Study finds youth facility 'recipe for tragedy'

By Jonathan Abrams

 

Los Angeles Times

February 27, 2007

California's largest youth correctional facility remains a "recipe for tragedy," despite repeated calls for safety improvements, according to a special report released today by the state's inspector general.

The Chino-based Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility keeps large numbers of wards isolated for all but two hours of the day, fails to provide mandated counseling and education and allows dangerous materials, including ropes, into rooms, said Inspector General Matt Cate.

"We found these same conditions at the facility two years ago and reported on them in January 2005," Cate said. "Yet we find they still have not been corrected."

In an extensive condemnation of the juvenile corrections system two years ago, auditors concluded that the California Youth Authority failed to give offenders the education and training that could save them from a life of crime.

The 2005 report stated that the Stark facility, which holds 779 male criminal offenders from ages 18-25, locked up some inmates around the clock, except for five-minute daily showers. It also reported that some wards blocked their cell windows, preventing anyone from monitoring the activity inside.

The new review suggested little progress has been made.

It found more than half of the wards in the facility's special management program, designed for those with violent or disruptive behavior, had dangerous materials in their rooms, including clotheslines and curtains.

"The continued presence of curtains covering windows and makeshift ropes is of particular concern, since those conditions echo the circumstances under which a ward hanged himself at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in August 2005," Cate said.

Although youth correctional facilities have been mandated to provide all wards with exercise, education, counseling and treatment, the review found that of the six days selected for examination, wards in Chino's special management program received less than 1% of the required education time.

"We've recognized the problems that the audit has uncovered and we have been working to correct them," said Bill Sessa, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman. "Many of the changes we are making at Stark are part of broader implements for the entire youth correctional system."

The inspector general's office serves as an independent state agency over the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation but has no direct authority over it, said Chief Deputy Inspector General Brett H. Morgan.

"It is disheartening to find the problems we have identified have yet to be rectified," Morgan said. "The changes need to come from the Department of Corrections; they have to be the one that finally issues them."