Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The way state prisons run is almost criminal

It costs California taxpayers nearly $50,000 a year to incarcerate each of the state's 168,000 state prison inmates.
Part of that cost, which is about 50 percent higher than the national average, is due to prison overcrowding because of tougher sentencing laws. And those tougher sentencing laws were championed by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which has a huge interest in having more prisons - and prisoners to fill them.
The more prisoners, of course, the more guards and parole officers that are needed. Union leaders have greased the palms of many a political candidate, who, when elected, makes certain the union's interests are taken care of. Then there is sloppy bookkeeping.
A typical California prison guard earns $72,000 a year, plus an average of $16,000 in overtime. One in every 10 officers makes more than $100,000 a year; more than 1,500 guards earn more than prison wardens. And those numbers don't include an additional 30 percent for health, dental, vision and other benefits and a pension that allows guards and parole agents to retire with 90 percent of their pay at age 50. Yes, the work is unpleasant and dangerous.
In all, the Corrections Department consumes 11percent of the state budget. California pays more for prisons than it pays for education. Nearly half-a-billion dollars a year goes just for prison overtime.
Accounting problems, bookkeeping and problems with time cards are under constant attack, as a report from the state auditor noted last week. It turns out that the state may have paid nearly $600,000 in extra pay that wasn't warranted. Pay differentials that were loosely audited range from cook specialist I ($190 a month) to supervising registered nurse ($400). To be fair, classifications weren't detailed in the auditor's report. The criterion for monthly differential pay is supervision: To earn the pay, an employee had to supervise at least two other employees.
But this isn't the only example of incompetent management. The prison guards union owes the state more than $1.3 million for salaries of full-time guards who were on leave to be union representatives. The department's excuse for not collecting it? They couldn't quite figure out who was gone and how much they earned during the past five years. From 2006 to 2008 alone, the prisons department billed the union for more than $750,000. It has yet to receive a penny. The department is scratching its head over the number of actual union representatives who are on full-time leave. It could be three, or it could be nine.
Despite repeated negative reports from the state auditor's office, little has been done to fix the system, and that's criminal.
Reform is job for Schwarzenegger
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledges to clean up the prisons mess before he leaves office. He also has to trim the prison population to relieve overcrowding and continue efforts to fix the prisoner health care mess. He'll face brick-wall and barbed-wire opposition from union leaders and a dysfunctional Corrections Department. This is definitely a job for the Terminator.
One suggestion for reducing overtime would be 12-hour shifts (four shifts one week, three the next). Another is a top-to-bottom audit, with accountability for sloppy bookkeeping. Another is one that would save tens of millions: Release elderly prisoners who are no longer a threat to society, thus avoiding their huge medical costs.
None of this will be easy. Through the years, union leaders have gotten what they want (thanks to compliant politicians) to the point that the union pretty much runs the prisons. But for the sake of California's budget, and the people who pay the bills, let's hope Schwarzenegger is up to the task. He has nothing to lose except joining the ranks of past losers. In the time left in his term, just concentrating on prison reforms would take a huge dent out of the state's out-of-control deficit.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Prison report (outside the walls): The parolee's dilemma

Editors note: Just A Guy has been writing from inside the California state prison system. He was released this week -- great news -- but the story is by no means over. Here's his latest; you can read his some of his previous posts here and here.

By Just A Guy

I’m sitting here about 24 hours after my release from California State Prison, Solano wondering what the hell I am going to do -- because I am staying in a hotel and unable to travel to my home.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful to be out -- but beyond irritated at the measures The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has gone through to make it difficult for people to transition back into society. You see, I don’t live in this state, and though I started attempting to get my parole transferred out of state six months ago while in prison (as required) the request wasn’t done until two months ago, and Sacramento’s regional parole desk hasn’t even received it.

Now I’m hoping that I am given a travel pass to go out of state to see my little girls and be with my family for Thanksgiving, but that is, according to my P.O, a very tenuous proposition because his boss doesn’t like to give out travel passes…and since I just got out I’m not known…and it doesn’t seem to matter much that my house, my car, my business, and my entire support network are over a thousand miles away…you get the picture.
And I’m one of the lucky ones, because I have the resources to be able to live in a hotel for three months if necessary, to work from a hotel as well, to have a car delivered to me. WHAT ABOUT THOSE THAT DON’T HAVE THOSE RESOURCES?

(Not an hour after writing this I was fortunate enough to have my P.O call me and let me know that I have been approved to go to the state where my family resides as long as the supervising agent there is willing to accept me, which he is. I am grateful that my agent was able to go to bat for me and get this done, that I will be able to spend the holidays with my family, friends, and loved ones).

Again and again, the mediocrity of the R of CDCR stands to the fore -- yet the citizens are in denial as to what the real problem is. How can a system such as this possibly sustain rehabilitation? It’s truly unconscionable to proclaim that they are helping. What is also unconscionable is a lot of these P.O.’s really want to help people stay out of prison and protect society -- but their hands are being tied by tough-on-crime rhetoric and lack of funding.

Yeah, we committed the crimes, but the majority of these crimes were committed in the pursuit of drugs or alcohol or the rewards of selling the former. What good can possibly come of sending a person into society after many years with no substantive rehabilitative programs, and having him live in the bushes by the freeway, and not let him go home out of state because of CDCRs bureaucratic follies unrelated to the inmate’s attempts to get the paperwork done? Don’t you see how the system is set up for failure?

There are more than 600 more people in prison per 100,000 people in the USA vs. Netherlands (700 vs. 100) , but it’s the inmates that are the problem, right?

Yes, we (I) made some very poor choices, but I just did three years and two months for possession (a victimless crime). I was not allowed to go into the Substance Abuse Program because I had an out of state warrant for a marker I didn’t pay at a casino in Vegas (felony warrant), although I did pay it eventually. What about people who couldn’t pay? Do they need help any less? How does keeping someone from entering a drug abuse program because of old warrants help him prepare for a return to society? How does anything in this broken self-fulfilling prophecy of recidivism called CDCR help transition your soon-to-be neighbors back into the world?

Again, it’s our responsibility to find our own recovery, our own path to staying out of prison, but don’t believe for one minute that we are given the help many of us need, many of us hope for, and many of us never get…because though it is our responsibility many have never been responsible for anything at all, then they are asked to be, they try and find the brick wall that is CDC(R).

I really appreciate the support of my readers over the time I've been writing from inside, but my thoughts and observations on the prison system won't just end now that I've been released. I'll continue to write about the parole process as it develops and to comment on prison issues -- and you can look forward to a larger story on my experience in the near future.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

New Jails, No Treatment, in California Prison Plan

Posted November 18, 2009
Prisons & Public Health news blog

With his first proposal rejected by a federal court, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week submitted a new, 130-page plan to cut California prisons' inmate population by 42,000 in two years.

The proposal (PDF) would build new prisons and transfer inmates out of state, but comes amid a hefty budgetary slash to drug treatment programs that lawmakers had previously identified as an effective way of in keeping people out of prison.

Indeed, rehabilitation -- treatment, counseling or education programs -- does not figure into the new prison plan. It adopts similar strategies outlined in the document that Schwarzenegger filed with the courts in September -- including house arrest for elderly and ill inmates, transferring inmates out of state, and building new prisons.

The plan would waive environmental laws to expedite prison construction, and forgo restrictions on transferring inmates with serious medical and mental health problems to out-of-state prisons.

As mandated by the court, the state also included comments on the effects of $250 million in state cuts to adult rehabilitation programs -- a 40 percent reduction in the overall rehabilitation and treatment budget.

The cuts could have an "adverse impact" on some health services for prisoners, and would also target 5,000 slots in the state's substance-abuse programs for parolees.

The new plan does not mention that cuts to rehab will mean that drug treatment will close outright at eight prisons, and scaled-down versions will continue operating at 12 of its 33 prisons, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Cuts have already forced the shuttering of a substance abuse program at Donovan State Prison that's hailed for cutting recidivism from 71 to 21 percent.

Two years ago, an independent review of California's prison system commissioned by state legislators found that rehab programs could eliminate 48,000 prison beds, saving taxpayers $561 million to $684 million per year.

Schwarzenegger has championed rehabilitation in the past. He was responsible for changing the name of the state's corrections department to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation four years ago and in 2007, he told reporters that when it comes to rehabilitation services for prisoners, "We have to heal them. We have to get them ready to go out so they can get a job, connect with society and never commit a crime again."

Schwarzenegger continues to challenge the legality of the federal court's August 2009 order mandating California's prison population reduction. The case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prisons on Schedule to Overspend by $1.4 Billion

California Budget Deficit Balloons, While Prisons on Schedule to Overspend by $1.4 Billion

Advocates Condemn Sacramento’s Priorities: “California’s Incarceration Spending Locks Up Our Tax Dollars"

SACRAMENTO – The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office announced today that it expects the California state budget deficit to exceed $20 billion by the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year, and that the state will spend $1.4 billion more on prisons than was budgeted in 2009-10. Advocates criticize the state for failing to make real cuts to prison spending, while enacting brutal cuts to important social services.

“California’s prison spending is totally out of whack and it’s locking up tax dollars that now aren’t available for education and other community services like fire protection and elder care,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in Southern California. “Other states, like New York, have reduced their crime rates and their prison populations at the same time. California should follow their lead.”

The Legislature and governor approved $1.2 billion in unallocated cuts to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in late July. On September 11, the Legislature sent a bill to the governor that would realize just $200-300 million in cuts. According to the LAO’s report, prison spending will exceed its 2009-10 budgeted level by $1.4 billion.

“Sacramento said that it would cut prison spending by $1.2 billion – but that was a lie. That should come as no surprise; the prisons have overspent their budget by hundreds of millions of dollars in each of the past several years,” Dooley-Sammuli continued. “With the state near fiscal collapse, this just won’t do any longer. Prisons, like other resources, should be used wisely. They simply aren’t the right place for people convicted of petty offenses, particularly low-level, non-violent drug law violations.”

According to the CDCR, over 30,000 people are locked up in California state prisons for a non-violent drug offense – at a total cost of $1.5 billion per year. Instead of reducing costs by addressing the number of people incarcerated for petty drug offenses, however, the state recently announced that it would cut by 70% the amount of drug treatment offered behind bars and by 40% the amount of drug treatment offered on parole.

The LAO report is online at:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Prison report: The corruption factor

Prison report: The corruption factor
By Just A Guy

Editors note: Just A Guy is an inmate in a California state prison. His reports appear twice a week.

I believe it to be an imperative that opposing views should be a part of any dialogue. This is especially true in the comments section of my blog. While we, as inmates, are given a very limited voice, we (or I) should not preclude people who believe differently from being a part of the discussions. Were I to do that, I would be just like the mainstream media, the majority of politicians, and a seeming majority of law enforcement that only reports one side of the story -- which is almost always assumed by a largely vapid public to be true.

It is alarming, though, that when someone with an opposing view posts his or her comments, they mostly seem to degrade into name calling and derision. Case in point would be bobjacboson, who commented about my blog a few weeks ago and accused me of being psychotic.

When I read comments such as bob’s, I can’t help but wonder if the commenters even read the post before making their thoughts known to the public.

I believe I opened that blog stating that I could not be explicit for fear of retaliation, but bob railed one me for not being explicit. Sigh.

Please read before you comment, bob, then think. But I’m going to give you an example of what I was talking about.

Corrupt: 1. dishonest, accepting bribes; 2. Immoral, or wicked. 3. Decaying.

As you can see from this definition, corruption isn’t necessarily the act of taking a bribe or bringing in contraband; it’s also dishonesty or immorality.

Without going into too much detail, I’ll tell you a story and you can make up your own minds.

Let me start with some background:

In prison we have what is called an appeal. An appeal is what an inmate gets to use as a grievance procedure. The form we are supposed to use is called a “602”. The following is taken directly from the form boilerplate:

“You may appeal any policy, action or decision which has a significant adverse affect on you …. No reprisals will be taken for using the appeals procedure responsibly.”

This appeals process is what is supposed to give us an opportunity to seek justice or relief, similar to the courts. But it’s a farce by all accounts; here’s just one.

I appealed a decision that had an adverse affect on me. This appeal was sent to the second level, which is the penultimate level, but was denied by the reviewing staff member. While the basis for the denial was invalid and weak at best, what was unconscionable was that this staff member in the memorandum for my denial wrote about speaking with me about my appeal and hearing my side of the story. This person even noted that the interview took place on a specific day. The staffer claimed to have investigated my side of the story after talking with me. This is not quite true.

You see, until I actually received my copy of the denied appeal, I had never heard of this appeal reviewer or staff member. The staff member NEVER interviewed me and never met me. PERIOD.

I still don’t know who this person is, nor do they know me.

In this denial, the staff member cited the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation policy that states that they are required to meet me. That never happened.

Now, how do I prove this? It’s a prison staff member’s word against mine -- and who will the director believe? What is my recourse?

Not two weeks prior to this incident, my case worker told me that he wanted to help people. When I brought this comment and this appeal situation to his attention, and asked him what I should do, he didn’t offer any advice – but said he was sorry that this had happened, good luck.

Corruption isn’t just lying, cheating or being bribed. It’s also knowingly allowing that behavior to continue.

There are no whistleblowers in CDCR, because without the prison system, a good portion of the talent pool would not be able to do much beyond the service industry or manual labor.

So, this is a small example. Yea, I’m in prison, yeah 80 percent of people doing time deserve to be doing time (and you know how I feel about victimless crimes) but is that a good enough reason to allow the keepers to go on unchecked?

One last thought: Why would I make this up? In what way could it benefit me? Don’t you think if I were not afraid or retaliation I would tell you the name of staffer? Or tell the whole story? I have no faith in the statement that no reprisal will be taken.

So bobjacobsen, who’s the psychotic one? Maybe it's the staff member who hallucinated the meeting with me.

By Tim Redmond: November 02, 2009 11:39 AM