Preston juvenile facility closure to hit hard for economy in Ione
As state corrections officials finalize plans to close the Preston Youth Correctional Facility by June 2011, Ione officials are bracing for the closure's economic impact.
The Preston site, which has a population of 224 offenders and which twice touted country music singer Merle Haggard among its juvenile inhabitants, is among only five such facilities left in California.
Preston, with a troubled history, is the oldest of the five. Two are in Stockton. And two are in Southern California.
The Preston announcement was lauded by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. The facility has been likened to a dungeon, said Sumayyah Waheed, who directs the center's "Books not Bars" campaign aimed at transforming the juvenile justice system.
"It's absolutely the opposite of what they (juveniles) need to turn their lives around," Waheed said.
Berkeley attorney Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office, which has long fought to improve conditions for juvenile offenders, called the closure a "reasonable choice."
"The population for the Division of Juvenile Justice is dropping dramatically," Specter said. It was 10,000 a decade ago and amounts to fewer than 1,200 today as more are kept by counties.
"It's very reasonable that the state is trying to close one of the institutions," he said. "There is not the population to justify it anymore."
Their enthusiasm is not shared by Ione officials, who planned Tuesday afternoon to meet state prison officials at City Hall to discuss the impact on the community.
"We've had a long-term relationship with the prison youth authority," Ione City Manager Kim Kerr said in an interview, comparing Ione to a company town.
"We're pretty much a state-of-California town," she said, adding that multiple generations of some families have held jobs there.
Next door is the larger Mule Creek State Prison, which houses adult inmates. About a fifth of the Mule Creek work force lives inside Ione, Kerr said.
At Preston, about a third of the 440 employees live in the city.
What's more, offenders at the two institutions constitute more than half the city's 7,800 population, she said.
Losing the juvenile population will carve an estimated $25,000 from the city's vehicle license fee proceeds, she said. An undetermined revenue loss will come from reduced sales taxes as fewer people patronize Ione's 10 restaurants and two gas stations on their way to and from the site.
The Preston youth work crew will disappear, she said. And correctional workers who lose their jobs and can't pay their mortgages will face foreclosures, further reducing the city's share of property tax proceeds.
"We don't know the full economic impact" and how it will diminish the city's $2 million general fund budget. "We don't know that it's the best choice to shut down."
Bill Sessa, spokesman for the state Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, said closing a facility is "never a welcome decision."
"We are certainly aware of the importance of the facility to the local economy. And we will be doing everything we can to mitigate the effects" of closure, he said.
"We sit down with each of the employees and provide them with whatever other job possibilities they have" based on their department seniority and job description, he said.
They may have opportunities in nearby facilities. And some, he said, may retire.
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