Three years after California officials promised to fix the state’s troubled juvenile prisons, advocates for incarcerated youths are urging a judge to appoint a receiver to take over a system The critics say the state has missed dozens of court-ordered deadlines for change dating to 2005, making “a mockery of compliance” in six areas: education, safety, medical care, mental health, disabilities, and sex-offender treatment.
“Youth on suicide watch are isolated and deprived of programming and human contact,” lawyers charged in a court filing. “Youth in restricted programs spend 20 hours or more a day in their filthy, dimly lit cells, released only for one hour of school a day or to exercise in a cage.” Bernie Warner, California’s chief deputy secretary for juvenile justice, said officials have identified thousands of changes that must be made, and although many are delayed, the state was slowly moving forward. The agency, known until 2005 as the California Youth Authority, has custody of 2,300 juvenile wards in eight facilities. Two of those are scheduled to close this summer because of a population decline in a system that had more than four times as many wards in the mid-1990s as it does today. The plaintiffs’ court filing documented a long list of problems, saying that students do not attend classes the required four hours a day; little has been done on a required program to treat sex offenders; a plan to accommodate youths with disabilities suffered from a lack of leadership and funding, and that authorities still don’t adequately separate dangerous youths from vulnerable ones, and disciplined youths are locked in “deplorable” housing units, dark and covered in graffiti, 20 hours a day.