Prison Packages 

California Prison Focus blasts CDC’s ‘emergency regulations’

An open letter to Rick Grenz, chief of the Regulation and Policy Management Branch, California Department of Corrections:

California Prison Focus strongly opposes the “emergency” regulations that went into effect in February 2004 regarding prisoner property. Additionally, we are outraged that the March 5, 2004, public hearing was cancelled, thereby denying concerned family members, advocates and former prisoners the opportunity to publicly oppose these new regulations. 

Once again, the California Department of Corrections has moved to deny prisoners an opportunity to maintain that sorely needed contact with their family and loved ones. The old quarterly package system allowed families who are hard pressed for cash to shop around and fill the boxes with reasonably priced foods and toiletries. 

The new vendor package system amounts to highway robbery. It is a thinly disguised scheme to pad the pockets of vendors who are friends of the CDC. Many prisoner families will not be able to afford the higher prices for the extremely limited and inferior goods. Taking away the quarterly package system (and at the same time cutting back on prisoner visitation) amount to severe punishment for prisoners and their family members. 

We also oppose the decision not to allow prisoners to obtain (and keep) their personal clothing. We are well aware of the severe temperatures in the Central Valley where most of the prisons are located. State issued clothing is not warm enough in the winter or light enough in the summer. Prisoners have had to depend upon personal outer clothing to survive the climate. The decision to not allow this outer clothing and to take away clothing that prisoners already possess is inhumane and life-threatening, particularly for prisoners with serious illnesses like HIV, hepatitis C and cancer. 

We are deeply concerned about CDC statements concerning “female” clothing and “male” clothing. Inside the CDC, there are a large number of transgender and gender variant prisoners. The transgender women, many of whom receive hormone therapy, have demanded and sometimes won the right to wear bras. We believe that all clothing should be made available to all prisoners without gender bias. Not to do so is to continue to discriminate against all prisoners for their gender clothing preference. 

We have also recently heard from many women prisoners who are upset that perfume and earrings will no longer be allowed on the prisoner property list. The wearing of these items gives prisoners a small modicum of dignity that we believe should be respected by the California Department of Corrections. 

We are opposed to any decision limiting property for prisoners in Security Housing Units, Administrative Segregation and Death Row. Specifically, we have learned that televisions and radios have been taken away from prisoners in ad-seg. We have heard that SHU prisoners are next in line to lose their televisions and radios. Needless to say, this decision would be inhumane and serves no purpose other than to inflict more brutality against people locked down in the SHU. We demand that all prisoners in special housing units have reasonable access to property, including and especially TVs, radios and books. 

All of these new “emergency” regulations are mean-spirited and senseless. These regulations will only deepen the resentment and anger of the prison population. At a time when the Little Hoover Commission has called for parole reforms to reduce recidivism, these regulations will only lead to continued parole failure and poor prison management. 

We join with thousands of family members, prisoners, former prisoners, activists and legal advocates in opposing all of these regulations pertaining to prisoner property. And we demand a public hearing on all these new regulations. The only emergency is the one that the CDC created by putting these regulations into effect without any public comment. 

Judy Greenspan, Board Member, California Prison Focus 

For more information or to get involved, contact California Prison Focus at 2940 16th St,, Suite B-5, San Francisco CA 94103, phone (415) 252-9211, fax (415) 252-9311 or website .

Inmate gifts may face new bars
State considering ban on sending packages directly to prisoners

08:24 AM PST on Friday, March 5, 2004

By STEFANIE FRITH / The Press-Enterprise

Every few months, Linda Ricchio looks forward to receiving a package from home. Maybe it's a scarf her mother used to wear or new pajamas and sweaters. Maybe it's a craft made by her 4-year-old niece or a tiny basket of straw dolls from her 6-year-old nephew. 

Gifts like these are sometimes trivial, but for a woman incarcerated at the California Institution for Women for almost 18 years, Ricchio says they are lifelines that represent a connection with her family. 

"The items from the free world signify a link between myself and those who contributed to preparing the box," Ricchio wrote from prison. 

That link could be broken. The California Department of Corrections may start returning packages sent to inmates from family and friends and accept only packages sent through designated mail-order vendors. Today is the deadline for the public to submit comments about the idea. 

Sens. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose, and Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, are asking that the corrections department make changes to the existing package program first, before going to vendor-only boxes. 

In a letter sent last month to Youth and Adult Correctional Agency secretary Rod Hickman, they ask that packages be turned away if they do not include a name and return address, or that inmates be limited to receiving packages from a list of pre-approved senders. 

If the state approves the vendor-only packages, it would mean families no longer could pick out and ship items themselves. Instead, they would have to choose more standardized items from catalogs like Walkenhorst and Packages R Us. 

Visitors now are not allowed to give items to prisoners during visits, and packages may be mailed only up to four times a year. 

Stopping illegal flow 

About 25 percent to 30 percent of contraband, like drugs and alcohol, enter prisons through packages, spokesman Russ Heimerich said. By going to vendor-only packages, officers' time and money can be saved, he said. 

But families say catalogs charge too much for simple items like toothpaste and cereal, which they buy instead at discount and warehouse-style stores. Sending packages of their own also keeps costs down because they can buy items over a long period of time. 

"It's expensive, and the catalogs don't have anything that the guys (in prison) really use," said Prudence Williams, a Rialto woman who sends packages to her fiancé at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe. 

Her fiancé, who is black, needs special hair care and skin products, which she said are almost nonexistent in catalogs she has looked at. Last Christmas, she sent him a crucifix, something she no longer would be able to send if the state opts to use vendor-only packages. 

"It's frustrating," said Williams, who spends about $200 on each package. "The state is getting so strict." 

Since November, the state has accepted only mail-order packages at Wasco State Prison, and so far, no contraband has entered the correctional facility, said Heimerich. He said 15 other states do not allow families to send packages directly, and any vendors California decides to use will be required to have low prices and Kosher and diabetic foods. 

Anything that helps keep drugs out of prisons is worthwhile, said Jane Alexander, co-founder of the San Anselmo-based Citizens Against Homicide, a victim's rights group. 

"I don't have any empathy for them," said Alexander, whose aunt was murdered more than 20 years ago. "They are still going to get their goodies." 

At the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, about 1,500 packages arrive each month, and one or two out of 10 has "something it shouldn't," said Lt. Tim Shirlock. 

"Alcohol, drugs, tobacco, tequila hidden in Christmas tins, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, they try everything to get these things into the prison," he said. "But does having (vendor-only) packages mean they'll never get stuff in? No." Heimerich said officers will continue to search packages on a more random basis. 

Pre-packaged goods 

Packages R Us provides a variety of boxes for families to send. For $170, an inmate can receive a 25-pound box that includes items such as an electric shaver, cereal, crackers, candy bars and body soap. 

Other items may be added, such as six crew socks for $6.99 or gray gym shorts for $8.99. 

Stewart Walkenhorst, co-owner of the Napa-based catalog that works with the 32 prisons in California, said his company follows the state's regulations for what is allowed. Packages must weigh no more than 30 pounds and not contain glass jars or canned goods. Televisions and radios must be made in clear plastic and lotions, and toothpaste must also be placed in clear containers. 

Although some friends and family send contraband, the stereotype of hiding a file in a baked cake is just that, said Jim Mustin, executive director of the Virginia-based Family and Corrections Network. 

"The dangerous (inmates) are the ones who feel they have nothing to lose," Mustin said. "They need to know someone is there for them." 

Reach Stefanie Frith at (909) 893-2114 or

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