Violent incidents at California’s N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton, once the most chaotic youth prison in a system that had spun out of control, are down 75 percent, says the San Jose Mercury News.A lawsuit three years ago charged that conditions in all eight prisons were inhumane. As the first to undergo court-ordered reforms, the lock-up known as Chad is a lesson in what can be accomplished and how much work lies ahead to turn these grim institutions into centers for treatment and rehabilitation.
The single most important factor in damping the violence was having offenders live in smaller groups. An officer who once supervised up to 92 inmates in a single living unit now has a dozen. A year ago, criminal justice experts, prisoner-rights groups, and a state senator clamored to shut the riotous facility down. Many inmates spent only a few hours a day out of their 6-by-11-foot cells. Now, dormant cafeterias have re-opened and students walk unescorted to high school classes and the nurses’ station. Rival gang members pass out lunches and laundry together. Chad has taken the first critical step toward reform: Making the environment safe enough so treatment can begin. Experts agree the next step will be far more challenging. State official Bernie Warner says: “There are two components to reform — make the facilities safer, but also change delinquent behavior so that we’re addressing public safety and making communities safer.”