Magicians, Creating an Illusion of Change

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The three judges who stayed their order to reduce the state’s prison population , I believe to be naïve, or possibly tired and becoming fatalistic. Schwarzenegger has absolutely no intention of complying, only delaying. Before the Supreme Court considers the state’s appeal, he and his bunch will be long gone, and another administration will begin the process anew — using our system of “justice” to grant a seek a postponement until California’s new ruler has had time to “study the proposal,” and in turn, begin submitting his discourse, and “revised plan.”

It has now been nearly fourteen years since this fiasco began, fourteen years of evasive legal maneuvering. All the while, inmates continue to die unnecessarily, the direct consequence of the overcrowding that perpetrates violent confrontation and overworked doctors, unable to provide reasonable, basic medical care.

The facts today are now known by anyone who reads the newspaper; California’s Corrections Administration has always known them. Yet, it took a federal takeover to squeeze out an admission that “there are problems.” This from the same people who immediately after, refused to comply with demands to repair what is broken. All the while, both sides — the courts who have the authority to force the reform, and the state officials not wanting it to — appear to have forgotten the inmates who are continuing to die unnecessarily because of the inhumane conditions being wrangled over… Collateral damage.

End overcrowding? End warehousing and abusing incarcerated juveniles? Compel California to act on previous court orders issued through the years? The Administration has no fear of the courts, with good reason. No person calling the shots in this matter has yet to be charged (much less jailed) for being in contempt of a court mandate after refusing to comply. Until that changes, the children will not be “rehabilitated.” They will not be allowed an education (locked inside a 4’x4’ screened cage five hours a day), participate in therapy, or to partake in vocational training, watched over by an independent watchdog group assuring what is supposed to be happening. The 90% recidivism rate among juvenile offenders will not change. They are fodder to fill the state’s bloated adult prisons.

What programs could be brought to life to change this dismal, unending record of failure? In the long run, only a return to indeterminate sentencing, with built-in incentives (like early release) for prisoners to participate can work to reduce a cycle that no one seems able or willing to break. If prisoners knew that immersing themselves in programs that teach them to read, to address their addictions, to learn violence reduction strategies, to have access to vocational training that actually prepares a prisoner for meaningful employment, you would see a dramatic decline in the worst aspects of prison life, and a dramatic increase in legal and productive behavior when they hit the streets, as almost all will.

What to do right now about overcrowding? Admit parole is a fake! Under California’s sentencing guidelines, those today being paroled have, in reality, completed their sentence. The problem lies with the courts adding on years of parole, to be served after a sentence is completed. Implemented, perhaps, with the best of intentions, in truth, parole only serves a huge number of men and women employed by the state as Parole Officers at a cost of over a billion dollars annually. They in turn guarantee the CDCR its prisons remain overcrowded with “technical parole violators,” which then guarantees prison guards (whose annual salary ranges between $50,000 and $60,000) an opportunity to pad their checks with an additional $100,000+ of taxpayer’s money in overtime pay each year.

What should be obvious to anyone reading this: there is no need to release so much as one convict who has not yet completed his/her sentence. Instead, release those who have, and are presently among the 30,000 “technical” parole violators who, at any given time, languish in California’s overcrowded prisons for up to one year, trapped by a broken system which has recidivism rates of close to 70%, the highest in the United States.

If you want to know what you get for the $32,000 it costs to imprison these parole violators (a billion dollars annually), take a look, for example, at San Quentin’s South and West cellblocks where hundreds of men lie sweltering in bunks stacked three high out on the tiers, who must duck and dodge 24/7 the trash thrown from the four tiers above. They are among the 30,000 parole violators who should be released, and thus end — even if only temporarily — the overcrowding crisis, eliminating the need to release inmates who have not completed their sentences. Once prisoners have completed a prison sentence, they should remain in society, unless they commit a new crime.

Thus, having temporarily resolved the overcrowding problem, those truly interested in serious reform of this failed system will then have time to sit back, take a deep breath, and present a multitude of ideas that have worked in other states, without the necessity for short-term fixes demanded when the system is in crisis, and inmates are dying.

I cannot end without drawing on my five decades of experience in this system to add that whatever plan is given over to CDCR to improve conditions inside its prisons, will be abused. I have lived it. The CDCR is comprised of magicians, creating the illusion that it is a faithful steward of the people and their billions of tax dollars that allow them to operate. Their magic gives those who want to believe the illusion that its intentions are honorable. The truth is quite the opposite.