Chanting “Yes to education, No to super-jails,” and carrying signs reading “No expansion of the Alameda County Jail,” demonstrators gathered at the County of Alameda Administration Building to protest plans for a new and expanded juvenile corrections facility in Dublin.
Organizers and students associated with Youth Force Coalition, a group of youth organizations fighting against oppressive attacks on communities, marched, chanted and held signs during the protest.
According to Nicole Lee, a member of Let’s Get Free, a community organization committed to juvenile justice, cultural activism, police accountability and in association with YFC, said the issue of youth incarceration is a critical issue. “I feel it’s one of the most paramount issues for youth in Alameda County,” said Lee.
Opponents of the planned Dublin facility say it will be too big and too far away for many Alameda County families. Many are concerned that the size of the new building will produce an institutional or prison-like feeling .
Lee said that currently many local parents must miss half a day of work to attend hearings at the present juvenile facility but would “miss up to a full day’s work traveling to Dublin which isn’t an option for a lot of working class families.” Without the support of parents, according to Lee, many juveniles fall through the cracks in many juvenile systems.
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Alameda’s Board of Supervisors is split on its support for the facility. Supervisor Nate Miley from District 4 and Keith Carson from District 5 oppose plans for the new expanded facility, while supervisors Scott Haggerty, Gail Steele and Alice Lai-Bitker currently support the proposed project.
Andrew Ele, a member of San Francisco’s Youth Making A Difference, attended the Oakland protest to support juvenile justice. Supports of the facility, according to Ele, “think that youth are always doing crimes and bad things. They don’t see no other resources other than locking people up.”
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The new facility would increase the number of juvenile beds from 200 to between 520 and 530.
Ele expressed YMAC’s proposal for increased counseling services, health and mental health resources as alternatives to the expansion the Alameda County juvenile facility.
“I’m here because they’re expanding a hall that’s not close and that you don’t have access to,” said YMAC member Obby Toly. According to Toly, San Francisco’s Community Assistance Referral Center provides a great example for an alternative to the increasingly institutional feel of the juvenile system. “CARC uses a points system and if you pass your parents can pick you up and you don’t go into the system,” said Toly.
Both Toly and Lee referred to the significant racial dimension of the current juvenile facility. Lee notes that “while 15 percent of the general population in Alameda County is of color, 60 percent of juvenile facility’s population is of color.”
Members of Books Not Bars, a project launched in 2001 by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, also voiced their opinions at the Oakland demonstration. BNB members work to expose and end the over-incarceration of youth. They are one of the many groups working to build a “bottom-up” movement with the aim of changing the entire criminal justice system.
According to BNB, there are a number of groups responsible for the increase in incarceration facilities. Among those groups BNB cites TV networks and newspapers for hyping sensational crimes, prison guard’s unions for pushing increasingly punitive laws and profiteering corporations for pushing tougher laws and longer sentences in order to gain from prison construction and prison labor.
Youth Force Coalition members also expressed their concerns about a failing and poorly funded education system. Demonstrators said that every dollar spent on prisons is a dollar that could have been spent on books and education.
According to BNB, California now ranks number one in the nation on prison spending - number 43 in spending on public education.