November 23, 2004

Fixing the California Youth Authority

This past week Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger settled a lawsuit brought against the State of California concerning the California Youth Authority (CYA). Once California was a model for progressive and enlightened thinking about how to reform young people caught in the criminal justice system. But during the last decade, California turned its backs on the young and decided that only a harsh and vindictive system could reign in young criminals as we pursued our tough on crime agenda and decided that young people should be treated as harshly as adults. The tough on crime regime has created an expensive, violent and totally ineffective system that fails the young and fails the citizenry of California.

KQED's Forum last Friday had a fascinating discussion on this consent degree and what it means for California. One thing that was astonishing was the California model is much worse than Missouri (home of John Ashcroft) and Texas (home of that lover of rehabilitation, GW Bush). Both Missouri and Texas have realized that putting a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and less on punative actions systems. And it pays off. In Missouri, the recidivism rate for youthful offenders is 25% compared to California's rate which is greater than 75%.

One sign of the coarseness of a society can be seen in the way it treats young transgressors. Healthy societies recognize that a youthful transgressor will be set back in society and use the opportunity while they are locked away to teach him or her skills that allow them to be a benefit to society. This attitude is built in the Golden Rule -- when we treat someone who has done wrong with the simple human respect that we would be wish to be treated, we have a chance to work with that person so they too will begin to believe that they are human and not only worth respect, but also have an obligation to live up to that respect. When we treat them with contempt and hatred, it is not surprising that this is reflected in the outcome of their lives after incarceration (or on the way to further incarceration).

Thank goodness that because of this lawsuit California was forced to back away from the never ending spiral where every politician has to show they are tougher and meaner on crime than the other guy. And thank goodness that Governor Schwarenegger didn't feel he had to prove he's tough on crime and so he could settle this lawsuit and put California back on the right track again.

Posted by Mary at November 23, 2004 07:29 AM | Law/Justice | Technorati links |