Origins of Probation

John Augustus, a Boston cobbler, is credited as the "Father of Probation." In 1841 he persuaded the Boston Police Court to release an adult drunkard into his custody rather than sending him to prison -- the prevalent means of dealing with law violations at that time. His efforts at reforming his first charge were successful, and he soon convinced the court to release other offenders to his supervision.

In 1843, Augustus broadened his efforts to children when he took responsibility for two girls, ages eight and ten, and an 11-year-old boy, all of whom had been accused of stealing. By 1846, he had taken on the supervision of about 30 children ranging from nine to 16 years old and this was admitted by the judges in both courts.

By Augustus' (1852) own account, he bailed "eleven hundred persons, both male and female."

By 1869, the Massachusetts legislature required a state agent to be present if court actions might result in the placement of a child in a reformatory, thus providing a model for modern caseworkers. The agents were to search for other placement, protect the child's interests, investigate the case before trial, and supervise the plan for the child after disposition. Massachusetts passed the first probation statute in 1878 mandating an official State probation system with salaried probation officers (National Center for Juvenile Justice [NCJJ], 1991). Other states quickly followed suit (NCJJ, 1991).

Probation was introduced in California in 1903. Under the original statues, responsibility for supervising probationers was placed at the county level, with probation under the control of the criminal court for each county. Funding was also the responsibility of the County.


Augustus, J. (1852). A report of the labors of John Augustus. Boston: Wright & Hasty, Printers. (Republished in 1984 by the American Probation and Parole Association, Lexington, KY.)

Binder, A., Geis, G., & Bruce, D. D. (1997). Juvenile delinquency: Historical, cultural and legal perspectives. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing, Co.

Klein, A. R. (1997). Alternative sentencing, intermediate sanctions and probation. Cincinnati, OH; Anderson Publishing Co.

National Center for Juvenile Justice. (1991). Desktop guide to good juvenile probation practice. Pittsburgh, PA: Author.

Sacramento County Early Days

The first probation records kept by the Sacramento County Superior Court were in 1903. On July 18, 1907 William Donovan became the first Sacramento County probationer. He had been found guilty of the “infamous crime against nature,” and was placed on probation for five years.  There were two other cases in 1907 and another five cases in 1908, all successfully completed their probation.  In 1909, the first probation failure was a robber named Looney, who “disappeared.”

In 1911, the first woman was put on probation; Etta Watson for adultery. The total caseload was up to 45. Most of the crimes were for failure to provide, contributing to the delinquency of minors, and similar social crimes. There were some cases of burglars, robbers and rapists being placed on probation.

Persons placed on probation had their names written in a ledger-type book which was kept by  Deputy County Clerk, C.E. Wilson, who went on in 1913 to be the first Chief Probation Officer.

Community supervision was the main method for rehabilitation both juvenile and adult offenders until 1965, when the State Aid to Probation Act, provided state funding to support the building of local juvenile institutions; the theory being that keeping offenders local would cost much less than housing them in a State prison.


Institutional Building and Development Analysis of Sacramento County Probation Department – Jean Aday Peixoto, April 1976.

Historical Timeline

1960 Boys Ranch Opened

  • Opened in 1960 with 76 Beds
  • Early construction included the development of a warehouse, saddle and tack shed, two barns, paint and storage shed, lath house and tool building.
  • Expanded to 81 beds in 1981
  • Expanded to 100 beds in 1983
  • Dormitory was enlarged
  • Second classroom added
  • Full size gymnasium built
  • Swimming pool
  • Technology Shop built, including a welding shop added in 1999
  • Perimeter fence, security lighting and new well were installed in 2001
  • New Visitor Center and 25 bed dormitory was built. 

1963    Juvenile Hall (Youth Detention Facility) Opened

  • 1963 – opened 41 beds
  • The Juvenile Hall shared a two-story administrative building with the Court, District Attorney, Public Defender, and Probation (Wing A)
  • 1967 - 136 beds
  • 1981 – 207 beds
  • 1990 – 239 beds
  • 1992 – 254 beds
  • 1997 – 255 beds
  • 1998 – 261 beds
  • 1999
    Juvenile Hall Master Plan—Beverly Prior Architects Recommendations in the Juvenile Detention Plan are validated.  Master plan shows the expansion of the existing living units to include two classrooms, one medical screening room, one mental health counseling room, one pill call room, and expansion of the dayroom.  The decentralization of services to the living units allows the facility to maintain the classification integrity of the minors housed in each living unit.  The Board of Supervisors approve the Master Plan. 

2004-2006 - Phase One

  • Temporary Staff Entry into YDF
  • YDF Secure Staff Parking lot
  • JWP Building YDF Visitor Center
  • 90-New Beds
  • New Central Control 
  • New Central Plant
  • Mental Health Offices
  • New Intake / Release
  • Public Lobby
  • New Secure Vehicle Sallyport        
  • Additional security door, security locks and security cameras in all housing units 

2005-2007 - Phase Two

  • Administrative Offices
  • Warehouse Expansion
  • Public Service Conference and Training Rooms
  • Staff Locker Room              

2006-2010 - Phase Three

  • Renovation of Existing Living Units
  • Decentralization of Services to Living Units
  • New expanded Medical Clinic
  • Renovated Gymnasium
  • Special Needs Unit
  • Expanded Kitchen
  • Expanded Laundry
  • New School Administration Space
  • New Staff Dinning  

2007-2009 - Phase Four

  • 60-new detention beds
  • 60-shelled detention beds
  • Expansion of service tunnel
  • Addition to Kiefer Blvd Security Wall

1970 Morgan Alternative Center Opened

  • The primary purpose of the program was Family Reunification. The program encompassed 90 days in residence and 4 weeks of furlough and had a capacity to serve 22 minors.
  • 2000 Quality Group Homes, Inc. moved into the building to operate  the Sacramento Assessment Center program 

1970 Neighborhood Alternative Center (NAC) Opened

  • Provided intake (Welfare and Institutions Code 626.5) for youth, ages 8-17, exhibiting pre-delinquent conduct. The program consisted of on-site assessment, crisis intervention and referral, as well as skill development groups.
  • 2008 closed due to insufficient funding 

1971 Warren E. Thornton Youth Center

  • 1971 opened as the 30 bed Sacramento County Girls School - a 30-bed residential facility for delinquent girls 
  • 1976 Re-named the Community Youth Service Center 
  • 1978 Facility began serving both males and females 
  • 1981 Re-named the Warren E. Thornton Youth Center 
  • 1984 expansion
    • 20 bed addition bringing rated capacity to 50 beds
    • 2 classrooms 
  • 2005-2006 expansion
    • Phase 1 – 60-new beds, new gymnasium, kitchen, mental health offices, school administration, 4 new classrooms, new Probation Administration offices
    • Phase 2 –renovation of existing 50-beds, new security electronics, paint, carpet, conference space, medical and mental health space
  • 2009  Closed due to funding reductions

1996 Neighborhood Accountability Boards formed

  • A collaborative, community-based intervention program which empowers citizen volunteers to provide meaningful support and community-centered accountability for first-time juvenile offenders
  • Became a completely volunteer effort in 2009 

1998 Day Reporting Center (DRC) opened

  • Day treatment center and school providing multi-dimensional counseling, educational services, and intensive community supervision to juvenile offenders opens in South Sacramento
  • In 2009, the center is relocated to the River Oak Youth Development and Educational Center as a result of the Youthful Offender Block Grant and a restructuring of Juvenile Field .

1999 Restorative Justice Began

  • Began integrating principals of restorative Justice into department culture and structure
    • Community Protection
    • Victim Restoration
    • Offender Accountability and Competency 

1999 Placement Readiness Recidivism Program (PRRP)

  • Targeted youth presenting mental health issues and disruptive behaviors. Designed to reduce youths’ disruptive behavior while detained, improve youths’ coping skills when not in custody, reduce likelihood of placement failure and return to custody
    • 2001 Behavior Improvement Program (BIP) replaced PRRP
    • 2007 Detention Enrichment Program (DEP) replaced BIP 

2000 I.M.P.A.C.T. Program began

  • Integrated Model for Placement, Case Management and Treatment (IMPACT)
  • Operated in the Sacramento Assessment Center (formerly the Morgan Alternative Center), a 21-bed, non-secure, co-educational, residential, pre-placement facility, operated by Quality Group Homes, Inc.

2001 Sandra L. Larson Youth Center at  Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center

  • 74 commitment beds to alleviate population pressure in YDF
  • 2003 vacated - MOU with the Sheriff’s Department terminated

2001 Juvenile Hall Behavior Improvement Program (BIP) (formerly PRRP)

  • Designed to address unmet or undiagnosed needs of juveniles are in custody, JHBIP provided mental health treatment, highly structured and supervised group activities, and supportive behaviorally-based problem-solving counseling to better equip youth to function, both in custody and upon their return to the community.

2003 WETYC 30-bed expansion 

2003 Begin implementation of Evidence Based Practices (EBP)

2004 Boys Ranch expansion – housing and visitor center

2004 Community Protection and Treatment Program (CPTP) began

  • Enables a significant number of committed youth to serve their commitment in the community rather than in residence at WETYC 
  • Ensures offender accountability through intensive supervision and community-based services provided to both the minor and his/her family

2005 Youth Detention Facility Visitor Center Opened

2005 WETYC Commitment / Treatment Expansion and Renovation

2005-2006 Youth Detention Facility 90-bed addition

2006-2007 YDF Administration/Public Service construction completed       

2007 Detention Risk Assessment Instrument (D-RAI) Implemented

  • Instrument assists staff in objectively determining which juveniles can safely be released pending court to maintain YDF population with CSA suitability guidelines

2006 Detention Enrichment Program (DEP) (formerly BIP) began

  • The DEP Program provides mental health treatment, highly structured and supervised group activities, and supportive behaviorally-based problem solving counseling.

2007-2008 YDF 120-bed expansion completed

2008 PbS accreditation program began

2008 PACT needs assessment tool implemented

  • Positive Achievement Change Tool (PACT)

2008 Closure of Neighborhood Alternative Center due to insufficient funding​

2009 Wing-A construction at YDF to be completed

2009 Closure of Warren E. Thornton Youth Center.

2009  Youthful Offender Block Grant Construction Funding Application Due to CSA

  • Proposing a non-secure and non-residential day/evening community intervention treatment program targeted for high-risk youthful offenders

2010 YDF Construction Completed

2014 Boys & Girls Club opens inside the Youth Detention Facility

2015 Sacramento County Drug Court Program 20 year anniversary.

Chief Probation Officers 

C.E. Wilson

1913 – 1935

Frank. S. Smith Jr.

1935 – 1943

Ray K. Jones

1943 – 1956

Warren E. Thornton

1956 – 1972

James D. Mercer

1972 – 1978

Robert E. Keldgord

1978 – 1995

Verne L. Speirs

1995 – 2009

Don Meyer

2009 - 2012

Lee Seale

2013 - 2021