FEW Californians, including those with children currently
incarcerated in the state juvenile-penal system - the California
Youth Authority (CYA) - seem to understand what is happening behind
the walls of these institutions. CYA staffers say most people
assume that whatever happens to California's troubled youth is
beneficial for the youths and for their eventual return to society.
A look inside the CYA dispels that assumption.
The CYA houses its juvenile wards in prison-like facilities. To
maintain their social rank, wards routinely assault their peers.
They punch, kick, hit, and even stab one another, often preying in
packs upon younger and smaller children. CYA wards also suffer
sexual abuse, by their peers and sometimes by CYA staff.
The institutions which confine these youthful offenders remind
them constantly of their "criminality." They are surrounded by
razor wire, tall fences, and spotlighted guard towers. Their adult
guardians dress paramilitary-style, wearing military fatigues,
heavy black boots, and puncture-proof vests. They carry Mace and
club-like steel flashlights.
Wards living in these conditions choose one of two paths. Those
who yield to the oppression are generally paroled within two to
three years and return to the streets. Others "act out" against the
system, as CYA officials say. When wards act out - by fighting,
destroying property, assaulting a guard - they are detained for up
to three months in a solitary-confinement cell.
Solitary cells are made of concrete and steel and measure
approximately 6 feet wide by 9 feet long by 16 feet high. There is
a steel sink, steel toilet, steel bunk, and a steel door. At the
lower portion of the door is a steel flap, through which meals are
served twice a day. A camera in a corner of the high ceiling
monitors every movement for 23 hours each day. During the 24th
hour, the ward leaves the cell to exercise and shower. Because of
the cold temperatures inside the cells, CYA guards refer to time in
solitary as "keeping them on ice."
Solitary confinement may temporarily solve a problem, but in the
long run, the effects on punished wards can be devastating. They
endure months of sensory deprivation and are then released,
allegedly cured. Unfortunately, the punished wards tend to be even
more psychopathic and hateful than before. Most act out again, and
are then "graduated" to the CYA's highest-level facility - the
Preston School for Boys in Ione - or are transferred directly to a
state prison. …