The administration of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger administration agreed yesterday to put therapy and positive reinforcement at the heart of California’s youth prison system, reports the Los Angeles Times. The action rejects more punitive approaches in favor of models that have been successful in other states. Leaders of the California Youth Authority called the move historic, and said that while the reforms would cost an undetermined amount of money up front, they would save dollars in the long run by helping more young lawbreakers go straight.
Critics agreed, predicting that the new path would put the scandal-plagued agency on a successful course after a 20-year decline. “This is a commitment to a completely different way of doing business,” said attorney Sue Burrell of the Youth Law Center, which works to improve conditions for young offenders. Not everyone was happy. Those who work inside the prisons noted that the Youth Authority houses the toughest 2 percent of the state’s juvenile offenders, many of whom suffer from mental illness. “Who wrote this plan, Walt Disney?” scoffed David Darchuk, a prison officer who retired after he was stabbed by an inmate. Three out of four parolees are arrested on new charges within three years of release. Leaders of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union representing many employees, were skeptical. “This is a farce,” said Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the union.