By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
The Youthful Offender Program (YOP) at California State Prison, Solano, (SOL) and five other institutions is gaining momentum and giving incoming young offenders improved opportunities.
“It saved my life,” said 18-year-old inmate DeAnte Crawford. “I see guys who came in 20 years ago in a Level IV yard. I ask, ‘What have you been doing?’ That’s not gonna be me.”
The YOP assesses youthful offenders entering prison under the age of 22, allowing CDCR to classify these offenders at lower custody levels. If their crime brought them in at a Level IV, they can now be classified as Level III, or if they came in as Level IIIs they now enter as Level IIs. Those who have committed the most serious crimes and are serving the longest sentences are committed to a Level IV yard.
There are currently 2,300 inmates involved in the YOP at six prisons. Beside Solano, they are San Quentin State Prison (SP), Valley SP , the California Rehabilitation Center, Ironwood SP and the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility. There are 114 inmates in the YOP at Solano.
Marcos Mendez, 18, would have entered SOL as a Level III, but he’s housed in a Level II yard living in a dormitory setting rather than in a cell.
“It’s a safer place to be. There is less stress, and I’m able to be with guys my own age through the YOP. We can program together and work toward not making the same mistakes that got us here,” Mendez said.
Jasper Jauregui, 21, is serving life with the possibility of parole. Previously, he would have entered SOL as a Level IV inmate, but because of the YOP, he’s now in a Level III.
“These young guys like me; we’ve got good heads on our shoulders. We just screwed up, some of us in a big way,” Jauregui said. “But we’re open with our feelings, none of that macho crap. These guys want to reason. They don’t have the write-ups like the guys on the yards. These guys have their minds right.”
“There are a lot of people watching you, and pulling for you,” said program director, Capt. Mike Masters. “We want to see you guys succeed (and) so we can spread the message that this works, and that others can get involved and hopefully turn their lives around.”
All offenders under the age of 22 on or after July 1, 2015 are reviewed by wardens, counselors, parole agents and Mike Masters and his YOP staff. The goal is to get as many in the program as possible.
“If these guys come in at a lower level, they’ll get more opportunities for programming, have less stress, and be mentored by those close to the program to provide tools for success, “ Masters said.
Inmate Christian Birdsall is 19 years old and because of his crime, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He entered SOL as a Level III.
“No matter what your sentence is, life keeps going, and I don’t want to stop growing, or give up on myself. I need this because it gives me hope, and makes me focus on improving myself,” Birdsall said.
SOL is the only prison where there is a mentorship program for those involved with the YOP.
Inmates Darryl Poole, Daniel Hopper and Eric Clark are YOP mentors.
“You know what I saw when I got to prison, some guy stabbed a fellow inmate to death,” Hopper said. “I lived with that, and it stayed with me. We didn’t have anything like the YOP. I had no one to talk to or learn from. I was a southern Hispanic, all I knew was violence. I had no role models or mentors.”
Clark was on a Level IV yard for 18 years.
“I lived that life, I saw how hard it is just to survive in that environment,” Clark told the young offenders. “You have been given a chance I never got. Make the most of it.”