This article was first published on Vice’s blog.
California’s State Assembly dipshits should congratulate themselves for a job well done. They finally managed to pass a bill that will reduce the state’s prison population by 17,000. All it took was a riot that tore a prison in Chino apart from the inside. That, and a federal court ruling handed down in early August that said the state had to clear 25 percent of its 150,000 prisoner inventory.
Which is good, because here’s what the federal judges had to say about California’s prison system:
Relying on expert testimony, the judges ruled that the California prison system, the nation’s largest with more than 150,000 inmates, must reduce its population by shortening sentences, diverting nonviolent felons to county programs, giving inmates good behavior credits toward early release and reforming parole, which they said would have no adverse impact on public safety . . . they called an unconstitutional prison health care system that causes one unnecessary death a week.
“The medical and mental health care available to inmates in the California prison system is woefully and constitutionally inadequate and has been for more than a decade,” the judges wrote.
The special three-judge panel also described a chaotic prison system where prisoners were stacked in triple bunk beds in gymnasiums, hallways and day rooms; where single guards were often forced to monitor scores of inmates at a time and where ill inmates died for lack of treatment.
“In these overcrowded conditions, inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent, infectious diseases spread more easily, and lockdowns are sometimes the only means by which to maintain control,” the panel wrote. “In short, California’s prisons are bursting at the seams and are impossible to manage.”
The judges wrote the above opinion three days before inmates trashed and burned Chino in a riot that left a few hundred prisoners badly injured after they went at it, bashing heads with lead pipes and gouging eyes with shards of broken glass. A whole wing will have to be built from scratch, and some of the inmates are still in critical condition. Well, it wasn’t hard to see this coming. There are about 150,000 prisoners in California’s state prisons, the highest count in America, and twice the size the penal system was designed to house. (Chino was holding nearly 6,000 prisoners, but had a maximum capacity of 3,000.) Every year, prisons here are looking more and more like they do in Russia, including the russkie perennial favorite: multi-strain resistant TB. And yet, prison authorities blamed the riot on racial tensions between Mexicans and Blacks. That’s the kind of analysis that makes everyone happy—blame it all on those wild colored folks, rather than on state barbarism.
But there’s something even crazier. See, California’s politicians didn’t approve the early release program because prison conditions had become so inhumane. (In August, a panel of federal judges ruled that the state’s prison system “violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.”) And they sure as hell didn’t agree to it because it was the moral thing to do. No, the state Assembly did it only because they needed to balance the annual budget. Because if they don’t let the prisoners go, a whole lot of Californians are going to lose their jobs. And all that excess budget fat hanging off California’s penal carcass made prison expenses a prime target. California spends almost twice as other states on warehousing its inmates: $50,000 per person per year, or $8,000,000,000 for all of them.
Here’s the LA Times account of what finally got California’s politicians motivated:
Schwarzenegger makes layoffs, orders pay cuts for California state workers
By Michael Rothfeld, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 01, 2008
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, expressing frustration with lawmakers’ failure to approve a state budget, ordered his administration Thursday to lay off thousands of part-time employees and moved to temporarily slash the pay of most full-time staff.
The governor, a Republican, apologized to state employees, many of whom, he acknowledged, are already struggling in a difficult economy. But he said he had no choice in the absence of a budget one month into the fiscal year.
. . .
Schwarzenegger also limited overtime and imposed a hiring freeze. . . . governor’s interpretation of a 2003 decision by the California Supreme Court that Schwarzenegger says requires most employees to be paid only the federal minimum wage during a budget impasse. And the controller insisted that the state has enough money to pay its bills through September.
And so there you have it, folks. This is how the mighty, progressive wheels of California politics grind. Politicians and their staff don’t give a shit about what’s best for the people, they only do what keeps them fat, happy and in power.
Hell, half of the Democrats in the state Assembly broke with their party and voted against the prisoner release because they were up for reelection and didn’t want to fall on their sword for the future of California by opening themselves up to the “soft on crime” label. And those who did vote yes did so after cutting out provisions in the bill that would have softened sentences for non-violent and petty crimes, pretty much guaranteeing that a lot of the 17,000 prisoners they release will be back on the state prison welfare system in no time at all. Right now if a junkie with a criminal record steals a ghetto blaster worth a penny over $400, it’ll be considered grand theft, a felony with a big ol’ fine and a one-year prison term.
And if that doesn’t get them thrown back in, then the economy will: think about releasing ex-cons into an environment where real unemployment is hovering somewhere around 20 to 30%? Not much construction work around these days, either. Of course they’re gonna come right back. Even without a recession, 70% of all ex-inmates violate their parole and end up back in prison, according to a recent article in the Economist, which called California’s prisons “gulags in the sun.”
All of this makes me think of my adopted hometown of Victorville, California, a city with the highest parolee population in San Bernadino county:
The open spaces, affordable housing and rural qualities of the Victor Valley that attract families may be the same factors drawing to the region parolees avoiding densely-packed urban areas.
The concentration of parolees in the Victor Valley and neighboring communities is nearly 50 percent higher than all of San Bernardino County, according to the most recent estimates available.
More than 2,700 parolees – including 239 parolees at large – currently reside in the Victor Valley and a few dozen other communities served by the Victorville parole station, including Barstow, Hinkley, Needles, Yermo, Joshua Tree and Trona, according to new data released by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
That means parolees make up about 0.7 percent of the local population and only 0.5 percent of the county population, according to U.S. Census data. The local region represents only 19 percent of the county’s population, but it’s home to 26 percent of the county’s parolees.
“The High Desert is a place where you can still afford to live, you can find very affordable housing and we have some land, so those factors are going to make it more enticing for parolees to come to, unfortunately,” said Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Palmdale.
And that means a whole lot of parolees are about to descend on my hood, “Brentwoodz,” as we locals call it. What they’ll find is that there are no jobs here and that they’d be wasting time trying to find one. One guy I know who works part time construction here gets one full day of work a week. One full day of minum wage comes out to 50 or 60 bucks a day—or in his case, a week.
This might be the single worst time to release prisoners, for them and for us. The upside to this is entertaining news in the local crime porn section. Like this drive-by peek-a-boo just a few blocks from my house:
Gang member dodges one drive-by, shot hours later
August 27, 2009 6:03 PM
BEATRIZ E. VALENZUELA Staff Writer
VICTORVILLE • A known gang member on parole was able to duck one drive-by shooting attack only to be shot a few hours later in the driveway of a Victorville home, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department officials said.
Victorville station investigators are looking for the shooter, said Sgt. Bob Hughes.
Christopher Hamilton, 27, was at his home in the 14800 block of Rosemary Street around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday when a car pulled up and someone shot at him, officials said. Hamilton was able to escape injury.
A few hours later, around 12:30 a.m., the victim was shot in the driveway of a home in the 15000 of Brown Lane, Hughes said.
Hamilton was shot in the arm and a bone fragment became lodged in his eye, officials said. Rescue personnel transported Hamilton to an area trauma center.
Investigators learned Hamilton was a parolee at large and he was arrested for various parole violations. He will be taken into custody when he is released from the hospital.
The thought of all these bored parolees aimlessly gangbanging around town makes me wish I had 10 to 20 million dollars. That way, I could put all the ex-cons on payroll and make them into my own personal Class War army that could be deployed to any place in the country on a moment’s notice. Say, for example, the next Tea Party rally. . . Or Americans For Prosperity town hall meeting.
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