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:
- Cheltenham Juvenile Facility (Maryland) - The Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalition (MJJC) has called for the closure and demolition of the notoriously violent Cheltenham Youth Facility. The 550-acre Cheltenham facility, where about 100 youths are held, has been criticized by youth advocates, parents and public officials as being unclean, outdated and chronically overcrowded. Guards have been accused of beating teenagers in the past, and a riot broke out in March. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating conditions there. Four former supervisors at the detention center have been charged with the November beating of a teenage detainee. The former Cheltenham supervisors are accused of kicking and punching the boy in the face and chest Nov. 30, after they carried him out of the cafeteria because he refused to go to his room. Authorities said the boy, who they would not identify, had been causing trouble that day. "The youth counselors need to be told by the State Police," Sen. James Brochin, D-Baltimore County said, "that if there is one more beating of one more kid, they're going out in handcuffs themselves.”
- Hawai'i Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF) - A 34-page report by the American Civil Liberties Union, compiled with cooperation of state officials, found that there was "a pattern of egregious conduct and conditions at HYCF that violate minimum professional and constitutional standards." In what ACLU calls "unduly punitive living conditions," boys have been locked in bare cells for up to 18 hours or more a day. Boys are not allowed to have anything other than the clothes on their backs, bedding and a Bible. Guards "persistently used excessive physical force" against the juveniles, creating a "general atmosphere of fear." The problem seems to be created by "lax supervision of the guards," lack of discipline for improper or abusive action, and poor training for guards. One guard whose name was not released was described by the juveniles and staff as particularly physically abusive and as an individual who seems to "delight in using violence" against the youths. He was placed on administrative leave before for use of excessive force, but was allowed to return to work and continues to have contact with youths. He believes he is "untouchable." The guard beat a 13-year-old on May 30. Another guard, who was characterized as one of the "most violent and abusive," slammed a boy's head into a concrete bed and punched him in the face several times after the youth complained about not having any juice. The report did not mention whether this guard was disciplined. Other incidents cited in the report included a guard beating an inmate while staff members looked on, other acts of violence by guards on inmates and a female guard who beat several girls and kept them in lockdown until their injuries healed. With only three female guards at the girls' facility, the report said, inmates complained of a lack of privacy, and sexual harassment and assault. In 2001, two guards who allegedly sexually assaulted youths were transferred to the boys' facility. Girls reported that male guards sometimes make comments about their breasts and about rape.
- Long Creek Youth Development Center (Maine) - In 2001, Michael T., a former resident of the Maine Youth Center, charged that he had been tied down for periods of up to 47 hours continuously, and locked up in a type of solitary confinement cell for more than a month at a time. The allegations covered five separate periods of incarceration during the 1990s, beginning when Michael T. was 13. Documents related to the case indicated that top officials at the Maine Youth Center signed off on the treatment, and two state investigations have been conducted since the information became the subject of news stories three months ago.
- Oakley Training School and Columbia Training School (Mississippi) - Federal officials filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Jackson after they were unable to reach a deal with state officials over how to improve the conditions at the Oakley Training School in Raymond and the Columbia Training School in Columbia. The suit stems from a yearlong investigation into the two training schools. The children in the two schools, ages 10 to 18, were routinely hit, shackled to poles, sprayed with pepper spray while in restraints, and hog-tied in a cell known as the "dark room," the Justice Department said. The federal investigation also determined that staff at both facilities sometimes punished girls overcome by heat by forcing them to eat their own vomit, said Alexander Acosta, assistant U.S. attorney for civil rights. Oakley was placed under a restraining order by a federal court in Mississippi in 1977, the result of a lawsuit against the facility. But "no one monitored any compliance with the court order," said Ellen Reddy, a member of the Mississippi Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Coalition, a group of teachers, civil rights activists and public policy activists who are trying to help troubled kids. Sources: LA Times, Mercury News, Books Not Bars, WTOP (Washington, DC), Maryland Juvenile Justice Coalitions, Washington Post, Honolulu Advertiser, Portland Press (Portland, Maine), Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi)
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