The Story of Time Adds
We here at Books Not Bars started working with families of incarcerated youth to champion alternatives to the decrepit and violent youth prisons in 2004. Ever since the first parents meeting, getting rid of time adds has been a dream. And now finally, that dream is a reality.
Time adds are disciplinary sanctions that allow guards at Division of Juvenile Justice (“DJJ”) to delay parole consideration dates without judicial review. They are a major reason why California’s youth serve the longest average sentences in the country.
Families would share complaint after complaint about time adds. Mothers would describe how their hopes and their children’s hopes for parole were dashed with delay after delay.
In 2006, then-Senator Gloria Romero first attempted to address time adds by authoring a bill that would require the DJJ to reduce the average length of stay for youth. We seized on the chance to support it. Gathering families with us, we staged a three-day vigil in Sacramento. We pushed the Legislature to support Romero’s bill and other bills to reform DJJ, and demanded that then-Governor Schwarzenegger meet with the families, some of whom lost loved ones to DJJ’s abuse. Senator Romero’s bill managed to pass the Legislature, but was ultimately vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.
The families’ disappointment only fueled their commitment to continue fighting for their children. In 2009, Books Not Bars sponsored the next attempt at ending the abusive practice of time adds. AB 999, introduced by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, would have eliminated time adds and instead implement a time credit system that focused on positive incentives to modify youth behavior. Thousands of you stood with us by signing petitions, writing letters, making calls, and attending rallies at the Capitol. At the end of the session, prison guards suddenly launched an attack on the bill, despite the extensive research showing that time adds serve no disciplinary purpose. The bill became a two-year bill.
The next year, while working with Assemblymember Skinner on AB 999, a new opportunity arose. Our bill language to eliminate time adds was included in the budget as a cost savings measure. But last minute deal-making with Republicans caused time adds and other criminal justice reforms to be abandoned.
Despite research that shows longer periods of incarceration do not help youth, and despite numerous testimonials from youth including Narciso Morales (watch this video about his experience) who’ve had to languish in the DJJ for years due of time adds, our elected leaders caved time and again to the usual political pressures from the prison guards union and delusional staff that defend this awful practice. We licked our wounds but our resolve to continue to advocate on behalf of youth only got stronger.
Fast forward to 2012. The issue of time adds still impacts the thousand youth remaining in the DJJ and their families. This week, our commitment and your commitment to the youth and families has finally paid off. The budget process in California is always a roller coaster. Once we knew that DJJ closure through the budget was off the table, we immediately pressed for lawmakers to eliminate time adds at the very least. We once again won budget language to do just that. But this time around, Governor Brown’s signed and approved budget keeps our language intact-- we won!
We are thrilled, though we know that this can’t give Narciso Morales four years of his life back. Or any of the other youth who languished in DJJ as time adds added damage to damage. Still, for all the youth serving virtually unending hours, days, months, and years upon years, this is a profound victory for human rights.
Sep 18, 2013
May 24, 2013
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Feb 28, 2013