The Reformatory for Boys was first located aboard the hulk (ship) Sir Harry Smith in 1865. In 1873 the Reformatory moved to Coburg in the grounds of Pentridge prison and was known as the Jika Reformatory for Boys. In 1879 the Reformatory moved to Ballarat. The Ballarat Boys' Reformatory closed in 1893. From this period, juvenile offenders were generally sent to smaller, private reformatories, run by charitable or religious organisations. A small section of the Royal Park Depot in Parkville was a government-run reformatory from the 1890s.

Juvenile offenders in the new colony of Victoria were originally the responsibility of the Penal and Gaols Department. Male offenders were once housed in the hulk Deborah .

In 1864, with the passage of the Neglected and Criminal Children's Act, juvenile offenders came under the umbrella of the new Department of Industrial and Reformatory Schools.

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