Treatment of Juvenile Offenders in California

"Behind the Wall," a recent opinion-page article, gives a distorted description of the California Youth Authority (CYA).The primary mission of the CYA is public protection. To that end, the department believes in a person's ability to grow and change and provides the opportunity for youthful offenders to do so. It is important to note that the 8,292 youths who are incarcerated in CYA facilities have failed to be helped by any of the 58 California counties that send them to us through the court system. The CYA does not deal only with juveniles. The ward population ranges in age from 11 to 25, and CYA institutions and camps separate juveniles from young adults. California has the only system of this kind in the nation. According to the author, "the CYA is not tending adequately to its wards' immediate problems: dysfunctional families; drug and alcohol abuse; mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse." This is simply not true. A visit to any of the 11 institutions and 4 conservation camps would show that the CYA offers many programs to help incarcerated youth. These programs, which the author neglects to mention, include: academic and vocational classes, counseling, work experience, victim impact classes, sex offender programs, drug and alcohol abuse programs, public service, intensive treatment, employment, and other specialized programs. In our education program during the 1990-91 school year, 365 CYA youthful offenders earned high school diplomas and another 382 earned General Educational Development certificates. Fifty-three more earned Associate of Arts community college degrees and, for the first time, one Bachelor of Arts degree was earned. These are positive results for young people who usually have failed in school since kindergarten. They come to the CYA full of frustration about school - low test scores, low reading and math abi lity, and low motivation. The numbers who achieve academically are a testimonial to the dedication of our teachers and directly refute the dismal picture the article presents. However, the author hits on an important point that I not only agree with, but would like to stress: "In every state, to help solve these continuing problems, parents, community members, religious leaders, and state and local legislators need to become involved in the lives of incarcerated youth." It takes a combined effort to combat crime in any community. We need to get as many people as possible involved not only during incarceration, but more important, before these youth get criminally involved. None of this means that things couldn't or shouldn't be changed to improve California's juvenile justice system. We are always open to new ways to help salvage the lives of these young men and women and return them to California communities as productive, law-abiding citizens. Tony Cimarusti, Sacramento, Calif., Assistant Director, California Youth Authority

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