Friday, May 14, 2010

Justice Advocates to Governor: Cut Waste, Not Effective Programs, from Bloated Corrections Budget

For Immediate Release: May 13, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO—As spending on California’s massive prison system continues unabated, Governor Schwarzenegger’s office has declared that the revised budget to be released tomorrow will propose “absolutely terrible cuts.” The American Civil Liberties Union, Drug Policy Alliance and Ella Baker Center for Human Rights call on the Governor to choose three effective, budget-saving reforms over wasteful corrections spending.

Californians are already living with over-crowded classrooms, higher fees for college, bare bones health care, and fewer public services. Meanwhile, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) overspent its budget again – by nearly $500 million so far. In addition, a recent investigation by the Sacramento Bee brought to light disturbing allegations of abuse, racial bias and misconduct by prison guards, raising more questions about CDCR’s commitment to rehabilitation and stewardship of public funds.

So that public safety dollars are used wisely to protect California communities, we recommend the following common-sense, budget-saving reforms:

•Reserve prison for serious offenses: Two-thirds of California inmates are in prison for non-violent, property or drug offenses. Prison cells are expensive and should be reserved for people who commit serious crimes. Those convicted of petty drug and property crimes should be dealt with at the local level. Three changes can achieve this: (1) people found in possession of small amounts of drugs should not be sent to prison; (2) certain property crimes that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor should be treated as misdemeanors only; and (3) the dollar threshold defining when property theft is a felony should be adjusted based on inflation. These changes have been endorsed by the Governor, the CDCR and the Legislative Analyst’s Office, and would save $292 million annually.

•Ensure fair sentencing and rehabilitation for youth: Youth in California serve the longest average sentences in the nation. Currently, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has the ability to keep youth locked up longer by giving them "time adds" based on behavior. Time adds account for one third of all custody time in DJJ. Assembly Member Nancy Skinner's bill, AB 999, would eliminate time adds and establish an incentive program in which young people can earn credits for program participation. AB 999 would cut state costs by over $130 million and would lead to further facility closures by reducing the number of young people in state custody.

•Restore rehabilitation programs at the state and local level: Last year, the CDCR cut $260 million from rehabilitation and treatment programs in prison. This year, the Legislature has threatened to eliminate all funding for Prop 36 drug treatment programs. These cuts will only lead to more incarceration. Instead, the Legislature should invest $30 million in available federal Byrne Grants –funds available for drug treatment – into Prop 36 programs. Criminal justice experts have all agreed: real, effective rehabilitation for non-violent drug and property offenders reduces crime and ultimately reduces corrections spending. According to UCLA research, every dollar invested in Prop 36 cuts state costs by $2 to $4 – primarily in incarceration costs.

All Californians should demand a just budget: Sacramento must end the waste in corrections, ensure that public safety dollars are used effectively, and protect all Californian communities by preserving funding for education, rehabilitation, and core social services.

Natasha Minsker, ACLU of Northern California, 415-621-2493
Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, Drug Policy Alliance, 213-291-4190
Kris Lev-Twombly, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, 510-428-3939

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Prison officials open "full investigation" into abuse claims

cpiller@sacbee. com
Published Monday, May. 10, 2010
State prison officials said Monday that they had dramatically broadened their investigation of alleged racism and cruelty by guards at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California. The move came in response, officials said, to a Bee investigation published on Sunday and Monday about claims of abuse of prisoners in a special behavior modification program.

The corrections department "has zero tolerance for abusive behavior by inmates or staff," said Scott Kernan, undersecretary for operations. "The department takes allegations seriously and a full investigation is underway."

Earlier in the day, the American Friends Service Committee challenged California legislators to look into the abuse allegations - and pushed for the behavior units to be sharply restricted.

The Bee's report found support for the abuse claims in interviews with inmates, prison documents and a long-hidden report written by corrections department research experts.

For years, prison officials knew about many of the claims - including denial of medical care, racial slurs and the destruction of prisoners' formal written protests of mistreatment - yet did nothing to investigate.

After initially downplaying the allegations to The Bee, Kernan subsequently said that the department's internal affairs office would look into them, but in a limited way: reviewing actions by managers after state researchers informed them of the abuse allegations.

On Monday he said the investigation had been broadened to cover the abuse claims themselves - whether reported to state researchers or revealed by The Bee - as well as revelations in The Bee that state researchers may have been retaliated against after they pressed for an investigation of the prisoner claims.

However, "because the investigation involves staff conduct, it will not be made public based on laws that protect employee privacy," said Gordon J. Hinkle, the department's press secretary.

The Bee's sources described strip-searches in a snow-covered exercise yard, as well as guards who assaulted inmates, tried to provoke attacks between inmates, and deliberately spread human excrement on cell doors. Prisoners depicted an environment of brutality, corruption and fear.

Though the High Desert behavior unit was closed for budgetary reasons, The Bee found units at other prisons to be marked by isolation and deprivation, lacking the education that is supposed to be an underpinning of the program, and without social contact, TV or radio, or even fresh air.

On Monday, Kernan defended the behavior program as effective for "reducing violence against staff and other inmates." He added that his department "is committed to implementing the most effective programs that maintain the security of the prison system while ensuring the safety of staff and inmates." The American Friends Service Committee called for the Senate public safety committee to step in and conduct hearings into the allegations. It recommended the state restrict the use of behavior units "and other forms of long term isolation."

"What is especially frightening in this story is how long it has been going on and the extent to which the (corrections department) seems to have covered it up," said Laura Magnani, an official of the nonprofit Quaker organization. "I'm particularly worried about the prisoners who are speaking out."

Magnani said that during a visit to High Desert in 2007, she herself witnessed a prisoner being paraded, shoeless and dressed only in underwear, across the prison's snow-covered yard.

The advocacy group also called for improved access by prisoners to independent auditors in order to ensure that prison staff cannot intercept formal complaints about treatment by correctional officers.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chair of the public safety committee, was unavailable for comment Monday.
Call The Bee's Charles Piller, (916) 321-1113
© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation -1870 "....Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

05.04.2010 - Downsizing the prison-industrial complex

California's obsession with incarceration — at $50K a year per adult, $250K per juvenile — is unsustainable, says criminologist Barry Krisberg

By Cathy Cockrell, NewsCenter | 04 May 2010

BERKELEY — Barry Krisberg joined Berkeley Law's Center for Criminal Justice in January as a distinguished senior fellow and lecturer-in-residence. A well-known researcher and advocate for juvenile-justice reform, he served as president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency for more than 25 years (1983-2009). Krisberg has been tapped by state governments and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and monitor aspects of the correctional system. He led the 2003 investigation in California of what is now the Division of Juvenile Justice. After the panel issued a devastating report, Krisberg was asked to help monitor state compliance with the resulting consent decree, a role he continues to play today.
05.04.2010 - Downsizing the prison-industrial complex