Friday, December 10, 2010

The Fight Over Preston Youth Correctional Facility

On occasion, we have covered the abysmal state of juvenile prisons in California. Since our juvenile prison population has been declining, Some of them, like the juvenile institution in Chino, have been closed and repurposed into adult incarceration facilities. The Books Not Bars project at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights lists some of the atrocious occurrences in these institutions:
  • Young people locked in 20- to 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement for days, weeks and months on end;
  • Young people locked in 4'x4' cages for temporary detention;
  • Guard and staff abuse, neglect, manipulation, and humiliation of the young people in their care;
  • Rampant sexual assault;
  • Guard/staff abuse of chemical weapons against the young people;
  • Virtually non-existent care for young people with mental health or substance abuse needs;
  • Shocking negligence in medical care, especially emergency care;
  • Woefully inadequate educational programming;
  • A culture and atmosphere of constant intimidation, isolation, fear and violence;
  • Five deaths of young people in less than three years.
Their report states,

Stark and Preston youth prisons are the most severe examples of the DJJ’s continuing failures, where daily chaos prevents most youth from participating in programs. Even where programs are administered with regularity, almost no programming proven to reduce recidivism is available, and at many prisons, only a small minority of youth participates. The DJJ has so dramatically failed to comply with court-ordered remedial plans that in 2008, plaintiffs sought a receiver to take over the reforms.

Today's Chron article is about one of these most notorious juvenile facilities, Preston Youth Correctional Facility. And, it appears that the hurdle in the path of doing the right thing and closing Preston is a lawmaker concerned about job losses among her constituents.

Preston, located an hour northeast of Stockton, houses just 224 youths and, as one of the state's oldest correctional facilities, is in terrible condition. Most of the youths serving time there are hours away from their families.

The facility employs about 450 people in a county with just 38,000 residents and a 12.4 percent unemployment rate. Closing it would save the state $30 million this fiscal year and more in future years, officials estimate.

"It's like closing a military base," said Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office. "People want to keep it just for jobs, but that shouldn't be the reason that the state or government implements a program."

Huber's arguments against the closure are as follows:

Huber said the closure of Preston would "kill an entire county," because it is one of the largest employers in the area.

"This is going to turn the city of Ione into Flint, Mich.," Huber said, referring to the depressing impacts the closure of General Motors facilities had on that company town 20 years ago. "I'm not disagreeing with the fact that a facility needs to be closed ... the question is how do we decide which is the best facility to close."

Huber contends that Preston has higher graduation rates than other youth facilities; is best complying with the settlement that came out of the 2003 lawsuit; and, because of its dorm settings, offers a better setting for youths.

"The five facilities we have are like a school district," she said. "I think Preston is the best school - if you have to save $30 million, do you close the best-performing school?"

I recommend reading the entire article - it provides more information on Preston, quoting references to it as a "dungeon".


Anonymous said...

I visited Preston several times in the late 1990's. These visits pertained to consulting on infrastructure conditions. My observations were such that it was more like the 1890's. Dilapidation and archaic are apt descriptions. I can only imagine what everyday custody conditions are like.

Hadar Aviram said...

Thanks for this, Anonymous -- I really, really hope they end up doing the right thing.

Unknown said...

Professor Aviram,
I commend your work. I was going through the Hastings web site and happened to stumble upon this blog. What is interesting about this post is the framing of the issue. You are talking about human rights, and the community in which the facility is located is talking about economic development. The prison system in California is big business, and whether looking at this issue from a structural-functional position, or that of a critical theorist, incarceration serves a purposeful function in society - for good or bad.

The people in these prison communities feel that they are doing a good thing, by housing and "taking care of" the primarily urban and poor who are a threat to social stability, and to American values.

Only 4% of white males will ever be incarcerated, yet 28.5% of Black males will be incarcerated some time in their lives. The justice system has more of a negative impact on the weaker segments of society who are disproportionately represented in this 'functional' necessity for social stability, or as critical theorist would say, to place barriers on the poor working classes to keep them in a subservient position in society.

One of the ways to make headway on this issue might be to use social construction theory as a means to understand how politicians benefit from "get tough on crime" policies, and also to look for ways to offer these rural electorate alternative economic development generators aside from the prisons, i.e. special schools, training facilities, etc. However, I am cognizant of the fact that there are many hurdles to this, but without a viable economic development option for the rural electorate, they will remain the supporting backbone for the over-incarceration of California's mostly poor and minority children.

Thank you for writing about this issue,
Malcolm Oliver

Anonymous said...

I work there and I think they should
close it. You have a lot of retired
annuitants double dipping and doing
nothing. The real cost is now up
to 300 thousand per ward per year.
Close it down and give the money to
the schools.

Anonymous said...

I use to work there also as a guard and found out that the wards and officers liked it better then other facilities. Overall it was just a better place to be. What I don't agree with is these fake so-called "counselors" that work there. You could have a four year degree in any field and become a "counselor"??? Or at one time spend two years as a guard and move up to a counselor???? What!? I thought to be a counselor you had to have a masters degree in that field!? No the academy don't teach you nothing about talking to these youth. The wards would open up more to the guards because we understood them more. I use to get the wards to not fight, go to school, listen to their "counslors", act right, and stop group disturbances because I knew how to talk and treat them. I had them tell me many times they respect me and not them. To help the juveniles that are locked up the state should concentrate on who should really be a counselor and who shouldn't. Because their is alot that should NOT be there.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous guard above. In correctional counseling, you walk the line between respect from respect and manipulation from the population.

respect doesn't mean they have to like you.

To be an inmate populations 'favorite' counselor means 2 things, you will have short career where you are. Because of the number 2, inmates are now 'liking' you and telling you and manipulation is forthcoming.