"A Junkyard for Young Lives"

Essay by princessjss21 April 2004

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Experts who studied the lives of juvenile inmates in charge of the California Youth Authority released reports showing a system in worse shape the most outsiders could have imagined. The state subjects its charges to the harshest punishments of any juvenile detention system nationwide, leaving teenagers confined in steel-mesh cages when guards aren't prying them from their cells with mace and tear gas.

As horrifying as the reports are, they are consistent with the state's completely broken prison system. The common problems include:

A revolving door of crime. Nine out of 10 youth offenders released in California end up incarcerated again. This is far higher than the adult rate, which is 60% at the worst in the nation.

A failure to provide rehabilitation. Both the adult and youth prison systems are set up to rely on military-style force, behavior modification, counseling, education, job training and life-skills training the other states use to reduce their recidivism rates.

Lack of oversight. Similar reports in the 1990s forced Youth Authority guards to use mace rather than rubber bullets against inmates, but larger reforms were undercut, going unnoticed or ignored by politicians.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, has stoked hope for change by forcing the resignation of former Corrections Department Director Edward S. Alameida (known as "Dr. No" for his resistance to reform), and trying to reduce the approximately $1.5 billion in pay raises that legislators granted the guards.

But real change would require the recently appointed top prison official, Youth and Adult Correctional Agency Secretary Roderick Q. Hickman, to begin immediate reforms. These include changing policies that provoke rather than prevent violence between wards of the directly from maximum-security cubicles onto street corners. Such inmates, youths and adults alike, should at least spend time in transitional facilities, lower-security lockups where they would be connected with...