The California Youth Authority or the CYA as it is more commonly known, is an institution which provides a range of education, treatment, and training services for youthful offenders committed by courts. This system has been plagued by multitudes of problems for many years that need to be fixed. “The California Youth Authority is responsible for the protection of society form the criminal and delinquent behavior of young people (Hill, Legislative Analyst).” This is reached mainly through custodial control of these juveniles and the implementation of vocational, education, health, and mental health treatment services. As of now, CYA uses large, remote, high-security facilities. They may be called ‘schools,’ but with about 400 kids in each one, they are more like warehouses, storing wards until they are ready for release. For decades, experts and officials have dismissed this model as incapable of meeting the juvenile justice system’s goal of rehabilitating youth.
The CYA is clearly not working the way the way that it was designed to run. For instance, three out of four wards who end up in the California Youth Authority are arrested on new criminal charges within three years of their release, which proves the institution’s failure to rehabilitate the state’s most troubled juvenile offenders. Experts say the high number does not address how much California could gain from approaches used in other states (like Mississippi) such as housing wards in smaller facilities, providing intensive treatment programs, and offering more supervision and assistance after a ward is released. “In smaller, rehabilitation centers, youth would be under the supervision of trained social workers and mental health experts – not prison guards. (LAO Report, pg. 7).” This would allow the offenders to be in closer contact with their families, as well as a variety of services.
The average age of a CYA institution is 43 years old. This means the there are many maintenance and repair needs and, at some point, many buildings will have to be replaced. Also, the population that many of the institutions were designed for 40 or 50 years ago is different than today’s youthful offender. “Finally, the ward population has decreased from a high of over 10, 000 in 1996 to its current level of 4, 300.
This decline has resulted in overcapacity and presents an opportunity to consider closure (Lao Report, pg. 11).” Closing some institutions would save the state money, and enable the state to implement programs to lower recidivism rates. This would also allow the state to keep a tighter monitoring system at all levels of the CYA. Since many of the buildings are older, spending money on renovations many not be the best decision.
The same question can be asked about the entire institution. “If the location and configuration of an institution is such that it cannot effectively manage and provide programs for today’s ward population, it my be appropriate to consider closure and development of a replacement institution (Department of Youth Authority, pg. 33).” Again, when these facilities were originally built, they were not meant to hold rapists and murderers. But in order to due so, improvements need to be made. Similar to the outside perimeter security improvements required with a more violent population, security improvements to the interior and exterior of the juvenile facilities are needed.
These can be minor from cameras and alarms, to more high-tech gadgets such as systems to operate doors, gates and construction of monitoring stations for correctional officers. I believe that more technology means better behavior among the wards, and fights and escape-attempts would drop dramatically. There is also a concern as to proper facilities for mental health. In 2002, a study was released on the Youth Authority’s mental health program, which defined the types of services required by the ward population. The current program consists of graduated and focused levels of health and mental health care, including counseling, treatment services-including health, mental health, and substance abuse programs. I consider this to be one of the most vital pieces of the CYA system.
I believe that many juveniles lash out because they have a deeper psychological disorder or need for attention. Also, substance abuse is rampant among juveniles that are in trouble. There needs to be more counseling, and psychiatric services in the CYA to make sure that the wards are emotionally ready to be released and catch any undiagnosed illnesses while they are still under the watchful eye of the government. Because of the astonishing fact that three out of four wards in the California Youth Authority are arrested on new criminal charges within three years of their release, I believe that more programs are the answer to the problem. There needs to be extensive psychological as well as standardized educational testing. Psychological counseling needs to be a vital component of the CYA, with a ward meeting with both psychologists and psychiatrists who can come up with the best treatment plan available for each ward.
I think that cognitive therapy is most important, because an offender needs to change the way that they feel about him or herself. And where it is needed, treatment with medication may be deemed necessary. There is obviously not enough of any kind of therapy going on at the CYA. Therapy may be the tool necessary that can impact ward’s lives. For many years now the Youth Authority, has been routinely collecting urine samples to check for substance abuse. This is believed to have a deterrent effect, reducing the amount of drug use by parolees, and also serves as a surveillance tool, which provides information on parolee activity during periods when they cannot be observed directly.
If counseling and rehabilitation were effective in the first place, there would be a lower recidivism rate due to drugs. “Since drug use is linked to criminal behavior, the reduction of drug use and / or removal of drug users from parole is theoretically expected to reduce the amount of criminal activity and thereby help parolees reintegrate successfully into society (Department of Youth Authority, pg. 75).” I believe that we need to keep our youth busy and in an array of services and or programs before they even get into serious trouble and end up in the California Youth Authority. “San Francisco went from having the highest rate of commitments to the CYA to the lowest rate of commitments of any of the large counties in the state.
They did it simply by hiring social workers to go out and develop alternatives to the Youth Authority and moving those kids who would have ended up in the Youth Authority into alternative programs.” The result of this, is that youth crime in San Francisco went down. Not only did youth crime go down, but so did the recidivism rate by fifteen percent. San Francisco is more likely to send only the most serious violent offenders to the CYA. Healthcare in the CYA is a scary nightmare to say the least. At a recent Senate Hearing, Mr. Marc Bautista who represents the healthcare component of the CYA stated “The time is now, not only because the people of the state cannot afford another lawsuit, but the people of the state cannot afford to lose another young persons’s life while incarcerated in Department of Corrections or Youth Authority.
(Senate Committee, pg. 64. ) ” There have been reports of lack of food and water available to some of the ward’s, and death has been a result. By the time they reach the nurse or doctor, it is too late. Clearly, there is a disregard for the health and welfare of the wards in the CYA. Without proper health and nutrition, how can one mentally focus, learn, and change? It is utterly impossible, and at the same time lowers the ward’s sense of self-esteem.
As one can tell, there are many things that need to be improved within the CYA. The recidivism rate alone tell us that things are not working as they should be. As I have stated earlier, I feel that there needs to be more counseling and a bigger therapeutic environment in order to successfully integrate the youth back into society. Also, the design of the buildings are outdated, and security needs to be updated as these criminals are more sophisticated and cunning than ever before. The implementation of more services and programs would give a chance to boost juvenile’s self-worth, and hopefully lead them on the road to rehabilitation instead of a life of a crime..