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Hundreds rally to protest new youth jail

By Kenyatte Davis Daily Planet staff
Monday July 30, 2001

OAKLAND – Hundreds of teens, artists and social activists gathered in Frank Ogawa Plaza Saturday to protest Alameda County’s plan to replace the 299-bed juvenile detention facility in San Leandro with a 450-bed facility in Dublin. 

The rally, called “The Summer Jam to Stop the Super Jail” was scheduled to last from noon to 5 p.m., but the event’s political poetry, hip-hop, song and speech lasted into the evening. 

The activists’ works covered a wide range of topics including police brutality, environmental racism, the controversial court case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and of course the “Super Jail,” but all depicted a general dislike for the police and the American judicial system. 

“The reason so many people have come together on this fight, is because freedom is everybody’s issue, exploitation is everybody’s issue,” said one of the event’s emcees. “If you’re fighting for liberation, cops ain’t gonna see your race or your age, they know that no matter who you are, that you are a threat.” 

The main problem that most people had with the new facility was that it was simply too big. 

“People aren’t saying that we shouldn’t build the new facility,” said Supervisor Keith Carson who represents Berkeley, “people are just saying they don’t want to build the largest per capita facility in the nation.” 

“We’re here to stop this madness right now,” said Ruthie Gilmore of Critical Resistance, “because we know that if they build it, they will fill it, every time.” 

The facility’s maximum occupancy, which was originally planned to be 540 beds, was reduced to 450 by the Board of Supervisors on July 24, but it seemed that no one at the rally was satisfied with that cutback. 

“Just the other day they cut the facility back by 90 beds, and they think that’s going to subdue us,” said Rachel Jackson of Books not Bars, one of the organizations which organized the event. “If they drop the number of beds by a couple more hundred, then maybe we’ll agree with the plan.” 

Another major issue that many of the protesters had with the new facility was its cost. According to the Board of Supervisors constructing the new facility will cost Alameda County $175 million, $33.2 million of which will be covered by a construction grant from the Board of Corrections. 

“Spending this much money on a jail is ridiculous,” said Julia (Butterfly) Hill, who sat in a redwood tree for two years, to protest unsustainable logging. “It’s like spending millions on radiation research, when they could just as easily spend the money figuring out what it is that is causing cancer.” 

In a phone interview Sunday, Carson said he favors preventative measures for youth as opposed to building a larger detention facility. He has proposed that the county create a task force to make sure only criminals are being sent to juvenile hall. 

“We need to maximize our resources to prevent people from going into the system at an early age, “ he said. “We don’t know how many young people are being put in jail because of truancy, mental problems, or psychological issues.” 

Many people also feared that the county won’t close the San Leandro facility when the new one is completed. 

“Alameda county we’re watching you and we don’t believe for an instant that you won’t keep the old juvi hall open when you finish the new one,” Gilmore said. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington attended the rally and was impressed by the youth turnout. “It’s great that a lot of young people are concerned and active. We have an entire new generation of people who are being more active on issues than their parents were,” he said Sunday. “This issue especially affects young people because if they spend these millions on incarcerating youth, it means more of them will find themselves in jail for a longer period of time.” 

Alameda County has been trying to replace the San Leandro site for ten years as it is built on portions of the Hayward Fault. Supervisors voting last week in favor of the new, larger site – Alice Lai-Bitker, Gail Steele, and Scott Haggerty – argued that the old site has insufficient space for many services and is frequently filled beyond capacity. 

The proposal to build the new facility was essentially given the final OK at the meeting on July 24, as a proposal by Carson to conduct a new study of the detention population was voted down 3-2. 

The protesters didn't lose motivation over this decision, however, as Jackson says they have much more fighting to do before the new facility is built. “If (the supervisors) think we have been to rude, too rowdy and too roughneck up to now,” she said, “then they must not know how much more we have in store for them.”