Quest: The California Youth Authority's Golden Years

Quest: The California Youth Authority's Golden Years

by Robert L. Smith


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477272589
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 10/25/2012
Pages: 698
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.53(d)

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the california youth authority's golden years
By Robert L. Smith


Copyright © 2012 Robert L. Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-7258-9

Chapter One


In 1951, ten years late, I joined a quest for correctional reform known as the California Youth Authority. It was emerging from legislation enacted in 1941 patterned largely after the Model Youth Correction Authority Act submitted to the Nation in 1940 by the American Law Institute. Although coming closer to the Model Act than any of the five states implementing the program, California did not achieve the precise open model envisioned by ALI (American Law Institute) to design an open organizational system for the administration of criminal justice for youth. It survived the neglect born of the demands of WWII, lack of funding, by the State Legislature, public institutions out of control, and only a few visionaries who believed, and dreamed, what might be. The dream came to life in 1943 with revised legislation, and a Governor, and legislature, who began to support an idea whose time had come.

A Youth Authority idea was not new. Consultants for the American Law Institute later acknowledged that they borrowed heavily from the English Borstal system proposed by the Gladstone Committee in 1895 who wanted to separate youths from older convicts in adult prisons. Sir Evelyln Ruggles-Brise, a prison commissioner, proposed the establishment of a Borstal institution in Borstal, a village near Rochester, Kent, England in 1902. The system became law in the Prevention of Crime Act of 1908. Young men under the age of 21, and later 23, committing criminal offenses were eligible for the program.

Borstal was to be "educational rather than punitive," but highly regulated, with a focus on routine, discipline, and authority. Employees were to lead by example, whether work, language, or demeanor. Group leaders, employees often worked side by side with their charges clearing reeds in the Fens, or building roads and walls in farming communities. The only corporal punishment available to Borstal was birching for mutiny or assaulting an officer. This punishment required the approval of a local magistrate followed by the personal approval by the Home Secretary. Six cases received the punishment during the first 10 years of the program. Youth received license (parole) by the institution for up to three years.

Institutions tended to develop programs around themes and or trades that were traditional in England. There were maritime schools for merchant seaman, military schools for Marines, Navy, Army, agricultural schools for farming, and trade schools for different types of apprenticeships. All had strong academic and athletic programs.

The Criminal Justice Act of 1982 abolished the borstal system in the U.K., and introduced custody centers instead. An icon of youth correctional program lasted eighty years before succumbing to age and fashion - a remarkable history. It foretold the pending future the California Youth Authority.

* * *

During the California Youth Authority Act's formative war years, 1941-45, California's implementation of the proposed law was delayed, substantially, by lack of resources. During those years, the character of the new agency and its future was in process. By default, California Youth Authority (CYA) became organizationally responsible for the direct operation and management of the States three correctional schools, The Fred C. Nelles Reformatory for Boys, Whittier, California, Ventura School for Girls, and Preston School of Industry in Ione. While the American Law Institute's plan did not anticipate absorbing operating institutions, it expected the new agency to establish and operate new programs, if necessary, but not take over the old ones with their existing problems.

The original Youth Correctional Authority Act approved by the Council of the American Law Institute created a Youth Corrections Authority consisting of three persons with power to accept or reject commitments. After careful screening, wards of the new commission would transfer to programs, public or private, that met their treatment needs. Services could include incarceration or some less strict form of supervision and control. The Authority was to maintain its responsibility for their ward until, in its judgment, it was reasonably safe to release the youth back into the community.

In determining the appropriate treatment, the Authority was given powers to contract for and commit to any a state reformatory or to any existing probation or parole agency, with the limitations that the Authority could not interfere with the management of these institutions or agencies. They also had the power of conditional release from any program, and the order of return if needed. The same also was true for private treatment services in the community.

The Act was, in theory, a break from the past. It offered a correction's model built on "Institutional Theory," with most of the elements of an "Open System," which avoids many of the problems of the "Closed System" which contain limited energies since contacts are primarily with other units within it. It feeds on old information and practice, and quickly loses the energy necessary for long time survival. Outside contacts are limited, and bit by bit, it is the source of its own destruction because of complexities, with which it can no longer cope successfully. Whether open or closed, all systems are destined for increasing complexity, entropy, and disorder. Only open systems survive over extended time, and even they eventually are destroyed by uncontrolled complexity and disorder.

The open system assumes a constant new supply of energy from outside of itself - in the surrounding environment. Like the closed system, the open system's mandate is to survive and grow stronger. The difference, however, is that increasing complexity of the closed system cannot, by its own practices, expand the intake of new ideas and resources, operations, material, energy, people, capital and information or ideas from the surrounding environment. It restricts new information, and copes with threats of the new by developing rules, policies, and procedures to limit or restrict the increasing complexity brought on by new and different experience. It also increases the vertical spans of control rather than the horizontal, e.g., there are more people, further from the point of service delivery, trying to control others who also are removed from the point of service contact. It also changes rules, goals, and even values, to support the survival of the system and govern the behavior of those controlling the controllers. Neither system, open or closed, can stop decay, but the open system may delay it. The ultimate end to any physical or social system is increasing entropy (See: von Bertalanffy's General Systems Theory, 1968).

The seeds of self-destruction begin when the theoretical model organization (goals, objectives, and strategies) brings in people to carry tasks associated with specific work. The new and old employees bring with them their own sets of goals and objectives patterned after real life experiences. These attitudes (tendency to respond) begin to modify organization's values. What people are, what they believe, and what they do introduces unanticipated changes, that given time, kill the energy and enthusiasm the model organization once generated. Open organizations have a longer life expectancy because of an infusion of new energy. However, the culture that develops in the closed institution ultimately moves the organization to stasis, and not change. Staff becomes more concerned with their rights, salaries, promotions, etc. more than achieving the goals for which the organization originally formed. Beliefs change with the reality of being.

The California Youth Corrections Authority Act and the American Law Institute model act, proposed a new set of relationships that modeled an open system. Both acts relied on units and organizations outside of it to carry out its mandate. Both proposed using contractual and/or voluntary community resources as a part of the treatment mandate. It involved serious and increased involvement of the public, and its institutions in correctional reform. It invited outside organizations and individuals to provide services and participate in the functions of the new organization that were unfamiliar to those who previously operated prisons, jails, and reformatories. Purchase of services from the community, over which it had no authority other than voluntary cooperation and contractual agreement, were two revolutionary concepts for corrections.

In the process, the Agency, in addition to operating its own institutions, came to subsidize community services such as, probation, camps, and ranches, set standards for probation, juvenile halls, and camps, training for probation officers, and police officers working with juveniles, organizing community groups for prevention and improved social control. They also did community studies of youth service needs; management studies for probation departments, regional training for correctional workers in all fields with the University of California, Berkeley. Management and staff became members of women's groups like PTA, League of Women Voters, Junior League, etc. They arranged for and organized state-conferences on problems of children and youth for the Governor's Office, and on at least one occasion provided staff for a National Conference on Children and Youth called by the President of the United States. Activities of the CYA went far beyond the simple practice of providing safe, humane, constitutional care for youthful offenders. It put its confidence and some resources into the community and people who were closest to the problem, and had the greatest investment and concern.

The Model Act provided the new agency with the mandate to clear away the brush of years of secrecy and isolation by which corrections was generally governed, "An out of sight, out of mind, attitude on how youthful offenders should be treated." It also set forth an unstated proposition that the community would learn that "them" were really "us." As the agency grew in size so too did responsibilities for delinquency prevention, research and development that transcended local responsibilities. As the complexity of operations increased so did, new opportunities for grants and studies to increase knowledge and skill about what worked and what did not. In the beginning, the new agency was committed to a quest for solutions to very old problems. It created an environment that encouraged a search for new ideas, programs, and relationships. It fostered camaraderie within itself, and between other states, and even colleagues in other parts of the world. Its working environment was challenging, and exciting.

* * *

By 1977, some of us realized that the power for our original quest was fading, waning in spirit, leadership, and courage. We had also lost our professional influence to professional politicians whose principal concern was election, not good correctional practice, or effective programs. The agency was beginning to ossify because of politics, loss of leadership, and the simple process of a new agency aging like any other social institution. We had lost to time, social change, political character, or lack of it, and a society that needed quick answers to complicated problems.

Initiatives replaced legislative deliberation and law became a written statement of faith by the masses, by intuition, and not careful consideration. Individual beliefs and revenge became programs of retribution and revenge, not corrections. Correctional law drifted into common belief, not knowledge. The Administration and Legislature abandoned their responsibilities for maintaining a strategy for seeking the best answers rather than one of political compromise and convenience. There were no longer heroes standing at the gates of prisons in opposition to a legislature, and public who wanted revenge, not humane control, or habilitation. Correctional reform turned on its head and reverted to century old traditions and customs, familiar failures that promised protection without humanity. The changes were probably inevitable, as they are to most long-lived organizations, but for almost thirty plus years, a remarkable achievement in a public service persisted and gained strength. It was a high point in modern correctional reform. Friend and foe alike remember it with respect and sadness of its demise.

As a part-time philosopher friend of mine keeps reminding me, "Another season, and another presence. Let's find out what a new presence should be and be willing to test it." He is right, why the Youth Authority idea failed has little to do with what needs doing now. Those currently responsible need to discover a new vision to seek one appropriate to existing reality, and not hassle or shed tears over the old. Responsible administrators and legislators need to get on with the business designing what a new youth corrections act should offer, to whom, and how it might operate - perhaps they might rediscover the magic of social institutions that operate openly or transparently. With appropriate humility, the designers should keep their eyes on their new organization since it cannot operate forever as intended (30 years at the outside) before new revisions will be required to prolong the dream. That would be an unusual record for any social institution providing good, humane, safe correctional care, and control, within constitutional limits. It is a quest and goal worthy of rediscovery, particularly in the changing world in which we now live.

* * *

Keith Griffiths, Ph.D., first director of research for the California Youth Authority expressed the idea simply. "A good correctional program is driven by, and committed to discovery and truth, a strategy of search, that seeks the best answers, not always the easiest, to the difficult and complex problems of human change. Even then, we must understand that our quest is the search, not just clichés and/or simple answers that happen to be popular or convenient."

Those who served during the good years of the agency served with giants who were recognized as national and international leaders in corrections. They were, with few exceptions, interesting people, individuals, and frequently characters that stood bigger than life. What follow is a personal memoir, and not just a history, of a special time, special people of great commitment, and a mission that was creative, worthwhile, exciting, challenging, and rewarding to the community. I hope that it will help people remember the "Golden Years of the California Youth Authority." Whether it was a quest, crusade, or just a movement by reformers, it was something very special for those who lived it.

However, that was another season, and this is the time for another presence. What follows is a nostalgic look back at correctional career(s) in an agency (system) that offered satisfaction, challenge, opportunity, and joy to employees who took pride in what they did, and earned admiration from others nationally and internationally about their willingness to search for new answers to difficult problems. It is history mixed with facts, but it is also a collection of memories lived by those who were proud of what they thought they knew only to be humbled by learning how much they did not know. It is also about real people who were, intentionally or not, the spirit behind "The Strategy of Search," that motivated the California Youth Authority throughout most of its successful years.

May future scholars and politicians rediscover the magic of an early correctional success, and may our readers enjoy meeting many of the people who contributed to a very special quest for correctional excellence. They too were committed to their dreams and beliefs, but they rejected unsubstantiated and unproven prejudices about programs of retribution rather than redemption. They focused on aspiration, not affirmation. They dreamed of new answers to very old problems with an open mind. They enjoyed the experience of "the search," and the rewards of the quest.

Beginning 1941-1951

The California Youth Authority began operation in 1942 under legislation enacted in 1941. Although patterned after the Model Youth Correction Authority Act submitted to the Nation in 1940 by the American Law Institute, it did not follow the precise structure envisioned by the Institute. The Model Act and the Youth Authority Act had several things in common, but nothing more so than the social demands, pressures exerted in 1930s urging that the criminal justice system for juveniles, and youth needed basic reform.

Forcefully described in L. V. Harrison and P.M. Grant's book, Youth in the Toils in 1938, the book details child abuse in prisons and jails, of juveniles held in adult facilities, suicides of children in custody, sexual molestation by adult inmates and minors frequently receiving longer sentences than adults for similar offenses do. Children as young as eight years of age received orders of execution. Constitutional rights of children and youth regularly were being by the court and law enforcement.


Excerpted from Quest by Robert L. Smith Copyright © 2012 by Robert L. Smith. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Chapter 1 Quest....................1
Chapter 2 Beginning....................11
Chapter 3 Trainee....................65
Chapter 4 Parole Officer and Consultant....................115
Chapter 5 Supervising Parole Officer....................223
Chapter 6 Renaissance....................295
Chapter 7 Real World - More Or Less....................387
Chapter 8 Dream Factory....................479
Chapter 9 Hope And Dreams....................569
Chapter 10 Summing Up....................621
Chapter 11 Another Presence....................651
Selected Readings....................673
About the Author....................681

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