Senator Cuts a Special Deal to Keep Parolees Out of His County

One of the sex-offender related legislative innovations of the last decade was the introduction of residence restrictions. As we explained elsewhere, residence restrictions, which prohibit registered sex offenders from living near schools or parks, have made many parts of California inhabitable for those formerly for sex offenses, many of whom have become homeless.

As to others, well, it turns out that at least one CA lawmaker thought they should stay out of his county, even before Jessica’s Law was enacted. . The Sac Bee reports:

In what state Sen. George Runner characterized as a “side agreement” with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the prison and parole agency said it would limit assignments of released offenders into the Antelope Valley to those who had “historical ties” to the area….

CDCR officials, saying that the deal violated the law, terminated the agreement this spring.

“When we took a look at it, we said we can’t treat offenders in this county any different than offenders in any other county,” said Terri McDonald, the CDCR’s chief deputy secretary for adult operations.

Runner sees the agreement as a proper way to correct the imbalance generated by the habit of “dumping” parolees in Lancaster Valley.

“From the very beginning, there was not a connection between the issue of ‘Jessica’s Law’ and this particular issue of parolees in the Antelope Valley,” Runner said in an interview.

He said that the location of a major, maximum-security prison in the Antelope Valley combined with the area’s relatively cheap housing made it “easier to dump (parolees) in Lancaster.”

I think this story is an interesting lesson in the side effects of sweeping punitive legislation, and it is a good reminder of the inequality between different counties. Can we imagine how the segregation of parolees into specific counties might contribute to the big differences in how they are treated and perceived?

Father’s Day: “Get on the Bus” Program

The enclosed video reports on an initiative of developing healthy father-child relationships in a DC jail. Similar initiatives are occurring locally, as we read today in a
heartwarming report from the CDCR website:

“Approximately 200,000 children in California have an incarcerated parent and live with relatives or in foster care who may be unable to travel the distance to visit their father,” said CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate. “This event will help strengthen the bond between father and child and that’s especially important when these men are released from prison.

“Today, 17 buses filled with more than 500 children and their caregivers traveled from major cities across the state to California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo and Correctional Training Facility (CTF) in Soledad.

“Seeing these children greet their fathers is a dramatic and unforgettable picture,” said Get on the Bus Executive Director Sister Suzanne Jabro. “These children pay the high price of separation from their fathers and this is a monumental effort by the community and the state to strengthen those family bonds.”

There is a small but interesting literature on fatherhood from within walls. Justin Dyer, for example, uses identity theory to argue that prison interferes with the experience of fatherhood. A healthy relationship between father and child, even while the father is incarcerated, is a proven factor in reducing recidivism. Here’s a fascinating curriculum by Carl Mazza, teaching parenting skills to incarcerated fathers through a narrative technique:

The role-plays become problem-solving exercises between father and child even though, obviously, the children themselves are never present. With each weekly topic, the men are strongly encouraged to be insightful into their own past experiences and motivations. For example, in the unit concerning instilling cultural/racial pride, the men first need to examine how they really feel about bring from a specific cultural group. They are encouraged to react to the various stereotypes (both positive and negative) regarding their cultural group. They need to remember how they felt as boys and whom they held as role models. While there is always a lively discussion, the men are not forced to disclose their feelings. Disclosure occurs when individual students feel the need to do so.
And here’s a helpful bibliography on children of incarcerated parents, courtesy of the Family and Corrections Network.
Happy Father’s Day!

GOP opposition to Governor’s Proposed Mass Releases

The Sacramento Bee reports:

State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth said today that most of his GOP colleagues oppose early release for illegal immigrant inmates or other state prisoners to help reduce the state’s $24.3 billion deficit.

“We don’t want to see early release. We don’t want to see criminal aliens being released to the federal government and then deported and returning back to the streets and communities ofCalifornia – for a very small amount of savings, by the way,” Hollingsworth, the SenateRepublican leader, told The Bee’s Capitol Bureau in an interview. The GOP holds 15 out of 40 seats in the state Senate.

Senate Bill to Eliminate LWOP for Juveniles Passes Committee Hearing

Since the death penalty was abolished for juveniles in Roper v. Simmons, public debate has shifted to the issue of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles. The most recent news on this come from the California Senate Committee, which, according to the Chron, approved Senator Yee’s bill to eliminate LWOP for juveniles and substitute it for sentences of 25 years to life.

The Chron reports:

The bill would overturn a component of Proposition 115, a tough-on-crime ballot initiative passed by voters in 1990.
The legislation pits law enforcement groups, which argue that there are teens who commit such horrendous crimes that they should spend the rest of their lives in prison, against some child psychiatrists and religious groups, which argue that teens’ brains are still developing and even those who kill should be given a chance at redemption. Parole would be granted only to inmates who convinced both the state’s parole board and governor that they deserve to be released.

Those interested in more information about the special problems concerning juveniles on LWOP might find interest in a PBS debate on the matter, or in the Frontline documentary When Kids Get Life.

CDCR Layoffs: Related to Undocumented Inmates?

Everyone is having it rough in the correctional system, not least of all prison guards and correctional personnel. It seems that more than 3,600 of the 5,000 layoff notices were sent to CDCR employees (yesterday’s elections are not making it easy to balance the State checkbook). The lists have not been yet presented to the unions, but the decisions take into account seniority. These dire prospects fall on a fertile ground; CCPOA has been disgruntled with the administration for quite a while now. In an interview with the Sac Bee’s State Worker, CCPOA Acting President Chuck Alexander reflects on the problematic aspect of focusing most of the layoffs on prison guards, and brings up a surprising issue:

CA: Well, the layoffs assume you can move 19,000 illegals out of the system. But we’ve always had the ability to do that. We’ve advocated for the last three years a look at the undocumented aspect of the prison population and turn them over to the feds, or send back across the border.

TSW: The administration says it will release or transfer low-level offenders.

CA: The problem is that most of those 19,000 have already been rejected (for transfer out of the system) because they’re violent offenders. (The plan) is a sham. I would venture to guess that most of those 19,000 — if there are that many in the prison system — have an enhancement or serious violent felony.

The connection between these two problems is quite interesting; the problem of undocumented immigrant inmates, as it turns out, runs heavy and deep. At our conference in March, Angie Junck from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center discussed the challenges dealing with the situation, which involve inaccurate litmus tests based on the inmates’ last names; placing suspected undocumented immigrants on a “hold” that lengthens their imprisonment time; and facing not only less privileges while in prison, but also harsh conditions at the center for deportation following the prison experiences. Is this population really what would make a big difference for CCPOA? And are we sure that shipping them off to the feds would result in budget savings (gien the lengthier prison times)?

Re-entry Program for Women Parolees

As reported on the CDCR website, the first cohort of female parolees is graduating from the Female Residential Multi-Service Center (FRMSC) in Sacramento. The FRMSC, founded a year ago, is the first of its kind in California and provides gender specific programs (the need for which was so eloquently explained by Barbara Bloom a while ago) and services for female parolees. Here’s more about the program:

Twenty-five women can stay at the center from six months to a year. They are referred to the FRMSC from a parole agent or the Board of Parole Hearings upon release from prison, or in lieu of returning to prison for a violation.

The FRMSC offers a variety of gender responsive services including case management, trauma treatment, substance abuse and domestic violence education, life skills development, family focused services, parenting classes, educational services, GED preparation, vocational training and family reunification services.

When a woman arrives to the FRMSC she is assessed by the treatment team which includes an alcohol and drug counselor, family therapist, program director, vocational developer and parole agent. She is then evaluated in the following areas: substance abuse history, traumatic life events, family history, housing needs, legal issues, medical issues, employment and educational history. Based on these assessments, the team will identify strengths and needs and will try to maximize the potential of each individual woman.

In order to graduate from the FRMSC program, women either must be employed, enrolled in a vocational training program, or taking college courses. Also, graduates must have a stable place to live.

And true to the spirit of humonetarianism –

Housing a woman at an FRMSC is cheaper than the average cost of housing her in prison. It costs approximately $109 per day at the FRMSC compared to $126 per day at an institution.

Special Populations in Prison

One of the often hidden aspects of corrections are populations that do not conform to the public image of the American male offender. Our next panel, on special populations in prison, was designed to draw attention to these underserved populations and the special problems they face during and after incarceration.

The first speakers, Miss Major and Alexander Lee of the TGI Justice Project, spoke to the plight of transgendered prisoners. This plight is best understood through the general background provided by Miss Major on discrimination against the trans population. As she pointed out, the lack of opportunity to exist in a “normal” fashion, the rampant discrimination and ousting from schools, training, and workplaces, sometimes leads trans people to criminal activity. Another aspect of the etiology of trans incarceration is the criminalization of broad areas in trans people’s lives (incidentally: last year Hastings held a Transposium, which provided more background on transgender issues, and whose program can be found here). Lee expanded on the prison situation in particular: the assignation of prisoners to male and female institutions is done on the basis of genitalia, which leads many unoperated trans people to institutions that do not match their gender identity, and produces horrifying phenomena, ranging from rampant verbal harrassment to sexual assault. Lee also mentioned a few cases of what he called “sexual assault by proxy”, in which clients reported having been sent to problematic cells as fodder for violent, aggressive inmates, and being told by guards about this express purpose. The TGI justice project faces immense challenges in organizing prisoners, which it overcomes by producing a newsletter; there is a ray of hope, which lies in the inmates’ acquired high level of legal literacy and their awareness of their rights.

Our next speaker, Dr. Barbara Bloom of Sonoma State University, discussed the issue of women prisoners. The demographics of this population, which constituted 7% of the entire encarcerated population and 12% of the parolee population in 2007, differ from those of males in several important ways. Only about 30% of women are imprisoned for violent offenses; the vast majority are property and drug offenders. In terms of risk, less than 10% of them are considered Level IV prisoners, and almost 70% are Levels I and II. Most of them are in prison for parole violations. This led Bloom to ask whether this large low-risk population would need to be in prison at all, and would not be better served in a scheme of community-based corrections. The concern is particularly true in light of the fact that women prisoners are disporportionately women of color, poor, unemployed, and many of them are mothers of small children, survivors of sexual abuse, and with serious histories of substance abuse.

A big step in improving correctional policies for women was a 2004 report from the Little Hoover Foundation titled Breaking the Barriers for Women on Parole. The report, which recognized the lack of gender responsiveness in supervision, called for important changes in assessment and case management. Some of the highlights of the report, which later became official CDCR goals, included creating a comprehensive case management plan, creating alternatives to the overreliance on mega-prisons for women, and providing a continuum of housing and service options for transfering women seamlessly into the community. Some of these have been implemented: a training curriculum has been created, a special risk-and-needs assessment tool is in use, and some gender-responsive programs are in existence. However, women are still largely held in overcrowded facilities with no comprehensive continuum of care. There is much to be done particularly in the realm of alternative housing facilities.

Finally, Angie Junck of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center allowed us a peek into the hidden and disturbing world of correctional policies directed at foreign-born inmates. As it turns out, California prisons contain 30 percent of all noncitizen inmates in state prisons nationwide. Contrary to what some of us may have thought, many of these folks are not “illegal” or “undocumented”, but rather lawful permanent residents, or even naturalized citizens. Most of them come from Mexico, but there are many who hail from Central America and Asia.

The fate of these inmates is quite interesting. While they serve their sentence, the CDCR alerts immigration officials to the identity of anyone they believe to be a noncitizen; their mechanism for doing so is incredibly crude and relies on people’s last names. Immigration and customs enforcement officials then place a “hold” on the inmate, that is, a request that the prison or jail hold the pesron after their scheduled release time in order for immigration to assume custody and initiate deportation proceedings. At that point, they are transferred to the center for deportation, where the conditions are considerably worse than in California prisons. The hold itself has devastating effects on one’s prison experience: prisoners on hold are subject to higher security classification; according to data collected in 2000, their prison terms are, on average, 10 percent longer than those of comparable inmates. They cannot be paroled or released, are disqualified from rehabilitative prison programs, and are often located in a facility far away from home, presumably under the assumption that one does not have family and therefore does not need to be close to visitors. Information collected by the California Coalition regarding women immigrants revealed big difficulties in obtaining medical care due to language issues, greatly exacerbated by the fact that medical forms are all in English.

The suggested – and accepted – state policies regarding these inmates are characterized by anti-immigrant sentiments; immigrant inmates are seen as a bureaucratic inconvenience best dealt with by deportation and on federal dime. Parole is not revoked for illegal presence in the United States; instead, the deportees are transferred to the Federal system where they will serve ten times the time they would serve for the parole violation.

Our exposure to these issues means that we can no longer use the excuse that the populations are small and unseen.