Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Juvenile Abuse in California Youth Authority

The California Division of Juvenile Justice, formerly called the California Youth Authority, is a jail for California's most serious young offenders. In 2000, it received widespread media attention after two wards (inmates) hanged themselves and in 2005, an 18 year old named Joseph Daniel Maldonado hanged himself as well. It was found that for more than eight weeks before his death, he was placed on lockdown, a situation where he was barely let out of his cell, denied family visits, mental health care and education.

There have been six suicides in California's youth prisons between 2000 and 2005. In 2004, CYA received attention yet again when videos were released with guards punching and kicking wards in one of the CYA's maximum security lockups, nicknamed "Chad." Although required legally to provide high school education to inmates without a diploma, students are often kept out of class due to the aforementioned lockdowns. At one point, students were forced to attend class in small cages containing desks. This was mandated by state and teachers could only pass the small amount of educational material through small slots in the locked cages.

Although the CYA has been undergoing massive reform due to court cases and calls from the public, there are still major problems. The CYA, now known as the DJJ, is supposed to be reforming facilities, but some statistics say that over 90% of those released from DJJ end up in
adult prison, within three years five percent are dead and only four percent are working.

This is a major human rights issue on many different levels. The youth in this prison do not have adequate access to mental and other health care and personal hygiene is lacking (wards are often allowed only three showers a week). According to wards themselves, bedding is taken away early in the morning and not returned until late at night. During lockdown, the wards receive only one hour of physical exercise in a cage outside. (According to the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, "Young prisoners, and others of suitable age and physique, shall receive physical and recreational training during the period of exercise. To this end space, installations and equipment should be provided.") Wards were frequently harassed and beaten and not allowed contact with the outside world for extended periods of time. Each and every condition mentioned violates the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, not to mention the terms of the ICCPR (see Article 10) and the US Constitution's Bill of Rights.

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Information on an alternative solution to this problem can be found here:

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