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Is this really what our taxpayer dollars are paying for?

Lino Silva is one of the 344 juveniles currently incarcerated at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, 98-year-old youth facility that is crumbling beyond repair. Facing inhumane and dangerous conditions, and under the threat of reprisals from guards, Lino launched a petition drive through Change​.org to improve basic living standards at the Ventura facility. 

Titled A Stain on California,” Lino’s petition states that: 

Toilets at Ventura are often broken, leaking, or overflowing, and that the air vents stink of sewage. He says the water fountains don’t work, that they hold pools of dirty, stagnant water. He says the showers and bathrooms are filthy, and so are the clothes the inmates are forced to wear.”

Lino’s petition has been signed by over 10,000 people. It calls upon the Ventura Superintendent to improve conditions. We feel desperate,” Lino says. Some youth here are so desperate they are trying to get transferred to adult prison. The only way to do this is to commit new crimes and try to get charged as an adult.” 

The Ventura facility is one of the three remaining youth prisons in California’s Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF). The facilities are constructed in a 19th century open dormitory” model which, combined with low staffing ratios, consistently leads to a culture of violence and rampant sexual abuse. Safety and Welfare Remedial Plan expert Barry Krisberg found that as recently as 2009, incidents of violence included batteries on staff or youth with or without weapons, group disturbances, gassings”, forced sexual acts, and physical altercations involving mutual combat. In his 2011 report, Krisberg wrote that almost 50% of violent group incidences and staff assaults in DJF happened at the Ventura facility. 

What is the impact of sub-human living conditions such as these and grossly insufficient rehabilitation resources for DJF incarcerated youth? Most recently available statistics from California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) show a 80% recidivism rate for youth returning back to their communities. 

Counties Can Do Better

CJCJ has released a recent report showing that California counties have an abundance of modern, high-security facilities, most of which have been dramatically upgraded in the last 15 years. $938 million of federal and state funding has been spent or allocated to counties since 1996 for expansion and upgrade of correctional facilities, $638 million specifically targeted towards counties’ juvenile justice facilities. CJCJ found that there is a statewide surplus of 4,090 maximum and minimum security beds, approximately half of those are currently in maximum security facilities. 

Counties offer tiered security facilities with increased access to mental health resources, model practices for rehabilitation, proximity to family and legal support, and education and employment resources. 

Why is California continuing to hold onto an antiquated youth corrections system that is dangerous, ineffective, and actually decreases long-term public safety? As Governor Brown recommends, 2012 needs to be the year when California shuts the front door on DJF and starts realigning juveniles and funding resources to counties.