View Full Version : No Hint of Closing CYA Facility in Paso Robles

03-20-2005, 07:24 PM
Posted on Wed, Mar. 16, 2005

No hint of closing CYA facility in Paso
Corrections chief couldn't say for certain what might happen to the facility as he explains how upcoming systemwide overhauls will affect employees
Laurie Phillips
The Tribune

The California Youth Authority facility in Paso Robles will remain open -- for now.

That's what state Corrections Secretary Roderick Hickman told a group of employees, wards and local leaders Tuesday during his first visit to the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to the post 16 months ago.

"No one's told me anything about this institution" closing, Hickman said. Later, he added that he couldn't say what might happen to the facility in the future.

A state-commissioned report released last year recommended closing the facility by June 30 and transferring the wards to a similar institution in Ventura, a move that would save the state $22 million and lead to a loss of more than 300 local jobs.

The number of wards at the institution, most of whom are from Southern California, was as high as 1,000 nine years ago. But it has dropped over time to this month's count, 272, as fewer youths are sent to youth prisons. Officials have also said recruiting new staff to work at the institution is difficult because of the area's high cost of living.

Hickman toured the Paso facility and the California Men's Colony near San Luis Obispo on Tuesday to explain to employees what a massive overhaul of the state's youth and adult corrections system will mean for them.

The changes are part of a strategic plan that the state is in the process of implementing. It is to be completely phased in by mid-2007.

Under the plan, a new Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would operate all of the state's adult prisons and juvenile facilities run by the California Youth Authority, placing more power in Sacramento and more emphasis on rehabilitating those who are incarcerated so they won't re-offend.

CYA used to have different leadership than the corrections department, but Hickman took the helm of both when he was appointed.

"As we go through reorganization, we need to explain what that means," Hickman said. "The change that we're trying to embark upon is monumental."

Until recently, the performance measures being called for didn't exist. Now, he said, institutions will be asked to show "this is what we're doing (and) this is how we're doing it."

A key issue, Hickman said, is whether the facilities are best serving the communities they're in. He praised the work of both, noting the "collaborative efforts" of the Paso Robles CYA facility, whose wards work with Camp Roberts and until last year served on fire crews with CDF/County Fire.

Chatting with imprisoned

Hickman slipped into a stab-proof vest to tour areas housing the most violent offenders at both facilities, and he chatted with several wards and inmates who approached him. His assistant jotted requests on a legal pad as inmates asked questions of the former correctional officer and warden inside one of the prison's exercise yards.

Those who listened to Hickman were impressed by his charisma and commitment to such an ambitious plan.

"I think clearly there's a lot to implement. I'm hopeful," said Denise Mack, a psychologist who has worked at the CYA in Paso for two years.

David Bacigalupo, the acting superintendent of the Paso CYA facility, said the plan "gives us a road map, a template for the future."

He said he wasn't surprised by Hickman's answer as to whether the facility would close. If that happened, he said, he would be concerned about the welfare of the employees but wondered whether an alternate use could be found for the facility. Bacigalupo declined to elaborate further.

"Our confidence is to go with the governor's office for what's best for California," he said.

'A whole new direction'

Meanwhile, CMC Warden John Marshall said the plan would take the 6,500-inmate prison "in a whole new direction" with regard to how its programs are organized and how its employees will be held accountable within the corrections system.

CMC has been lauded as a model institution -- in part because it houses the state's largest prison-industry program, which teaches inmates vocational skills they can use upon release. But Marshall said that doesn't mean the programs can't be improved further.

John Barrett has worked at the CYA in Paso for 25 years. He said a lot of obstacles are at the top levels of government, such as getting support from the Legislature for what prison staff says is needed. He noted that more wards are entering the system with mental health and behavioral issues, resulting in higher costs to properly care for them.

"It is going to be difficult, and it's a huge challenge," Barrett said of the change that's being called for. "But we all know it's where we need to be."

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