Group Cheers Closure
STOCKTON - A group of activists marked the
official closure Thursday of a Stockton-area youth prison by shouting
outside the gates for a wholesale shutdown of the state's Division of
"We are winning," Books Not
Bars director Zachary Norris said in front of the Northern California
Youth Correctional Center, which includes the now-shuttered DeWitt
Nelson Youth Correctional Facility. He was surrounded by about 100
The demonstration came at the same
moment that 70 miles away in an Oakland courtroom, attorneys for the
Prison Law Office made closing arguments in a case urging a judge to
place the youth system's reforms under court control.
by state prison officials who say they're making incremental progress,
Prison Law Office attorneys are dissatisfied with the sluggish pace of
reform that began with the 2004 settlement of a lawsuit that claimed
the prisons fostered inhumane conditions.
County Superior Court Judge Jon S. Tigar has 90 days to decide what he
will order, Prison Law Office attorney Sara Norman said by phone.
seemed pretty clear that he has to step in to fix the problems," said
Norman, critical of reform efforts. "It's our position that it's all
been window dressing."
Back in Stockton, a
caravan from Oakland filled with Books Not Bars supporters was turned
away from the main gate of the Northern California Youth Correctional
Center. They sought entry to assemble in front of DeWitt Nelson.
Nelson officially went dark Thursday, along with El Paso De Robles
Youth Correctional Facility, a result of a shrinking number of youths
sent to state lockups. Peeking at 10,000 a decade ago, there are fewer
than 1,900 wards today.
Ordered off the state
property by correctional officials, the group from Books Not Bars
walked across Newcastle Road and stood in a circle among dry grass and
star thistle. Former wards and parents of incarcerated youth made up
the group holding protest signs.
Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, joined the group and called for an
emphasis on rehabilitating youthful offenders rather than locking them
"Putting kids behind bars doesn't
accomplish anything," he told the group. "It says something about us,
that we don't have an ounce of compassion."
Marcyelle Wheaten, 21, spent five years in the system, which he said
hardens youths. He wore a dark-blue suit and took hold of the
microphone to talk about his rough childhood that led him to break the
law and enter the prisons.
"They don't want to hear about our problems," Wheaten said. "They'd rather ship us off."
Warner, head of the state's Division of Juvenile Justice, said by phone
that despite criticism, there's a valid need for the state youth
system. Of the 225,000 youth offenders arrested last year, just 1
percent came to the state.
A shift in policy
last year to rehabilitate more of the serious offenders in county
juvenile halls has presented some serious challenges locally, he said.
are those who really present such a high risk and high need," he said.
"We need to have a state facility to address them safely."