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California to Overhaul Youth Prison System

February 03, 2005  | 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration has promised to back a new system that would seek to remediate the golden state’s juvenile offenders with therapy and positive reinforcement instead of simply using punishment.

Although developed to settle a lawsuit that criticized the California juvenile corrections system for using cages and drugs to handle youths who were mentally ill or addicted to illegal substances, the move is being hailed as a step in the right direction.

Walter Allen, director of the California Youth Authority, which oversees the state’s juvenile detention system, calls the planned changes to the system “a historic agreement.”

The new system will be based on successful programs implemented in other states across the country.

According to the current timetable, the authority will implement reforms gradually. First, it will lay out a plan to provide rehabilitation to youths, involving their families when possible and allowing them to participate in classes and other activities instead of being locked in their cells 23 hours each day. By April, the authority will end the use of temporary detention as punishment and by June it will switch to an incentive plan that emphasizes positive reinforcement.

“It doesn’t give particulars, but that’s because they’re complicated.” Says Sara Norman, an attorney for the Prison Law Office, one of the groups that sued. “We’re definitely excited that they’re going to change the nature of the agency.”

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