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Commission recommends changes for CYA facilities

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Posted: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 10:00 pm

Officials with the California Youth Authority agreed with some recommendations but raised complaints with others that came from a report aimed at improving CYA's "broken" facilities housing wayward San Joaquin County youth.

San Joaquin County Superior Court officials Tuesday released both a report by a committee of the county's Juvenile Justice Commission on improving CYA's structure and purpose, and the response from CYA officials in Sacramento.

Judge Richard Vlavianos, who appointed the three-member committee, said in a press release accompanying the release that CYA director Walter Allen seemed to be committed to seeing positive changes in the youth facility.

The recommendations included:

• Limiting wards of CYA to no more than 21 years of age.

• Disallowing wards who receive state prison sentences from returning to CYA after they finish their sentences.

• Annual outside reviews of CYA facilities, such as the Preston Youth Correctional Facility in Ione and the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility southeast of Stockton.

• Re-examine the purpose of sending wards to N.A. Chaderjian, such as whether the facility is being used to house the more violent or incorrigible of the CYA's wards.

Other recommendations called for re-examining the purpose, structure and methods of CYA as a whole, possibly eliminating a program that puts wards in what the committee called an extended lockdown.

"The California Youth Authority in its current state can be labeled as 'broken,'" the report said, though it said it was not beyond repair.

In the response, Allen agreed with most of the recommendations, but pointed out problems with others, such as the age limit.

"Imposing an age limit of 21 would require legislation," Allen said in the response, noting that as of Nov. 29, 390 of the 3,656 wards were 22 years or older.

The response also said barring CYA wards from returning to the authority after serving state prison sentences would violate state law, which allows wards to serve remaining CYA time in either prison or an authority facility.

At N.A. Chaderjian facility, Allen's response noted that wards sent there often need a service or any number of services offered at the site, including programs for sex offenders or substance abuse treatment. His response also said that while some of the site's wards might have done poorly in other facilities with less structure, they sometimes improve at the more secure environment at N.A. Chaderjian.

The report comes in response to January incidents where two wards killed themselves at the Ione facility, and N.A. Chaderjian guards were videotaped beating wards at that facility. Because Stockton wards were involved in both cases, court officials wanted to determine whether San Joaquin County juvenile offenders should continue being assigned to those facilities.

In response, Vlavianos appointed three members of the Juvenile Justice Commission to the special committee: District Attorney's investigator Tom Cantrell, retired chief probation officer Nick Cademartori, and retired CYA teacher Irene Killian De Ojeda.

The committee toured both of those CYA facilities and another one near Stockton, interviewed wards, staff and administrators and reviewed case files and observed programs.

The committee's report was released in August, and Allen's response is dated Dec. 1.

In the response, Allen acknowledges other problems identified by the committee, including facilities issues and providing better educational programs.

He promised a progress report on those issues within 45 days.

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