Books Not Bars Basics

California’s notorious Division of Juvenile Justice (sometimes known by its original name, CYA or California Youth Authority) is a hotbed of abuse. DJJ prisons are ineffective, violent, and abusive. They fail to make our communities safer or to help youth get their lives on track. With an 81 percent recidivism rate and a cost of over $200,000 per youth, per year, DJJ is one of the nation's most expensive, yet least effective juvenile justice systems.

Books Not Bars works for justice in our state. We won't allow California to be a state where some kids matter and some kids don't. To make the changes that are crucial for California, Books Not Bars champions effective alternatives to the state’s broken youth prison system by sharing stories from people directly impacted by it, crafting and passing cutting-edge policies, and sharing research to demonstrate a better way forward.

Campaign History

Our campaign to close California’s youth prisons builds on a long history of success. Since the Books Not Bars campaign launched in 2004:

  • The youth prison population has fallen from 4,800 to 922.
  • Our efforts have helped close five of the state's abusive prisons.
  • We built the first-ever statewide network of families with imprisoned children, Families for Books Not Bars, with over 1,000 member families.
  • We championed three bills developed from the experiences of families impacted by prisons, and won in Sacramento! Laws we've passed include the Family Communications Act and the Keeping Families Whole Act.
  • Leaders and editorial boards across the state have endorsed our call for reform.
  • We organized across the state in 2008 to defeat a "tough on crime" initiative, Prop 6.