Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


(Page 3 of 4)

Those who argue in favor of institutions, however, say that no one knows for sure which community-based programs work and which don't. More important, they add, allowing delinquent youths to stay in the community presents an added risk to public safety. When they're locked up, at least young lawbreakers are made unable to commit any more crimes against the community.

Skip to next paragraph

``The people who want to put these kids in group homes in residential areas probably don't live in the areas where this kind of social experimentation would take place,'' says Cal Terhune, director of the CYA. ``The kids we have, well, I'm not sure the community is ready to have them back.''

The problem with large, impersonal institutions for juveniles, however, is that the kids sometimes come out the worse for wear - but they all eventually come out. When they reemerge in the community, they are still young. Many are still angry or scared. And most go back to a family where nothing has changed.

MARQUIS BROOKS lives in a cell in the lockdown unit at the Youth Training School (YTS) at Chino, in southern California. Now 22 years old, he has been incarcerated since he was 16. In 11 days, with six years of violent prison culture under his belt, he's coming out.

He has his high school diploma. He says he's ``good at computer technology,'' thanks to a program within the institution. He has already been accepted into one of California's state universities. But he also has a pile of worries.

Mr. Brooks is going home to a bad neighborhood and to a family ``with a long history of alcohol problems.'' He's also going back to San Jose, where ``there are people who want to kill me because of stuff that happened here in jail.'' Brooks says he'll ``have guns in my life when I'm out of here, for protection. It's scary knowing you got people looking for you.''

Interviewed in a deserted dayroom of the most overcrowded, most secure, most oppressive institution in the vast CYA system, Marquis tells a story of a downward spiral into the entrails of institutional life.

He was committed to CYA back in 1982 for conspiracy to commit murder and assault and battery - the result of his involvement with a street gang. At first, Marquis went to one of the CYA's less-restrictive institutions, and then moved to one of the outdoor ``camps.''

``I was there only nine days before I asked for a transfer,'' he remembers. ``I didn't like all the marching.'' Sent to a different institution for CYA's younger wards, Marquis ``got into fighting and gang-related stuff.'' As his gang involvement escalated and his behavior became increasingly assaultive, he bounced to two other institutions before landing at Chino's YTS, the end of the line.

According to Marquis, CYA staff ``felt my presence around certain people influenced them to act against other people.'' That's about as close as he'll come to admitting he had climbed the prison-gang hierarchy to a position of some influence, from which he could help direct his ``homeboys'' in an entire prison unit.

Fights. Stabbings. Rapes. Intimidation. Race riots. All are part of life in an institution, Marquis says. ``There are racists on all sides. In a race riot, the northern Chicanos will kick it [fight] with us [the blacks]. The southern Chicanos kick it with the whites,'' he says. ``Most of the people here don't even know what they're fighting for.''

The irony is that Marquis says he ``wasn't a heavy gang-involved person'' outside the institutions. He was more interested in sports, but joined a gang primarily to get a discount on the drugs he sold on the streets, he says.

Marquis could have been paroled as early as 1985, and he knows he has no one but himself to blame for still being locked up. ``In here, there are certain rules your peers make you abide by, so I ended up with more time, 'cause I chose to participate in all that.''

Now Marquis has paid the maximum penalty the law allows. On Oct. 10, when he hops a bus for home, he faces less than a 1-in-5 chance of staying clean during the next three years, according to an NCCD study on the California system. With the $150,000 California spent to keep Marquis locked up for six years, could it have done anything different to improve his odds?