The Ella Baker Center’s Books Not Bars campaign (which began in 2001) successfully fought to close five of the eight California youth prisons, resulting in an 85% reduction in the youth prison population. Starting in 2021, the last three state youth prisons will be closed.

Books Not Bars brought together parents and families directly impacted by youth incarceration to highlight the abuses of the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Our allies—the Prison Law Office (which sued the California Youth Authority over conditions inside the youth prisons), the Youth Justice Coalition (a membership-based organization of young people who had been through the criminal legal system), the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice and the Youth Law Center (advocacy organizations), among others—were instrumental in the success of the campaign.

“This is a most joyous victory. We fought hard and long to have these hell-holes shut down. The damage that has been done, not only to my son but to our family, is immeasurable. All that was done to my son while he was locked up in what I call a gladiator school caused him serious mental health issues and physical problems. Our goals today should be to never allow these atrocities to take place again. There are better and more practical ways to deal with the youth issues. What you invest in them is what you get out of them!”

Katrina Allen, Parent Organizer
Katrina Allen (left) and Laura Talkington-Denies at a Books Not Bars rally.

“Being that I was formerly in the juvenile justice system, I’m happy to see that these doors are closing. We need more support groups for youth, something that works more efficiently for young people. Oftentimes that’s the only support that some kids have. There could have been better programs that could have helped me avoid going down the road to being incarcerated. Now, I am putting all my energy towards what’s going to happen when kids need that support.”

Monica Carlos, formerly incarcerated at sixteen years old

“They laughed at us years ago when we told them we’d shut down all the California Youth Prisons. It didn’t happen overnight, but the state is finally moving toward justice. Now they need to provide the tools that will actually help these kids.  Now they’re going to actually help these kids finally.they told them we’d be taking them down.”

Laura Talkington-Denies, Parent Organizer
Laura joined Books Not Bars when her 15-year old son was serving time inside the notorious N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility.

“This is long overdue. Like a lot of parents with incarcerated children, we often felt hopeless, like we were doing time with our children. During the six years I was with Books Not Bars we brought together over five hundred parents and gave each other hope, a purpose. The fight isn’t over, but it feels good to see that other parents won’t have their children locked in these dungeons in the future.”

Lourdes Duarte, Parent Organizer