Monday, February 22, 2010

Heman G. Stark Facility Closes to Juvenile Offenders: Cost-cutting move begins transition to adult prison

SACRAMENTO – The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation today officially closed the doors of the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility, ending 50 years of treating juvenile offenders and beginning the institution’s transition to exclusively house adult inmates.

Closure of the facility in Chino, which had been the state’s largest for juvenile offenders, is the first of two significant cost-cutting moves to improve the efficiency of the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in the wake of declining population as more youth are served in county facilities. The 400 youth who had been housed at Chino have been gradually consolidated into five other DJJ-operated facilities and two fire camps over the last few months.

“Closing the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility improves our efficiency as we provide specialized treatment to the youth who are committed to the DJJ and whose needs cannot be addressed by county facilities,” said Bernard Warner, Chief Deputy Secretary for Juvenile Justice.

Having opened in 1960 and originally known as the Youth Correctional Facility, Heman G. Stark was considered a modern model for rehabilitating youth and operated as many as 25 vocational trade programs that provided offenders with employable skills. At its peak, it housed approximately 2,000 youth, nearly a fifth of the 10,000 youth committed to state custody.

The population decline over the last decade in Chino, in a facility re-named in honor of the then-California Youth Authority’s longest serving director, reflects reductions in the statewide number of juvenile offenders committed to the DJJ. Financial incentives to counties, based on the belief that most juvenile offenders benefit by being housed closer to their communities and families, as well as legislation that changed the mission of the DJJ, has reduced the statewide population to approximately 1,500.

Although the DJJ population represents less than one percent of the 225,000 youth arrested in California, it includes youth convicted of the most violent offenses and who have exceptional treatment needs that cannot be met by local programs. The DJJ is also one of the few juvenile offender programs nation-wide that treats youth to the age of 25 rather than 21.

The DJJ provides treatment programs for mental health, substance abuse and sexual behavior, and also operates an accredited school district that provides specialized education as well as GED and high school diplomas.

In an additional effort to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of its treatment and education programs, the DJJ will complete a “right-sizing” of its staff in the next few weeks that adapts to the smaller population but also meets reforms in six, court-supervised remedial plans. Those plans, supervised by the Alameda Superior Court in a settlement agreement of a lawsuit, Farrell v Cate, require significant program changes and set staffing levels for professionals, such as counselors, teachers, and physical and mental health professionals, to provide treatment and care.

When completed, the DJJ “rightsizing” will reduce overall staffing by an estimated 425 positions and reduce costs by $30-$40 million.

CDCR is currently occupying the facility as a reception center to serve incoming adult inmates and will be renovating the facility in the near future to support a long term occupancy. The department has been working closely with local leaders during the planning stages of this conversion.

The closure of Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility is consistent with realignments in the Division of Juvenile Justice for most of the last decade as the juvenile offender population committed to the state has declined. The DJJ has closed eight other facilities or fire camps in Stockton, Whittier, Mariposa, Nevada City, Santa Cruz and Paso Robles between 2003 and 2008.