Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faces a growing consensus that California’s vast prison system is dysfunctional, corrupt, and plagued by violence, reports the Los Angeles Times. A new series of reports criticized the juvenile system on several fronts, including the “decrepit” condition of its facilities, the “stunning” level of violence within its walls, and the substandard medical and psychiatric care it provides its inmates. That came after a court investigator’s report that the Department of Corrections is plagued by a “code of silence” that protects rogue guards from punishment, corrupted recruits, and was condoned by leaders at the top.
In recent years, such disclosures have sparked little interest at the Capitol, but times have changed. Schwarzenegger said, “We have a big, big problem that we have inherited … in our prisons: corruption and all kinds of things…. I take this very seriously, this problem that we have.” Legislators are giving greater scrutiny to corrections, which account for almost $6 billion in state spending each year.
“The last thing we need is another task force or another study,” said David Steinhart, whose juvenile justice organization published reports about problems in the Youth Authority 20 years ago. “What we need are leaders … with vision to bring about change.”
Political analysts say Schwarzenegger needs to act decisively on the crisis, but much of the electorate probably sees it as an intractable problem, immune to overnight fixes.
New Youth Authority Director Walter Allen III. told the Times that he is a “man of action” who is eager to “turn some pretty bad negatives into positives.” He is examining whether using steel cages to segregate certain youths was necessary. Introduced in 1998 and employed in no other state, the cages (about 70 of them are used in four prisons) were designed to permit teachers to safely educate inmates who were in special detention – sometimes for assault, more often for other misbehavior. Previously, the prisoners were taught through the food slots in their room doors. Known as special protective areas, or SPAs, the cages vary in size. Those for educating youths are 4 feet by 4 feet wide and tall enough to stand in. A larger variety – about 12 feet by 15 feet, and 10 feet high – allows for exercise.