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Brown budget calls for shutting down youth prisons system

January 9, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
California could soon become the only state in America without a youth prison system. Governor Jerry Brown's new proposed budget calls for halting funds for the prison system, shutting it down.

California's youth prison system may soon cease to exist, ending a notorious legacy that included 23-hour cell confinements, using cages as punishment for misbehaving and staff beatings, sometimes caught on tape.

The McIvers have been working with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to shut down the system. They say the Stockton facility where their grandson is held is mice-infested and not giving inmates, known as "wards," enough to eat.

"I have been witness to families talking about their actual child being hit. Another child so afraid of being hit or beaten that he would attempt suicide," said concerned grandmother Susan McIver.

Under Governor Jerry Brown's budget proposal, the state's remaining three youth prisons would close and the remaining 1,100 wards would be transferred to counties, a dramatic shift from just 15 years ago when 11 facilities were open, housing more than 10,000.

Even before Brown's plan, some counties were already taking in juvenile offenders rather then send them to the broken state system.

"What the research shows is that most juveniles are successful in rehabilitation when they live closer to their families," said Bill Sessa, California Corrections and Rehabilitation Department.

Even though Brown is giving counties one year and $10 million to prepare for the move, some Republicans say local governments are still trying to adjust to the new adult prisoner transfer program, known as "realignment."

"They don't have the funding. They don't have the ability to monitor. They don't even have the ability to counsel," said state Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Grass Valley), a Budget Committee member.

The Little Hoover Commission recommended closing youth prisons in 2008 because the price tag for each incarcerated youth offender ballooned to $200,000 a year, too much considering rates for serious youth crime are the lowest since records began in the mid-1950s.

"There's a lot of headlines out there, but if you look at the facts, juvenile crime is way down," said Stuart Drown, Little Hoover Commission.