The reforms, which were adopted far more readily in some states than others, consisted of a two-pronged approach: a separate juvenile code and juvenile courts for offenders who had not reached the age of majority, and the building of separate institutions for juvenile "delinquents" (the stigmatizing term "criminal" not being used). Because the primary purpose of these institutions was to be rehabilitative rather than punitive, they were styled "reform schools". For the most part, these institutions were custodial.
In the 1950s and 1960s, many of the same problems that had occurred with the former system of incarcerating juveniles along with adults began to be noticed in reform school -- older juveniles exploiting the younger ones, sexually and otherwise, and the younger ones taking the more hardened, usually older offenders as role models and mentors. Also, the term "reform school" itself, originally intended as destigmatizing, had developed its own stigma, much as the way "welfare payments" were intended to be the destigmatizing corrective term for "relief" or "the dole", but developed a stigma of its own.
The current approach involves minimizing the use of custodial institutions and the maximization of the use of less-restrictive settings which allow the youths to remain in their own homes, usually while attending during the daytime an institution called an alternative school or something similar, which is usually a more-structured version of a public school. There may be court-monitored probation or other restrictions, such as a strict curfew applied to the clientele of the "Department of Youth Services" or whatever the state terms it, than for other youths the same age.
In the United States, the most well-known facilities meeting the general criteria for being colloquially labelled "reform schools" include the Lincoln Hills School near Merrill, Wisconsin (mentioned in episodes of the once-popular TV series Picket Fences) and the Preston School of Industry in Ione, California. The first reform school in the United states was the Lyman School for Boys in Westborough, Massachusetts. It opened in 1846.
In Denmark Continuation schools continue to be used as reform school. Most important they are much cheaper than Youth detention centers while the success rate are much the same . Today there no national guidelines regarding the severeness of the crimes the children are charged with when it comes to a decision whether the children should end up at a reform school, because each town have a budget of their own. Children charged with making bomb threats end up in such places .