Toshi Priest joined other California mothers such as Sharon James of Merced and the Books Not Bars campaign of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, based in Oakland, for a press conference at the state Capitol on May 7. Speakers called for ending the policy of time-adds for youths (ages 14 to 25) in DJJ facilities. To this end, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Books Not Bars support passage of Assembly Bill 999 (AB 999), which she introduced February 27.
Since the state entered into a consent decree in November 2004 to improve conditions in its juvenile prisons, those conditions have not improved to any appreciable degree, according to Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office. And Alameda Superior Court Judge Judge Jon S. Tigar, who approved the consent decree, wrote in an Oct. 27 order that while remedial plans were developed as required, the state "has not complied with the deadlines in any of them."
Reporter Tim Lantz: "By letting kids call or write to their family, clergy and legal council in their own language, plus require the Department of Juvenile Justice to communicate better with families. Another bill called the Keeping Families Whole Act - is expected to amend laws which prevent parents behind bars from reuniting with their children after release..."
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Calls to and from family give the incarcerated incentive to behave
Huddled against the wall, an 18-year-old second-degree murderer named Jeffrey Stevenson crooked a telephone into his neck, barely talking, but staying in touch with the transmitted sounds of life on the outside.
Under Assembly Bill 1300, a new law lobbied by Books Not Bars and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was one of at least four telephone calls that Stevenson will get to make every month, regardless of his disciplinary status.
Books Not Bars and The Gathering For Justice work together to produce a rally to protest the lack of real juvenile justice, both in California and the United States. Families speak out about the poor treatment they received at the hands of California's youth prison system.
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In August of 2005, a ward in a California youth prison who was locked alone in his cell for two months killed himself. The suicide of 18-year-old Joseph Maldonado prompted a special investigation. It also inspired a bill just approved by the California Legislature.
The measure aims to make it easier for wards of the state to have contact with their families. Supporters say family contact is essential for rehabilitation. Kenny Goldberg speaks with Books Not Bars' Sumayyah Waheed and Joseph's sister Rene Nuñez.
At first it fed on picket signs and raw emotion. But now Books Not Bars has added lobbyists and legislation to its diet in a fight to take down California's highly criticized youth prisons.
In its first six years, the grass-roots organization has matured into a reckoning force, drawn from its home base in Oakland to protest violence and poor conditions inside youth prisons such as N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility near Stockton.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday proposed shutting down another facility in the troubled youth prison system, and corrections officials say more such closures could be on the way, including one of the most violent lockups in the state.