View Full Version : Shift in Housing Urged for CYA

03-18-2005, 10:55 AM,1,6215445.story?coll=la-headlines-california (,1,6215445.story?coll=la-headlines-california)
Shift in Housing Urged for CYA

Small centers for young inmates, rather than existing 'warehouses,' are best hope to reform the troubled system, a report to the state says.

By Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writer

March 18, 2005

SACRAMENTO — Efforts to fix California's scandal-plagued youth prison system will flop unless the state stops housing young lawbreakers in remote "warehouses" and instead puts them in small living centers close to their homes, according to a report delivered Thursday to the Schwarzenegger administration.

State officials said that they endorsed housing offenders in small groups, but that money to do so was unavailable.

The report, whose authors include a juvenile justice expert who has studied California corrections for almost 20 years, comes as officials struggle to reshape a youth prison system that sees three of four parolees arrested on new charges within three years of release.

Since his election, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called the violence and other troubles in the California Youth Authority appalling and unacceptable. Once a national model, the CYA has been disgraced over the last year by a string of suicides, a videotaped beating of inmates, and reports that condemned the system's substandard care and inability to help offenders go straight.

In November, the governor said enough was enough, and settled a lawsuit by committing the state to a host of improvements. But though it was widely praised by critics, that agreement did not specify what sort of housing units the state must use for its incarcerated youth.

National experts say small-scale living arrangements are a linchpin of successful youth prison systems, such as Missouri's. In California, by contrast, juveniles are locked in sprawling, prison-like facilities that house as many as 1,100 inmates. In such a large group, researchers say, it is easier for youths to get lost, and relationships with staff — a key to rehabilitation — are more difficult to forge.

"Our fear is that the state will come in with new programs, with more staff and other tinkering, but just leave the existing structure in place," said Daniel Macallair, one of the report's authors and director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco. "That won't do it. We need a radical departure from the past."

The report said the state could save $160 million by closing its eight youth prisons, and use that money to shift its 3,450 inmates to "regional rehabilitation centers" with 30 beds or fewer. The centers could be in unused county probation camps, renovated community buildings or juvenile halls, the authors said.

In taking such a step, California would be "joining the mainstream," Macallair said. At least 10 states have scrapped the large "training schools" that once were the norm, according to the report. The "small is beautiful" movement was launched by Massachusetts in the 1970s, with Utah, Colorado and Kentucky among the other states that have joined in to varying degrees.

Youth Authority Director Walter Allen III said he supported smaller living units, believing that they create "a more therapeutic environment."

"I want to move us in that direction, because just like smaller class sizes, you can do a better job than you can with a bigger group," Allen said. "The problem is, we don't have the money right now to build brand-new residential treatment centers around the state."

Allen said he hoped that "down the road, we will get there." He also argued that correctional leaders have "demonstrated that we mean business in terms of aggressive reform."

In addition to the lawsuit settlement, the administration has adopted a new policy on the use of force by CYA staff, and Schwarzenegger visited a youth prison late last year — a first for a governor, he said.

"We all want the same thing," Allen said. "I hope people give us a chance to prove it."

In releasing their report, the authors acknowledged the progress made under Schwarzenegger. One of them, Lenore Anderson of the advocacy group Books Not Bars, said, "We see an unprecedented groundswell of unity on this issue."

But veterans of the juvenile justice world, such as Macallair, said they have seen previous opportunities slip away. Holding "blue-ribbon commission" reports dating to 1988, Macallair said the experts have been saying the same thing about the Youth Authority for nearly two decades.

"The failure of California has been the failure of its political leadership to do the right thing," he said.

One politician who has made reforming the prison system a priority is state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles). In recent months, Romero has proposed "blowing up" the Youth Authority, called it a "sinking Titanic" and declared it fit for the trash heap.

On Thursday, Romero said she was optimistic and convinced that "this administration … has the internal fortitude to take on the issue and make reform a reality."

She added that after visiting Missouri's system, she realized that "this is what the California Youth Authority could look like."

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times