Costs, Racial Issues In CA’s Teen-Prison Reforms


After decades of tough policies, California is poised to reverse direction in its approach to the incarceration of youth – from punishment to rehabilitation, says the Christian Science Monitor. Dwindling funds and years of embracing a get-tough ethos moved the state into what critics called the “caged” model, more intent on control, rebuke, and reprimand than on corrective measures.

Goaded partly by a lawsuit forcing them to address deficiencies, state leaders are releasing blueprints that they hope will stop the revolving door of juvenile offenders turning into adult criminals. “We are not talking about hugging a thug; we will still hold youth accountable for what they do, but we need to make an impact on the majority of offenders so they don’t go out there and reoffend,” says Walt Allen, director of the California Youth Authority (CYA), which runs the state’s eight youth prison facilities, now housing about 3,288 people. California officials visited Missouri, Colorado, Washington, Texas, and Florida before fashioning their own model. Analysts say the state’s racial and ethnic makeup will force designers to be more creative in producing programs that work. The price tag of reforms is a “potential stalling point,” says David Steinhart, a California lawyer and juvenile-justice specialist. “If you try to reconfigure and rebuild existing facilities you have to go to the voters and that is a hurdle for the administration.”


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