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Generation Lockdown | The Nation

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Generation Lockdown

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Nowhere has the influence of the CCPOA on juvenile corrections been more apparent than at N.A. Chaderjian, a quick-fix warehouse built in Stockton in 1991 to accommodate a surging population of young offenders. California is one of only four states in which lawbreakers can be classified as juveniles until the age of 25, and Chad, as it's called, has historically been the site for the state's oldest and most violent wards. Many of them are transferred for disruptions at other facilities, and some have already spent time in adult prison. Chad was modified to have a "softer" feel than a prison (a large lawn separates living units from the school), but its single-cell design sends a clear message: Staff safety trumps rehabilitation as a top priority. "We were told if we wanted something quickly, we should use the adult model," says Norman Skonovd, a research specialist at the Division of Juvenile Justice. But, he adds, "when you have individual cells instead of an open-dorm setting, you lose staff interrelations, and wards don't develop skills."

Research assistance was provided by The Nation Institute.

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Mark Sorkin
Mark Sorkin is a writer living in Chicago.

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Standardized test scores and graduation rates for students at Chad are well below the state averages. But poor educational performance is not unique to Chad; reports indicate that the dorm-style facilities are also failing in this regard. When I popped in to a science classroom at DeWitt, for example, I found a teacher hunched over a stack of papers while a dozen students paid zero attention to a National Geographic video. Just as I began to ask one of the wards about his interests, an alarm went off. Elsewhere in the facility somebody had discovered a door unlocked, and an announcement came over the loudspeaker instructing all wards to return to their bunks for an emergency count. Class dismissed.

Treatment is substandard as well. With pinched resources and high ward-to-staff ratios, managers make do with what they have. Unfortunately, what they have is shamefully inadequate, and the fallout is everywhere apparent. One psychologist handles all of the case files at DeWitt, which has an average daily population of 350 wards. And a part-time psychiatrist splits twenty hours per week between DeWitt and Chad. As a result, qualified psychological care is administered on a crisis-only basis, and regular programs addressing issues like substance abuse and gang violence are given over to youth counselors, who not only lack specialized training but are perceived by wards as guards to be feared rather than social workers to be trusted.

"The dual role is really hard," admits Joan Loucraft, assistant superintendent at Chad. "One minute you're treating them and the next you're macing them for a disturbance." Loucraft is hopeful that Warner's proposed reforms will lead to improvements in staff training and temperament. As it's currently configured, she believes, the system is in crisis. "Over time, we have strayed so far off the path, I don't know if we remember where the path was," she says.

Remarkably, the wards are the ones held accountable for the institutional meltdown. Substance-abuse programs and follow-up services for parolees are a shambles, yet parole violators are frequently brought back for drug relapses. As the state has acknowledged, punishment substitutes for behavior modification, and collective punishment is common. Until last summer, it was routine at Chad to impose a facility-wide lockdown--cutting off programming for weeks at a stretch--following an outburst in a single unit.

To this day, disciplinary "time adds," which are supposed to be reserved for serious disruptions and have been shown to reinforce negative behavior, are administered readily and without standard procedures for "earn back" rewards. Depending on the severity of the ward's misconduct, a single time add can postpone parole eligibility by up to one year; the average sentence for all of the state's wards extends by more than eight months. "Time adds make no sense in this kind of environment," says Jakada Imani, director of the grassroots advocacy group Books Not Bars. "You sit them down on hot rocks and punish them for standing up. It's crazy."

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