Joint Informational Hearing on the California Youth Authority, May 16, 2000

Published On: May 16, 2000

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In response to recent disclosures concerning the California Youth Authority, on May 16,
2000, the Senate and Assembly Public Safety Committees held a joint oversight hearing.
The Committees heard eleven witnesses concluding with testimony from Robert Presley,
Secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency and Jerry Harper, the newly appointed
Director of the Youth Authority. Sue Burrell, attorney with the Youth Law Center, was one of the eleven witnesses and described how her firm sued the CYA in 1989 over its failure to provide adequate special education services. Although the suit was settled quickly in 1990, YLC has spent 10 years trying to secure CYA’s compliance with the
requirements laid out in the consent decree reached in the case. While compliance has
reached acceptable minimum standards in 8 out of 10 institutions, Burrell testified that at
Nelles and YTS, less than 50% of the legally required services are being provided.

A major problem with the delivery of special education services is in the “lock-down” units,
where wards are confined to their cells for 23 hours a day, often for months at a time,
Burrell stated. A U.S. Justice Department study was cited indicating that the CYA is among
only 4% of youth training facilities nationwide that place no limit on how long wards may be
held in isolation. She described how those wards in the lock-down units who are allowed out
of their cells for education are brought out wearing only their underwear and receive their
instruction in individual metal cages.

Burrell submitted that the problems with delivery of special education services are related to
the system-wide failure to provide regular educational services. She cited rigid rules at the
CYA which result in wards being held out of school because, for example, they are in Phase
One or orientation.

Burrell also testified that Youth Law Center recently has filed another suit against the CYA
for its failure to obtain State licensing of its medical facilities, as required by law since 1996.
She also stated that in 1996, five Youth Authority wards committed suicide; four of these
wards were waiting for intensive treatment program beds.

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