Oregon State Reform School

Card is Dated Sept. 26, 1907

The following story is from a Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore., newspaper article written December 27, 1991 by Cathy Peterson and provided by the Salem Public Library.

About 23,000 juvenile offenders have been treated there.


WOODBURN - The Oregon State Reform School enrolled its first pupil 100 years ago. Now called MacLaren School, it has treated about 23,000 juvenile offenders.

Counselor Lee Youngman said the history of the school has been about adapting. "It's constantly changing to meet the needs of the population and hopefully succeed," she said. Today's students have committed more violent crimes than those students 100 years ago, Youngman said. There are 228 students at the school. About 100 have committed sex offenses, and about 25 have killed someone. They stay at the school until their sentences run out or until they are 21.

Here's a brief MacLaren history that Youngman
found from school records and newspapers:


1890-1900: The state built the original reform school on land near Salem. It was a four-story building designed to house 50 boys. On Nov. 06, 1891, the first student, a 13-year-old from Multnomah County, was committed for larceny. By 1900, 443 boys had gone through the school, most for "idleness, truancy, falsehood and theft."

1900-1910: A gymnasium, hospital, library, electrical lights and running water were added. Boys learned carpentry, painting and housekeeping and attended school.

1910-1920: A state commission criticized hygiene at the school, citing a shared "community comb system" and once-a-week baths. But a governor's board found: "Boys who have sinned against the institution too heavily are placed on a diet of bread and water, but it is good, wholesome bread and lots of it."

1920-1930: In 1924, the state purchased the MacLaren site, 265 acres near Woodburn. The school still faced some public opposition. An editorial in the Portland Telegram stated: "Arrangements for care of delinquent boys is woefully inadequate."

1930-1940: This was the decade of "Give the Boy a Chance," a new attitude toward treatment. The average length of stay for first offenders was less than 100 days, instead of the 12-24-month sentences of the past.

1940-1950: The name was changed to Woodburn School for Boys.

1950-1960: The name was changed again, this time to MacLaren School for Boys. The name honored the Rev. William MacLaren, who worked with troubled teens and adults throughout the Northwest. The school resembled a huge working farm. Studens could earn parole points for catching "hikers" - escaping classmates, or opossums. Convicted killer Gary Gilmore was committed to the school in 1955. He was executed by firing squad Jan. 17, 1977, and is the subject of a book by Norman Mailer.

1960-1970: Superintendent Amos E. Reed made improvements at the school, such as building an auditorium, theater and canteen. Firm but fair treatment was emphasized.

1970-1980: The late state Rep. Gracie Peck,D-Portland, visited the overcrowded school at midnight to discover students sleeping on mattresses on the floor; the school soon installed bunks. In 1975 the state ruled that only youths who had committed a felony or misdemeanor would be sent to MacLaren.

1980-1990: Offense-specific treatment was developed, such as programs for juvenile sex offenders, drug and alcohol counseling and treatment for the violent offender.



Click Here for a Brief History of Juvenile Corrections in Oregon w/some great old Photographs
Click here for one of my own Pages on Old Oregon State-Aided Institutions