Juvenile justice systems across the United States are in a dangerous state of disarray. According to recently published reports, violence within the system is rampant and abuse of the youth inside by staff is routine. U.S. News & World Report recently found that juvenile facilities nationwide hold almost 104,000 youth. Many states have more juveniles held for property crimes, drug offenses, and public disorder than anything else; only a quarter of the youth are committed for violent crimes.
"System Failure: Violence, Abuse and Neglect in the California Youth Authority," produced by WITNESS and Books Not Bars (a program of WITNESS partner The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights), offers testimony of the human rights violations "including sexual abuse, beatings, forced medication, and systemic mental health and educational neglect of juveniles" taking place at the California Youth Authority (CYA), one of the largest youth correctional agencies in the country. Many youth languish in isolation cells, with little human contact and almost no education. Youth are essentially forced to join gangs for protection and subjected to extreme levels of violence. In January 2004, two youths incarcerated in the CYA hanged themselves. Their deaths were followed by a damning state report that documented the brutality of guards. The costs to the people of California both financially and in terms of public safety are enormous: $80,000 per year, per youth. Despite this huge price tag, more than 90% of CYA youths who leave the system are re-arrested within three years.
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