History

With statehood in 1850, California inherited the legacy of the English Poor Laws of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was these laws that established local governmental jurisdiction over the young, poor, and criminal. Workhouses, almshouses, jails, and prisons for adult paupers, vagrants, criminals, and the insane were the common caretakers of young offenders as well. Upon admission to the Union, California’s public capacity to respond to the needs of children was small indeed.A Special Panel of Commissioners determined that 300 youth under age 20 were sent to California’s prisons and another 600 were detained in or committed to jails during the decade of the 1850’s. Public pressure upon the Legislature to separate juvenile from adult offenders led to the establishment of the San Francisco Industrial School in 1858 and the State Reform School in Marysville three years later. This was small provision still for delinquent children outside of jails and prisons. Private groups such as the Boys and Girls Aid Society of California began to address themselves to decent care for children. Through the Society’s efforts the Juvenile Probation Law was passed in 1883. The Probation Law was not only the state’s first child welfare law but for the first time provided for placement of juveniles in facilities other than jails.Despite the law, confinement of juveniles in jails continued. Miserable conditions confronted juveniles not only in jails but private institutions as well. These prompted the Boys and Girls Aid Society, the California Club, and the Associated Charities of San Francisco to work for reform. Their efforts culminated in 1903 in an Act Defining and Providing for the Control, Protection, and Treatment of Dependent and Delinquent Children, California’s first juvenile court law. The law prohibited the commitment of children under 12 to jail, prison, or police stations. It allowed the commitment of children to the care of the sheriff, police officer, constable, or probation officer. It required placement in a city or county facility outside the enclosure of any jail. The Act established the Board of Charities and Corrections, which placed in state government the function of establishing standards for juvenile institutions. Until this provision, standards for the decent care of juveniles were informally addressed by private citizens’ organizations. The Act was amended in 1905 to require the juvenile court judge of each county to appoint a probation committee. The precursor of juvenile justice and delinquency prevention commissions, probation committees served as unpaid assistant probation officers and citizens’ advisory groups. The role of probation committees expanded over the years. By 1945 the law authorized probation committees to inspect and report to the court on private and public (except state) juvenile institutions. When directed by the court the committees provided friendly supervision and visitation of court wards, investigations, reports to the court, and recommendations on court orders. They could establish public delinquency prevention committees and cooperate in their work. Probation committees were given the authority to nominate probation officers and assistant probation officers to the juvenile court judge. By 1960, although the specific repertoire of functions varied from county to county, probation committee roles typically included selection of the probation officer, advice on administration, public relations and political influence for their probation departments, administrative functions in juvenile halls, and personnel matters. In lesser number, some committees were involved in preparation and presentation of budgets, and delinquency prevention functions. The Governor’s Special Study Commission on Juvenile Justice, whose work led to the Arnold- Kennick Juvenile Court Law of 1961, indicated in 1960 that there was a general feeling that the statutorily assigned functions of the probation committee was no longer appropriate to the juvenile justice system. More specifically, a number of chief probation officers felt the committees made little contribution. There was some resentment by a smaller number of chiefs of what was felt to be committee interference in probation administration and in personnel selection. As a result, the Governor’s Study Commission proposed that probation committees become part of local juvenile justice commissions. These commissions would investigate the administration of juvenile justice in its broader sense, including law enforcement, the courts, and probation departments. The traditional functions of probation committees would be relinquished. The Arnold-Kennick Juvenile Court Law was placed in the statutes the following year. The recommendation of the Governor’s Study Commission was implemented. Juvenile justice commissions were established replacing probation committees, except in Los Angeles County. There, the role of the Probation Committee was defined as advisory to the probation officer. The duties defined for juvenile justice commissions in 1961 by the Arnold-Kennick Law remain unchanged today. With the demise of probation committees the Law left authority to establish public delinquency prevention committees with the juvenile court and probation. In 1965 the Juvenile Court Law was amended to allow county boards of supervisors to establish delinquency prevention commissions or designate the juvenile justice commission to serve as such. Like the justice commissions, the duties defined in 1965 describe the duties of delinquency prevention commissions today. By 1965, 31 counties had established prevention commissions.

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