Juvenile Justice Prison Prison Policy State Politics

Doing Harm


It is bad enough that the conditions in California adult prisons
are still deplorable. But the way we treat incarcerated kids in our fair state is beyond any possible excuse.

In 2004, the respected watch dog group,
the nonprofit Prison Law Office, sued the state of California over the huge problems in the California Youth Authority facilities. In order to settle the case in 2005, the state agreed to “provide wards with adequate and effective care, treatment and rehabilitation services, including reducing violence and the use of force, improving medical and mental health care, reducing the use of lock-ups and providing better education programs.”

Last year, a report by the state’s inspector general indicated that, despite the promised transformations, very little had changed. According to the February 2007 report, the state’s largest juvenile prison, Herman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino, provided virtually no education services to its wards, allowed them to keep makeshift ropes in their cells and kept most of them locked up 22 hours a day.

Now one year later still,
a new report indicates the system’s failures are still “pervasive, severe and chronic,” according to a story in this morning’s Los Angeles Times. In response, Prison Law Office attorneys have said enough is enough and have urged a judge to put the whole system in the hands of a federal receiver.

I hope the judge agrees.

The plea came in a filing last week
from lawyers who had settled with the state after suing to transform institutions they said treated children as hardened criminals without regard for their welfare. They contend that the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice has missed dozens of court-ordered deadlines for change dating to 2005, making “a mockery of compliance” in six areas: education, safety, medical care, mental health, disabilities and sex-offender treatment.

And we wonder why the California Youth Authority has such a high recidivism rate. How high? you might ask. Okay, are you sitting down? The CYA recidivism rate is…..91 percent.

“Instead of rehabilitating and treating kids, they’re pushing them out the door in worse shape than when they came in,” said Don Spector, director of the Prison Law Office, when the lawsuit was first filed in 2004. “It’s like a factory for prisons.”

Looks like little has changed.


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