January 29, 2004 - Associated Press

Young California Inmates Caged, Drugged

By Don Thompson, Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Young California inmates are often locked in cages as punishment, and those with mental problems are frequently drugged and improperly cared for, a state-funded study says.

The California Youth Authority is supposed to rehabilitate its 4,600 young wards, but instead often focuses on punishment such as isolating offenders in wire cages, two experts said in a confidential report obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Inadequately trained therapists frequently treated youths suffering mental illness and substance abuse problems with prescription drugs instead of providing proper therapy. A majority of the wards suffer mental or drug-abuse problems.

State officials are not disputing the findings, and Youth and Adult Correctional Agency spokesman Tip Kindel said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration inherited the problems but is trying to fix them "on a fast track."

"The vast majority of youths who have mental health needs are made worse instead of improved by the correctional environment," reported University of Washington child psychologist Eric Trupin and forensic psychiatrist Raymond Patterson of Washington, D.C.

Drugs are frequently administered to restrain misbehaving youths who are of no apparent danger to themselves or others, while, "In a number of facilities, psychiatric evaluations are cursory and do not meet accepted professional standards," the report said.

Widespread use of so-called "chemical restraints" is intolerable, said Sen. Gloria Romero, who chairs a corrections oversight committee.

"This is not the 1930s. Even in mental hospitals, I thought we'd gotten rid of these practices long ago," she said.

The state-funded report is the first of six being conducted as part of a class-action lawsuit by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Prison Law Office alleging poor conditions and treatment at the state's 11 youth institutions, which handle young people up to age 25.

The experts said there's been some progress, but cited wide variations among the nine institutions they reviewed.

The report's release comes a week after two teenage boys hanged themselves at the Preston Youth Correctional Facility in Ione, east of Sacramento.

"We have got a serious problem, and before another teenager commits suicide the California Youth Authority has got to get its act together," Romero said.

On the Net: California Youth Authority - www.cya.ca.gov

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved

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