Juvenile offenders and staff live in constant fear of attack in the violent California youth prison system, says the Los Angeles Times, citing confidential reports that criticize the system for substandard medical care, psychiatric counseling, and schooling. At one prison near Sacramento, juveniles with broken bones were denied prescription medication for pain.
One report said inhalers often were not provided to asthma sufferers and that youths sprayed with Mace were sometimes not allowed to shower promptly, resulting in chemical burns on their faces. “It’s appalling. It’s barbaric,” said Sen. Gloria Romero, chairwoman of an oversight committee on prisons.
The reports were part of a class-action lawsuit alleging inhumane, unconstitutional conditions at the Youth Authority, once a leader in rehabilitating offenders. State officials did not quarrel with the findings and promised reforms. The reports follow the suicides last month of two teenagers at one youth prison. Since 2000, there have been six suicides and 165 attempted suicides in the system.
The Youth Authority incarcerates about 4,400 wards in 11 institutions and four camps on a $450 million annual budget.
One report obtained by the Times called violence within the Youth Authority “stunning” and said it creates “an intense climate of fear.” “These levels of ward-on-ward or ward-on-staff assaults are unprecedented in juvenile corrections across the nation,” the report’s author, Barry Krisberg of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, wrote. Many national corrections leaders, he said, were “astounded” by the violence within California’s system.
At one facility that housed an average of 872 youths, the staff used Mace to subdue youths about four times a day. The Times said that the report on medical care painted a particularly chilling picture, citing glaring deficiencies, from dental care at one facility to a total absence of preventive healthcare systemwide.