Infoshop News, March 22, 2004

Video footage released last week shows two teenagers being beaten by juvenile counselors at a juvenile prison in Stockton, California. For almost a minute, the screen displayed the silent images of two burly counselors beating Vincent Baker and Narcisco Morales at a juvenile prison in Stockton. "What they did to him, there's no reason, there's no excuse," Lori Baker, Vincent’s mother, said after watching the video in the public defender's office. "And they need to be prosecuted. They have to answer for what they did to him." The California Youth Authority say the fight was triggered by a punch thrown by Morales. However, an internal investigation concluded that correctional counselors Delwin Brown and Marcel Berry had used unnecessary force in subduing the young inmates. According to officials who have seen the videotape, Brown is in the foreground in the picture and can be seen punching Morales in the head as many as 28 times. But an unnamed California Youth Authority (CYA) official said Berry's conduct "actually is worse, in terms of the potential for injury." The official said that, over a period of about 55 seconds, Berry punched Baker several times in the kidney area and "knee-dropped" him five or six times.” Basically, he bent one knee and then dropped himself down on the kid's head and neck while he was down on the floor," the source said. "This is happening when the kid is doing nothing but trying to protect his head…. It's pretty horrific if you ask me, and I've seen a lot." The official said he was also troubled by the behavior of two other counselors in the living unit who were with Brown and Berry as they hit the youths. One of them, the source said, inappropriately sprayed Morales with a chemical agent even after the young man was no longer resisting. The beating stopped, the source said, only when the two onlookers tapped Brown on the shoulder because additional officers were responding to an alarm. "What you can infer from that is, this beating would have gone on if other officers from outside the housing unit hadn't arrived," the official said.

After their investigation, CYA officials presented the case to the San Joaquin County district attorney, expecting that felony criminal assault charges would be filed against Brown and Berry. Incredibly, local prosecutors declined, saying they did not believe that the conduct amounted to criminal assault.

The CYA has been under heightened scrutiny by legislators, especially after a California newspaper reported in January that juveniles sentenced to CYA for serious crimes are regularly locked in cages, over-medicated and denied essential psychiatric treatment, according to a series of reports commissioned by the state Attorney General's Office.

Even before this, Books Not Bars – a leading advocacy group on issues of juvenile justice – issued a call for all California counties to immediately stop sending youth to the California Youth Authority (CYA) because of official reports which confirmed widespread abuse and inhumane conditions at CYA facilities. "We've heard a lot about the Youth Authority's problems, but almost nothing about solutions," says attorney Lenore Anderson, Director of the Books Not Bars Family Advocacy Project. "The first step in solving the CYA's problems is to stop sending kids there – right now, across the board." According to Anderson, former wards describe CYA as extremely violent and abusive. Guards regularly attack – and sometimes sexually assault – youth there. Wards' emergency medical and mental health needs are neglected. Staff and administrators needlessly lock minors in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. And some youth are placed in tiny, one-person cages when in their classrooms or outside in the yard. "California is caging 4,500 kids in these facilities," says Anderson. "What this amounts to is institutionalized child abuse on a massive scale."

But it isn’t just California. Some other examples:

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