An 1874 report by the state prison investigative committee details efforts to rehabilitate inmates, lists a typical mess hall menu and describes the general layout of San Quentin. The committee also made their case to establish a branch prison at Folsom. Regarding education overseen by the prison chaplain, the report states, “Here, in the school-room, can be seen old gray-headed and young men sitting side by side, learning and being willing to learn.”
In 1855, rumors regarding mismanagement of the state prison at Point San Quentin caused alarm with state lawmakers. California was relatively new as a state and the prison, leased by Gen. Estell, was rife with problems. Escapes were frequent as inmates worked in the quarry, built the first cells and slept aboard ships. To help separate rumor from fact, an investigative committee visited the prison to see first-hand what problems needed to be addressed. Their recommendations contain seeds of what would become today’s CDCR.
A 1950 departmental training manual breaks down four-years of training into 20 pages. The introduction was written by Director of Corrections Richard A. McGee. After the complete restructuring of the state’s correctional department in 1944, McGee’s efforts to raise the bar of professional standards brought about statewide training. Walter Dunbar, who would later become the director, is listed as the state training officer. The manual states it is the duty of the correctional officers and the department to ensure the “education and rehabilitation of the human beings incarcerated in the institutions.”
An 1877 report of the prison directors shows the determination of staff as they dealt with a devastating fire that destroyed sleeping areas for over 200 inmates as well as cooking areas, the mess-hall and workshops. The report also sheds light on the views of prison management regarding rehabilitation efforts. On Feb. 28, 1876, fire swept through part of San Quentin State Prison, destroying “the main workshops and machinery” as well as the kitchens, according to Lt. Gov. James A. Johnson, director of the prison at the time, in his biennial report to the governor. The military and police from San Francisco, numbering 83 strong, helped secure the prison’s perimeter while inmates, staff and firemen from San Francisco fought the blaze.
Former Correctional Officer William Conroy, who worked at San Quentin from 1903 to 1907, wrapped up his series on prison life by giving his opinions on where real prison reform should begin. The story was published in the Santa Cruz Evening News, Jan. 5, 1912. This is the last of his series. Just five years after these stories were originally published, Conroy was killed in a vehicle accident. He was 45 years old.
Former correctional officer William Conroy, who worked at San Quentin from 1903 to 1907, describes typical job duties for a guard at the prison. This was part of a series he wrote for a newspaper and it published on Jan. 4, 1912. Conroy also describes the layout of the guard post and procedures.