This Is the Way to Go: Senate Dems Propose Expenditures on Health, Rehab

As a response to Governor Brown’s idiotic $315 mil privatization plan from yesterday, Senate president Steinberg and 16 other Democrat senators “proposed a plan that would spend $200 million more for each of the first two years on rehab and mental health programs to reduce the prison population by the 9,600 inmates ordered by federal judges.”

The L.A. Times reports:

“The governor’s proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope,” Steinberg said. “As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the court demands mass releases again. For every 10 prisoners finishing their sentences, nearly seven of them will commit another crime after release and end up back behind bars.”

Steinberg has support among Senate Democrats for a broader approach. Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said that the plan put forward by the governor is inadequate and that he will not support it. It requires $315 million this year and $400 million in future years, said Leno, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

“That is a huge sum of money to be spent on a nonsolution,” Leno said. “I could not support a solution to the court mandate that is based only on greater capacity. And that’s all I see in this proposal, greater capacity.”

Leno said any plan should include greater effort to reduce the recidivism rate, including a revision of the sentencing structure. “If we have learned anything over the past 30 years of criminal justice policy leading to this crisis, it’s that we cannot incarcerate our way out of it,” Leno said. “It doesn’t appear that the proposal deals with the core problems that we have, which are clearly in our sentencing structure and our lack of investment in preventing recidivism.”

A huge sum of money spent on a nonsolution, indeed. I gave an interview to the Daily Journal today (link tomorrow), in which I was asked whether this new proposal from senators is a game changer. I replied there was nothing new here; all criminal justice experts who cared to offer an opinion have repeatedly been saying that building more cells and privatizing more does nothing to ameliorate the prison crisis, and in fact guarantees that we’ll have a more serious crisis for years to come. All Steinberg proposal does is suggest spending the money where it matters – in helping people not come back to prison.

Jerry, What on Earth Are You Thinking?

Photo courtesy Rich Pedroncelli for
the San Francisco Chronicle.

The new gubernatorial plan to solve the prison crisis Jerry Brown says we don’t have has just been announced: Spending $315 million on private prisons.

No, I am not making this up. The Chron reports:

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday responded to a federal court order to significantly reduce California’s prison population by proposing a $315 million plan to send thousands of inmates to private prisons and vacant county jail cells, hoping to avoid what he said would be a mass release of dangerous felons.

The cost could reach $700 million over two years, with much of the money likely to come from a $1.1 billion reserve fund in the state budget.

During a news conference at the Capitol, Brown bristled at the court’s suggestion that the state could continue its early release of certain inmates to meet the federal judges’ population cap. He noted that California has already reduced the prison population by some 46,000 inmates to comply with the court’s orders and said only the most dangerous convicts remain in state prison.

The judges have ordered the state to release an additional 9,600 inmates by the end of the year.

Brown, however, said sending them to available cells in privately run prisons within California and in other states, as well as to empty jail cells, is the best way to meet the court’s mandate without endangering public safety.

“Public safety is the priority, and we’ll take care of it,” the governor said. “The money is there.”

Governor Brown, what on Earth were you thinking when you concocted this wasteful, ridiculous, idiotic plan? What do you mean, “the money is there”? California is in a state of fiscal disaster, and suddenly we have $315 million to invest in private prisons? And where was all this mysterious money when federal courts asked you why we pack people up like sardines and let them languish in their own feces without appropriate health care? Moreover, how will this lucrative investment manifest itself? Will Correctional Corporation of America and Geo build prisons on Californian soil? Or will we send more inmates than the 9,000 we currently have out of state to Arizona and Tennessee? How are you squaring this off with your traditional allies at the CCPOA? Are you going to put state guards in private prisons to make sure their interests are served, as well? After all the effort we put into realignment–and after countless experts have made reasonable suggestions to keep jail population law by not locking up people who should not be locked up in the first place–this is what it’s coming to? After expert witnesses agreed that decrowding prisons is not a danger to public safety, where does your information to the contrary come from? Can you find a decent, respectable criminal justice scholar in the entire state of California that thinks this is necessary? Are you trying to divert our attention from the fact that this is Day 51 of a hunger strike against the horrific conditions under which you hold inmates in solitary confinement? What the hell is going on?

Day 43: Strike in Calipatria Ends; Conditions Improve

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Inmate advocates said Calipatria Warden Frank Chavez met with protest leaders within that prison on Thursday and, while talking with state corrections officials in Sacramento by phone, agreed to most of their more minor demands. They include adding six channels, including ESPN and PBS, to the television lineup available in segregation units, as well as increasing the variety and amounts of foods available for purchase in the prison canteen.

The warden also agreed within two months to allow inmates in segregation to make a monthly phone call, said Kendra Castaneda, an inmate supporter.

Castaneda said Calipatria officials refused to negotiate on the core issues of the hunger strike — the state’s indefinite use of isolation units and informants to control prison gangs.

Corrections officials said the strike ended Thursday when 22 inmates resumed eating.

Regulating Public Space: Excluding BART Offenders from Trains

Photo credit Rhett Aultman.

The picture on the left is of a public ad found in many BART cars recently. The text reads:

A new state law allows BART to prohibit individuals who have committed violent acts, certain misdemeanors or felonies on the system from entering BART property.
The state law references is Assembly Bill 716. The BART website elaborates:

Assembly Bill 716 allows BART to issue a “prohibition order” against anyone who commits certain offenses on BART property, banning them for 30 days to a year, depending on the offense. For infractions such as defacing property or urinating in public, a person must be cited on at least three separate occasions within a period of 90 days to receive a prohibition order. For more serious crimes such as violence against passengers or employees, the ban can take effect after the first instance.

There is a committee that decides on issuing the prohibition orders. And, there are apparently mechanisms in place to curb misuse of this law:

The new law also contains extensive safeguards to address concerns that the authority it grants could be misused. Anyone receiving a prohibition order can request an administrative hearing, the law states. The hearing officer can overturn the order if he or she determines the person “did not understand the nature and extent of his or her actions or did not have the ability to control his or her actions.” 

If the cited person is dependent upon transit for “trips of necessity,” including travel to or from medical or legal appointments, school, work, or to obtain food and clothing, the order must be modified to allow for those trips. If the person is not satisfied with the hearing officer’s decision he or she may seek judicial review.

The new law raises a lot of interesting considerations regarding the regulation of public space. BART property is the property of a governmental agency, and this exclusion is not unlike the exclusion of, say, sex offenders from public fairs and events. While it is important to keep in mind that there’s a thematic connection between the conduct and the sanction – the violation has to be related to BART – it does beg the question how are said individuals to be identified and apprehended in busy stations without recurring to profiling methods that are banned by the BART police manual. It also brings up sad and angry memories from the Oscar Grant killing on New Year’s Eve of 2009; Grant and his friends were arrested after a brawl on BART.

Excluding offenders from public space, especially mobility, also has important class implications. I’m happy to see that the law allows for modifying the order to accommodate “necessary trips”, but verifying whether a given trip is “necessary” or not is a complicated matter and does not eliminate hassle and suspicion in the first place. It also means that folks who may not be able to afford alternative means of transportation to “non-necessary” destinations are now curbed from reaching these destinations.

We’ll have to wait and see how “prohibition orders” are issued and executed. Email us if you experience anything related to this law on BART.

Props to Richard Boswell and to Rhett Aultman.

BREAKING NEWS: Federal Judge Approves Force-Feeding CA Strikers

A federal judge has approved CDCR’s request to force-feed inmates if necessary. The Associated Press reports:

Officials say they fear for the welfare of nearly 70 inmates who have refused all prison-issued meals since the strike began July 8 over the holding of gang leaders and other violent inmates in solitary confinement that can last for decades.

They are among nearly 130 inmates in six prisons who were refusing meals. When the strike began it included nearly 30,000 of the 133,000 inmates in California prisons.

Prison policy is to let inmates starve to death if they have signed legally binding do-not-resuscitate requests.

But state corrections officials and a federal receiver who controls inmate medical care received blanket authority from U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco to feed inmates who may be in failing health.

The order includes those who recently signed requests that they not be revived.

This blanket permission raises a number of important ethical considerations. This New York Times debate highlights various fascinating aspects of the dilemma. You’ll note that reactions to this practice differ according to the commentators’ affiliations. Medical staff, abiding by their Hippocratic oath, may find it difficult to administer “a health-care solution to a political problem.” Some of the legal challenges are highlighted in this piece by Tracey Ohm. In arguing that force-feeding is unconstitutional, some argue that fasting is protected speech, and some argue that it is part of the right to privacy.

For those wondering what force-feeding is like, the above video depicts rap artist Mos Def, who undertook the force-feeding procedure administered in Guantanamo Bay, and had to stop because he could not bear going through with it.

Another Reply to Beard by Berkeley Student and Former SHU Inmate Steven Czifra

My name is Steven Czifra, and I am a formerly incarcerated person who spent time in the both Pelican Bay, and the Corcoran SHUs. As a former SHU inmate I think it is important that I write a response to Jeffrey Beard’s piece in re: the prisoner hunger strike, and give the public a different perspective. I do not have a stake in this issue, except to see the practice of long-term solitary confinement cease to be an accepted practice in California.

The thrust of the CDCR’s stance on solitary-confinement is that those who are refusing food are either Machiavellian-style manipulators, or weak patsies starving themselves out of fear, yet the CDC is allowing harm to come to people they have identified as victims by allowing the strike to continue. As an undergraduate at Berkeley, I am being trained to think critically, and when I apply these critical thinking skills to the CDCR’s stance, it doesn’t add up. To put it plainly, the CDCR says it is keeping gangsters in the SHU to inhibit their ability to threaten other inmates, yet inmates are starving themselves because they are scared of retaliation by prison gangsters. I can attest that not all those who have refused food to protest conditions in the SHU have done so out of fear of prisoner retaliation. I have personally fasted along with other Cal students, none of us having anything to gain, except to see the CDCR treat prisoners humanely.

Beard’s illustration makes the SHU seem like quite the wonderful place to spend one’s time, should a person find themselves incarcerated in the CDCR. Television, education (untrue), recreation (alone, in a small windowless pen), skylights in the cells (ridiculously untrue), with outfacing windows (opaqued with paint), and even a buddy to pass the time playing cards (double-celling of some people is evidence that the CDCR is keeping individuals in solitary who they have deemed to be “safe” to socialize) and cheering each other up! While it is true that an inmate who has resources can purchase a television, the fact is that sitting alone in front of one is a small consolation for a person who has no chance of leaving their cell to see and interact with real people for the remainder of their lives. While I was in the SHU I had a television, which I rarely watched. My decision to not watch television was intentional. I knew if I was going to salvage my ability to function intellectually and emotionally in the free world I would have to deny myself the urge to waste away in front of the television Still, having a television is better than not having one. Only some prisoners have the resources to afford a television, or a radio. As I could afford books, I chose to read instead. This was one of the factors that lead to my eventual admission to Berkeley. It wasn’t until I paroled, and enrolled in college as a free man that I acquired an education. Many people in the SHU do not have the ability to read due to illiteracy, and learning disabilities, (as well as problems with cognition, and vision, known to be caused by solitary-confinement) which precludes the opportunity to learn. There is simply no out of cell programming in the SHU. Some people can pay for in-cell correspondence courses, and have the ability to comprehend college material without instruction. They are the few. The CDCR’s use of rare scenarios as part of his paltry excuse for torturing people with endless isolation only speaks to what the SHU is about. Beard stated that he is “concerned about the toll this hunger strike is taking on…the inmates and their families.” The SHU tears families apart, denying prisoners contact with their families, phone calls, and mail, some for decades. The CDCR has an obligation to actually care for the people in its custody, rather than limit its actions to rhetoric. California remands people to the custody of the CDCR with the expectation that it would treat them humanely. In the spirit of that great responsibility the CDCR has to do more than explain why it is tormenting prisoners, and stonewalling this protest.

CCA-Backed Legislation in Arizona Mowed Down by 4th Circuit

Last brief item of news for today: The Fourth Circuit has determined that police officers in Arizona cannot harass people for immigration papers based solely on their appearance. The Washington Post reports:

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court slapped down Mr. Jenkins and the county sheriff’s department. The appeals court said that law enforcement officers may not go around accosting people merely on the suspicion that they may lack immigration documents, no matter what they look like or how limited their facility with English. As the court pointed out, an individual’s unauthorized presence in the United States is not a crime; it’s a civil violation of immigration law.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, is consistent with last year’s Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s anti-immigrant statute. In that case, the Supreme Court allowed police to determine the immigration status of people they stop or arrest for other reasons. But Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court’s majority, noted it is not a crime for an illegal immigrant to be present in the country. “Detaining individuals solely to verify their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns,” he wrote.

In the case of Ms. Santos, the appeals court pointed out that police who start asking questions based solely on the race or ethnicity of their interlocutor may also run afoul of the Fourth Amendment’s equal protection clause.

A special reason to delight in this outcome is that AB 1070, which provided for this and other abominable maneuvers for monitoring immigration status by state officials, was financially backed by Correctional Corporations of America, who surely expected it to yield more imprisoned bodies to profit from now that the domestic inmate market is dwindling. Today is a good day for justice.

Props to Dorit Reiss for the link.

Hunger Strike News Clearinghouse

I am still on vacation out of the country, but for those of you in need of news and resources about the strike, here’s what’s new from the last few days:

Some welcome news about phone call prices.
Federal judges block move to house more inmates out of state. 
The strike at Calipatria.
Great op-ed on L.A. Times (which, by the way, wins, hands down, my best-prison-coverage newspaper award).
Action to show SHU unit on Capitol stairs (we showed the unit at Hastings last March)
Impending early releases.
The N.Y. Times chimes in.

The blog returns to its full coverage of the strike and all other matters involving CA corrections on Friday. Until then, best wishes of health and success to the hunger strikers.