End of Prison Oversight Not Certain

AP Interview: End of prison oversight not certain
By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) ? The court-appointed receiver overseeing
California’s prison health care system said Friday the state must keep
its promise to spend more than $2 billion for new medical facilities
before the federal courts can end an oversight role that has lasted
six years.
California committed to spending $750 million to upgrade existing
medical facilities, building a new $906 million medical center and
converting juvenile lockups at a cost of $817 million. So far, only
the new medical center in Stockton is being built.
Receiver J. Clark Kelso told The Associated Press that the state must
begin all the upgrades before it should be allowed to retake control
of a prison medical system once deemed so poor that it was found to
have violated inmates’ constitutional rights. They are his first
public comments since a federal judge last week told officials to
begin preparing for an end to the receivership.
“That leaves a court order that the state is now out of compliance
with,” Kelso said during the 75-minute interview. “The courts have
been promised construction for the last half-decade. Somehow those
promises don’t get kept.”
California officials are analyzing the need for new medical facilities
in light of a state law that took effect last year that is sending
lower-level criminals to county jails instead of state prisons.
Federal judges have ordered the state to reduce its prison population
by 33,000 inmates over two years to improve the treatment of mentally
and physically ill inmates, a decision that has been upheld by the
U.S. Supreme Court.
At its height in 2006, California’s inmate population was more than 162,000.
Kelso said the medical center that is under construction in Stockton
and the $750 million in upgrades are needed even if the state has
fewer inmates. Conversion of the juvenile lockups was to have included
new housing and treatment facilities for sick and mentally ill
Kelso has been negotiating with officials from the state Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation and attorneys representing inmates
after a federal judge issued a notice saying it was time to begin
ending the federal receivership. Court oversight of medical care in
the nation’s largest state prison system has led to improvements in
inmate health care that have cost California taxpayers billions of
“We’ll just see if the parties can’t find a middle ground for
agreement,” Kelso said.
The pace of those negotiations will determine how quickly the state
can retake control of its prison health care operations, he said.
Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said he wanted to see the
receivership end as early as this summer, although he also said it
would be appropriate for the courts to maintain some type of oversight
role to ensure that inmate care does not deteriorate.
“I think the sooner we return day-to-day operations to the state, the
better,” Cate told the AP in an interview earlier this week. “We need
to work out the construction issues, obviously, and I know that Clark
is also concerned about making sure there’s a strong structure in
place to maintain the strides we’ve made. But if we can work those
issues out, I’d love to see it be this summer.”
Kelso said the state also should create a quasi-independent medical
bureaucracy within the corrections department to make sure the state
doesn’t backslide because of budget cuts or a lack of interest.
“A lot of that has to do with budget independence and the independence
of the head of prison health care really to control his or her
budget,” Kelso said. “They can’t just get lost in the big haze that is
the corrections budget.”
He said the corrections department traditionally has focused on
keeping inmates safely locked up, with a lesser emphasis on the
well-being of those prisoners, and it is unclear if that culture has
Citing inmate overcrowding as the leading cause, the federal courts
previously found that medical care for California prisoners was so
poor that an average of one inmate a week was dying of neglect or
malpractice. It ordered the prison population reduced, prompting the
department to send layoff notices this week to 548 employees because
fewer workers are needed as the number of inmates declines.
In the notice he filed last week, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton
Henderson said conditions had improved enough to consider ending the
receivership. He said most of the goals of the federal oversight had
been met.
The San Francisco-based judge ordered Kelso, state officials and
inmates’ attorneys to report by April 30 on when the receivership
should end and whether it should continue some role in ensuring that
conditions remained constitutional.
“I think this all depends much more on the state’s progress than on
mine,” Kelso said. “Frankly, if the construction had been done as
promised, I’d be a hell of a lot closer.”
Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press.

Petition to Stop the Conversion of Valley State Prison for Women to a Men’s Prison

January 25, 2012

Sign the petition to stop the conversion of Valley State Prison for Women to a Men’s Prison

You may have already signed and that’s great. We have modified the wording and included the complete joint statement from people inside both women’s prisons in Chowchilla, CA.
Please pass it on and reply if your organization wants to be listed as an endorser.
Currently there are over 2,650 women and transgender prisoners housed at VSPW. Instead of releasing thousands who are eligible to go home, CDCR is planning to transfer them to the Central California Women’s Facility (159% over capacity) and California Institution for Women (139% over capacity.)
Our communities have endured and suffered forced removals and relocations of people openly and under false pretexts for generations. Even though no prison is where anyone wants to or needs to be, closing and moving women out of this one is yet another uprooting to the detriment, and against the will of, people rendered powerless and whose humanity is disregarded.

How incarceration affects families: Interview with Lateefah Simon

By Rina Palta
Lateefah Simon is the director of the California Futures Initiative at the Rosenberg Foundation in San Francisco.
Nationally, women are the fastest growing prison population. And one of the highest female prison populations in the world is here in California. That’s slated to change under the state’s new realignment program. The number of women in prison is supposed to shrink drastically, by as much as half, over the next few years.
Anticipating that change, California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation officials announced they’re converting one of the state’s three women’s prisons to a men’s facility. Lateefah Simon, director of the California Futures Initiative at the Rosenberg Foundation in San Francisco, says this will be the first time the state has emptied a prison.
KALW’s criminal justice editor, Rina Palta, sat down with Simon to talk about what’s happening in California, and what sorts of alternatives are on their way. She started by asking Simon what the new California Futures Initiative is about.
RINA PALTA: What’s unique to the experience of women in prison versus traditional male experience in prison?
LATEEFAH SIMON: The question about the uniqueness of women who are incarcerated in California is an interesting one. What we know is that prior to many of these policy changes that are happening right now as we speak in California, California has been a mass incarcerator of women. We would incarcerate 9,000 women per year in our state’s prisons. We also know that 67% of women who are locked-up in our state prison system are mothers, many of them are single mothers. We also know for women who are incarcerated, amongst those 67%, we have to think about where their children are.
PALTA: So, talk a little bit how realignment is impacting this population in California and what’s going on so far.
SIMON: Advocates and folks like the Rosenberg Foundation who are involved in philanthropy and supporting groups who are working for change… Some would say it’s too early to say how realignment would work out for women. But what we do know is that the CDCR’s proposal to close and convert Valley State Prison… Literally the first time in a generation that I know that we’ve talked about emptying the prison and figuring out ways to send women home. That is a very clear indicator that realignment will be one of the most important reforms, critical reforms and efforts.
When women come home, non-violent women come home, children connected back with their mothers… The statistics say they are all over the place, and they are clear when women are reunited with their cildren they are less likely to go back to prison, they are less likely to commit crimes. So, as a women’s advocate for my whole career, I am really excited. And of course no policy is perfect and that’s why we have to keep our ears to the ground and we have to keep supporting advocates who are pushing the lines and creating opportunities for women. It’s extremely exciting!
PALTA: What do we know about how incarceration impacts families? And what happens to kids when their mothers are incarcerated? Do they usually end up with other relatives? Are they put in the foster system? How is this impacting the larger community?
SIMON: There are some great advocates who have been working on the issue of incarcerated parents. And I don’t believe that there is a blanket statement on what happens to kids when their mothers enter the criminal justice system. There are number of things that actually happen.
One of the things that we are really clear about and also focusing on is the issue of child trauma. Some of the most profound advocates on this issue say that when a child is separated from their parents, 100% of them experience post-traumatic stress. One hundred percent! Many of the women who I’m talking to who are right now housed in the California state prison system for non-violent crimes ? their parents are struggling, their mothers are struggling with addiction. They’re caught on non-violent felony charges, they are taken away to prison. There is a number of things that can happen depending on the circumstances of the arrest and conviction. What we hope is ? but we also know it’s not necessarily true across the board ? is that a family member can take these children in and work with them and love them until the day their mother gets out of prison.
Anyone who has grown up without their parents suffer. It’s difficult. But when your mother is behind the bars three to four hours away from you, and you are not able to see your parent, you are not able to take part in what some would call a normal childhood. It’s extremely difficult. And we know that there is trauma associated with that; there is trauma associated with poverty, there is trauma associated with law enforcement. There are so many things that these young people must hold on their shoulders. We got to get out act together as a state.
PALTA: That’s a good question actually. What does that mean? What does that look like? Everyone always calls in after these stories asking, ?What can I do?” That’s a good question ? as a community, how can you embrace this population that’s coming home and what can you do to help?
SIMON: There are so many ways that folks can get involved. If you want to write letters to your legislator about making sure that supportive housing and alternative citizen programs are well-funded within the next year. Because again, successful reentry, I should say, can only happen when people come home and there are opportunities for them to heal and transform. Of course, helping on a policy level and representing your county on the state level so they know how you feel.
But I always say give to your local food bank; give clothes to the local women’s shelter, the domestic violence shelter; make sure that the children in community schools have lunch and breakfast. I mean, what we are talking about is family reunification. What we are talking about is making sure that the counties do it right. What we are talking about is making sure that the state no longer would waste $50,000 times 9,000 women per year, many of those non-violent offenders who simply want to care for their children and get rehabilitation.
I just feel that there are so many ways that folks can help out on a very micro-level. But also it’s the voices within our congregations, the voices within our temples, the voices within our masses, the voices at Occupy, the voices around the state ? we have to make sure that the voices of women who are coming home are amplified. Because in fact ? I know this so well ? in communities that are most impacted by poverty, by crime, it is women who are holding-up those communities. It is the grandmothers. It is the mothers. You go into any community whether it is Echo Park or Hunter’s Point, and you knock on any door, and it’s the mother with children who is going to answer that door. Until we figure out how to really mend our families we have to step up and support women and families.

Alternative Custody Program for women and The 2012-2013 State Budget

Author: Diana
“Here’s what the new state budget for 2012-2013 says about expanding the alternative custody program for women:

Alternative Custody for Women
Proposal to Balance the Budget:

Approximately 70 percent of the current female inmate population is classified as non‑violent offenders with convictions for property or drug‑related crimes. Additionally, a majority of the women in state prison, including those with prior serious or violent convictions, are classified as low‑risk. Increased participation by women in programs such as substance abuse counseling and vocational education will enhance prison safety and rehabilitation efforts and further reduce the state?s adult inmate population. The Budget provides for the expansion of Alternative Custody for Women to include women who have a prior serious or violent conviction. This will allow CDCR to place these offenders in community‑based treatment programs in an effort to achieve successful outcomes and reduce recidivism among this population. Savings resulting from the reduction in the female inmate population will be used to cover the cost of treatment programs in the community. The anticipated population decline in future years is expected to generate long‑term savings of $2.5 million beginning in 2014‑15 and $5 million annually thereafter. In addition, the state expects to avoid future incarceration costs related to this population due to the positive effects of rehabilitative and therapeutic programs provided through alternative custody.”