Calif. Incarcerated Teens Kept in Cages

We first reported last week on a new report blasting the California Youth Authority for keeping kids in cages and ignoring mental health issues.

New reports to be released this week show how dire the situation is in California's youth prisons:

Reports to be released this week offer a chilling look into how the state handles incarcerated kids, depicting the California Youth Authority as operating violence-plagued institutions where some wards are kept in cages or forced to spend hours on their knees with their hands bound behind their backs.

Teens with mental health problems are made worse, not better, by a system that is failing in its mandate to rehabilitate kids who commit crimes, according to the reports by independent experts. The reports suggest the state is running a system that provides little help for young offenders who want to change their ways, prison watchdogs say.

"Instead of rehabilitating and treating kids, they're pushing them out the door in worse shape than when they came in,'' said Don Spector, director of the Prison Law Office. "It's like a factory for prisons.''

The LA Times reports "Inmates and staff are in danger, experts say, and medical care and counseling fall short." The LA Times Editorial, Junkyard for Young Lives, says:

Experts who studied the miserable lives of juvenile inmates in the charge of the California Youth Authority released reports this week showing a system in worse shape than 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.

There is a 90% recidivist rate among juveniles, the highest in the country. There is a failure to provide oversight and rehabilitation programs.

The reports on the Youth Authority are only the latest in a flurry of slams against the state's correctional system. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a governor unbeholden to the vindictive prison guards union, 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 by 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 Youth Authority and ending the daily dumping of about 120 of the highest-risk inmates 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 services on the outside, whether job training or basic schooling

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