Bringing Out-Of-State Inmates Home

A story published this summer on the California Watch examined the possibility of bringing back 9,500 California inmates currently serving their term in private institutions run by Correctional Corporation of America in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

The grand strategic plan includes a provision for ending out-of-state incarceration, and it’ll begin by bringing back about 600 inmates. This is compounded by the fact that the state’s contract with CCA is based on occupancy rates.

In case you’re wondering who benefits from levels of mass incarceration, the CA Watch story says:

The revised contract will reduce California’s fee to the private prison group by $67 million for the current fiscal year, according to corrections spokeswoman Dana Simas. The state will save another $14 million in 2012 by cutting staff positions for the program, which is administered in Sacramento. 

California is paying the Corrections Corporation $61 to $72 per prison bed per day, making the original contract worth more than $280 million for 2012-13, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office and corrections department figures.

The fiscal challenges involved in bringing back inmates involve the need to provide adequate housing and health care and the potential need for more construction. But if the total number of inmates to be returned to the state is less than 10,000, that would still render the prisons less crowded than they were in the pre-Plata era.

California Prison Population Reduction: First Benchmark

December 27th was the first benchmark for reporting the progress in prison population reduction to the federal three-judge panel. CDCR’s press release on the matter reports:

As of December 14, the state’s 33 prisons held 134,804 inmates and were at 169.2 percent design capacity. Since October 1, the state prison inmate population has been dropping by an average of 933 inmates per week without the early release of any state prison inmates.

This comes fairly close to the 167 percent set by the federal panel, and CDCR is confident that it can meet the June 12 benchmark. More data and the graph are available here. Here are the actual numbers of inmates, measured weekly:

Make no mistake; 169.2 percent capacity is still very, very overcrowded. But it is, indeed, an improvement from the statistics that started off the litigation. What remains is to figure out how this has impacted county jail population. If the realignment has merely displaced people, or worse, increased their numbers elsewhere, the trend has not really been reversed, and we may be looking at a county-level version of Plata at some point in the future.

CDCR Publishes Decrowding Photos

 When we started the California Correctional Crisis blog in 2008, we opened with a post linking to this story from NPR, and included an image of makeshift beds in the gym. Would you believe then that you would be seeing images like the one on the left?
CDCR has published a series of images on Flickr showing decrowded facilities. Do watch the whole slideshow. While these are not quantitative data, they are, indeed, powerful; the before-and-after shots are particularly striking, though I’d be more impressed if they were properly labeled and depicted the exact same locations. For the actual numbers you’ll have to wait three days; December 27th is the first court-mandated benchmark for monitoring the progress of population reduction ordered in Brown v. Plata. And, of course, the CCC blog will accompany you then and comment on the state’s progress in decrowding its prisons.

Fresno County Jail Frees Parole Violators
Fresno & Valley News
No room in Fresno Co. Jail for parole violators
Posted: 11/26/2011 10:29 PM

In another sign that Fresno County is struggling to manage more criminals, the sheriff has ordered that state parole violators no longer will be held at the county jail.

The parolees, who were once sent to state prison if they got into trouble, are now sent to local jails instead – part of the state’s recent realignment of the penal system. But in Fresno County, where the jail already is crowded, the Sheriff’s Office has determined there’s no room for the former convicts.

State parole officials, acknowledging counties are being asked to do more under the realignment, say they’ll try to find other ways to deal with problem parolees.

Orders to not lock them up began Thanksgiving Day. While the jail has long been releasing inmates early because of the lack of space, the directive to turn away parolees only reinforces concerns that criminals aren’t serving the time they should.

“They’re out in the community and they’re violating their parole, and when there’s no consequence for violating, that’s going to be a public safety issue,” said Kelly Keenan, chief assistant district attorney for Fresno County.

Let’s Build Us Some Jailz!

Prison officials open up $600 million for jail construction to 25 counties

State officials have invited 25 counties to apply for a total of $602 million to construct new jail beds, after narrowing the list in recent days.
The bond funding, available under a 2007 law known as AB900, will be awarded by March and will allow a number of counties to expand their jail capacity. It comes as the state implements “realignment” the governor’s plan to address overcrowding in state prisons by letting thousands of low-level offenders serve their time in local jails instead of state prison. Advocates for prisoners oppose the release of funds.
The counties given the green light to apply for the funds are: Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Fresno, Stanislaus, Tulare, Monterey, Yolo, Sonoma, Placer, Kings, Shasta, Sutter, Madera, Imperial, Napa, Siskiyou and Tuolumne. Additonally, Kern, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Amador and San Benito counties are being asked whether they would like to forgo earlier AB900 funds awarded to them and instead reapply for this round of bond money.
Leslie Heller, an official with the Correction Standards Authority, said the majority of the state’s 58 counties expressed interest in the money, and that the counties invited to apply were chosen solely on the increased number of prisoners they are expected to be housing under realignment.
“We knew with realignment there would be a lot of interest, and we know there is not enough money to go around to all the counties, so we thought, ‘Let’s find out how many are interested, then pick an appropriate number from that to go through the application process, so they don’t expend their resources unnecessarily’,” she said.
She added that there is “absolutely not” enough money for all 26 counties, and that some may not ultimately choose to submit an application.
For more information on AB900 funding, visit this website.

Prison Hunger Strikers’ Numbers Increase

(reposted from

12,000 Prisoners Resume Hunger Strike in California

Outrageous Retaliation by Prison Officials

by Larry Everest and Bay Area Revolution Writers Group

A very just, very significant and courageous battle is rapidly spreading in California’s state prisons—and beyond. On September 26, prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) resumed their hunger strike—in the face of vicious lies and attacks and retaliation by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and other state officials, including Governor Jerry Brown. They had been on a hunger strike from July 1-July 20, demanding an end to the horrifically inhuman conditions they face. On September 29, the CDCR admitted that 4,252 inmates in eight state prisons had missed nine consecutive meals since Monday, September 26, and that state prisons at Calipatria, Centinela, Ironwood, Pelican Bay, San Quentin, and Salinas Valley, as well as the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and state prison at Corcoran, had all reported inmates on hunger strike. (The CDCR won’t count a prisoner as being on hunger strike until he or she has refused nine straight meals.)

These officials figures, it turns out, underestimated the number of prisoner hunger strikers. On October 1, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity’s website reported, “Numbers released by the federal receiver’s office show that on September 28, nearly 12,000 prisoners were on hunger strike, including California prisoners who are housed in out-of-state prisons in Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.” (The website adds, “Representatives of the hunger strikers have previously stated that this will be a rolling strike, allowing prisoners to come off strike to regain strength. Because of this, numbers will likely fluctuate throughout the duration of the strike.”)

The strike has also reportedly spread to at least one county jail. The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported that 50 prisoners in the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, east of Los Angeles, are refusing to eat in support of the hunger strike in the prisons. (September 27, 2011)

More than 6,500 prisoners joined the three-week hunger strike in July. Prisoners at Pelican Bay suspended the strike on July 20 after prison officials promised they would meet some of the prisoners’ demands and address the main issues prisoners were raising. Then in September, prisoners wrote a statement saying these promises had not been kept: “We remain in SHU indefinitely, deprived of our basic human rights—based on illegal policies and practices, that amount to torture; torture of us, as well as our family members and loved ones on the outside. CDCR remains in denial, and continues to propagate the lies re: ‘worst-of-the-worst’ 3000 gang generals, etc.—in order to dehumanize/demonize us, so as to maintain the status quo… CDCR’s intent is to break us down, and coerce us into becoming state informants! A violation of international treaty law, period! This is not acceptable!” (Go to for extensive coverage of the July hunger strike.)

These prisoners are now putting their lives on the line again, demanding to be treated as human beings—demanding that the CDCR end the barbaric, inhumane conditions of imprisonment throughout California prisons, particularly in the “Security Housing Units” or SHUs. There, thousands of prisoners are locked in solitary confinement in windowless cells, 7.6 feet by 11.6 feet, for 22 hours or more a day for years, denied human contact. There are 1,111 inmates confined to the SHU at Pelican Bay alone, where the average length of confinement is 6.8 years. More than 500 prisoners have been in the Pelican Bay SHU for more than 10 years; 78 have been in the SHU for more than 20 years!

The prisoners’ demands include an end to group punishment, abolishing the CDCR’s gang status and “debriefing” policies, ending long-term solitary confinement, providing adequate food and expanding constructive programming and privileges. (See “Prisoners at Pelican Bay SHU Announce Hunger Strike, Revolution #237, June 26, 2011, for the prisoners’ five demands.)

Vicious Retaliation Against Hunger Strikers

Prison officials were deeply shaken by the breadth and strength of the July 1-20 hunger strike. This courageous action brought to light the horrific conditions of solitary confinement—amounting to torture—and there was broad support for the prisoners’ just demands.

After prisoners announced the strike would be resumed, prison authorities issued two memos to 165,000 prisoners—warning them against going on strike, claiming they were making changes. Disciplinary warnings were issued to thousands of hunger strikers. Supporters of the strikers report that a number of prisoners lost their jobs as punishment for supporting the strike in July, that some received punitive disciplinary write-ups, and some prisoner negotiators were being singled out and threatened with transfers and subjected to cell searches.

A September 29 press release from the CDCR said it “will not condone organized inmate disturbances” and warned: “Participation in mass hunger strikes and other disturbances will result in CDCR taking the following action: Participation in a mass disturbance is a violation of state law, and any participating inmates will receive disciplinary action in accordance with the California Code of Regulations; and Inmates identified as leading the disturbance will be subject to removal from the general population and be placed in an Administrative Segregation Unit.”

Matthew Cate, Secretary of CDCR, interviewed by Berkeley’s KPFA radio on September 27, threatened prisoners: “If they still want to be on a hunger strike then there will be some consequences to that, because you can’t shut down prison operations with no consequences.” Cate repeatedly described the hunger strike as a “mass disturbance” and compared it to a riot. Attempting to justify why the media are not allowed access to the prisoners on strike—who are risking their lives to demand an end to inhumane conditions—Cates said it was “the same reason that we don’t allow media to have access to Charles Manson.”

On July 29 the CDCR released a revision to its Medical Services Program Policy and Procedures regarding a mass organized hunger strike—including criteria for when the force-feeding of inmates will take place. This could mean the CDCR plans to force-feed prisoners to break the hunger strike. The American Civil Liberties Union has written that “force-feeding contravenes U.S. domestic and international law and is universally considered to be a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” (Press Release: ACLU Calls For End To Inhumane Force-Feeding Of Guantánamo Prisoners, January 9, 2009)

In July, the CDCR repeatedly lied, saying the strike was organized by gangs. Governor Jerry Brown, who never said anything about the hunger strike in July, has now publicly attacked hunger strikers and given full backing to the CDCR’s policies and attacks on the prisoners, saying, “We have individuals who are dedicated to their gang membership who order people to be killed, who order crimes to be committed on the outside… My recommendation is to deal effectively with gangs in prisons.” (California Prison Officials Warn Inmates On Hunger Strike,” CBS San Francisco News, September 30, 2011)

Family members of prisoners participating in the hunger strike are having their visits cancelled. And the Prisoner Hunger Strike Coalition reports that Carol Strickman and Marilyn McMahon, both attorneys who have served on the hunger strike mediation team and have coordinated legal visits for prisoners in the SHU, have both been banned from prisoner visits by the CDCR. This is a further effort to isolate the prisoners and prevent the truth of their situation from being known outside prison walls. (“CDCR Bans Lawyers: TAKE ACTION NOW!” Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, September 30, 2011)

Think about what the draconian actions of the CDCR reveal: Who is defending crimes against humanity? Who is lying and justifying criminal violence against human beings? What does all this show about the utter illegitimacy of the prison system—and brutal nature of mass incarceration in the USA? For prisoners subjected to the most isolating conditions, sitting in their cells and refusing to eat is labeled a “mass disturbance.” Their demands simply to be treated as human beings are met with lies and threats of even more violence against them. This is completely outrageous and intolerable!

Carol Strickman put it like this: “We’re saying they are torturing the prisoners and we want them to stop the torture. The prisoners are so concerned about it that they are going to stop eating. If the response is to increase the torture, then they are just proving who they are and what their values are. This is a human rights issue and they are proving that they don’t see the prisoners as human.”

There is an urgent need for those on the outside to expose and oppose all these attacks on the hunger strikers and their supporters.

Strickman also told Revolution that there are other ramifications if prison officials declare the hunger strike a “mass disturbance”: “They could do lockdowns. That would prevent family visits. That means everybody in the prison can’t have visits. That would be another example of group punishment, and abolishing group punishment is one of the prisoners’ demands. So what they would be doing in response to the prisoners’ demands is to crank up group punishment—the behavior that is being protested. It means people can’t go to the law library, people can’t get medical visits, can’t do classes and programming. In women’s facilities they can’t go do their laundry. You can’t go to canteen. There are a lot of things that flow from a lockdown. That is a serious threat.”

2010 CA Correctional Budget: Rehabilitation at Bottom of Priorities

Source: The Informant. Click to enlarge.

A recent KALW story examines the California correctional budget for 2010. The data does not accurately correspond to the data in CDCR’s “year at a glance” report for 2010. But the picture is not dissimilar: The budget hovers around nine billion dollars, with the largest percentage spent on salaries and a staggering amount on health care and only a fraction on rehabilitative programs.

The CDCR report highlights construction projects funded by AB900 as well as heralds out-of-state incarceration as positive moves to reduce overcrowding. Parole reform is also highlighted, especially decreasing caseloads of parole agents.

But there is a positive piece of news: The total prison population in California has decreased, for the first time in quite a while. This is true for both the female and male populations. Given the trend in recent years, it is hard to tell whether this means a swingback of the incarceration pendulum or a mere anomaly. It is, however, an encouraging piece of news. The decrease is most evident in younger age groups; there is an increase in the percentage of inmates aged 40 and over (which also explains the health care expenses). The trend of decreasing incarceration for drug offenses continues. More than 50% of admissions are still comprised of parole violators; new admissions for felonies account for about a quarter of admissions.

Regionally, Southern California accounts for 65.9% of the inmate population, the San Francisco Bay Area for 11.2%, and the remainder of the state for 22.9%.

The Three Strike population consists of 32,439 2nd Strikers and 8,570 3rd Strikers. A considerable percentage of Strikers are of advanced age.

Early Releases for Female Inmates

As reported on Forbes online (by the Associated Press):

More than 4,000 female inmates in California could qualify to serve the rest of their sentences at home, as state officials begin complying with a law designed to keep children from following their parents into a life of crime.

The alternative custody program is for less serious offenders. Qualifying inmates must have less than two years left on their sentences, which would be completed while they are tracked by GPS-linked ankle bracelets and report to a parole officer.

. . .

About two-thirds of the 9,484 female inmates in California’s prison system are mothers whose children are currently with relatives or in foster care, though many of those women won’t qualify for alternative custody.

About 45 percent of the state’s female inmates potentially qualify for the program under the law former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed last year.

Those convicted of sexual offenses are not eligible. To win release, inmates also must compete for a limited number of rehabilitation programs offered by nonprofit and community organizations.

That will sharply reduce the number of women actually freed, said Dana Toyama, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. With no state money for the program, the community organizations are offering services to as many inmates as they can handle for free.

Case managers will determine if qualified inmates have family support, a suitable home and transportation, and are enrolled in drug rehabilitation, anger management or other programs, Toyama said.

“”It’s not like we’re just putting them out in the community and saying good luck,” she said.

The inmates can go to a home, a residential substance-abuse treatment program or a transitional-care facility. Those who complete rehabilitation programs can earn extra time off their sentences.

Women account for less than 6 percent of the nearly 161,000 adults in California prisons. Toyama said men could one day be included in the early release program as the department looks for ways to save money and seeks to comply with the federal court order to reduce its prison population.

The program could save the state $6 million in reduced prison costs next year. No inmates are likely to be released for at least 30 days because the department must first notify local law enforcement.

However, Toyama said the entire program could be short-lived because of a more sweeping law that takes effect Oct. 1.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison realignment plan, tens of thousands of lower-level criminals who otherwise would go to state prisons will instead be sentenced to county jails and rehabilitation programs if they are convicted after that date.

Activist Humonetarianism: Californians United for a Responsible Budget

More on utilizing the cost argument to fight for the cause of prison reform: Californians United for a Responsible Budget are an Oakland-based organization formed in 2003 to fight overcrowding. Among their activities is fierce opposition to AB 900 and staunch support of SB 9.

I really recommend spending some time on the CURB website. It’s a prime example of marshaling the cost argument as the rhetorical spearhead in the fight against overcrowding.