Overview Cameo House Community Options for Youth (COY) Detention Diversion Advocacy Program (DDAP) Expert Witness, Court Navigation, & Sentencing Mitigation Services Juvenile Collaborative Reentry Unit (JCRU) No Violence Alliance (NoVA) Overview Technical Assistance California Sentencing Institute Next Generation Fellowship Legislation Transparency & Accountability

KQED Forum: Dan Macallair on The History of Youth Corrections in California

KQED Forum’s Michael Montgomery talks with CJCJ executive director, Daniel Macallair, about his new book After the Doors Were Locked: A History of Youth Corrections in California and the Origins of 21st Century Reform.


The interview covers the evolution of California’s juvenile justice system, beginning with the Houses of Refuge and the emergence of The San Francisco Industrial School in the 19th century, then following the chronic abuse and violence which characterized state-operated juvenile facilities throughout the 20th century, and finally discussing the issues facing California’s present-day juvenile justice system.

The institutions we have today, or the institutional model that is widely practiced within our youth correction system here in California (and frankly around most of the county), is rooted in the 19th century. I think it’s important to point that out because a lot of the time when we think about the current problems that exist and are manifested within the current institutions, we think it’s a modern problem. It’s not. It has origins from over a hundred years ago.” — Daniel Macallair

The interview explores the violent and abusive nature of state-operated facilities that is still widely unknown to this day. For example, at California’s Whittier State School, youth were coerced into sterilization operations based on their low IQ test scores, in accordance with the Eugenics movement of the era. The state’s historical narrative, which described effective treatment for youth in California’s juvenile justice system, shrowds its dark past throughout the 20th century. 

The 1950s and 1960s are often looked on by many people with a degree of fondness as a kind of golden age’ in juvenile corrections in Californa. It was not. We have to separate the rhetoric from the reality.” — Daniel Macallair

According to Macallair, the state has proven over the course of a century that it is incapable of providing effectice and necessary treatment to youth in its institutions. He proposes that California continue what it started with juvenile justice realignment, and return youth in the state system to county custody so that they may benefit from locally-based community resources. 

We have, in the state of California, 58 counties. And yes, it is very true that some counties have more resources than others and some counties are better equipped. But if we are going to move juvenile justice forward into the 21st centry, we’ve got to localize treatment.

99 percent of juvenile justice services are provided at the local level already. I think it would take us one step closer to more comprehensive reform and it would eliminate this historic problem of operating a bad institutional system at the state level.

The state has had over 100 years to try, and it has shown that is does not have the capacity to provide the kinds of services that kids actually need. And inevitabley — inevtiabley — they descend into these corrupt brutal and abusive institutions. We’ve got to stop that cycle.” — Daniel Macallair