Unlocking History

First CRC Superintendent Roland Wood took non‑punitive approach

CRC superintendent and two others walk at prison.
Superintendent Roland Wood, left, walks with an incarcerated resident at CRC in 1963. (UCLA photo.)

Superintendent Roland Wood forged a revolutionary program in 1962 at California Rehabilitation Center (CRC). He planned and implemented a civil commitment program to treat drug and alcohol addiction as a condition rather than a crime.

The center, located at a former hotel and Navy hospital in Norco, was the first of its kind in the nation.

“We have demonstrated there is hope for the addict,” Wood told the Corona Daily Independent, Dec. 29, 1965. “Addicts can be successfully treated in a non-punitive setting. Close supervision in the community is integral (to preventing a return to) drug use. And, if relapse occurs, they may be returned to the center for additional treatment prior to serious re-addiction or criminal activity.”

“California Rehabilitation Center helps addicts help themselves,” declared the The Press-Courier, Dec. 7, 1968.  “The center (treats) addiction as a social illness, rather than a criminal problem.”

“All of the people here were using heroin or its derivatives,” Wood told the newspaper. “They aren’t here for just smoking marijuana.”

CRC housed men and women until 2007

In 1968, the center housed more than 2,000 men and 350 women. The facility continued housing women until 2007, when they were transferred to female institutions.

“Statistics show 36% released from the center … remained drug-free within the community for more than a year (while) 20% percent have remained in the community for over two years,” the paper reported.

“We feel a man achieves some success if he is able to force himself back into society for two years after avoiding responsibility for years,” said Bruce Martin, Wood’s administrative assistant.

CRC was innovator, coordinating early re-entry services

While today re-entry is a focus on parole, it wasn’t as common in the 1960s. Back then, CRC pioneered re-entry services.

“Treatment involves group therapy, vocational training, marital and family counseling. Outpatient programs and half-way houses are provided to help residents bridge the gap between the institution and the community. An outpatient who returns to the center isn’t considered a failure. Wood said that many times a ‘cure’ is not affected until a third or fourth admittance. Sometimes, it’s never,” the paper reported.

A 29-year-old resident named “Sharon,” who had been admitted before, told how she got started on heroin.

“(My husband) was hospitalized many times (from heroin abuse). I became nervous from all the problems (the situation created),” she said. “So, I started using. I’m very fortunate (because my) mother stands by me. She takes care of my (four) children.”

Wood retired in 1977

After 15 years at CRC, Wood retired.

“When Roland Wood leaves (CRC), he will be switching his involvement with drug addiction from treatment to education and prevention,” reported the Norco Pony Express, March 3, 1977.

Wood retired March 31, 1977, at age 61.

“He plans to continue teaching a class at Los Angeles State University, assisting teachers (in preventing) narcotic, tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse.”

“We still have to (seek) a better way of dealing with men and women, their problems and their families,” Wood told the paper. “Building new institutions is not the answer.”

He said CRC adapted over the years, individualizing treatment based on the person.

“Many couldn’t take that intensive treatment program,” Wood said. “So, we learned to tailor the program to their specific needs, offering education, vocational training and group therapy.”

CRC superintendent had revolutionary approach

Rather than punishment, Wood focused on treatment of underlying causes for addiction.

“(CRC) concentrates on changing the residents’ attitudes and behavior while teaching them to handle their own problems,” Wood said.

Under his watch, CRC also sent incarcerated residents to work in community parks.

“Wood said as he leaves CRC, he’s proud of the relationships with local communities. For four years, (CRC) has provided a work force (to local parks) for trail maintenance and other duties,” the paper reported.

The institution also provided incarcerated firefighters, assisting as needed.

“Sixty residents go out from here every day to work in fire prevention for the State Forestry Department,” said Wood. “They do work in fire prevention, fire trails and breaks and have gone all over the state to fight fires.”

Wood credited with creating state’s addiction treatment program

In 2006, the magazine for the Society for the Study of Addiction published an interview with Dr. M. Douglas Anglin, founding director of the UCLA Drug Abuse Research Center. The researcher credits Wood with developing California’s program, serving as a blueprint for the program at the national level.

“California at that time was probably leading the nation in attempts to control addiction-related crime through carefully applied and extensive drug abuse treatment. The California experience with the Civil Addict Program started in 1961 after a year or two of very meticulous planning. Roland Wood, a major figure in the planning phase and the first Superintendent of CRC, has never been given enough historical credit for the program’s success,” Anglin said. “Later on in the 1960s, its implementation achievements and favorable anecdotal findings provided the justification and basis for the New York Civil Commitment Program. And to a similar federal effort when, in 1966, Congress passed the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act, (taking) civil commitment nationally.”

By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor

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