Despite long-standing promises of reform and huge increases in spending, California’s youth prisons for the most violent and incorrigible offenders remains a bleak backwater, plagued by inadequate rehabilitation programs and extraordinary levels of violence. reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The number of juvenile offenders sent to the state prisons has been declining every year for the past decade. Because of the abusive conditions and lack of rehabilitation efforts, counties are increasingly reluctant to send young criminals to the facilities, arguing that they often return even more of a threat to public safety.
Increasingly, counties are treating youthful offenders at home, employing successful new techniques that are reducing recidivism rates at a time when juvenile crime rates have declined sharply. The state is spending almost $180,000 per youth offender this fiscal year — five times the cost of keeping inmates in the adult prisons — and the governor projects that figure will rise to $216,000 next year. Some key lawmakers say they have lost hope for reform by the Schwarzenegger administration. Some legislators are so frustrated that they are urging a step that at one time would have been unthinkable — dismantling the juvenile prison system. “I think it’s hopeless,” said David Steinhart of Commonweal’s Juvenile Justice Program, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that has worked closely with the Legislature to develop reform plans. “What they are doing is a formula for disaster. It’s not working on any front.” Says Bart Lubow of the Baltimore-based Anne E. Casey Foundation: “A lot of the decline is just a response to what gulags these state facilities have become. The counties just won’t send their kids there because they’re so bad.”