Jerry Brown wants to eliminate youth prison system

January 10, 2012 12:05:36 AM PST
State prisons for juvenile offenders may soon be history. The entire system is on the chopping block under Gov. Jerry Brown's new budget proposal. Many applaud the move, saying many juveniles are treated cruelly.

It would be a historic move if Brown has his way. No other state has gotten rid of its youth prison system.

California's youth prison system may soon cease to exist, ending a notorious legacy that included 23-hour cell confinements, using cages as punishment for misbehaving and staff beatings, sometimes caught on tape.

The McIvers have been working with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to shut down the system. They say the Stockton facility their grandson is held in is mice-infested and not giving inmates -- known as "wards" -- enough to eat.

"I have been witness to families talking about their actual child being hit. Another child so afraid of being hit or beaten that he would attempt suicide," said Susan McIver, a concerned grandmother.

Under Brown's budget proposal, the state's remaining three youth prisons would close and the remaining 1,100 wards would be transferred to counties, a dramatic shift from just 15 years ago when 11 facilities were open, housing more than 10,000. Even before Brown's plan, some counties were already taking in juvenile offenders rather then send them to the state's broken system.

"What the research shows is that most juveniles are successful at rehabilitation when they live closer to their families, so that their families can be part of their rehabilitation treatment," said Bill Sessa from the California Corrections & Rehabilitation Department.

Even though Brown is giving counties one year and $10 million to prepare for the move, some Republicans say local governments are still trying to adjust to the new adult prisoner transfer program, known as realignment.

"They don't have the funding. They don't have the ability to monitor. They don't even have the ability to counsel and direct these children. This is a huge task," said Assm. Dan Logue, R-Grass Valley.

The Hoover Commission recommended closing youth prisons in 2008 because the price tag for each incarcerated young offender ballooned to $200,000 a year, too much considering rates for serious youth crime are the lowest since records began in the mid-1950s.

"This would be historic. There's a lot of headlines out there, but if you look at the facts, juvenile crime is way down," said Stuart Drown from the Little Hoover Commission.

Without youth prisons, some opponents to the closures fear that some prosecutors might charge minors as adults more often to ensure that some youth offenders will get behind bars.


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