State To Shut Down Preston Youth Prison

Immediate Release
Abel Habtegeorgis: 510.910.2672 or


NOTE: Ella Baker Center staff and members of our Families for Books Not Bars Network available for interviews

Oakland- The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights celebrated a major victory today, learning that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), plans to officially announce the closure of the Preston Youth Correctional Facility in Ione early next week. With abusive solitary confinement and violence rampant inside its deteriorating walls, Preston's closure is a monumental achievement in our ongoing campaign to transform juvenile justice in California.

Currently, California spends at least $200,000 per year for each youth in a DJJ facility such as Preston. Concern over this ineffective and expensive system, as well as years of Books Not Bars' work to expose abuses inside the prisons, have made counties reluctant to send youth to DJJ's notorious youth prisons.

"It's about time," commented DeAndre Lewis, an organizer with Books Not Bars who spent three years in the Preston facility. Mr. Lewis, now a student at UC Berkeley, reflected, "The staff at Preston constantly incited violence between the youth, or kept us in solitary confinement for hours on end. I felt like most of them did not have my best interests in mind."

Best practices in juvenile justice show time and again that youth who are kept close to their families have a better chance for rehabilitation. Preston's remote location means that youth prisoners are extremely isolated.

"Preston is the exact opposite of what youth need to turn their lives around: a dungeon isolated in a town far away from youths' families," commented Sumayyah Waheed, Director of the Ella Baker Center's Books Not Bars Campaign. "Closing this relic from the 1800's means that instead, we can spend our scarce resources on more effective treatments closer to youths' homes."

Even as the population of DJJ has decreased, the rate of violence in Preston has doubled.

Jose and Victoria Gomez's son visited their son in Preston in 2008 and could not even recognize him. His face covered in what looked like hundreds of severely inflamed mosquito bites leaking pus from being maced and beaten a week earlier. The guards had refused to allow him and other youth to properly wash off the irritant, causing chemical burns across their faces and down to their chests. Jose and Victoria are very happy that Preston is being closed. "It is a very cruel place. They abused our son."

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights has advocated for the closure of the youth prisons since 2004, and Preston is the fourth prison to close since then. The organization's new film Learning from our Mistakes demonstrates how California could transform its juvenile justice system to lift youth up rather than locking them down. To learn more, visit