Nearly 75 percent of youth under 25 who are locked behind bars in California end up back in the corrections system within three years; the numbers have been as high as 90 percent in the past, the Oakland Tribune reports. “If someone doesn’t have a job, a place to live, no family or no mentors, they’re either going back into the youth system, or escalate into the adult system,” says Barry Krisberg of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Krisberg and other expersts say the main focus of rehabilitation should be on how to transition out of prison and into society because all young people who are locked up eventually return to their communities. Taxpayers have been funding a $450 million system that has failed to rehabilitate youth.
A minimum of $70,000 is spent on each of about 3,000 young people locked up in the youth prison system each year, but no funding goes directly to community rehabilitation programs. The Mentoring Center, based in Oakland, what many juvenile experts would like to see: regional centers focused on rehabilitation and treatment, with a therapeutic environment, instead of jail cells watched over by guards. The mentors work with young men in the system while they are behind bars, then continue to work with them once they leave. Experts have found that once young people leave California’s system, one of the nation’s most violent, they often show signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Almost all young people entering the system take anger management classes; they also learn from adult behavior about what is acceptable and what is not. “Mind games” that the system plays with youth, inadvertently or not, harden their criminal mentality. The youngest ward to be held in a California youth prison is 11; many other youths stay up to 25-years-old, when they max out and leave prison.