Calif. Youth Authority: Every Parent's Nightmare

TalkLeft has written many times about the abuse juveniles have suffered while in the custody of the California Youth Authority. In an op-ed in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, one mother describes her fear at visiting her son and the horror of watching him lose himself and become another person due to the abuse heaped upon him, by both guards and other prisoners. She also offers some constructive suggestions for change. First, her story:

I have not been able to be a mother ever since my son went to the California Youth Authority, the state's system of youth prisons. I have spent the last four years watching him appear in the CYA visiting room with cuts, choke marks and bruises. He has been attacked by other youth or staff more than 40 times. I have seen him lose confidence in himself, become cold and depressed and fearful for his life. And the whole time, I have not been able to do one thing about it. Except lose sleep.

What the CYA calls rehabilitation, the rest of us call tortuous abuse. The CYA is every parent's worst nightmare, and our state's leaders should act now to make sure that no more young people are abused and neglected while under its "care."

Now, at age 19, my son sits in a cell by himself for 23 hours a day, just wasting away. They call it protective custody. He can't go to church because he is in protective custody, and he can't go to school or vocational classes because he is in protective custody. Meanwhile, he has been jumped and beaten up four times while he has been in protective custody.

Over time, my son has become hard and afraid. He doesn't trust anybody anymore. He told me that he is afraid to come home because it is going to take a long time for him to deal with society again. He is afraid he won't know how to act around people anymore. I am terrified for him and for what his future holds when he gets out. The reality is that when he is released, my son will have to be rehabilitated from the CYA. And it won't be easy. They have been trying to break him for the past four years. A new department head or elimination of the worst CYA practices won't be enough.

Her suggestions are these:

We need community-based programs that work with families to help youth. Young people who need to be in secure environments should be placed in small rehabilitation facilities that offer counseling, training and support. These changes can no longer wait.

Still not convinced? Watch this 3 minute video of a teen being beaten in January, 4004 that aired on the local news.

If the plight of these juveniles moves you, please consider joining or donating to Books Not Bars:

Books Not Bars (BNB) is a statewide campaign fighting to redirect California's public resources away from punishment for young people and towards opportunity for them.

Their three main goals:

Books Not Bars has three primary demands. These are the principles that guide all of our work, from our campaigns to our high school workshops. We call them The Three Rs:

  • Reallocate Public Resources
    The government needs to reallocate tax dollars away from punishment and towards opportunity for young people. We need schools, housing, jobs and health care. The safest communities are the ones with the best schools and the most jobs – not the ones with the biggest police departments or the most jail cells.
  • Remove the Profit Motive
    The criminal justice system should be about safety and rehabilitation, not turning a quick buck. Instead, corporations and lobbyist groups push to expand the prison system – and then try to make money from prison-building, prison-related jobs and prison labor. This must stop.
  • Restore Our Communities
    The fundamental goal of the criminal justice system should be restoration and reconciliation – not revenge. The current obsession with long, punitive sentences is making things worse, not better. It is adding damage to damage. We need to redesign the system so that it aims to heal, not hurt further.

More details on the abuse these children suffer can be found in this San Francisco Chronicle article. Another op-ed yesterday by California Judge Leonard Edwards argues it's time to end these quasi-jails for kids.

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