A. Incipient Reform Efforts
As reports of inadequate and abusive conditions in the California Youth Authority surfaced
in the 1980s, a small group of advocates worked to bring them to public attention. The National
Council on Crime and Delinquency, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, Youth Law
Center, and Commonweal began to meet to discuss strategies to verify the reports and bring about
systemic reform. 32
In 1980, Commonweal published a series of books based on investigations of conditions
in the Youth Authority. 33 The books’ horrific descriptions of violence, lack of programming, and
overcrowding helped to spark legislators’ interest. In 1988, the Senate Select Committee on
Children and Youth held hearings to explore the Commonweal revelations. 34 Reform efforts,
though, were hindered by opposition from groups espousing the view that youth were to be feared
and that punitive measures for youth were justified. Those in opposition included law enforcement
organizations, victims’ rights groups, the prison guards’ union, and the California District
Attorneys Association. 35
In the late 1990s, advocates collected factual evidence of the troubling conditions at CYA,
thus making it increasingly difficult to justify the status quo. Youth Law Center (YLC) sued the
state in 1989 for its failure to provide special education services; 36 the resulting settlement required
the state to post the Center’s address on living unit walls. 37 In the ensuing years, YLC was
inundated with letters from youth and their families detailing abusive practices. The settlement
also gave YLC attorneys monitoring access that enabled them to observe conditions directly. 38
The letters to YLC and letters of complaint to the administration of Youth Authority formed a
record which served as a useful tool in advocacy. For example, a 1999 letter to Acting Youth
Authority Director Gregorio Zermeño focused on lockdown units, where youth were held for long
periods in “solitary confinement.” 39 This letter became a part of the record for the May 2000 Joint
Informational Hearing on the California Youth Authority. 40 It described a series of reports from
youth and families, including specific abuses at the N.A. Chaderjian facility. 41 The letter set forth
32 Krisberg et al., supra note 25, at 12–13.
33 The Commonweal books included STEVE LERNER, THE CYA REPORT (PART I): CONDITIONS OF LIFE AT THE
CALIFORNIA YOUTH AUTHORITY (1982); STEVE LERNER, THE CYA REPORT (PART II): THE PATTERN OF FEAR AND
VIOLENCE AT THE CALIFORNIA YOUTH AUTHORITY (1986); STEVE LERNER ET AL., REFORMING THE CYA (PART III):
HOW TO END CROWDING, DIVERSIFY TREATMENT AND PROTECT THE PUBLIC WITHOUT SPENDING MORE MONEY
(1999); and STEVE LERNER & ALLEN BREED, THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT JUVENILE JUSTICE: THE MOVEMENT AWAY
FROM LARGE INSTITUTIONS AND TOWARD COMMUNITY-BASED SERVICES (1990) (a list of these Commonweal
Publications is available at https://www.comjj.org/realignment/resources).
34 Macallair, supra note 7, at 209–12.
35 Id. at 213.
36 The case was filed in 1989, settled in 1990, and monitoring of the settlement took place until the case was closed in
2001. University of Michigan Law School, Case Profile: Nick O. v. Terhune, CIV. RTS. LITIG. CLEARINGHOUSE.
37 Stipulation & Order, Nick O. v. Terhune, S-89-0755-RAR-JFM (E.D. Cal. 1989) (No. 89-0755).
38 Krisberg et al., supra note 25, at 12–13.
39 Letter from Sue Burrell, Staff Attorney, and Carole Shauffer, Executive Director, Youth Law Ctr., to Gregorio A.
Zermeño, Acting Director, Cal. Youth Auth. (Aug. 19, 1999) (on file with authors) [hereinafter Letter to Zermeño].
40 Joint Oversight Hearing, supra note 31.
41 Letter to Zermeño, supra note 39, at 1-4. The specific abuses at N.A. Chaderjian included:
Taping the cracks around the cell doors and then spraying chemical agents into the room;
Dragging youth out of their rooms nude and hogtied;