HOPE FOR REHABILITATION - OUTSIDE PRISON WALLS
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Parole violations. In 1980, kids who returned to a CYA institution for violating their conditions of parole were 16 percent of the total inmate population. Now, they are 22 or 23 percent of the total, contributing to the overcrowding problem. The CYA needs to find options for parole violators other than automatically returning them to prison, says NCCD's Krisberg.Skip to next paragraph
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Although the CYA system is severely overcrowded, the staff is effectively managing the burgeoning population, CYA authorities say. The ward suicide rate is down, the rate of ward-on-ward assaults is down, and the rate of ward-on-staff assaults is down, according to CYA's own data.
But the overcrowding has become a cause for alarm among some California public-interest groups.
Earlier this month, the Commonweal Research Institute, after eight years of study, issued its final report on the CYA system. In recommending sweeping reforms, Commonweal said that up to 4,000 youths - 50 percent of total wards - could have been diverted from the CYA if community-based options had been available.
In addition, the Youth Law Center, a public-interest law firm representing children, is on the brink of filing suit against the CYA, alleging that the agency's conditions of confinement are bad enough to be considered unconstitutional.
``We feel we can defend any lawsuit,'' says Tony Cimarusti, an associate director of the CYA. ``There's always been a reticence to sue CYA when people have seen what we're doing. What we're doing, there's no fault with it.''
But the CYA so far is not backing down. It is planning to add 3,500 new beds to its system over the next five years, to the tune of at least $290 million.
``We keep hearing from the critics what we're doing wrong,'' says Mr. Cimarusti.
``But what we hear from the public is `Yeah, keep on building.' And they keep passing bond issue after bond issue to build them. People want these young offenders off the streets.'' BUT which way is better: working with young lawbreakers inside an institution, or outside in the community?
There has been a debate among juvenile-justice experts for decades. But now evidence is mounting in favor of community-based alternatives for all but chronic and violent juvenile offenders.
Jerome Miller, the former Massachusetts official who shut down the institutions ``because they were a total failure at helping the kids,'' has never backed away from his radical stand. He and other national experts believe that 15 years' worth of data on ``the Massachusetts model'' have proved him to be right.
In the late 1960s, 40 percent of the adults in Massachusetts state prisons had graduated from the large juvenile training schools. By 1982, about 10 years after the state began developing community-based alternatives for delinquents in its custody, only 19 percent of the adult inmates had been in the youth-corrections system.
``I like to think they're breaking the cycle of youth crime,'' says Dr. Miller, who now heads the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA), a research and consulting organization in Alexandria, Va. ``They are keeping more of the kids from graduating to the county jail and the state penitentiary,'' he says.
At Montrose School in Maryland, the NCIA has developed individualized community-based plans for each of the 117 wards who left Montrose between last October and the March 18 closing. At the 10-month mark, 38 (or one-third of them) had been rearrested, a rate that so far is substantially lower than the rate for children in training schools. Of the 38, 22 youths (or 19 percent of the total) were found guilty.
``The reason they [the reformers] tried these things was not because they were a bunch of wild and crazy hippies,'' says Krisberg. ``The reason was because the system was a failure.''
Utah, too, has seen a substantial drop in rearrest rates among its chronic juvenile offenders. Why? Because the state closed its training school in 1983 in favor of a wide range of community-based alternatives.