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Kids In Jail - A New Plan

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Original Title:
CYA Conference Looks at Approach Offering Therapy, Education

Highly-publicized violence and suicides in the California Youth Authority have resulted in lawsuits, legislative hearings and now reform efforts. Now several experts are offering an alternative.

Those attending a daylong conference on juvenile justice reform in Sacramento on Tuesday heard about a different approach with promising results for young offenders.

The CYA officials, parole workers and others who work with juvenile offenders were briefed on how Missouri, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania have had success with an approach that puts small groups of wards in a home-like setting, then provides in-depth counseling.

Dr. Jerry Miller, a former director of youth corrections in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, said the new system offers better results and lower recidivism, yet costs no more than conventional incarceration. "We were able to get the money and resources to the kids that were being sopped up in these large institutions that are really designed to create crime," he said.

Miller explained that California currently spends $72,000 annually for each CYA ward, enough to easily fund the new program. "You need the flexibility to move money around," he said. "Think of the $72,000 you have in hand the minute the kid is sent away for a year. What would you do with it if it were your kid and he were in trouble? You would not do what California is doing."

Miller told how he closed 10 large state institutions and replaced them with smaller group settings, a project that required reorientation and retraining of workers. "We retrained staff that were in the institution and put them in the community," he said. "They became halfway between a parole agent and a social worker in the community. None of them had to deal with more than five or six kids in that role."

Former CYA ward Jason Treas underscored Miller's remarks, saying California's current system of juvenile justice gives wards little in the way of rehabilitation. "The system never provided me nothing," he said.

He said the only thing wards learn in California's juvenile institutions is how to commit crimes. "You put him in a environment where violence is condoned, where it's promoted, it's inspired, it's fostered, then he's going to become a product of that environment," said Treas.

Crime victim advocates are unenthusiastic about the new approach, saying that violent offenders should be punished when they commit horrific crimes. "Especially with the violent crimes," said Maggie Elvey of Crime Victims United. "Somebody trying to rehabilitate the murderer, give him books and set him loose. [Meanwhile] our lives have been ruined forever."

As part of a legal settlement, the CYA must have formulated the final part of its reform plan, which deals with ward safety and welfare remediation, by November 30.

California houses 3,450 wards in its juvenile institutions. Another 248 are at fire camps and 3,755 are on parole. Figures show about 70 percent of CYA wards re-offend after they are released.

(This story was provided by News10 KXTV Sacramento.)

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