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Women Overlooked in California Prisoner Realignment Program

Women Overlooked in California Prisoner Realignment Program

California is in the midst of reducing its state prison inmate population to no more than 137.5 percent of capacity, the first step to address what was deemed inhumane overcrowded conditions. Much of the overcrowding in state prisons has been due to offenders violating conditions of their parole and automatically being sent back to prison. One of the programs undertaken has been transferring parole supervision of low level, non-violent, non-sex offenders to county probation departments. While still more than 5,400 inmates away from the desired benchmark, the population has been reduced and overcrowding has been eased somewhat in many of the state’s prisons.

However, the efforts seem to be more of an accounting trick.

A little discussed loophole in the mandate concerns how the reduction occurs. The court order requires that the overcrowding has to be reduced overall, but there seems to be some leeway regarding the percentage as to individual facilities. So while some of the more notable facilities have seen a reduction, many are still well above the desired capacity.

The most overcrowded are women’s facilities.

At the beginning of the realignment in 2011, women overwhelmingly benefited from the realignment. In the first year, more than 5,200 female prisoners were released. The majority of these releases were first time, non serious offenders.

As a result, the three women’s prisons were quickly below the court ordered benchmark. One facility, Valley State Prison for Women, saw a 36 percent reduction in inmates in 2011. The California Department of Corrections decided to convert the facility to a men’s prison to reduce overcrowding elsewhere. The remaining inmates at Valley State Prison were then transferred to the state’s two remaining women’s prisons.

The two women’s facilities are now operating higher than the court mandated level, one of which is currently at 175 percent capacity.

Nearly two-thirds of female prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, such as drugs or property crimes. Under the realignment, they are put under county jurisdiction as parolees. This gives them access to diversion programs which provide alternatives to jail should they violate their probation. Furthermore, all newly convicted offenders of non-violent, non-sex crimes are also eligible to serve their sentences under county jurisdiction instead of state.

A program that has become popular with several counties is called split sentencing. Under this program, offenders serve a portion of their term in the jail, and the remainder under strict supervision of the probation department. Often this means serving the remainder of their term under house arrest with electronic monitoring. They are subject to regular and surprise inspections and searches, with any violations subject to a number of penalties, including returning to jail.

Not all counties are created equal, however.

Nearly 30 percent of the realignment prisoners released fell under the supervision of Los Angeles County. Only 5 percent of the inmates in LA County jails are involved in a split sentencing program, with officials claiming that they don’t have the resources for the time intensive program. This means that most offenders that would normally serve in prison are serving longer sentences in jails that are not equipped for extended stays.

State prisons and county jails differ due to their populations. Prisons facilities and services are built and designed to house offenders with longer sentences. Jails are temporary facilities, housing those recently arrested, on parole violations, or serving a sentence of a year or less. The influx of prisoners has lead to overcrowding at the jails, which have seen stretched resources, including having to house the overflow in makeshift dorms such as basements.

This has become especially hard on women.

The majority of incarcerated women have children. In jail, visitations must occur through a window, if they happen at all. There are no family rooms, or outside yards for exercising as there are in state prisons. Personal items, such as feminine hygiene products, aren’t easily available or in the same quantities. The standard issued sandals are the only option for footwear. Bad medical conditions and several inmates in a cell are also becoming more common.

The conditions are much like those that were occurring in state prisons, leading to the need for the prisoner realignment.

These issues also exist in the men’s jails, where many are seeing a marked increase in violence. There are plans for a new women’s jail in LA County, though it is still in the planning stages. The sheriff’s department is also looking to developing their jail diversion programs for both men and women.

In the meantime, the state prison population continues to decline because none of the prisoners in the county jail system count towards the state prison population, which makes them closer to meeting their reduction goal.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock

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51 comments

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11:38AM PST on Feb 21, 2014

shocking

9:04PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

Someone who just commented in these comments seems to know what goes on tooooooo well in prisons. This is BIG BUSINESS BS AND WE DO NOT NEED THIS IN THE UNITED STATES AND WE WONDER WHY OTHER COUNTRIES IGNORE OR POINT FINGERS AT US.

8:45PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

Inmate populations need to be assessed by non legal professionals using scientifically sound methodology not the current mean spirited misguided ideology. The last time that happened, TWO YEARS after the successful reintegration of 95% of the previously imprisoned population, and successful humane in community control of the other 5%, when the Lieutenant Governernor announced the impending closure of prisons, enforcement officers fearing job loss suddenly sprang a fear campaign. The same old same old same is not a reason to continue nor skuttle the status quo. But the method of decision making does have to change. It's Dark Ages, and it's not accidental that it lives on. It is racial and socio economic group control, plus profit, profit , profit, on the backs of imprisoned victims.

8:43PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

Inmate populations need to be assessed by non legal professionals using scientifically sound methodology not the current mean spirited misguided ideology. The last time that happened, TWO YEARS after the successful reintegration of 95% of the previously imprisoned population, and successful humane in community control of the other 5%, when the Lieutenant Governernor announced the impending closure of prisons, enforcement officers fearing job loss suddenly sprang a fear campaign. The same old same old same is not a reason to continue nor skuttle the status quo. But the method of decision making does have to change. It's Dark Ages, and it's not accidental that it lives on. It is racially and socio economically

8:12PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

Jamie C.: You state "We need a complete overhaul of the entire justice system where criminals are let go with a slap on the wrist." i would like to know where these "Slaps on the wrist." are occurring. The U.S. has the harshest sentencing structure on the planet, bar none. The University of San Fransisco has issued a comprehensive report regarding this matter. The report, “Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context,” compiles comparative research on sentencing laws around the globe and documents how sentencing laws distinguish the United States from other countries. Researchers found that the United States is in the minority of countries using several sentencing practices, such as life without parole, consecutive sentences, juvenile life without parole, juvenile transfer to adult courts, and successive prosecution of the same defendant by the state and federal government. Conversely, sentencing practices promulgated under international law and used around the world, such as setting 12 as the minimum age of criminal liability and retroactive application of sentencing laws that benefit offenders, are not systematically applied in the United States. Mandatory minimum sentences for crimes and “three strikes” laws are used in the U.S. more widely than elsewhere in the world. (Source: USF School of Law)

7:52PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

BJJ.: You ask "How many of you have friends or relatives that are prison guards (or whatever the PC term is now)? Ask them what a typical day at work is like. . . ." I work in prison advocacy and have for many years. I will tell you what the AVERAGE day is for a prison guard. 1.) 4 or 5 hours of standing around in groups of 3 or more bullshitting about nothing. 2.) Fraternizing with inmates, chitchatting about whatever. 3.) Eating prison food on the taxpayers dime. 4.) Spending time psychologically or physically abusing inmates - Many of whom are mentally ill - for amusement purposes. 5.) Sleeping on the job. 6.) Watching television. 7.) 0.05% breaking up fights. (This consists of 5 to 10 guards rushing an individual and 'restraining' him using pepper spray, shock technology, or brute force.) ALL this is true. If you state otherwise you don't know what you are talking about or just plain lying.

7:41PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

Marilyn L.: I agree with your comment wholeheartedly! I must add that we need to also do the following: Ensure that former inmates are NOT excluded from the workforce as they are today. Ensure that Probation Programs actually HELP their clients reintegrate with society. Today's Probation paradigm is designed to ensure that their clients DO NOT succeed and instead are sent back to prison. Ensure that former inmates are NOT charged for the "Cost Of Incarceration" which makes it impossible for them to own a home, send their children to private schools or college, instills resentment and hatred toward society and the law, and practically guarantees that they will never achieve success. Ensure that 'Sex Offenders" can also reintegrate with society and obtain meaningful, gainful employment, as it is proven that this makes them FAR less likely to re-offend. (Weather you like it or not!)

7:36PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

The legacy of the three-strikes tough on crime approach and Governor Wilson blue penciling out funding for any of the earlier court orders' requirements...feels akin to the battery cage issue for animals...

7:31PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

1.) Women are the new "Cash cow" of the for profit prison industry. 2.) The MAIN solution proffered is to send inmates to out of state For Profit prisons - NOT to release non violent offenders whom 20 years ago would have received a fine or Community Service instead of a costly (Or profitable, depending on weather you are a company or not...) prison sentence. So don't expect a huge (Or tiny) release of inmates. 3.) WHY did it take a Federal Judge to attempt to remedy this situation?: Because in California Judges are VOTED into office. If they make an 'unpopular' ruling the California Prison Guards Union will spend millions to unseat them because the Union's job is to increase the number of Guards in their ranks. These Judges don't want to lose their jobs so are not likely to issue a ruling - However Just - That upsets the Public and costs them their job 4.) If there IS a release of inmates you can bet they will be carefully chosen in hope that they commit another serious crime so it can be used to whip the public into an anti-inmate frenzy thus ensuring that profits soar in the 'industry' in the future.

3:32PM PST on Feb 20, 2014

These are of the ''soft crime'' category...

If you must 'punish' them, just give them community work, where in helping out, they may start feeling good about themselves,, and become productive members of society...


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