls (the Sockanosset and Oaklawn schools.)
The commission took over the State Board of Charities and Corrections’ buildings and property in Cranston and, therefore, has sometimes been referred to as the State Institutions in Cranston. In addition, the commission took over responsibility for two institutions managed since 1912 by the Board of Control and Supply - the Exeter School and the State Home and School, including their real estate and property. Below the commission, the personnel included superintendents for each of the institutions, except for the Providence County Jail and the State prison, which a warden oversaw. In addition to allowing for administrative and clerical staff, and religious instructors, the law required the appointment of a resident physician and an “agent of defectives and dependents.” This agent’s function was to examine individuals to determine which of the state institutions was most appropriate for them. Finally, the founding statute required the engagement of a secretary who was designated to keep accurate records of meetings, and also to record “the name, residence, sex, age, and nativity, occupation, condition, and date of entrance or commitment of every inmate patient, or pupil.”
In its first years, the commission set as its mission the promotion of cooperation among the member institutions “to work for the benefit of the individual regardless of the circumstances which led to his position of dependency…”The Commission also set a goal of building new facilities and improving existing ones. State Public Welfare Commission aka Penal and Charitable Commission. First Annual Report, 1917-1918.
Public Law 1917, ch. 1470; Public Law 1922, ch. 2230.