Overcrowding of Prisons
Saturday, February 17, 2007
FILLED TO CAPACITY: Inmates housed inside the
Reception Center Central at the California Institution for Men
in Chino Hills pass the day by sleeping, watching
television or playing cards. The unit, known as
The Gym, has 213 inmates, its capacity.
Inmates, California officials warn over impact of crowded prisons
IONE -- 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.
PANTS FOR A FAT MAN?
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 it's 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?"
Posted on Sun, Apr. 23, 2006
State's prisons near bursting point
SACRAMENTO - Already bulging with inmates wedged into gyms and hallways, California prisons must make room for 23,000 more felons over the next five years, according to new projections that are forcing managers to explore still more unusual options -- even tents -- to house bunks.
The forecast, which outlines much steeper growth than numbers released just six months ago, predicts enough additional convicts to fill five prisons. California would have more than 193,000 inmates by 2011.
The growth is being driven by increases in new prison admissions and by parolees who either commit new crimes or violate the terms of their release and are re-incarcerated.
Though a recent report showed a decline in California's recidivism rate, officials said the state's overall population expansion inevitably means more people breaking the law.
The crowding is intensifying during a time of management turmoil. This week, the acting corrections secretary quit -- the second top official in two months to leave amid concerns about guards' influence over prison management.
On Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named a temporary replacement who told reporters that crowded conditions were a safety hazard and were among his top concerns.
In January, Schwarzenegger proposed building 83,000 more cells -- some in county jails, some in state lockups -- with bond sales totaling $13.1 billion. But that idea, part of his sweeping public works plan, stalled in the Legislature and corrections officials are scrambling to create bed space.
Already, they say, most of the state's 33 prisons are at twice their intended capacity, jammed with about 170,000 people.
''Legally, we don't have the ability to say there's no room at the inn,'' said John Dovey, chief of adult institutions for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. ''And every week the population keeps going up.''
Last fall, Dovey wrote a memo to the corrections secretary warning of a ''population crisis'' in the prisons.
''We believe that an imminent and substantial threat to the public safety exists requiring immediate action,'' he wrote.
Since then, 3,970 more convicts have arrived, and officers who walk the tiers say tensions are alarmingly high.
The cost of housing the growing numbers is also straining the $8.2 billion corrections budget, already taxed by rising medical and mental health care costs.
And by forcing wardens to convert classrooms and vocational workshops into living quarters, the crunch is undermining Schwarzenegger's stated goal of rehabilitating -- rather than merely incarcerating -- California felons, Dovey and other officials say.
''Some of these places look like prisons I've seen in Alabama, or in Texas during its worst days,'' said Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Santa Cruz, who has studied corrections for more than 20 years and recently visited the men's prison in Chino.
''The department is overwhelmed by numbers, and for the inmates that means terrible living conditions, idleness and virtually no meaningful programs to make their transition back to free society a successful one.''
Prison officers say the crowding creates conditions ripe for unrest.
At many locations, inmates are stacked in triple-decker bunks crammed into makeshift dorms that resemble refugee camps. Long waits for showers, meals and medical care cause tempers to flare. Overloaded toilets and inescapable noise -- from radios, yelling and the constant drone of televisions -- add to the strain.
''It's a caldron, and at some point it's just going to boil over,'' said Chuck Alexander, executive vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union representing prison guards. ''We're at the edge, and this administration and this Legislature need to do something before we lose (control of) a prison.''
One way to control population is changing sentencing laws. Other states, Ohio among them, have cut inmate numbers -- even closed prisons -- by diverting thousands of drug offenders, check forgers and other nonviolent criminals into community correctional facilities.
California lawmakers have shown little interest in that approach. Over the last decade, nearly two dozen bills have been introduced by Democrats -- most focused on easing the three-strikes law or reducing sentences for inmates who work or attend drug treatment programs. But virtually none of them passed. Many legislators are reluctant to support measures viewed as soft on crime.
Like many other states, California has experienced rapid growth in its correctional system in recent decades -- a sevenfold increase in the population since the early 1980s. Still, two years ago, corrections leaders predicted a decline in the numbers and the possible closure of three prisons.
At that time, early in the Schwarzenegger administration, officials said their new approach to parole -- diverting some violators into community programs or electronic monitoring at home instead of sending them back to prison -- would dramatically thin the population.
But after criticism from the guards union and victims groups, the department halted the diversions. A judge ordered the programs reinstated, but so far they serve only a tiny fraction of the state's 115,000 parolees.
Meanwhile, parole violators continue to account for a huge chunk of those behind bars. In 2005, there were 62,000 such violators sent to prison -- almost half the total number admitted that year.
To cope with the population bulge, managers are housing a growing proportion of inmates in ''ugly beds,'' or spaces not designed as living quarters. Throughout the system, there are more than 14,500 convicts in ugly beds. Officials say they can fit 7,500 more before such space is exhausted, probably sometime next year.
In the interim, the governor has proposed shifting 8,500 inmates into community correctional facilities: privately run centers for low-risk offenders that were being phased out under the preceding Davis administration. And Dovey hopes to ''fast track'' the building of housing units at existing prisons.
As a last resort, officials are exploring the possibility of modular buildings -- and giant tents. If tents were added to the mix, it would not be the first time. In 1983, more than 900 inmates were housed in a tent city just outside the walls of San Quentin State Prison until a lawsuit shut it down. The reason: overcrowding.
''It was horrible -- hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and mud everywhere,'' Haney recalled. ''If they are considering tents again, that's shocking.''
Legal scholars say inmates have little hope of challenging the crowded conditions in court.
Though overpopulation may create discomfort and even danger behind bars, the U.S. Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional only if it inflicts wanton pain or if basic human needs are not met.
Dealing with prison mess
They're sleeping in hallways and gymnasiums. They're stacked three deep in bunk beds. They wait hours to bathe and sometimes just to get a meal.
Obviously, life in California's prison system is not all it's cracked up to be.
The state's chronically overcrowded prisons are going to get even more crowded in the next five years. A state report last week estimated another 23,000 inmates will be incarcerated during that period, bringing the overall population at the state's 33 prisons to nearly 200,000.
It's difficult for the general, law-abiding public to work up much sympathy for those convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison, but the situation in California's lockups has reached crisis proportions, and corrections experts are warning state officials that many prisons are just one missed meal or an insult away from devastating riots.
There are only two options available for relieving the strain - either build more cell space, or send fewer people to prison. Gov. Arnold Scharzenegger suggested a couple of years ago spending billions to expand the prison system, but that notion didn't fly. Instead, the state floated a scheme to divert more nonviolent inmates to community treatment programs.
But that plan fell by the wayside, too, in large part because of objections from the powerful prison guard's union, whose leaders apparently believed that successful diversion programs would eventually reduce the prison population - and eliminate jobs currently held by their dues-paying members.
Lawmakers last week approved a multi-billion-dollar borrowing plan to rebuild some of California's aging infrastructure, but money for more prison space was not part of the deal.
So, if state officials don't want a prison disaster on their hands, they must ignore the guard's union and go back to the strategy of diverting nonviolent inmates to community and monitoring programs that can help relieve some of the pressure.
Lowering the prison population is the only workable solution, because the state's lawmakers and taxpayers are unwilling to pay for building their way out of this problem.
May 8, 2006
Packed prisons, elusive reforms
Despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's promise of major parole reforms to reduce California's spiraling prison population, the number of inmates has soared to a record high as the parole programs have floundered, and the state says overcrowding will get much worse.
Inmates jam into a makeshift dormitory at the Deuel Vocational Institution near Tracy, which is at more than double capacity. Chronicle photo by Michael Maloney
In early 2004, the Schwarzenegger administration said the governor's programs, which emphasized treatment and rehabilitation of some nonviolent parole violators rather than re-incarceration, would reduce what was then a statewide inmate population of 161,000 to 148,390 by mid-2005.
Instead, many of the parole programs were either gutted or never implemented fully, while more criminals were sentenced to prison by county judges. As a result, the inmate count has rocketed to a record 168,000, nearly double the capacity of the state's 33 prisons -- in spite of the fact that just last year the state finished a decades-long construction program that resulted in 22 new prisons.
In his latest budget, which calls for a $600 million increase in corrections spending to $7.9 billion, Schwarzenegger projects that the inmate count will rise even further, to 171,000 inmates this year, which experts say is overwhelming many treatment and training programs.
Aggravating the crisis is the fact that the prison system suffers from soaring vacancy rates in key jobs, including guards, nurses and doctors.
"This is about the failure, and I underline and emphasize the word failure, of this administration to manage its prison population," said state Sen. Gloria Romero, chairwoman of a committee that oversees the corrections system. She singled out the failed parole programs as a key factor. "It's not something magical, and it's not sudden."
The vast overcrowding is so bad that John Dovey, director of adult institutions in the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in an internal memo to the department's secretary in October that the system was in a "population crisis." He said he was ordering "unprecedented" emergency steps to alleviate the strain, such as rapidly moving some inmates from one prison to another to seek out empty beds.
"We believe that an imminent and substantial threat to the public safety exists requiring immediate action," Dovey wrote.
The corrections department places the blame on prosecutors and the courts.
"The courts make their decision, and we have to deal with them," said J.P. Tremblay, the chief spokesman for the corrections department. "The people of California have said they want these people locked up, and we have to deal with it."
Tremblay said that, at best, the corrections department expects the inmate population growth rate to level off slightly in coming years, but the overall numbers will not decline.
One result of the bulging prison population is that, in his recent proposal for a huge state construction program, Schwarzenegger suggested spending $13.1 billion to build 83,000 new cells, some in prisons and some in county jails, over the next decade.
Democrats complained this week that Schwarzenegger has largely abandoned the rehabilitation efforts, which, they argue, would lower the inmate population and alleviate the need for more prisons.
"Where is the plan to reduce recidivism?'' said Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who oversaw a legislative hearing Wednesday on the new prison construction plan. "Instead, it's 'Let's spend money on more cells.' "
In the short term, the state has been left to improvise emergency solutions to the overcrowding, Tremblay said. In his budget, Schwarzenegger said the corrections department will have to contract with privately run prisons and county jails for 8,500 additional beds as a temporary measure to handle the inmate overflow by the end of the next fiscal year.
For now, nearly every prison gym is filled with bunks. Chuckawalla Valley State Prison near Blythe, for instance, is operating at 234 percent of its capacity; the reception center for newly convicted inmates at High Desert State Prison near Susanville is holding more than five times the number for which it was designed.
California continues to suffer from one of the worst recidivism rates in the country, 60 percent. Inmate violence is up at the same time that many prisoners are jammed into small spaces, and essential services, such as health care, are breaking down. A federal district court judge has ordered a takeover of the billion-dollar-a-year prison health care system because of what he has described as its shocking deterioration.
Romero, D-Los Angeles, said that, because the problems have only gotten worse under Schwarzenegger, she may try to prevent the reconfirmation of the corrections department's secretary, Roderick Hickman, at hearings likely to begin next month.
"That's what the power of confirmation hearings is all about," said Romero.
Prison officials concede that one reason for the expensive overcrowding is the scarcity of programs for treating parole violators -- many of whom have drug-related problems.
As of June 30 of last year, the latest period for which figures are available, 58,356 parolees either were returned to prison or were being reviewed for violations, according to the department's figures; that is almost unchanged from 58,042 around the time Schwarzenegger took office.
The state pays an estimated $1.5 billion a year for parolees returned to prison. At one time, parole reform was considered one of the most promising ways to reduce the prison population. Most other states are far ahead of California in reducing their recidivism rates through rehabilitation and parole diversion programs.
Michael Bien is a lawyer who successfully represented California parolees in a class-action lawsuit against the state that required the implementation of the new parole programs. He said the state had reneged on its promises and that court action was a possibility because of the repeated failures of the Schwarzenegger administration to fulfill the terms of the court settlement.
"We thought, based on what they told us, that the programs would be implemented by September or October at the latest," said Bien. "But they tell us they have made very little progress. There is a real breakdown in the system."
Things were not supposed to go this way.
On his first full day in office, Schwarzenegger appointed Hickman, an advocate of reform, to lead the corrections department. And Hickman spoke at several state Senate hearings early in 2004 at which he enthusiastically embraced a series of programs, called "the new parole model," that promised to divert many parole violators to three programs -- two involving drug treatment and the use of halfway houses, one involving electronic monitoring and home detention of violators.
One of Hickman's first acts in office was to settle Bien's class-action suit against the state claiming the parole system was flawed and unfair. Under the terms of the consent decree, the state was required to institute the parole diversion programs, among other measures.
But, under pressure from victims' rights groups and the guards union, Hickman abruptly abandoned the diversion programs in April. He said they were not working, but he also admitted that they had never been fully implemented.
A federal judge angrily ordered that the state reinstate the programs, but corrections officials concede that they are still months away from that goal.
Use of the diversion programs was cut by 76 percent in 2005, even though corrections officials say they are working to expand them. They handle a minuscule fraction of the roughly 115,000 former inmates on parole.
For instance, in December 2004, 1,816 parolees were undergoing drug treatment in county jails or living at halfway homes providing treatment, two of the parole reforms begun earlier in 2004. By December 2005, only 429 parolees were in the same programs, according to the department's population reports.
In many regions, the programs were barely used at all. For example, more than 6,000 parolees in the Central Valley region faced parole revocations for violating conditions of their release; only 18 were in the two types of diversion programs.
Bien, the attorney for parolees, said that what is puzzling about the state's failure is that everyone acknowledges that solid programs for parolees and parole violators have proven to be highly successful in many states. They save money by keeping large numbers of men out of prison, and they increase public safety, he said.
Jim L'Etoile, head of the corrections department's parole division, said the department only recently had completed training parole agents to use one of the new tools, electronic monitoring devices for in-home detention. The department hopes to have 2,000 in place by mid-2006, but "only a handful" are in use now, he said.
The department has about 200 beds in county jails available for drug rehabilitation, and L'Etoile said the plan was to have 570 spots available sometime in 2006.
He insisted that the new programs were better than the ones shut down earlier. For instance, the drug treatment programs will last 60 days, not 30, and provide for more follow-up.
L'Etoile argued that the suspension of the programs "gave us a chance to stop, re-evaluate and do a better job."
But the number of places available in the programs is still a fraction
of what is required, said Bien.
Stretching the bars
Inmate populations in some of the state's larger
Source: California Department of Corrections and
California's prison population has
Number of inmates, in thousands
Source: California Department of Corrections and
Sunday, January 15, 2006
WHEN GOV. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to office, his administration's goal was to reduce California's bloated prison population by 15,000. He also talked about putting a new emphasis on rehabilitation, even changing the name of the corrections department to the "Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation."
All this made sense. With 163,000 inmates, our prisons are crammed to twice their capacity. Three quarters of inmates land back in prison within three years, usually for technical parole violations.
That's why we are disturbed to learn that Schwarzenegger's $212 billion bond proposal includes billions of dollars to build two new prisons and increase the number of inmate beds in California by 83,000 in both county and state facilities.
In a telephone conference call last week, Schwarzenegger argued that the state's population is growing, and that California will need more prison space. He acknowledged that the crime rates statewide have dropped in recent years, but said that crime is linked to economic cycles, and if the economy deteriorates, crime rates could go up again. "We have to be prepared," he said.
As for the administration's embrace of rehabilitation, Mike Genest, the governor's finance director, noted that the 2006 budget includes $52 million for education and rehab programs. He says that overcrowded prisons make it difficult to implement these programs, and that new prison space is crucial to the success of the entire initiative.
We agree that the overcrowded prisons are intolerable. It's quite possible that, despite our building spree of the past several decades, more prison beds will be necessary.
But before embarking on another huge expansion of our correctional system, Schwarzenegger must present a comprehensive plan to reduce the prison population. Such as plan was nowhere to be seen in his budget and bond proposals last week.
For guidance, Schwarzenegger need look no further than the 2004 report by his appointees on the Corrections Independent Review Panel. Former Gov. George Deukmejian -- and state attorney general -- chaired the 25-member panel. Almost all panel members were officials from the Department of Corrections, the California Highway Patrol and other law-enforcement agencies.
Schwarzenegger appears to have missed the panel's central point. "The key to reforming the system lies in reducing the numbers," the panel concluded -- and provided a detailed blueprint for how to do it.
Its proposals included a revamping of the "determinate" sentencing system in which most inmates are released on parole without having to demonstrate to anyone that they are ready for life on the outside.
Deukmejian's panel recommended that inmates should be given greater incentive to rehabilitate themselves, in return for sharply reduced sentences. It made the obvious point that the parole system must be drastically reformed so that parolees don't end up back in prison. For example, it suggested that parole agents should concentrate on parolees who represent the greatest risk. It also urged releasing older inmates who present no threat to public safety, as well as finding alternatives to prison for nonviolent drug offenders.
Remember, this is the same Deukmejian who ran for attorney general advocating "use a gun, go to prison," and ran for governor on equally "tough on crime" platforms. During the time he was in state office, California passed more than 1,000 laws lengthening prison terms.
Although not mentioned in the Deukmejian report, state officials could grant more "compassionate releases" to old, dying inmates. Schwarzenegger should heed the recommendations of his own parole board to release inmates who have served sentences commensurate with their crimes and have demonstrated that they are fully rehabilitated. Schwarzenegger must also back reasonable reform of California's "three strikes'' laws.
In its current form, Schwarzenegger's plan is likely to run into stiff opposition in the Legislature -- as it should.
"We have just put the 'R' into the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation," Sen. Gloria Romero, D-L.A., chair of the Select Committee on California's Correctional System, told us. "Let's give it a chance to work."
SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
Schwarzenegger's prison plan rankles guards
By ANDY FURILLO
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Driven by a rising inmate population, prison spending in California is scheduled to exceed $8 billion this year. But the real intrigue in the state's 2006-07 corrections budget is in what it's proposing for the near- and long-term future.
Spelled out in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's summary on the spending plan is a proposal "to pursue authority to secure additional inmate capacity through contracts with other providers." The wording is fleshed out in the actual budget bill, which calls for a virtual doubling in the number of private prison beds in California, from the current 8,500 to an estimated 17,000 over the next two years.
Schwarzenegger's "strategic growth plan," meanwhile, lays out a bond-funded, decade-long, $12 billion jail and prison construction proposal that would create space for 83,000 additional inmates. About a third of that number _ 27,000 _ are projected to be short-term parole violators who would be housed in county facilities instead of in state prisons, according to the governor's Department of Finance.
Together, the shift of the parolees to county jails and the construction of the new private prison beds would eliminate the need for at least seven prisons _ based on the current population average of about 5,000 per institution _ that would otherwise have to be built to house the projected inmate increase over the next decade.
Already, the proposals have raised red flags with the politically-influential California Correctional Peace Officers Association. The union currently represents some 30,000 prison officers, but would lose out on thousands of additional dues-paying members if the administration follows through with its private prisons and county jails plan.
"I think this proposal means that the governor is taking a pretty courageous stand for good public policy," said Mark Nobili, a lobbyist for Cornell Companies, a private prison firm that currently operates two correctional facilities on contract with the state and is likely take up the administration's invitation to bid this year on some of the upcoming contracts.
"While these facilities have some of the best recidivism reduction plans and can be brought on-line quickly to alleviate overcrowding, the fact of the matter is that the prison guards union is threatened by these programs," he said. "It takes a real man to stand up to the guards and not deal away these programs."
CCPOA President Mike Jimenez said it is "a pipe dream" for the state to think it can get by building only two new prisons over the next ten years. He said Schwarzenegger's jail-and-private prisons proposals are "payback to us" for taking him on during the special election last year.
"Clearly this is a shot back at us for opposing him as well as his reforms that never materialized," Jimenez said.
H.D. Palmer, the spokesman for Schwarzenegger's Department of Finance, said politics did not figure into the administration's budget and bond proposals. He described the private prison and jail plan as "a new and creative way" to reduce prison overcrowding. The system is currently packed to about 200 percent of its designed capacity.
"We're confident on what the needs are for the population that is going to be coming in," Palmer said. "We can't stick our head in the sand and ignore it. The governor is looking over the horizon and saying, 'How do we get ahead of the problem?' instead of waiting for it to occur and then dealing with it."
The governor's $8.1 billion proposed budget for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in fiscal year 2006-07 represents a 5.5 percent increase over the previous year's spending. A population that is expected to top 170,000 adult inmates by the middle of next year accounts for most of the increase.
Last year, the department came in for some heated rebukes for adding the word "rehabilitation" to its name while at the same time slashing by tens of millions of dollars the prison system's vocational and educational programs. This year, the agency has increased rehabilitation program spending by $53 million.
"We needed to go in and do an evaluation to make sure the money was being invested properly and wisely," department spokesman J.P. Tremblay said. "We needed to look at putting in vocational programs like masonry, forklift driving and carpentry, so when inmates get out, they will have an opportunity to get a job and be successful. This year, we'll be putting money into programs that have proved that they work."
Settlements in four separate federal court cases have forced a fattening of the budget by more than $120 million this year and through 2006-07. The settlements include $60 million for a juvenile justice remedial plan, $22 million for inmate dental care, $25 million for increased adult prison medical staffing and $21 million more to pay for defense lawyers to represent parolees facing revocation, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office. Those figures do not account for another $70 million in court-ordered pay raises for prison nurses and doctors.
Sunday, January 8, 2006
State prisons fuel crowding at county jails
By KATHERINE ROSENBERG/Staff Writer
Despite drastic measures taken to solve the county's jail overcrowding debacle, authorities say relief would require the state prison system to take custody of its inmates faster.
Although most inmates serving time in San Bernardino County's three main jails are not awaiting transfer, those who have been sentenced by the courts to serve time in state-run prisons are not being transported fast enough, contributing to an already significant overpopulation issue.
"It's a problem. At any given time we have 150 to 200 — it varies — waiting to go to state. We can only take them to the state system when they tell us that we can, and the state system has a tremendous overcrowding problem and it basically gets handed on to us," said Deputy Chief Glen Pratt, the Sheriff's executive staff member in charge of corrections. "The solution is obviously the state needs to build more beds but we can't make them do something. We're kind of at their mercy you could say. It's a system-wide problem in the state of California."
At the state Department of Corrections, officials are well aware of their bed shortage and say the only short-term solution would come from a decrease in crime, something most officials see as unrealistic.
"The only people this should be blamed on are the people who commit violent crimes against other people," Todd Slosek, California's Department of Corrections spokesman, said. He added that the current inmate population is the largest the state has ever seen, with 170,000 prisoners.
"It is a serious issue. We are looking into do several things, including the option of opening more private facilities. We are beginning to try to alleviate some of the pressure put on our 33 (statewide) facilities, but as far as the record numbers, I would refer you to the DA's office. They're the ones that prosecute the crimes," Slosek said.
Court representatives openly admit that they are backlogged and face too many cases for available workers. At Victorville Superior Court, the problem has recently gone from bad to worse.
"The courts are very crowded, and they have been. We're suffering from a couple of problems really. We just have too many cases for too few courts and we are not only without sufficient courts, we still have judicial vacancies and they have not been filled. That's like not having enough and even having less," Chief Deputy District Attorney Dennis Christy said.
That backlog then affects the jails, which are bogged down with too many pre-sentenced inmates who, with the sentenced inmates waiting to be transferred to prison, cause the bed shortage.
Next week a new jail will open in Adelanto, a converted privately run jail that will offer the county 706 more beds, Pratt said. But that jail looks to be nothing more than a temporary solution many say, and will provide little relief in solving the ongoing problem afflicting the local criminal justice landscape.
In the end, two solutions emerge — one distant and one less than plausible.
"I would imagine for the long range, the longterm solution would be another pre-trial detention facility, and that's been discussed in Apple Valley, but it takes a long time and a lot of money. That is the most realistic solution, but it wouldn't open for years," Mike Risley, assistant district attorney for San Bernardino County, said.
The other solution is Slosek's tongue-in-cheek remark: "Criminals need to stop committing crimes."
Nearly three decades after California cracked down on rising crime rates with tougher sentencing laws, the bill is coming due for what experts say has been one of the most ill-planned and flawed prison expansions in the country.
At the heart of the problem is a simple but overpowering mismatch -- lawmakers and prosecutors sent far more criminals to prison than Californians, ultimately, were willing to pay for. The result has been such acute overcrowding that critical prison programs and services are breaking down and require enormously expensive fixes.
On Thursday, a federal judge expressed shock at what he called the neglect and "depravity" in parts of the prison health care system, and ordered that a receiver take control. Court-ordered improvements could send costs soaring in a program that already spends $1.1 billion a year.
Just weeks before, the Corrections Department opened Kern Valley State Prison, built at a cost of $716 million and hailed as the last of 22 new prisons in a $4.5 billion construction program. But days later, the head of the agency, Roderick Q. Hickman, told The Chronicle that Kern Valley could not possibly be the last prison, because the system holds twice the number of inmates it was designed for and is still adding more.
Hickman said taxpayers will also have to pay many millions of dollars to upgrade older prisons and to comply with court orders demanding the correction of conditions so abysmal that they violate inmates' constitutional rights. With some of the highest costs per inmate, the most violence, the highest rate of parolees going back to prison and the worst crowding, California's corrections system is unlike any other system in the United States.
"There's California and then there's the rest of the country," said Michael Jacobson, the director of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York and the former head of New York City's jail system. The costs of the failures are now becoming clear:
-- A major cause of overcrowding is a parole system that sends far more released inmates back to prison than other states. Decisions by corrections officials and politicians to de-emphasize rehabilitation programs, lengthen parole periods and send violators back to prison instead of giving them treatment have produced a return rate of about 60 percent, the nation's highest.
-- The health care system is so neglected that up to 30 percent of its physician jobs are vacant and some examination rooms don't even have sinks. Once the federal court appoints a receiver, taxpayers will have to pay the bill for hiring new staff and renovating facilities. Meanwhile, longer sentences are producing an aging inmate population with much more expensive medical needs.
-- In a system that moves people in and out of prisons hundreds of thousands of times a year, management is hobbled by an obsolete information technology system. Officials say a modern computer network that would cut costs, reduce errors and streamline management is years away, and could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
California's problems are particularly striking because they run counter to a broad national trend that is saving other states millions of dollars while making citizens safer. If it could fix its dysfunctional programs, experts say, a department that is projected to spend $7.3 billion this fiscal year could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Even strict law-and-order states such as Mississippi and Louisiana have embraced new models that involve elements like shorter sentences, improved rehabilitation programs and more alternatives to prison. Texas, which has a higher crime rate than California and houses nearly as many inmates, puts only a fraction as many parole violators back in prison.
"California has used policies that show no evidence of effectiveness; all they show is high cost," said Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. "The state is the poster child for corrections policies that have no benefit to public safety.''
Hickman, in an interview, said of the parole system: "California, quite frankly, is aberrant compared with anywhere else in the country."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Hickman on his first day in office to be secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, which operates the adult prisons and the much smaller juvenile system. Hickman leaped into motion, declaring that he was determined to overhaul the parole system because its problems were so central to prisons being overstuffed with some 164,000 inmates.
This Friday, 20 months later, he reached a landmark when his agency took the name Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as part of the reorganization.
But some critics express deep disappointment that so little has been accomplished. While they call for urgency, Hickman said that it could take an additional 18 to 24 months to institute major new policies in the areas suffering the gravest problems.
"My emphasis with adult corrections right now is evaluating the prisons, evaluating the safety of the prisons, and then reconfiguring the prisons within the mission we now have," he said.
The foundation of the current problems was laid in the late 1970s, when Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and Republican officials toughened the state's criminal-justice policy.
As rising crime rates fed a law-and-order mood, Brown signed legislation requiring judges to impose fixed sentences. Other laws provided longer sentences for drug crimes, sex crimes and for habitual offenders, reaching a peak with "three strikes'' in 1994, which mandated life sentences for some repeat offenders.
There were warnings that the state was unprepared. In 1979 the head of the Corrections Department, Jiro Enomoto, warned that the prison population could shoot out of control, to 27,000 by 1986 from about 20,000. By 1986 there were 54,000, and the state never caught up.
Today the prisons hold nearly twice the number of inmates they were designed for, many having converted gyms and other areas into large dormitories. The crowding has raised racial and other tensions, made prisons more difficult to control, and hindered the limited treatment and education programs that are provided.
"People are consistently coming out worse than they're going in,'' said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland. He served on a blue-ribbon commission 15 years ago that examined the prisons and recommended major reforms, most of which were ignored.
"It's getting worse," said Krisberg, "and it is harming public safety because these people are going back in their communities."
Overcrowding is at the root of many of the system's failures, and parole is at the root of the overcrowding. Experts blame the state's policy of keeping most released inmates on parole for far longer periods than other states and sending most of those who violate parole back to prison, even for relatively minor offenses such as missing meetings or failing drug tests.
So many parole violators are returned to prison that they make up more than one third of all inmates. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state research body that provides policy recommendations, estimated 18 months ago that the prisons spend about $1.5 billion a year on parole violators and parolees who commit new crimes.
When inmates do make it back home, they are ill-prepared, either by their stay in prison or parole programs, to hold down jobs or stay out of trouble. The Little Hoover Commission found that 10 percent are homeless, half are illiterate, as many as 80 percent are unemployed. Eighty percent are drug users.
Experts say that spending money on treating or training parole violators is more effective than sending them back to prison for typical stays of 90 to 120 days.
Among parolees who met drug treatment goals at intensive residential centers, only 15.5 percent returned to prison within a year of being released, compared with more than 40 percent for all offenders, said Sheldon Zhang, a professor of sociology at Cal State San Marcos.
But the Schwarzenegger administration has cut funding for some programs and poorly planned others. One drug treatment program in a prison, for example, performed poorly because it did not isolate the inmates who were in treatment from the general prison population, where they had access to drugs.
Two years ago, the state said new parole programs emphasizing treatment and alternatives to prison for violators would cut the prison population by 15, 000 inmates. But they were poorly designed, in some cases sending drug violators to halfway houses with no drug programs, and never even implemented properly. In April the state stopped sending parole violators to these programs.
Parole violation cases have risen sharply this year, one of the reasons the Corrections Department had to ask for an additional $207 million for a larger inmate base.
California already spends $1.1 billion a year on health care for inmates -- a doubling in costs in just seven years -- but the level of care is so poor that U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson has said it violates inmates' constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment. Henderson, based in San Francisco, ruled Thursday that a receiver would be appointed to order improvements.
No budget figures were discussed, but most expect costs to soar, perhaps for years, because of the system's desperate needs. In a separate area, mental health, a department consultant has estimated it could cost $1.4 billion to meet the needs of the growing number of mentally ill inmates.
Last year the department asked if the University of California, with its big, highly regarded medical system, could take over management of the prison health care programs. The university said no almost immediately.
"We just were not able to take on something of that scale," said Jeff Hall, director of policy for the university's Division of Health Affairs.
High vacancy rates for doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and pharmacists who must work under difficult conditions will require heavy spending for recruitment, as well as bonuses and other incentives to attract qualified people to some remote prison locations.
The department has also agreed to hire a new level of supervisors and regional managers to oversee care, putting even more pressure on the budget.
Many doctors are furious, saying they are being unfairly blamed for the problems when they have to work in deplorable conditions and are badly overworked.
"The prisons were designed to incarcerate inmates," said Dr. Charles Hooper, who works at the California State Prison, Sacramento. "They were not designed to be the Mayo Clinic. They are essentially dungeons."
Hooper said that as many as half the inmates he sees for treatment show up without charts. The frequent lockdowns at the prison, often a result of tensions due to crowding, also disrupt proper treatment.
"It can be a fiasco at times," he said.
Health costs could also soar because of the rapidly rising number of geriatric inmates. According to an internal Corrections Department report, the total cost of an elderly inmate is three times that of a younger one. New facilities for them could also require major renovations.
The number of inmates 60 and over, among the most expensive to care for, nearly doubled in only six years, to 3,358 in 2004 from 1,781 in 1998, according to the department.
Health costs are also affected by the high level of violence in the prisons. California's prisons have roughly twice the number of violent incidents reported in Texas prisons and almost three times the number in federal prisons, both of which have similar numbers of inmates, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.
Some people complain that the system seems immune to even the smallest changes.
David Warren, a volunteer chaplain and member of the Family Council, which works with prison officials on behalf of inmate families, tells of a prison dentist who was concerned that the toothbrushes he was supplied were so hard that they were actually causing dental problems. He sought to have the state order softer brushes. He succeeded -- after 18 months.
"There is a mind-set that you have to see to understand," Warren said.
On a much broader level, the department's technology experts say it will be years before the prisons have computer networks that will enable them to keep track of the movements and needs of the inmates and a staff of about 54, 000.
Only recently have prison officials been able to communicate through the same e-mail system. Jeff Baldo, the head of the department's information technology division, said state-of-the-art optic fibers were installed in some prisons a decade ago, then left unused.
He said the department has one information technology specialist for every 1,000 employees; typically, a state agency of its size would need one technology expert for every 6 to 10 employees.
"I've never been in a place where you see this," Baldo said.
As a result, transferring large volumes of data from one prison to another is nearly impossible, the department's experts said. Most medical records are on paper, and when inmates are moved, their records sometimes fail to catch up. Thus prison officials often have to make decisions without complete data on inmates' records, medical conditions and special needs.
The officials said that building an adequate computer system could cost well over $100 million and take at least five more years.
"It could be less, but it also could be triple that amount," said Robert Horel, the corrections agency's chief of fiscal programs. "It doesn't take a very long term for the problems to grow when you're in the dark as much as we are."
Source: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Packed prisons a real threat
At the beginning of 2004, California prison officials crowed about the arrival of a new era, a time when the prison population would fall and some lockups would be closed. What a difference 18 months make.
The state prison population now stands at just under 165,000, which not only is the most of any state, but also sets a record for California. Instead of paroling more inmates and being able to shut down a prison or two, the Department of Corrections is building a new prison and is dusting off the cobwebs on a private facility that was closed last year.
This is not exactly what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had in mind a year ago when he promised reform in the Department of Corrections, and to make California's disgraceful prison system a national model.
Instead, the system is overloaded, with inmates crammed into facilities designed for about half their number. A good example is Solano State Prison in Vacaville, where 6,000 men live in a patchwork of buildings originally built for 2,600.
Schwarzenegger has said he believes corrections should correct criminal behavior, and that it is the Department of Corrections' responsibility to do a better job of getting parolees prepared for a life outside. He made those comments last year, and this year California is tops in the nation when it comes to ex-convicts who falter once outside prison walls, and have to go back in.
The problems of overcrowding aren't all on the outside. Penal experts know the worse the overcrowding situation, the greater the potential for violence, the spread of infectious diseases, and that inmates may be trapped in a fire.
The governor's notions for reforming the rehabilitation and parole process have mostly been slowed by contracting disputes, labor negotiations and equipment shortages. The corrections hierarchy and political structure are getting in the way of realistic, badly-need reform.
Lawmakers find it all but impossible to effect true reform, when the guards' labor union and entrenched prison managers don't want that to happen. Those same managers didn't have the foresight to see problems for which they are at least partly to blame would force the prison population up instead of down.
Meanwhile, the state's prisons are in a near-crisis mode. There is no end in sight for the parade of new inmates, who will be vying for living space with many convicts who should be learning a trade, learning how to read and getting ready for life outside the gray walls.
Schwarzenegger, for all his reform rhetoric, is part of the problem, too. His proposed budget for the next fiscal year includes a $95-million cut in the types of rehabilitation programs he said are needed. The prison system is broken and it looks like no one is willing to fix it.
Crowding at Prisons Has State in a Jam
March 13, 2005
SACRAMENTO — Sixteen months ago, the chief of California's vast prison
system told his wardens to prepare for a new day: The inmate population,
he said, was poised to plummet; prisons would be closed.
Scrambling to cope, managers wedged inmates into gyms, TV lounges, hallways — even a chapel. Some convicts bedded down on mattresses tossed on the floor. Thousands more were stacked three high in narrow bunks.
The overcrowding has pushed tensions sky-high in an already perilous environment. It has punched a $207-million hole in the $6.25-billion corrections budget. And it is jeopardizing one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's most ambitious initiatives: to make California's disgraced and troubled penal system a national model once again.
Now, instead of shutting down prisons, the state is opening a new one — and reopening a privately managed facility — in the quest for enough beds.
Criminologists and correctional officers who walk the state's cellblocks warn that overcrowding is a recipe for unrest, as well as health and fire safety problems. Already, California prisons report nearly twice as many assaults behind bars as those in Texas, which has about the same inmate population.
"You keep putting rats in a box, and pretty soon those rats go off and kill each other," said Lt. Charles Hughes, chapter president of the guards union at the state prison in Lancaster.
Overcrowding, coming even as violent crime in California continues to drop, reflects the failure of corrections officials to accurately project and plan for the most critical factor in their operation: the number of inmates they must house.
It also highlights the Department of Corrections' halting implementation of a host of parole reforms, which were expected to dramatically cut the inmate population and permit the closure of as many as three prisons.
Instead, California's correctional system — the nation's largest — now imprisons enough felons to fill Dodger Stadium nearly three times over. As of Feb. 23, the most recent survey, the number of inmates had settled at 162,276.
At California State Prison, Solano, in Vacaville, the effects of overcrowding are easy to see. Behind electrified fences and razor wire, nearly 6,000 men are doing time in a warren of buildings designed for 2,600.
In a gymnasium now called "G Dorm," the basketball hoops are folded back to make room for row upon row of triple-deck bunk beds. The noise — from televisions, radios, yelling and laughter — is constant, and the smell is about what you'd expect from 225 men living cheek by jowl who must use overworked toilets and wait in line for the few showers.
The dorm — watched by several guards on an elevated platform — evokes images of a refugee camp, only more crowded and more permanent.
"If it wasn't so crowded, it would slow down the tension," said Bryan Combes, a 34-year-old Lancaster man serving a sentence for assault with a deadly weapon.
"It's like living in a phone booth," added one his neighbors.
Officers and inmates at more than a dozen prisons agreed that the crowding had made life riskier than ever.
In makeshift dorms now common around the state, the rows of bunks obstruct sight lines for guards and make inmates and staff more vulnerable to attack. The cramped spaces, plus toilets that frequently fail and long waits for visits, medical appointments, canteen purchases and meals, increase the likelihood of fights.
Officers said some inmates, desperate for privacy and fearful of assaults, violated rules in hopes that a disciplinary citation would get them moved from an open dorm into a cell. So it goes at Mule Creek State Prison, where inmate lounges once used for watching TV and playing board games now hold beds for 40 convicts. Throughout the system, about 10,000 prisoners are now in what officials call "ugly beds" — those jammed into recreation rooms, hallways and other places not designed as living quarters.
"It's more work and more tension," said Lt. George King at Mule Creek, in the Sierra foothill town of Ione about 45 miles southeast of Sacramento. Inmates feel fearful in the temporary dorms, he said, and routinely have their possessions stolen.
Increased idleness compounds the problem. Without gyms and day rooms for recreation, without enough jobs and educational and vocational classes, inmates have little to do. Under those conditions, convicts are more apt to brew the crude alcoholic concoction known as Pruno, typically made from leftover fruit juice and bread.
One prison sergeant, Bruce Carter, said there was "an extreme upswing in violence" because of alcohol consumption: "They are bored stiff," added Carter, the supervisors' union president at Wasco State Prison, near Bakersfield. "They have nothing to do but wait for Pruno to ferment, and drink."
At corrections headquarters in Sacramento, officials said they had seen no statistical correlation between crowding and violence. But in February, the state's nonpartisan legislative analyst's office reported that the rate of inmate "incidents," including assaults, had risen 18% from 1997 to 2003 — a period of significant population growth.
Officers who walk the beat note that other confrontations go unreported. And they say crowding may have at least indirectly contributed to the slaying in January of correctional officer Manuel Gonzalez. The father of six was stabbed to death by an inmate whose mental health troubles and violent background would normally have landed him in a high-security housing unit. Instead, officials said, he had remained in a reception center because his condition and long list of prison enemies made him difficult to place.
Corrections officials said overcrowding was not a factor in the slaying — the first of a guard in two decades. Still, experts note that when prisons are packed, their managers have limited options.
"The problem with overcrowding is that you lose flexibility in how you house inmates," said Steve Martin, former second in command of the Texas prison system and now a corrections consultant.
Fire poses another danger when prisons bulge well beyond their design capacity, as is the case with every penitentiary in California. Many inmates smoke, though it is a rules violation, or light wicks of toilet paper to conceal noxious smells in their cell toilets. And most pack their living space with reading material and possess their own televisions, fans or other appliances. The more prisoners, the more opportunities for fire. Although there are smoke alarms and sprinklers, everyone lives behind locked doors and bars that make evacuation more difficult.
At San Quentin along the San Francisco Bay shore, ground-floor corridors used as emergency exits are sometimes crammed with bunk beds, records at the state fire marshal's office show. The crowding became so severe in August that officials obtained permission to temporarily house 44 inmates in a visitor room, 30 in two classrooms and 10 in the prison chapel, records show. A staff member served as a "fire watch."
The fire marshal routinely approves such prison requests: "How are you going to tell them no?" asked Hugh Council of the state fire marshal's northern region. "They have to put them someplace."
In fall 2003, relief seemed to be in sight, as prison analysts predicted a major population decline right around the corner. Instead, it grew at a steady clip. Officials said the number of inmates sent to prison for new crimes increased 8.8% last year, to almost 43,000.
At the same time, the Schwarzenegger administration's new approach to handling parole violators — diverting those guilty of minor slip-ups into alternative programs, instead of returning them to prison — stalled. Nonviolent parolees were to be diverted to halfway houses, equipped with electronic ankle monitors or enrolled in drug treatment programs. But the reforms were set back by contracting squabbles, labor negotiations and delays in obtaining the electronic monitors.
As a result, far more violators wound up in cells than had been expected.
"The reality is, we were overly optimistic in our estimates," James L'Etoile, the corrections official in charge of parole, said recently at a state Senate hearing on the stumbling reform effort.
Other forces are driving overcrowding as well. Corrections officials said some counties were moving convicts into state custody more quickly than before, to ease population pressures on jails. During certain weeks last year, for example, Los Angeles County — supplier of more than one-third of the new prison inmates — sent 14 busloads of prisoners to state lockups, almost double the normal number.
Determined to reform the correctional system, Schwarzenegger has pledged to dramatically expand education, counseling and job-training programs inside prisons. The governor has said he believes "corrections should correct," arguing that society suffers when parolees leave state custody unprepared for life on the outside. California leads the nation — by far — in the proportion of ex-convicts who falter and land back behind bars.
But with the prisons so packed and the state's finances so grim, Schwarzenegger's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year actually includes a $95-million cut to the very sort of inmate programs he wants to expand.
"It's great to hear talk of rehabilitation making a comeback, but there's just no way it will come true when the numbers are so huge," said Barry Krisberg, president of the Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency. "Our prison system has become this giant Frankenstein monster. It has to be brought under control for real change to occur."
George Deukmejian, the law-and-order Republican who authorized a vast expansion of the prison system as governor, voiced a similar view in a 2004 report. After leading an exhaustive investigation of California corrections at Schwarzenegger's behest, Deukmejian and his team concluded: "The key to reforming the system lies in reducing the numbers."
Despite those findings, California won't be closing prisons any time soon. Prisons director Jeanne Woodford, appointed by the governor last year, said she wanted to "take down those ugly beds" and free up day rooms, gyms and funds for inmate programs.
But the population numbers aren't cooperating. As a result, 215 beds became available in February under a contract renewed with a private prison that was closed at the end of 2003. And July 1, on a flat patch of brown earth in Kern County, the state will open a $380-million prison for 5,000 inmates known as Delano II, the 33rd prison in the system.
Some inmates are sounding the alarm about the jampacked conditions. At Solano, an active tuberculosis case last year — followed by tests showing that numerous other inmates were positive for the disease — prompted a protest by convicts who said overcrowding was increasing their exposure to communicable diseases.
More than 1,100 inmates signed petitions demanding a population cap, claiming that the crowded conditions were cruel and unusual punishment and thus unconstitutional.
Officials said they followed proper protocols in handling the TB outbreak and rejected the convicts' claims of a constitutional violation.
Prison law specialists were not surprised. Overcrowding may be uncomfortable, unfair and even dangerous, they said, but it is rarely illegal. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that crowding is unconstitutional only if it inflicts wanton pain or if basic human needs are not being met.
"Prisoners in California are packed in like sardines in a can," said lawyer Steve Fama of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, which has successfully sued the state to improve medical care and other inmate services.
"But the fact is that the courts, and our society, will tolerate a lot."
Begin Text of Infobox
The nation's largest state prison system by the numbers:
Annual budget (2004-05): $6.25 billion
Average yearly cost per inmate: $30,929
Number of employees: 49,073
Number of state prisons: 32
Number of camps where inmates are trained as wildland firefighters: 40
Number of community correctional facilities: 12
Inmate population, all institutions: 162,276
Average age of inmates: 36
Average sentence, in months: 53
Average time served, in months: 26
Commitment rate per 100,000 California population: 446
Notes: Latest figures available. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
Source: California Department of Corrections
Posted on Mon, Jan. 10, 2005
Booming inmate population pressures prison budget
SACRAMENTO - Echoing previous promises to rein in the state correction system's chronic overspending, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a 1 percent budget increase for the agencies Monday under a plan that relies partly on the success of his prison reform efforts.
The $6.98 billion Youth and Adult Correctional Agency budget plan is projected to use money saved from administrative cuts and parole reforms to offset recent surges that have led to an all-time inmate population high.
An influx of county inmates forced the Department of Corrections to spend $207.5 million over its budget this fiscal year and is projected to cost $280 million next year, despite vows to keep spending in check, prison officials said.
The department's overspending has been sharply and repeatedly criticized by state auditors and lawmakers. An Associated Press analysis found much of the money went for guards' overtime and sick leave, but prison and finance officials say the sheer number of inmates has since overtaken employee costs as the reason for the overspending.
Schwarzenegger's plan calls for $95 million in administrative cuts, and changes in parole policies are projected to trim 6.7 percent of parolees next year.
Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said he fears plans to recoup administrative cuts will trim union contracts in collective bargaining negotiations next year. Prison reform advocates, meanwhile, criticized Schwarzenegger for boosting the prisons' budget instead of trying harder to trim the number of inmates.
The decrease in parolees had been expected this year but didn't happen, prompting Youth and Adult Correctional Secretary Roderick Hickman to replace the parole system's manager last month.
The Corrections Department is increasing the number of inmates eligible for early release credits, working to keep more parolees from returning to prison, and ending supervision for trouble-free parolees after a year.
It is part of a larger effort to reorganize and refocus the prison system on rehabilitation as well as incarceration. Schwarzenegger last week proposed to rename the system the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
As a result of the parole policy changes, the number of parolees is projected to drop by 6,890, from an average daily parole population of 103,492 this year to 96,602 next year.
The population behind bars, by contrast, is projected to drop just 0.2 percent next year, or 264 inmates, from an average daily inmate population of 163,019 this year to 162,755 next year.
Prison officials blamed this year's population surge on inmates being sent there earlier from county jails. That pushed the population up more than 4,000 inmates, forcing prisons to house inmates in makeshift dormitories.
Next year's budget proposal includes $30 million to improve inmate medical care, as required by a court settlement. Another $15.3 million this year and next is to settle a lawsuit over parole revocations, while nearly $8 million is to take DNA samples of inmates as required by Proposition 69, approved by voters in November. And $10 million is to cover employee training or sick time.
The California Youth Authority projects 100 fewer incarcerated wards and 340 fewer juvenile parolees by the end of the next budget year, saving $11.5 million.
Youth conservation camps in Santa Cruz and Nevada counties would become firefighting camps for adult inmates to help ease adult prison crowding and because fewer wards are eligible for the camps. Nearly 40 percent of camp beds are vacant, the authority said; the remaining wards will be shifted to the two remaining youth firefighting camps.
Packing them in
Joseph Nino, a Stockton native doing time at Mule Creek State Prison
in Amador County for being an ex-felon in possession of a gun,
would rather be in a cell because there's more privacy.
A surge in the prison population means bunks have
been added in day rooms, classrooms and vocational shops.
Six months into a program of reforms designed to dramatically reduce the state's prison population, the Department of Corrections is scrambling to find bed space for thousands of inmates pouring into the system in record numbers.
To accommodate the rising tide, the agency last month laid out an emergency housing plan expected to jam 2,500 prisoners into day rooms, classrooms and vocational shops closed earlier this year because of budget cuts.
Prison officials call them "ugly beds," and the new emergency measures for July and August will increase their total in the system to 12,000.
The measures come as a reform panel headed by former Gov. George Deukmejian is calling for elimination of the severely overcrowded sleeping arrangements under which 9,500 prisoners already are living.
Top-level corrections managers are crossing their fingers and hoping the population increases will subside when new parole and pre-release programs they have launched in installments over the past nine months take hold.
Meanwhile, buses full of fresh convicts keep rolling into Department of Corrections reception centers.
"Sometimes, we get into situations where we have to kind of go into emergency mode, where we have to open a gym or a dorm," said Capt. Billy Mayfield, an administrative assistant in the institutions division, which is charged with finding beds for the inmates.
"In some cases, it's housing we'd prefer not to have. But it's still secure and safe, and it's our best answer to a difficult problem," Mayfield said. "Currently, our policy is that we don't decline to take inmates from the counties. When they transfer them to our jurisdiction, we accept them."
The department's population reduction effort - most of which it rolled out in March - is supposed to help cut costs in the $5.7 billion system by keeping inmates out of it.
The program includes newly launched education programs at reception centers so prisoners can begin accruing time credits from the day they arrive and get out of prison sooner.
It calls for pre-release mental health treatment for soon-to-be parolees, expanded pre-release programs for inmates about to exit the system and community-based sanction and treatment programs - in lieu of prison - for some drug-offending parolees who don't test clean for dope.
So far, the initiatives have not achieved their goals - and then some.
"The numbers are going in the opposite direction of what our original projections were like," Mayfield said. "We thought the population would be going down, but we're at all-time highs."
Corrections officials have attributed the rise to local decisions, particularly in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, to dump prisoners on the state almost as quickly as juries convict them. In San Diego, the county also negotiated a deal to foist off a higher percentage of its parole violators on the Department of Corrections.
"Cash-strapped counties aren't going to keep anybody longer than they have to unless they have negotiated deals with the state for reimbursement," said Lance Corcoran, vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
"That's why you're seeing the surge in population."
As of Aug. 14, the state prison population stood at an all-time high of 164,207. The figure already is higher than the department's projection of a December population of 160,000.
In hard numbers, new offenders are accounting for most of the increase - just more than 5,000 from July 2003 to July 2004.
The number of parolees back in prison on technical violations, or awaiting hearings, actually decreased by 3,500 as a result of new policies that seek to redirect offenders into drug treatment, electronic monitoring and community-based programs.
Parolees back in prison for new offenses, however, have increased by about 1,400.
At Mule Creek State Prison, there is no escaping the effects of the rising population.
Heat from the constantly running showers and the movement of scores of convicts in and out has turned the day rooms with the temporary beds into sweatboxes.
The Amador County prison added 108 inmates in July by installing bunk beds in the day rooms of three housing blocks.
A similar increase is slated for this month - reducing space in the day rooms where inmates, when not confined to their cells, unwind by watching one of two big-screen televisions, playing cards or just hanging out.
Inmates say the presence of the bunks has added to the tension at a prison that is already the fifth-most-crowded in the state, with a population running at 213 percent of designed capacity. According to the prison Web site, it was designed to hold 1,700 inmates but now has 3,614.
One inmate said the new layout has forced prison officials to lock down half the inmates assigned to cells at any given time to keep the population manageable.
Prisoners assigned to the bunks complained about lack of shower access, a 20-to-1 inmate-to-toilet ratio, the total absence of privacy and the increased friction that comes with too many people in too small a space.
"The feds need to come in and shut it down," David Davis, 32, a parole violator from Marysville initially convicted for felony evasion, said in an interview last week.
"All these bunks do is create animosity among people. You've got people stealing each other's shoes and stuff."
Joseph Nino, 28, a Stockton native who is doing time for being an ex-felon in possession of a gun, said he'd much rather be in a cell.
"There's more privacy," he said. "That's just the way it's supposed to be. You can't hang your clothes out here, and when (the floor officers) see them, they tear them down. We're victims of circumstances."
G. Mason, a 17-year correctional officer, said the floor plan seems to be working out "all right." He said he hasn't heard a lot of complaints, and that if there has been tension, it hasn't taken the form of any physical vio lence in his unit.
"Basically, the blind spots are the only bad thing, so we're making constant rounds in this building," Mason said. "At this time, there are no major problems, but I can't tell you what's going to happen later this afternoon."
Most of the 2,500 new emergency beds are going into day rooms. But at California State Prison, Los Angeles, authorities are converting a vacant work center into a bunkhouse.
The building once offered programs for inmates to learn plumbing, auto mechanics, carpentry and other vocational skills that could have returned them to the economic mainstream.
And at San Quentin, officials have removed three classrooms from the prison's lauded university program and converted them into bunk rooms, according to college project director Jody Lewen.
The program is slated to be evaluated by the Department of Corrections, in conjunction with the officers union, to see if it can reduce recidivism. Its fall class schedule now will be cut in half, Lewen said.
"When I hear stories like that, it just confirms in my mind the system's preoccupation with custody and control, to the exclusion of rehabilitation and programming," said Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a corrections reform group based in Oakland.
"That is contrary to anything having to do with good correctional management."
The Bee's Andy Furillo can be reached at (916) 321-1141 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Overcrowding chronic at prisons in Vacaville
Thursday, August 05, 2004 - California State Prison-Solano and the California Medical Facility in Vacaville are overcrowded with inmates and no end is in sight, according to a grand jury report released this week.
The facilities originally were configured to hold many fewer inmates than are now there, and emergency measures to house overflow inmates - including converting gyms, day-use rooms and meeting spaces to cells - has become commonplace at both prisons.
CSP Solano, rebuilt to house about 5,800 inmates, now has a population of more than 6,000. The California Medical Facility, a transitional prison for sick and mentally ill convicts, was designed for 2,300 inmates and now holds more than 3,200, said the report.
The grand jury, while complimenting the prisons for being clean and well run, recommends that the state Department of Corrections and the California Department of Mental Health tackle the problem of overcrowding.
"The (facilities are) overcrowded," said the report. "Overcrowding should be addressed and resolved by the responsible agencies."
Prison officials at both facilities acknowledged that overcrowding is a chronic problem that has been prevalent for many years.
The number of inmates that are pouring into prisons across the state, however, is difficult to control, said Mary Neade, spokeswoman at CSP Solano.
California's total inmate population is more than 162,000, according to state statistics.
"What can we do?," she asked. "We're subject to take what we receive. I'm sure that if you were to look at the (California Department of Corrections) as a whole, you'd see other institutions are in the same situation."
CSP Solano, in fact, has enacted emergency measures to make room for inmates that are being transferred from Folsom State Prison, Neade said.
The prison in Folsom is sending lower-risk inmates to Solano, while it receives higher-risk offenders shipped in from Southern California.
To accommodate the overflow, CSP Solano is housing inmates in its gym and is triple-bunking inmates in cells.
"It's a temporary situation," Neade said.
Officials at CMF said they are also doing what they can to accommodate an overflow number of inmates.
Currently, dorms are being built in the space that serves as the prison yard.
The new facilities when completed, however, will keep up with demand that was projected several years ago, said spokesman Lt. Steve Norris.
"I would agree that this institution is overcrowded," he said. "I think what we're doing here is getting to the things (now) that were projected two or three years ago."
The grand jury, required to look at Solano's prisons every year as part of the California Penal Code, criticized CMF for a "major" nursing shortage.
Since one of the focuses of the facility is psychological treatment and medical care for prisoners, the shortage is a significant issue, said the grand jury.
Norris agreed, but said nursing shortages are a nationwide problem that have no easy solution.
"Yes, we have had downsizing in nurses, we've had openings. We've had issues, like everybody else.
It's not specific to this institution or the California Department of Corrections," he said.
The grand jury, meanwhile, complimented CSP Solano for an industry program "that gives meaningful work and occupational training" to some inmates.
Those enrolled in the program fabricate placards for disabled motorists and fashion prescription eyeglasses for Medi-Cal recipients, among other items.
An effective substance abuse program offered at the prison also was praised.
Jason Massad can be reached at email@example.com .
Inmates Losing Space as Prisons Add Bunks
July 28, 2004
In a new sign of strain on California's overcrowded prison system, inmates at 14 lockups are being housed in some of the last spaces available to corrections officials — the "dayrooms," or communal spaces where prisoners watch TV, mingle and play cards.
The emergency move — outlined in a state Department of Corrections memo obtained this week by The Times — is being enacted as new inmates, primarily from Los Angeles County, continue to flood the prison system despite predictions from corrections officials that the convict population would decrease this summer.
For years, state prison officials have found creative ways to deal with chronic overcrowding, often by converting gymnasiums to dormitories. But moving bunk beds and prisoners into dayrooms has raised new safety concerns as convicted felons jostle for a shrinking slice of elbow room. And it has some insiders wondering how much worse the crowding can get.
"This is it — we're to the rim," said Lt. Charles Hughes of the state prison in Lancaster, where four dayrooms are now jammed with full-time inhabitants. "Let's hope people stop committing crime."
California's prison system — the nation's largest, with an inmate population of about 160,000 since the late 1990s — has operated at or near capacity for years, corrections officials say. No new prison has opened since 1997, and the only one under construction, called Delano II in Kern County, will not open until April.
The new crisis has emerged as good news collides with bad. In Los Angeles County, aggressive policing — spurred in part by Chief William J. Bratton's policies in the Los Angeles Police Department — has pushed total arrests up by more than 10%, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Chief Chuck Jackson, who oversees the booking and release of inmates at county jails.
"We're on track for booking 180,000 inmates into our system this year. That's [about] 25,000 more than last year," Jackson said.
But the deluge of new convicts has overwhelmed the beleaguered and cash-strapped state prisons.
By this spring, corrections officials had hoped that new alternatives to prison for parole violators — such as rehabilitation programs and house arrests — would lower the inmate population. Instead, the prisons have had to deal with 1,200 unexpected inmates, many from Los Angeles County jails.
In response, the Corrections Department began "triple-bunking" inmates in dormitories at three prisons where the norm had been two-bed bunks.
In mid-July, another unexpected wave of L.A. County inmates numbering nearly 1,800 began arriving.
The new plan calls for adding more than 2,600 beds this month and in August to accommodate the increase. Most of the beds are being set up in dayrooms and former vocational classrooms closed due to budget cuts.
Margo Bach, a spokeswoman for the Corrections Department, could not say whether the new arrangements were temporary. "One would hope," she said.
"We don't like putting them in dayrooms," she said. "But we have no choice in this matter when we're receiving the number of inmates that we are."
Bach also could not say whether the conversion of dayrooms to dorms was unprecedented. But a number of veteran officers said they could not remember such a drastic move.
In the early 1990s, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department began housing its prisoners in dayrooms to relieve overcrowding at its downtown Men's Central Jail.
But in recent weeks, sheriff's officials removed the beds after two inmates were killed amid the dayrooms' clutter, Jackson said.
Corrections Lt. Hughes said the bunks block guards' sight lines, making it more difficult for them to respond to a riot or fight.
"There's blind spots now," said Hughes, who is also president of the local chapter of the guards union. "The line of sight if you had to shoot is totally blocked. [Inmates] could grab an officer and drag him behind the bunk and the officers can't shoot at him."
Today, some Lancaster inmates housed in cells are seeing their dayroom privileges cut back because there isn't enough space for everyone. When they do use a dayroom, they must share it with 40 inmates now living there full time.
Hughes worries that the cuts and overcrowding may increase tensions among prisoners, who count dayroom privileges among the few perks in an otherwise dreary reality.
Cayenne Bird, director of the prisoners' rights group UNION, said her son's dayroom in Lancaster was converted to a dorm. The move, she said, was inhumane.
Bach acknowledged the conundrum for law enforcement and corrections officials.
"You're cleaning up the streets, and that's a good thing," she said. "Then you get people upset because we're overcrowding."
Deuel officers comb Z dorm
TRACY -- Correctional officers at Deuel Vocational Institution continue to clean up a huge prison dormitory strewn with personal belongings, a week after a full-scale riot left nine inmates injured.
California corrections officials and prisoner advocates agree that prison overcrowding was likely a contributing factor to the violent episode.
Prison officials acknowledged belatedly last week that a correctional officer at the medium-security men's prison fired a warning shot from a lethal weapon sometime during the Sept. 12 melee to stop two groups of combatants.
Ron Rackley, a Deuel spokesman, said the correctional officer fired the shot from the catwalk perched above the Z dorm. The .223-caliber Ruger rifle was aimed away from inmates. Nobody was hit, he said.
The single shot came to rest in the upper part of a bunk bed in the Z dorm where the riot was sparked. Z dorm, part a huge gymnasium divided into two large dormitories, housed 420 inmates at the time of the riot, he said.
"The round had a desired effect, and those two groups stepped away from each other," Rackley said.
The riot in Z dorm started at 11:22 p.m. Investigators believe the melee was sparked by racial tensions and may have involved an issue of disrespect between individuals in Z dorm, Rackley said.
Minutes after the riot started, fighting spilled over to 17 inmates in the adjoining Y dorm. Y dorm, with 230 bunk beds, is part of the same gymnasium but separated by a chain-link fence.
Rackley did not identify the correctional officer who fired the shot. He said the officer properly reported the shot and that prison investigators are looking into the circumstances of the incident, as California Department of Corrections policy dictates.
Correctional officers also used an arsenal of nonlethal weapons to stop
the riot, including tear gas. The amount of nonlethal munitions that correctional
officers fired during the 50-minute riot is still under investigation,
Rackley said. ::: Advertisement :::
In the cleanup, correctional officers recovered six stabbing and seven bludgeoning weapons that inmates illegally made, Rackley said.
Eight inmates treated at area hospitals for stab, slash and blunt-trauma injuries are recovering back at Deuel. One inmate treated for shortness of breath also has returned to the prison, he said.
While officials at Deuel sort out the riot, 390 inmates remain on lockdown in cells. About 213 inmates have been positively identified as participants in the riot, Rackley said.
To make cell space available, 285 inmates who were being temporarily housed at the prison's reception center have been transferred to the California State Prison at San Quentin.
Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections, said the state is building a maximum-security prison in Delano, which is one way officials hope to relieve overcrowding in the state's prison system.
Statewide, California prisons are at 192 percent of their capacity. Deuel is at 217 percent of its capacity, with a total population of about 4,000 inmates, she said.
"If we weren't overcrowded, we wouldn't have Z dorm," Thornton said.
Z dorm houses medium-security inmates classified as level three. In the past year, cell space at Deuel has been given to the increasing number of reception-center inmates awaiting transfer to other prisons.
Level three inmates from a wide mix of backgrounds and convictions are put into dormitory housing as a result of having too few cells available. This is not an ideal situation, Thornton said.
Deuel's recent riot underscores the problem of housing too many level three inmates together, Thornton said.
Prisoner advocates say the overcrowded conditions at Z dorm lend themselves to riots such as the recent one. The state has a responsibility to protect the safety of inmates, they say.
Keith Wattley, a staff attorney for the Prison Law Office, said inmates in overcrowded dormitories like Z dorm have little privacy, don't sleep well and are subjected to poor air conditioning. These factors each drive up tension.
"For a relatively new person and somebody who may be smaller or perceived as weaker, there are going to be many sleepless nights, or worse," Wattley said.
The state has the responsibility to protect inmates from each other, and packing more than 300 inmates into a dormitory doesn't often translate into good security, Wattley said.
Elizabeth Alexander, director for the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project based in Washington, worries that Deuel's Z dorm is more dangerous than the typical prison dormitory.
Inmates living in gymnasiums stacked with bunk beds two and three high is a clear sign that too many people are living in too little space, she said. If the gymnasium is filled with bunk beds, where do inmates exercise, she asked.
"You've got to have some normal way for people to deal with their frustrations, like recreation," Alexander said. "This is loaded with serious danger signs."
* To reach reporter Scott Smith, phone (209) 239-3324 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
CDC - Over-Population
Three Strikes Legal - Index