The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will overhaul how California treats its most troubled young lawbreakers, says the Los Angeles Times. A new approach to be announced today in court documents calls for replacing a prison culture of punishment and control with one anchored in group therapy, self-discipline, and preparation for life outside. Inmates in the California Youth Authority – idle or locked down much of the time – would follow an intensive schedule of counseling, education, and vocational training designed to consume most waking hours. Living units, now marked by violence and crowded with up to 75 youths, would house half that number. Every offender would be teamed with a counselor who would follow the youth’s progress – and impose sanctions or rewards.
A more detailed blueprint from the state, including when the changes would go into effect, is due in November in Alameda County Superior Court, where it must be approved by a judge. It’s unclear how much the changes would cost. Corrections Secretary Roderick Q. Hickman hopes that the shift, proposed in response to a lawsuit, would make California’s juvenile penal system a national model. Three of four parolees are arrested within three years and many inmates fail to receive the education, psychiatric treatment, or other medical care they need. Critic David Steinhart noted that there is no promise to tear down the system’s large, prison-like institutions and replace them with smaller facilities closer to where inmates’ families live or a plan to improve the maligned parole system.