August 28, 2009

Violent, notorious prison shutting to youth

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Human rights activists are celebrating in California with the announcement that the largest, most violent and most notorious youth prison will soon shut its doors to juvenile offenders. This is the Herman G. Stark Correctional Facility in Chino,  a prison so violent that many of the 390 inmates who committed crimes as minors are too scared to even go to school,  a prison where some youth inmates spend up to 21 hours in their cells as punishment, reports Karen de Sa in the San Jose Mercury News.  Violence, racial and gang-motivated, is common. Counselors wear stab-proof vests.

“Stark is a dinosaur which has been unfit as a juvenile correctional facility for decades,” said Barry Krisberg, a consultant working with the Schwarzenegger administration to overhaul the state’s juvenile correctional facilities. “It’s basically a prison and it needed to be closed to kids years ago.”

Many factors are pushing the move, among them the state’s stunning recidivism rate of 74 percent among youth inmates, the high cost to taxpayers, a court decision on over-crowding, many calls for more humane treatment of youth inmates and most recently, the budget crisis that has forced the state to find more ways to deal with overcrowding of adult inmates. Clearing Stark of its youthful population will make more room for the full-grown bad guys. That began last month,  after a bloody, 11-hour riot earlier this month destroyed part of the California Institution for Men in Chino and sent 740 adult inmates to empty beds at Stark. Meanwhile, the state’s budget crisis is once again stirring talk of massive early release of inmates, the Sacramento Bee reports today. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration is talking about letting 38,000 inmates out of prison before their time is up, Andy Furillo reports.

— Rita Hibbard

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