Letters for January 20, 2005

Ask the people who work there

Re “CYA goes to reform school” by Stephen James (SN&R Cover, December 30):

I would love to see the Missouri model applied successfully in California. However, it’s going to take a lot of money—which the state doesn’t have—and a lot of years if the money is ever made available.

Did Mr. James consider, even for a second, that the former [California Youth Authority (CYA)] ward he interviewed was feeding him misinformation? Would you be surprised if I were to tell you that he did?

Keep in mind that there are a lot of brave, dedicated, hardworking correctional peace officers working with defiant, disruptive and violent wards. If you don’t believe me, tour the institutions. Have a seat on one of the living units and observe and listen. Talk with the officers and teachers.

There was another staff assault last weekend at the facility that I work at, just one example of what we are engaged with on a daily basis. And by now, you must have heard about the correctional peace officer, Manuel Gonzalez, who was murdered in a prison down south by a gangster.

Did you know that many of CYA’s behavior and management problems are caused by wards that have expired their confinement time—wards that are maxed out, like the former ward you reported on? These wards are very challenging to manage, because they know they’ll be getting released no matter how badly they behave—unless, of course, they commit a new crime. Most aren’t bothered at being placed in cells 23 hours a day. If they were, they wouldn’t behave the way they do.

I suggest that James take the time and make the effort to tour a CYA facility and speak with the officers and support staff. And he should observe the wards. Doing so will provide him with a much better point of reference when he writes his next CYA piece. And he’ll be better respected for it.

Jose Gonzalez

Stephen James replies: The conditions described in the story by Shariffe Vaughn were an example of conditions also routinely experienced by other wards, as confirmed in the report of Barry Krisberg. At the request of the state attorney general and CYA, Krisberg conducted intensive visits to six CYA facilities, where he observed conditions and interviewed staff and wards. A link to the Krisberg report is on the CYA Web site’s home page at www.cya.ca.gov. In the consent decree from the Farrell litigation settlement, CYA admitted that the facts and opinions in the Krisberg report were “substantially correct.”

As Mr. Gonzales points out, there are reasons why wards spend 23 hours a day in lockup cells. But the reduction of violence, as he implies, may not be one of them. As Krisberg noted on page 66 of his report, “[T]here is reason to believe that the extensive use of lockup units makes the violence worse.” The Missouri system does not use lockup cells and has virtually no violence.

Policymakers ruined CYA

Re “CYA goes to reform school” by Stephein James (SN&R Cover, December 30:

The recent Stephen James article on CYA abuses, while somewhat slanted, nevertheless was chilling. How could a once-proud agency considered by most a model or exemplar for other states and nations sink to these depths? Well, not all the blame goes to the CYA.

I started to work for CYA in 1960. Things were different. Then, CYA was recognized as the best in the nation. CYA population was composed of offenders committed about equally from adult and juvenile courts. CYA staff worked hard to rehabilitate the young people sent there. But then, politicians and the Legislature stepped into the picture.

New laws curtailed adult courts from committing lighter-weight offenders, such as first-time burglars, to CYA—and these were individuals past their adolescence, who wanted help. Staff liked working with them. They helped to stabilize the younger, more volatile wards. But today, only 2 percent or 3 percent of CYA wards come from adult courts, down from 50 percent.

Other laws paid counties to keep their better and younger offenders at the county level rather than committing them to CYA. These diverted kids were lighter-weight offenders who were more amenable to rehabilitation and more rewarding to work with. Resulting changes in CYA philosophy ensued, shifting the emphasis of programs from rehabilitation to accountability. Counselors were converted to guards, and treatment programs to SWAT teams. Treatment got largely lost in the shuffle.

The end result is what we see today. CYA population is now composed of California’s most serious, gangbanging, intractable, drug-dealing and aggressive youthful offenders. Those new laws have made CYA a really terrible place to be confined. They also have made CYA a really bad place to work.

Joe Phelan

Emotional hypotheticals

Re “Extreme right means lost rights” (SN&R Letters, January 6):

The ultimate intellectual moron of contemporary America has to be Michael Moore. This tubby tycoon with the corporate waistline (super-size me?) loves the “emotional hypothetical”: “Would you want your son to die liberating Fallujah?” This rhetorical game he plays apparently passes for intellect on the American left. If this is true, it is appropriate to turn it on him: “Mr. Moore, would you have liked your father to die liberating Paris?” If he answers yes, he’s an idiot; if he answers no, he’s a racist.

Ron Lowe’s tearful tone in his letter suggests that this complex moral issue of “a woman’s right to choose” (sounds like “collateral damage,” doesn’t it?) can be summed up by using an “emotional hypothetical”: complications threatening the life of a woman. For those who have 12 years of our liberal public education, that means citing the exception, not the rule. Maybe it is time to apply a “Mooreism” to Mr. Lowe to see if he would have supported his mother’s “right to choose” even if it meant he would not have been born. Now that would be an unflinching position. But if he took it, he would be either an idiot or an idiot!

Dennis McMurray
Nevada City

Look for long-term immigration solutions

Re “Hush—you’ll ruin it” by Jill Stewart (SN&R Capitol punishment, December 23):

I must write in response to this comment and the letters published in response to it.

I found some hope in this article, although Jill Stewart continually irks me with her assumption that political moderation is always the most reasonable path. Imagine a “moderate” in Nazi Germany or the segregationist South.

Lately, political strategists and commentators like Stewart somehow keep pulling “the middle” more to the right. Comments that two years ago would only be heard on the Rush Limbaugh show are now considered moderate.

Statements like the one in the letter (“Stewart only got part of the secret …” SN&R Letters, January 6) decrying “the cost of educating children of illegals, many of whom come and go to and from Mexico, do not speak English at home and take up enormous amounts of teaching time that should be spent on legal students” are racist, and also hypocritical. Remember our presence and reputation around the world.

We consume a large share of the world’s resources and have a heavy impact on the Earth’s environment. Most Mexican illegal immigrants do difficult, important work like caring for our children and elderly, cleaning up and picking produce. It’s insulting when people who work hard and sacrifice their eight hours per day in low-paying jobs are slammed as “non-taxpaying residents,” usually by the same people who say raising minimum wage would “hurt the economy.”

Thankfully, Stewart’s article ends up focusing on the root issues. Mexico is a large, beautiful country, rich with natural resources. Most of the people love it and don’t want to leave. Illegal immigration can’t be stopped by guns or violence—the crime does not justify that—and the people must be treated respectfully.

So, for the new “moderates,” stop the nasty, dehumanizing obsession over how much money these Mexicans are costing us. The economic problems there are affecting them more than us. The answer is to advocate for long-term solutions. Be a good neighbor to Mexico. Investigate the facts. Raise your spiritual level because it is sinking very low.

Victoria Hawes