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Report cites youth facility perils

Correctional institution in Chino has fixed few of the safety problems found years earlier.

February 28, 2007|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

California's largest youth correctional facility remains a "recipe for tragedy," despite repeated calls for safety improvements, according to a special report released by the state's inspector general Tuesday.

The Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino keeps large numbers of wards isolated for all but two hours a day, fails to provide mandated counseling and education, and allows dangerous materials, including ropes, into rooms, said Inspector General Matthew Cate.

"We found these same conditions at the facility two years ago and reported on them in January 2005," Cate said. "Yet we find they still have not been corrected."

In an extensive condemnation of the juvenile corrections system then, auditors concluded that the California Youth Authority failed to give offenders education and training that could save them from a life of crime.

The 2005 report said the Stark facility, which holds 779 male offenders from ages 18 to 25 for crimes including theft and murder, locked down some inmates around the clock, except for five-minute daily showers. It also reported that some wards blocked their cell windows, preventing anyone from monitoring activity inside.

The new review suggested little progress had been made.

It found that more than half of the wards in the facility's special management program, designed for those with violent or disruptive behavior, had dangerous materials in their rooms -- including clotheslines and curtains.

"The continued presence of curtains covering windows and makeshift ropes is of particular concern, since those conditions echo the circumstances under which a ward hanged himself at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in August 2005," Cate said.

Although youth correctional facilities must provide all wards with exercise, education, counseling and treatment, the review found that on the six days selected for examination, wards in Chino's special management program received less than 1% of the required education time.

"We've recognized the problems that the audit has uncovered, and we have been working to correct them," said Bill Sessa, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman. He said many of the things being corrected at Stark were part of broader changes made over the entire youth correctional system.

The inspector general's office serves as an independent state examiner of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation but has no direct authority over it, said Chief Deputy Inspector General Brett H. Morgan.

"It is disheartening to find the problems we have identified have yet to be rectified," Morgan said.

"The changes need to come from the Department of Corrections; they have to be the one that finally issues them."

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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