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Brown proposes to shut down youth prison system

6:39 PM, Jan 9, 2012   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, CA - 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 claim the Stockton facility where their grandson is held is mice-infested and not giving inmates, known as "wards," enough to eat.

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

Under Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal, the state's remaining three youth prisons would close and the remaining 1,100 wards would be transferred to counties, which is 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 than sending them to the broken state system.

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

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

"They don't have the funding," Budget Committee Member Assm. Dan Loguem, R-Grass Valley, said. "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."

Without youth prisons, opponents to the closures also point out prosecutors might charge a minor as an adult more often to make sure the youth offender is put behind bars.

The Hoover Commission recommended closing youth prisons in 2008 because the price tag for each incarcerated young offender ballooned to $200,000 a year, which is too much considering rates for serious youth crime are the lowest since records began in the mid-50's.

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

"I'm thrilled that someone is finally taking a look at the system that is not working and putting money where we need services and support," McIver said.

By Nannette Miranda


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