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California Youth Authority

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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



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