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Senate Panel Delays Confirmation of Warden at Tehachapi Prison

June 26, 2003|Jenifer Warren | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — In a rare move, a Senate panel Wednesday postponed its confirmation vote on the warden at the state prison in Tehachapi, citing concerns about conditions for juveniles incarcerated there.

Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who called for the delay, said she is disturbed by reports that 16- and 17-year-old offenders have been kept in isolation cells -- let out only a few hours each week -- for up to four months as they await processing.

Because they were convicted as adults, the youths are required by law to be kept apart -- physically and visually -- from the adult prison population. In a hearing this week, Los Angeles County supervisors expressed concerns about a similar situation at the Men's Central Jail.

Romero said she would not vote to confirm Acting Warden Arthur Calderon, Gov. Gray Davis' nominee, until she is convinced that he is improving conditions.

"I won't grant lifetime tenure to a warden until I'm sure this is being addressed," Romero said after the Senate Rules Committee delayed the vote. "I want to visit and find out what he's going to do to ensure these youthful offenders have some programming and get out of their cells more often."

Calderon, a 37-year veteran of the prison system and former warden at San Quentin, made no comment on the action and left immediately after the hearing.

The committee approved Allen Scribner as warden at Corcoran State Prison and Scott Rawers as warden at Avenal State Prison.

Calderon has been acting warden at the California Correctional Institute since August but told the committee that he recently learned that the juveniles were being held in segregation cells -- typically reserved for punishing problem inmates -- for extended periods of time.

The young offenders are housed in the cells, about 6 by 10 feet, as they undergo an intake process that includes medical, psychological and educational screening. They then are moved to another part of the prison and given access to education programs and other privileges.

Senate staff members who visited the prison in May said the juveniles in the processing cells were confined alone and with no TV or radio for 24 hours a day and released only for periodic showers. Meals were served in their cells. Because of staffing shortages, processing for some juveniles took as long as four months.

On Wednesday, under questioning from Republican Sen. Ross Johnson of Irvine, Calderon said he did not initially "recognize the problem" but has recently become "actively involved."

The young inmates are among 140 in the system's Youthful Offender Program, which houses juveniles who have been tried as adults, often because of their crimes' severity.

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