Huber Balks At State Closing Youth Jail

NOV. 5, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recently decided to close the state’s oldest youth correctional facility, which is also, apparently, the state’s most efficiently run facility.

A joint legislative hearing on Nov. 3 left many wondering why the corrections department would target a well-run youth facility for closure, instead of simply consolidating other less efficiently run, smaller youth facilities. The audience in the hearing room was so large that overflow seating was required. Much of the audience consisted of youth authority employees, as well as residents who live near the facility, concerned that the closure would wreck havoc on their local economy.

At issue is the Preston Youth Correctional Facility in Ione, Ca, located in Amador County. The Ione facility has been a part of the community for 116 years, first built in 1894 as the Preston School of Industry to rehabilitate troubled youth. In 1960 the corrections department took over, but abandoned the beautiful old original buildings, which were designed in the same architectural style as Hearst Castle, according to a historian who attended the hearing. Eventually all the buildings were brought back into operation, but are currently in need of expensive repairs.

Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-El Dorado Hills, Chairwoman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said she called the hearing after the corrections department’s October 21 announcement that it would  close the facility due to a slashed budget and declining youth population.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office gave an overview of the Youth Authority infrastructure and explained that the Preston facility has received greatly improved compliance grades since a 2003 lawsuit was filed against the entire youth correctional system. The results of the lawsuit forced dramatic changes to rehabilitation programs as well as youth authority facilities, with Preston achieving an 84 percent compliance grade – the best in the system. And Preston was expected to reach the 90 percentile within two years.

Preston is one of five youth correctional facilities in the state – two in Southern California, and three in Northern California. Closing it “will allow the Division of Juvenile Justice to operate more effectively and efficiently as the state adapts to changes in our youth population,” said CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate in the October announcement. But during Wednesday’s hearing, it became clear that a dramatically decreased budget was also one of the driving factors.

Bill Sessa, a CDCR spokesman, said that because the number of youth offenders has dropped from 10,000 to only 1,300, the department needs budget cuts and facility adjustments. The Preston facility once housed 1,100 youth offenders, but is currently down to a population of only 224 mostly violent offenders, due to state legislation which narrowly redefined which youth offenders qualified to be in the juvenile justice system. Violent offenders in the juvenile justice system are kept up to age 25, whereas the youth offenders who remain in county facilities are released at age 18.

In contrast, less-violent youth offenders now remain in county local treatment services. Several who testified during the hearing argued against this practice, because getting youth away from family and neighborhood influences had proved successful in rehabilitation and treatment. They also noted that youth confined to county facilities with adult population are no longer offered the opportunity to earn a General Educational Diploma. At the juvenile justice youth facilities, a G.E.D. is offered along with high school classes, as part of the rehabilitation treatment.

Members of the public also expressed concern for the economy of Amador County if Corrections closes the Preston facility. Members of the Ione City Council spoke, as did several long time youth authority employees. All were worried about the future of the youth currently housed at Preston should they be moved to other state facilities.

“Closing Preston is like the Giants leaving San Francisco,” one youth authority employee said. “The numbers do not make sense, and transferring juveniles to the counties will not work.”

Sessa also said that the 116-year-old facility in Ione has extensive maintenance and repair issues. “Preston is the oldest facility in the juvenile system and much of the estimated cost of continuing operations there is directly tied to its age,” he said. “We estimate the costs of needed improvements to be about $40 million. By comparison, capitol costs and deferred maintenance at the Chaderjian and Close facilities is estimated to be about $7.4 and $5.6 million respectively.”

Several people brought up politics. In fact, a number of state employees sitting in the audience expressed concern that the decision to close Preston was a political move by the corrections department.

Huber announced additional hearings to discuss the department’s desire to close the Preston facility, and expressed her desire for the department to hold off on making the closure decision until the new administration and Legislature has a chance to weigh in on the matter.

NOV. 5, 2010

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  1. mike
    mike 6 March, 2013, 14:08

    im so glad that evil place is closeing, crooked staff and guards alike….”radar and contraras ” hope you get the bread line

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