Abuse of Authority

The police service exists to detect and prevent crime and to ensure the safety of the community. Authority includes police guards who are meant to keep everything orderly at juvenile halls, especially with the troubled youth.

View of WITNESS on the Juvenile hall programs: Juvenile justice systems across the United States are in a dangerous state of disarray. According to recently published reports, violence within the system is rampant and abuse of the youth inside by staff is routine. U.S. News & World Report recently found that juvenile facilities nationwide hold almost 104,000 youth. Many states have more juveniles held for property crimes, drug offenses, and public disorder than anything else; only a quarter of the youth are committed for violent crimes.

Description of Documentary: “System Failure: Violence, Abuse and Neglect in the California Youth Authority,” produced by WITNESS and Books Not Bars (a program of WITNESS partner The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights), offers testimony of the human rights violations “including sexual abuse, beatings, forced medication, and systemic mental health and educational neglect of juveniles” taking place at the California Youth Authority (CYA), one of the largest youth correctional agencies in the country. Many youth languish in isolation cells, with little human contact and almost no education. Youth are essentially forced to join gangs for protection and subjected to extreme levels of violence. In January 2004, two youths incarcerated in the CYA hanged themselves. Their deaths were followed by a damning state report that documented the brutality of guards. The costs to the people of California both financially and in terms of public safety are enormous: $80,000 per year, per youth. Despite this huge price tag, more than 90% of CYA youths who leave the system are re-arrested within three years.

“System Failure” documents the abuse of juveniles in facilities such as juvenile hall. Showing the abuse and neglect that juveniles go through at these facilities which “… revealed horrific conditions, including 23 hour a day solitary confinement and extreme levels of violence, sexual assault, guard abuse, and medical, educational, and mental health care neglect.”


This video exposes the horrific conditions and human rights violations endemic of the California Youth Authority, one of the largest youth correctional agencies in the United States. “System Failure” calls for the CYA’s nine prison facilities to be replaced with regional rehabilitation centers and local community based alternatives.

Personal Overview: Juvenile jails include minors from 25 all the way down to age 12. Minors in juvenile facilities are being mistreated including abuse, sexual harassment and rapes, malnutrition, and lack of education. As minors they have the right to an education even in the juvenile facilities but are being denied these rights. How are the minors going to evolve into well rounded citizens without the access to an education? The abuse and harassment of the officers on the minors in juvenile facilities is out of hand. There has been many instances of beatings by the staff in California alone. Juvenile jails are meant for keeping minors out of jails and prisons with adults who have committed serious crimes, but are subject to staff abuse. This abuse of authority goes against the rights of the youth even if they are convicted and in prison facilities.


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