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Crisis in Ca prisons overcrowding cries out for correction February 05, 2007 8:01 AM

Capitol Journal
Crisis in prison overcrowding cries out for a correction
February 5 2007

Sacramento — Want elected officials to represent your views? Look no further than the Legislature. For years, it has mirrored the electorate on crime and punishment.

On no issue have Capitol politicians been more reflective of the people than prisons.

The timid being led by the blind.

The voters and lawmakers — not all, but most — have demanded that California lock up the bad guys and keep 'em there for a very long time. But they haven't wanted to pay for it.

The inevitable result is acute overcrowding, with inmates stacked virtually like cordwood in some lockups. About 173,000 are stashed in prisons designed for 100,000.

There's triple bunking. Roughly 17,000 convicts are housed in gyms, dayrooms and hallways, leaving little room for rehabilitation, education, job training, exercise and drug treatment. No wonder the recidivism rate is 70%, twice the national average.

There'll be 17,000 more sardined into the facilities within five years at the current rate.

Fine, one might say. They're criminals. Punishment isn't supposed to be comfy.

The federal courts don't see it that way. A federal judge has put the state on notice: Relieve the overcrowding by June or a cap could be imposed on the number of inmates. And the cap could be much lower than 173,000. That would mean opening cell doors for thousands of convicts.

Federal courts already have declared California's sorry healthcare for prisoners — medical, mental and dental — to be unconstitutional and have essentially taken charge.

On Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he'll ship roughly 6,000 prisoners out of state to private lockups. But that's only a partial solution, and it's sure to be challenged in court.

So the governor and Legislature face a real and rising crisis, requiring more urgent action than anything else before them.

Here's a two-step example of the dilemma politicians face, often brought on by themselves:

•  In 2004, the voters — urged on by Schwarzenegger and the GOP — chose to keep a tough "three strikes and you're out" sentencing law, ensuring that three-time losers would be locked up for at least 25 years and perhaps life. Voters rejected an initiative to reduce the penalty for third strikes that weren't "serious or violent."

The "three strikes" law, passed by both the voters and a voter-wary Legislature in 1994, has produced much longer sentences for repeat offenders. Tougher sentencing — not just because of "three strikes," but also other popular laws — has led to prison overcrowding. It's also commonly cited as a reason for California's reduced crime rate, along with aging of the population.

•  But voters don't want to dig deeper to keep the crooks behind bars, as illustrated by a statewide poll last month.

The survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that voters overwhelmingly favor spending any extra money Sacramento generates on schools or reducing the state debt, but 57% oppose plopping it into prisons. Only 38% favor it.

Similarly, majorities think the state should spend more money on education, healthcare and infrastructure.

But only one-third believe more dollars should go to prisons. About the same number, in fact, think less should be spent on the lockups.

"People have a hard time feeling compassion for prisoners and spending more money to create better conditions for them," says the pollster, Mark Baldassare. "They just think that shouldn't be a priority."

The state is spending $9.2 billion this fiscal year on prisons — its third-most-costly program — but that isn't enough to keep up with the longer sentences.

Sen. Michael Machado, a San Joaquin County Democrat, says: "Governors and the Legislature and the public have turned their backs on the prison system for so long that it essentially now is dysfunctional."

Machado, chairman of a prison budget subcommittee, partly blames "one-upmanship" by legislators incessantly trying to jack up penalties. "They get a press release and a campaign piece."

"We need to depoliticize sentencing," asserts Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee.

Not so fast, say Republicans, who have benefited politically from being "tough on crime."

Indeed, Assembly Republicans have scheduled a photo-op today at Folsom Prison near Sacramento to outline their "prison reform priorities." It'll be the kickoff of a statewide prisons tour — the GOP equivalent of the Democrats' camera-generating classroom visits.

"It's important to go where the issue is," says Assembly GOP Leader Micha  [ send green star]
crisis in Ca prison from prisonmovement February 05, 2007 8:03 AM

We need to depoliticize sentencing," asserts Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee.

Not so fast, say Republicans, who have benefited politically from being "tough on crime."

Indeed, Assembly Republicans have scheduled a photo-op today at Folsom Prison near Sacramento to outline their "prison reform priorities." It'll be the kickoff of a statewide prisons tour — the GOP equivalent of the Democrats' camera-generating classroom visits.

"It's important to go where the issue is," says Assembly GOP Leader Michael Villines of Clovis.

In the past, Republicans have advocated building prisons and Democrats have championed sentencing "reform." And neither side has budged. Now there's growing recognition by both camps that they'll have to give. Everybody agrees about the need for better rehabilitation and parole programs.

Schwarzenegger has proposed an ambitious package that includes $10.6 billion in bond financing. These bonds wouldn't have to be approved by voters, because it's widely assumed that asking them would be a waste of time and money.

The governor proposes adding 16,000 bunks at prisons and building 45,000 local jail beds, about half of which would be filled with state prisoners. He also advocates building 6,000 community reentry beds for inmates about to be released.

One controversial idea is to create a sentencing commission, like 24 states have. There are two thoughts.

Schwarzenegger wants a commission that merely would advise the Legislature and governor on appropriate sentencing. Democrats want a panel with teeth, one that would actually set sentencing guidelines, subject to legislative veto.

"We've got a stack of reports 3 feet high," Romero says. "That's a lot of trees that have given up their lives to advise us."

Republicans don't want any commission.

"That's the role of the Legislature, to create law," asserts Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster). "One of government's primary roles is to protect citizens. Why would we distance ourselves from sentencing?"

Because politicians — egged on by voters — have botched it and the feds are threatening to turn the bad guys loose.

George Skelton writes Monday and Thursday. Reach him at,1,6138588,full.column?coll=la-util-news-local

orangeribbin-smr.gif (11846 bytes) Carol Leonard
Prison Reform is NOT soft on crime

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 February 08, 2007 4:43 PM

The prison problem just keeps growing, doesn't it?

2005 Up & running 5 brand new prisons in Florida.

We have the crisis on both shores.

I live in Colorado. In the past 10 years, I would estimate the growth of newly built prisons by about 7 in just my area of the state.

2 have been right here in the county I live. It has been announced the expansion of 1 this year by 700 beds, along with a new facility to be built within the county this year.

My theory is, as usual, $$$'s & $$$'s & more $$$'s.

How can there be so many more criminals to arrest?

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 February 15, 2007 11:25 PM

Inmates, California officials warn prisons crowded

By Adam Tanner Thu Feb 15, 8:58 AM ET

IONE, California (Reuters) - Convicted murderer Greg Rollo knows the brutality of life behind bars after 31 years in a prison. But he says life has grown much worse since he was moved to a triple-bunk bed in an open gym with 199 others.

California inmates, officials and courts are all sounding warnings that prison overcrowding poses a growing danger and is undermining California's stated objective of rehabilitating inmates after they have served their time.

"The majority of these guys are getting out; they are going to be in your neighborhood," said Rollo, 54, who admits to committing "a terrible crime" but believes overcrowding will only make inmates more hostile. "Do you want less crime or do you want retribution against criminals?"

Jake Serna, 48, another inmate, interjected, "Isn't it a crime for them to house us like a bunch of animals?"

As the most populous U.S. state, California has a particularly pressing problem and its response is being closely watched.

A report by Pew Charitable Trusts on Wednesday estimated the United States faces costs of up to $27.5 billion to handle its growing prison population over the next five years.

At California's Mule Creek State Prison, where Rollo is incarcerated, an inmate is raped every few months and many others are assaulted, according to both guards and prisoners.

Prisoners often bemoan their fate. What is unusual in California is that complaints about overcrowding are coming from both sides of the prison bars.

"We have 172,000 prisoners in facilities designed to hold about 100,000," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said last month.

"Our prison system is a powder keg. It poses a danger to the prisoners, a danger to officers, and a danger to the well-being of the public if ... we are forced to release prisoners because of overcrowding."

Residents of Ione say that excess waste water going into the prison treatment system has even polluted local wells.


Mule Creek prison, about 110 miles northeast of San Francisco, has 15 housing units surrounded by an octagonal electrified fence and a capacity of 3,000 prisoners. It holds 3,942 inmates.

"This is not conducive to good mental health and rehabilitation," said Glenn Hanes, 35, one of the inmates housed on a triple bunk bed.

"A system that has over a 70 percent recidivism rate is a failure," said Hanes, an intense, well-spoken man who is serving a 15-year-to-life sentence for second-degree murder. "Building new prisons is like getting a fat man new pants."

Republican Schwarzenegger wants to add tens of thousands of prison beds and ship some inmates out of California. And state officials are studying ways to reduce the prison population after years of tough sentencing, including a "three strikes" policy for repeat offenders.

"I'm in prison for the rest of my life for the possession of 11 grams of marijuana," said Dennis Howie, 53, a heavily tattooed prisoner with three prior robbery convictions.

At Mule Creek, 800 men sleep on the triple bunks in public areas and share toilets. Some consider themselves lucky to be locked in narrow cells with just another inmate and toilet.

Daniel Carpenter, 48, convicted of molesting a minor, complained he has been assaulted even in his double cell. In the brutal pecking order of prison life, child molesters are seen as the lowest of the low.

"If not for the overcrowding, I'd be in a single cell," he said during a visit to the prison library. "This is cruel and inhuman."

California already spends an average of $90 per day to house inmates, so more money for prisons is controversial. Many voters are skeptical about improving the lot of criminals.

Among the prisoners at Mule Creek is Charles "Tex" Watson, Charles Manson's top lieutenant, serving a life sentence for murder. He sat quietly in the yard.

Another is Lyle Menendez, who with his brother, killed his wealthy Beverly Hills parents.

"We know you guys out there see us as monsters," said convicted murderer Lance Wright, 43. "I know its difficult for society to open their arms."

Warden Rich Subia argues that overcrowding keeps him from providing better rehabilitation training, which he believes will ultimately benefit society far beyond the prison walls.

"I'm not providing them with effective programs," he said. "Do you want them back more productive or do you want them worse than when you sent them to me?"

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Even the guards disagree! February 15, 2007 11:32 PM

Legal Affairs
California's Prison-Transfer Plan Angers Critics

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 April 28, 2007 7:21 AM

CONTINUED... April 28, 2007 7:22 AM

...Convicted by the Feds?  Specialists in Post-conviction and Equitable Sentencing Issues.

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