Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Prison Health-care Fiasco

By Just A Guy

Editors note: Just A Guy was recently released after serving time an a California state prison. He continues to report for us on prison and law-enforcement issues.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court the federal three judge panel’s decision forcing him and Californina to release around 40, 000 inmates, but I just can’t fathom the rationale behind this appeal. The Santa Cruz Sentinel article says that California is proclaiming the courts have overstepped their authority by ordering this release, but hasn’t anyone in the state government considered that maybe the feds are ordering this release because California’s government has overstepped its bounds?

Don’t Arnold and the state government see this isn’t about just health care for inmates, but also about rational laws, rational sentencing, and treating human beings with dignity and respect? I know the majority of the public would rather bury its head in the sand than face this issue, but this issue is in your living rooms, in your classrooms, and on your streets. It isn’t just the gang-banging jerk from the hood that’s being thrown in jail for ridiculous amounts of time in California -- it’s also middle class addicts, college students etc … It’s your neighbors, your friends’ kids, and your kids that are all affected by this insanity. All the judges are trying to do is bring a small amount of sanity back into your fucked up state.

From the article:

“But at the same time, Schwarzenegger and prison officials have been urging the Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that the three judges have trampled on the right of the state (my emphasis) to run its prison system and operate within its budget.”

Isn’t it ironic that the state’s appeal is based on the premise that the courts are trampling the state’s rights? The panel’s order is based on the fundamental constitutional rights of, mostly, Americans to receive adequate medical and mental health care! Isn’t there a huge push in this country with Obama’s healthcare bill to ensure that all Americans are able to receive healthcare? Why is it any different for Americans in prison? Not just Americans though, but any human being in this country? Wouldn’t you, if you were on vacation and became sick in another country, have the hope that you would be able to get adequate medical care? People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment.

I have Hepatitis C. I was supposed to be on a program called chronic care, in which I should have seen a doctor once every 60 days to get my blood drawn to check my viral load. I was not seen for the last 18 months that I was in prison in California. Another time I received an injury called a calf strain while playing handball. My calf muscle detached from the tendon. By the time I was given an MRI and the results of the MRI the muscle had healed, but healed improperly, so now the right calf muscle looks deformed:


I had a bunk mate, Mark, who was having severe problems with various organ failures. His legs would become so swollen that he had a hard time walking to the restroom and his stomach so distended he looked as if he were pregnant.


The only way he could get medical treatment was to do what’s called a “man down” (this means he would have to have the medical staff come to the building by proclaiming it was an emergency medical situation. In other words, there would have to be an emergency alarm, the entire yard would have to be closed down and the medical staff brought to the building) to get treatment. The building co’s were so disgusted by the situation that they would encourage Mark to do a “man down” just to be seen. Ultimately Mark was put in to hospice and died. (see picture of Mark’s legs taken in December of 2008).

I specifically remember a time when Mark did this “man down” and the nurse (or nurse’s aide) tried to talk Mark into staying in the building until the following day because the doctor that was supposed to have seen Mark that day had called in sick.

I am sure there are plenty of people who will read this and say to themselves or to others that if the people didn’t commit the crimes than they wouldn’t have to worry about such things as healthcare. Or that inmates are getting better healthcare than people on the streets. Or that inmates don’t deserve healthcare. To these people I say this: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. I wonder how the pictures attached to this blog may cause people to think a little differently about the entire situation. These pictures are just a small idea of how healthcare really works in the system, the reality of it. So, my question is this: Who is really getting their rights trampled and who stood up for Mark’s rights?

By Tim Redmond: December 28, 2009 03:46 PM
The prison health-care fiasco - SFBG Politics Blog

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fears of racial violence prompt lockdown of L.A. County Men's Central Jail

The Men's Central Jail has been on lockdown since Friday evening after the L.A. County Sheriff's Department learned that inmates were plotting violence.

Sheriff's officials said they placed the downtown jail -- known for holding the most dangerous inmates -- on lockdown after learning that some prisoners were planning racial violence.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the facility was locked down to visitors and inmate movement until this morning and that now those restrictions were being eased.

Violence between black and Latino inmates has been a problem at the jail.

Since it opened just east of downtown Los Angeles 44 years ago, Men's Central Jail has been the scene of many of the jail system's most disturbing incidents, including nine inmate homicides between 2000 and 2007. In 2004, an inmate roamed the jail unsupervised for hours before tracking down and killing an inmate who had testified against him.

Months after that killing, Merrick Bobb, the county's special counsel, wrote a report that described the jail as "nightmarish to manage" and suggested the department close it.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Inside Men's Central Jail in downtown L.A. Credit: Los Angeles Times

More in: Crime & Courts

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wake Up California: It’s Time to Get Real About Criminal Justice Reform

(Originally posted on Daily Kos.)

The "Prison Population and Budget Reduction Package" proposed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is like a drunk person walking home from a bar — it knows where it wants to go but oftentimes you find it stumbling off the sidewalk or turning down the wrong street.Since we believe budget cutting is no small feat and should be taken very seriously, especially in the wake of the prison riots in Chino and public safety needs, we've decided to pour the CDCR a strong cup of coffee and see if we can't point the plan in a better direction.

The People's Budget Fix, as we've named it, responds to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $1.2 billion in unallocated cuts to the corrections budget with a series of smart reforms to save the state billions of dollars, improve public safety, and advance long-needed adjustments in California's Corrections system.
Here's an outline of some of the ways the CDCR's budget proposal goes wrong and how we can do better.

Step 1: Reserve Prison for Serious Offenses

  • Convert MORE Petty Offenses to Misdemeanors: The CDCR identified only four out of 73 low-level, nonviolent "wobblers" (offenses that can be treated as felonies or misdemeanors) to convert to misdemeanor offenses.That's a good start but is not enough to save the $700 million annually that the Legislative Analyst's Office predicts will come from converting more petty offenses.Nonviolent property crimes such as forgery, embezzlement, and vandalism should not result in expensive prison sentences
  • Keep Response to Petty Drug Offenses Local: California prisons are packed with low-level drug offenders, causing a significant drain on the state's criminal justice system. People convicted of simple drug possession should be handled at the county level through community service, treatment, probation or some combination, saving $1 billion annually.
  • Respond to Youth Offenders Closer to Home: The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has an astronomical recidivism rate of 72 percent and an annual budget of $436 million.We need to close these wasteful and ineffective youth prisons. Youth currently housed in DJJ prisons should be diverted to county custody and half the DJJ budget should be used to support effective local treatment programs, still allowing a net savings of more than $200 million annually.

Step 2: Focus Resources on Recidivism-Reduction

  • Maintain Effective Programs: The CDCR plans to eliminate $175 million in existing programs that aim to alleviate the state's recidivism problem. Sending people from prison to the streets without any preparation or support is a recipe for failure. Programs such as substance abuse counseling, vocational training, and education are vital to the inmates' ability to prepare for life on the outside — these programs should be protected, not cut.
  • Limit GPS Monitoring to High-Risk Offenders: The CDCR has proposed placing low-risk inmates, such as the medically infirm and elderly, in the community, but require that they wear GPS monitoring devices.While we support moving these inmates out of costly prison cells, GPS monitoring is unnecessary for these low-risk inmates and a waste of state money. Research has shown that GPS monitoring is costly and should be reserved for higher-risk offenders.
  • Enhance Plans for Risk-Based Parole Supervision: The CDCR is on the right track in saying that parole should be for violent and sex offenders and those considered high-risk. It makes sense to place moderate risk/nonviolent offenders on administrative parole.We need to go further, ending the administrative parole after one clean year. Just eliminating parole for drug possession would reduce the population by 25 percent and save $135 million annually.

Step 3: Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform

The People's Budget Fix is indeed a sobering cup of coffee, opening our eyes to what smart and sensible criminal justice reforms can do to help save our state more money, improve public safety, and begin reforming our ailing prison system. But we can't stop there.

The People's Budget Fix also calls upon the governor and the California legislature to go beyond the immediate fixes identified above and strive for lasting budget reforms. We must delve deeper into the sobering realities of our criminal justices system and its failures. We need a balanced sentencing commission to take the politics out of the public safety debate and put the people back in. And we need to address two costly and ineffective areas of our criminal justice system: the death penalty and California's Three Strikes law. Both of these policies cost that state billions of dollars in prison spending and court costs with no demonstrable returns for public safety. It is time for California to limit Three Strikes to violent offenses and replace the death penalty with effective alternatives that promote public safety.

We hope our proposals help our political leaders see straight and get us all home safely.

The People's Budget Fix is supported by Drug Policy Alliance, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Families Amend California's Three Strikes, and the ACLU California affiliates.