Gatesville State School for Boys, three miles northeast of Gatesville in Coryell County, was the first juvenile training and rehabilitation institution in the southern United States. It was established by the Texas legislature in 1887 and opened in January 1889 as the House of Correction and Reformatory, a division of the Texas penal system (see PRISON SYSTEM). Ben E. McCulloch served as the first superintendent of the facility, which housed sixty-eight boys who had formerly been incarcerated with adult felons. The legislature changed the school's name to State Institution for the Training of Juveniles in 1909 and established a five-member board of trustees to administer the institution. A 1913 law changed the school's name to State Juvenile Training School, and in 1919 a newly established state Board of Control assumed management of the school. The legislature renamed the facility Gatesville State School for Boys in 1939. By 1940 the school housed 767 males who were under the age of seventeen at the time a court committed them to the institution. The residents attended academic and vocational classes and engaged in a variety of farming activities on a 900-acre tract of state land and 2,700 acres of leased land. A parole system that rewarded good behavior permitted the release of certain inmates to private sponsors.
The State Youth Development Council began administration of Gatesville State School for Boys in 1949, and the facility enrolled 406 boys in 1950. In 1957 the new Texas Youth Council (later the Texas Youth Commission) replaced the Youth Development Council. By 1970, 1,830 young male offenders housed on five separate units that included the Hilltop, Riverside, Valley, Hackberry, and Terrace schools resided at the institution. The Texas Youth Council operated a separate facility, the Mountain View School for Boys, also near Gatesville, as a maximum security unit for juvenile offenders.
A class-action lawsuit, filed against the Texas Youth Council on behalf of juvenile offenders in 1971, marked the beginning of sweeping changes in the Texas juvenile justice system. The school enrolled approximately 1,500 boys and employed over 250 staff members in 1974, when federal judge William Wayne Justice issued a ruling in Morales v. Turman. The judge ruled that a number of practices at Texas Youth Council facilities constituted cruel and unusual punishment that violated the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Staff members routinely dispensed arbitrary and unnecessary punishments that included beating, solitary confinement, the use of chemical crowd-control devices, and the utilization of drugs instead of psychotherapy as a means for controlling behavior. Justice also concluded that the school's staff failed to protect the inmates from violence and personal injury and that most employees lacked proper qualifications and training for supervising troubled youths.
Judge Justice ordered the state to close the Gatesville and Mountain View schools and to develop community alternatives to large juvenile penal institutions. During 1979 the Gatesville State School for Boys closed, and the Texas Youth Council placed juvenile offenders in smaller schools at Brownwood, Crockett, Gainesville, Giddings, and Pyote, as well as at a number of foster and group homes, halfway houses, and residential treatment centers. The Riverside, Valley, and Terrace schools became the Gatesville Unit for female inmates of the Texas Department of Corrections in 1980. The Hilltop and Hackberry schools composed the Hilltop Unit for male felons of the Texas Department of Corrections beginning in 1981.