By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos compiled by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer

The state’s prison system has seen many changes since its inception in the early 1850s – especially in the realm of rehabilitation. Gone are the days of pounding rocks in a granite quarry. Today’s offenders can learn computer programming and web design to help them land decent-paying jobs when they’re released. They can also earn degrees and high school diplomas, increasing their chances of being hired. This is the second part in a series on the history of rehabilitation, taking a closer look at the department’s evolving efforts to rehabilitate offenders.

Rehabilitation as department policy

In 1944, the state prison system was completely reorganized. Richard A. McGee, the new Director of Corrections, issued an order to ensure all able-bodied inmates were wisely using their time.

Inmates were “required to work eight hours per day or engage in some rehabilitative training for the same length of time,” according to the Associated Press (AP), July 7, 1944.

“McGee issued the ‘work or train for work’ order as he set forth a program of general prison policy which has been approved by the state board of corrections,” the AP reported.

He issued seven directives to prison officials. No. 6 ordered them to “study each inmate individually so he may be trained to ‘eventually assume the responsibility of citizenship.’”

McGee told the AP inadequacies in the American penal system included “inmate idleness (and) ineffective educational and training programs.”

Most offenders are coming home

San Quentin Warden Clinton T. Duffy, in a newsreel from 1942, discussed the need to rehabilitate inmates.

“San Quentin Prison is an institution where men can find and take advantage of an extensive training program. It is our aim to send men back into society, when eligible for release, better fitted to education, trade training and proper mental attitude to resume their places as good citizens,” he said. “From the day a man enters the prison gate, rehabilitation should begin. In addition to our school program, we have many departments where trades can be learned, trades that will prepare them for national defense jobs. Most of our newcomers receive their first job assignment in the jute mill where grain bags and burlap are made. In due course of time, if their work and conduct are satisfactory, they are placed in the trade training units of the prison.”

Gov. Earl Warren pointed out the necessity of rehabilitating inmates by stressing that “95 percent of the men and women in California prisons will be freed eventually,” according to the San Bernardino Sun, Dec. 7, 1949.

“Our efforts must be toward rehabilitation,” he said in a radio address. “(Society helps itself) when it creates opportunities for rehabilitation.”

He said inmate training is developed “into benefits to our state and society.”

Kenyon Scudder, the first superintendent of the California Institution for Men, made rehabilitation the priority of the institution.

“We have got to change the prison system all over America,” he told the Desert Sun, Jan. 25, 1954. “Because prisoners are people and (most) of them will return to their communities, you must prepare them to get back into society – teach them to appreciate the meaning of liberty. Too many come out of prison worse than when they entered.”

Fred Dickson, who replaced Scudder as CIM’s superintendent, said inmates should be able to ease back into society once released.

“The program is not based alone on custody of prisoners but also upon treatment toward rehabilitation. (Most) of all men sent to prison are eventually released. The protection we can give to the public is to establish programs that will release better men than when they were received,” Dickson told the San Bernardino Sun, June 6, 1956. “(CIM) was at one time referred to as an experimental program when it was first established under the leadership of Kenyon J. Scudder in 1941; however, 15 years later it is no more an experiment – it is an established fact.”

John Douglas Short, a “well-known San Francisco attorney and penologist,” was recognized for his rehabilitation efforts when he passed away at age 61. Short was a California native and a World War I veteran.

“A member of the staff of San Quentin prison for 13 years from 1941 to 1954, Short received wide recognition for his work toward rehabilitation of the inmates. He organized the prison’s diagnostic classification system and recommended numerous penal code improvements which were adopted. He also handled the legal problems of the inmates. He has been especially commended for his work in the organization of the Seekers Club for the purpose of self-improvement among the San Quentin inmates. Acting San Quentin Warden C.J. Fitzharris paid high tribute to Short for his service to the prison and said both prisoners and prison officials have lost a good friend,” reported the Sausalito News, Oct. 28, 1955.

“It is well to be reminded sometimes that most criminals go free after serving prison terms; that unless their habits and attitudes have been changed, society has gained little. Competent prison staffs, trained in penology, are important to any program of rehabilitation,” reported the Desert Sun, Sept. 26, 1956.

Innovative methods were introduced help inmates ease back into society after release. Similar to today’s reentry programs and facilities, early methods included putting inmates back into the community for short excursions.

“Raymond K. Procunier, the state corrections director, and Laurence Stutsman, his chief deputy, credited improved rehabilitation and parole techniques for reducing the number of convicts to 26,900 from 28,400 in 18 months,” reported United Press International in a story published Aug. 6, 1970. “As part of the rehabilitation program, men nearing parole are given 72-hour passes and 90-day furloughs from prison so they can adjust to normal living, they said, pointing out that the number of men returning to prison is decreasing as a result. Under the 90-day program, a man works at a civilian job in daylight hours but returns to confinement at night. Often parole work is paid for by the state but handled by counties, Stutsman said. That may appear to cost more money, he added, but actually it doesn’t because it returns a convict to society faster and more safely.”