California should close its youth prisons and send inmates to small living centers with intensive treatment and abundant staff, juvenile justice experts told legislators, reports the Los Angeles Times. The experts told a Senate committee on corrections that tinkering with the California Youth Authority is pointless. They said that California should follow the lead of Massachusetts and Missouri, closing lockups that house up to 900 inmates and starting with a new model that will better prepare youths to live crime-free once released. “We’re in an emergency situation and we need emergency action,” said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. “This might be a big-ticket item, but the Legislature and the voters need to realize that we’ve starved this system for a long time – we’ve played it on the cheap – and it’s time to do something different.”
Youth authority chief Walter Allen acknowledged serious problems and said he is on a mission to “change the way we do business.” He said fixing the agency did not require such an “extreme” step as closing its eight prisons. Instead, he is working on several fronts to restore the sort of “therapeutic environment we all want.” Allen vowed to launch a pilot program reflecting the small-scale living units, intensive therapy, and other approaches used with success in Missouri.