California’s Overcrowded Prison’s
Axia College of University of Phoenix
This is what conditions are like at one of California’s best prisons, the California Rehabilitation Center: Built to hold 1,800 inmates, it now bulges with more than 4,700 and is under nearly constant lockdown to prevent fights. Portions of the buildings, which date to the 1920s, are so antiquated that the electricity is shut off during rainstorms so the prisoners are not electrocuted. The facility’s once-vaunted drug rehab program has a three-month-long waiting list, and the prison is short 75 guards.” (Pomfret, J)
32 years ago, California’s inmate population was only 19,600. 11 years later, the inmate population had increased by 811% to a whopping 159,000 and by the year 2000 that number increased to 161,000. The state of California is now running by far the largest prison system in the world. We house more inmates than three European countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands) and Singapore combined. Non-violent offenders are responsible for most of the increased inmate population. As it stands now, California sends to prison one out of every eight prisoners in the United States. Does this sound like a problem? I think so. “The California Department of Corrections predicts that at the current rate of expansion, barring a court order that forces a release of prisoners, it will run out of room eighteen months from now. Simply to remain at double capacity the state will need to open at least one new prison a year, every year, for the foreseeable future.” (Schlosser, E) This is a scary thought indeed. How many more prisons must we have in this state before enough is enough?
In this graph, one can see the increase of inmate population from 1988-2007. The numbers are staggering.
Even though the Governor does not want to do an early release of as many as 55,000 inmates, there is a crisis going on in California’s 33 prisons because of overcrowding and because of the lack of medical and mental healthcare for its inmates, thus causing cruel and unusual punishment and violating the inmates Eighth Amendment rights. These inmates are either being housed in gymnasiums using bunk beds that are three beds high, or are being sent out of state to other facilities.
In this picture, one can see how inmates are being stacked like sardines in gymnasiums across California.
In February, a special panel made up of three federal judges upheld a tentative ruling that the overcrowding in California’s prison system presented and unconstitutional risk to the inmate’s health and safety. They further stated that California must reduce the population of its prisoner’s by at least 57,000.
Currently, there are 174,000 inmates housed in California’s 33 state prisons. The stress from packing these inmates into facilities that were not meant to hold as many as they are, have resulted in scandalous behavior, not only from the inmates but the guards as well. Riots among inmates are a common occurrence. Back in September 1996, a fight broke out on B yard at New Folsom. Gang members that were comprised of Latino and African-Americans started fighting. Soon afterwards, “the fighting spread to other inmates on the yard and racial lines were drawn”. At least 200 inmates were involved in the riot. Warning shots were fired by officers, along with rubber bullets and live rounds. The riot took 30 minutes to cease. 12 officers were injured, “six inmates were stabbed, and five were shot.” An inmate who had been serving a sentence of 18 years for voluntary manslaughter and attempted murder was killed by the gunfire. (Schlosser, E) At Corcoran State prison, the guards had to be disciplined for staging gladiator fights. Up in Northern California at Pelican Bay State prison, there was at least one correctional officer who conspired with the inmates to arrange assaults on convicted child molesters. At the women’s prison near Chino, five employees resigned in 1999 because of sexual misconduct allegations and there were 40 other officers that were said to be involved.
The medical and mental-health care that inmates are receiving in California’s state prisons is appalling. Inmates have been seen using communal showers and have open, bleeding wounds (staph infections). Mentally ill inmates live in conditions that some experts have said are even worse than those of the old mental institutions. Some guards will use medication as a tool to punish an inmate if they act out. With-out the proper medication, the inmate can sometimes become psychotic, thus leading to solitary confinement. This is in no way a form of rehabilitation. It is inhumane. A psychiatrist (who specializes in prison mental health) by the name of Pablo Stewart testified before the panel of federal judges that the overcrowding alone has contributed the rise in mental illness amongst the inmates. He further stated that these inmates have “no privacy, no sense of personal space, sleep with the light continuously on, and must cope with constant noise which is like that of an airport runway.” “It has been estimated that California’s prison system “throws away at least $100 million a year because officials refused for decades to negotiate low rates with hospitals, as every insurance company does.” (Elias, T)
Correctional officers who testified before the panel of three federal judges that “as many as 50 inmates at a time typically wait two to five hours inside a 12-foot by 20-foot holding area for medical or mental health treatment.” (Thompson, D)It was also stated that “suicidal inmates were kept overnight in cages the size of telephone booths until crisis cells became available” and “some of the more severely ill mentally ill inmates wait more than a year before they can be transferred to a mental health facility.” (Thompson, D)
These correctional officers are also at risk because of these conditions. Inmate assaults against staff “increased between 1990 and 1995 and the number of attacks rose by nearly one-third, from 10,731 to 14,165”. (Gillan, T) There are thousands of inmates that are infected with the HIV virus and thousands more are carriers of hepatitis C. Officers of late now have to be concerned with a new form of assault from inmates called “gassing”. This type of assault is done by throwing a bag or cup of feces or urine at the officers as they pass by the inmate’s cell. California prisons are filled with gang members from the Aryan Brotherhood, the Bloods, the Crips, the Fresno Bulldogs, the Nazi Low-rider’s, and the Southsider’s, which can lead to random acts of violence against correctional officers.
Today, prison sentences are more intended to incapacitate rather than rehabilitate the offenders. . Rehabilitation has basically been abandoned and has been replaced with “tough on crime” attitudes that truly only seek to punish and protect society. California’s prisons use to be known as the California Department of Corrections. When Gov. Schwarzenegger took office, he changed the name to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. My question is this? What happened to the rehabilitation part of it?
Our prisoners are in desperate need of education and rehabilitation. Most of them only have a seventh grade reading level, a huge percentage of them have substance abuse problems, and there is little or no motivation for any of them to participate in programs that were created to address those problems that led them to criminal behavior. What is happening is without any type of rehabilitation, these individuals will keep going through a revolving door that I like to refer to as the CDCR. Those who are incarcerated should have access to programs that address:
1. Academic, Vocational, and Financial
2. Alcohol and other Drugs
3. Anger, Aggression, Hostility, and Violence
4. Criminal Thinking, Associations, and Behaviors
5. Family, Martial, and Relationships
6. Sex Offending
Programs like these would help to cut down on the revolving door effect. The biggest problem that I see in California’s state prisons is the rate of recidivism amongst its parolees. When an inmate is paroled, they leave the prison with no more than the clothes on their back, and $200 in gate money. Most of these individuals will have no place to live and no job to go too. Because of this situation, most parolees will return to the people and places that they are familiar with, thus leading to more criminal behavior.
California’s parole system violates more parolees and sends them back to prison than any other state. Parolees are getting violated for a dirty test, missing a scheduled appointment, or not being able to provide an address as to where they live and are being sent back to prison for up to one year. California’s parole system needs seriously to consider other alternatives besides sending violators back to prison. This in itself could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year in unnecessary spending.
There are some wonderful programs that are available to paroles in the state of California that help them receive their GED, and train them in different marketable skills. They are also taught important values, and the interpersonal and social skills that will eventually allow them to live successfully in the mainstream of our society. These programs definitely help to cut done on the rate of recidivism.
Ray Procunier, who was the director of corrections under then Gov. Ronald Reagan, has said that “We don’t need all these punitive laws like the three strikes law.” He then went on to say that when Reagan was in office, they were able to “cut the prison population by one-third and there was no increase in crime, not even a blip.” (Elias, T) Procunier also believes that he “could bring down today’s prison population by 95,000 and no one would be hurt in the process.” Maybe Gov. Schwarzenegger needs have this man brought back in to clean this mess up. Up until now, California’s attitude regarding over-crowding has been to just build more prisons because they cannot seem to agree on anything else. One thing is clear, there needs to be a cap on the prison population. Without it, we are going to keep filling as many prisons as we build because we are not affecting the amount of individual’s that are going in.
This morning I read an article in the local section of the newspaper. The article started by saying “In Kern County, you really can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a parolee.” (Henry, L) Ms. Henry went on to write that are an estimated 5,450 parolees in Kern County, with an estimated 800 who are back in custody for violating their parole. The numbers are high because “Kern County prides itself on sending more people to prison per capita than any other county in the state.” Maybe then Kern County should start picking up the costs of housing all these parolees. Something has got to give. There is a saying in California and it goes something like this: Come on vacation, leave on probation, and return on a violation. A very sad but true statement.
California’s prisons are a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. Right now, there is not too much love and affection going on in the house of corrections. The CDCR needs a serious overhaul. Will the Governor be able to come up with a way to relieve the overcrowded conditions and implement some kind of satisfactory medical and mental healthcare for California’s inmates without having to ship them out of state? Hopefully, he will, and soon.
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