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By Yasha Levine


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


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.

Read more: , , , , , , , Yasha Levine, Class War For Idiots, What You Should Hate

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Add your own

  • 1. az  |  September 3rd, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    So first you complain about America being a police state with people being jailed for non-violent drug and three-strikes offences, and now you’re unhappy that they’re being let out? I must not be following your supreme logic, oh great one.

  • 2. nut POV  |  September 4th, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Nobody who isn’t violent should be in prison. That goes for drug users, tax evaders, and white collar criminals. If the purpose of prison is to keep the rest of society safe, then there’s no reason to incarcerate someone who does not pose a threat to the general population. I would easily let Bernie Madoff out in exchange for all the thousands who dared smoke the forbidden plant. I mean, who the hell is going to broker a deal with him anyway when the whole world knows his name? I’d say justice has been served. But that’s just me, the ranting nut.

  • 3. Bat-Mite  |  September 4th, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Probably because you are an illiterate moron, az. These dudes are being thrown out of jail at the worst time possible. The only move they’ve made is from the frying pan to the fire, since none of them will be able to find any sort of employment and still have to deal with the same draconian laws that put them in jail in the first place, only this time they have to deal with their parole officer, too.

  • 4. az  |  September 4th, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    So what Bat-Mite, do we keep them locked up as conditions deteriorate both inside and outside the prison walls?

  • 5. Bat-Mite  |  September 4th, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    I have no idea, az. These guys are fucked!

  • 6. Monkeybat  |  September 5th, 2009 at 1:25 am

    I know of a good technique for reducing the prison population its called a guilotine.

  • 7. Toba  |  September 6th, 2009 at 6:59 am

    If it’s a question of space and or money, then the soultion is murder.Execute all of the violent felons, men and women.
    Execute the lifers too.
    Execute all gang leaders and enforcers who carry out anything in prison.
    Execute all participants in riots disturbances and assaults in prison.
    Madoff should be executed as an example for thieves.
    Fines for all non violent crimes every time and if the funds due are not received within a certain period of time, then execution.
    Treatment for all drug offences except drug dealers and their cohorts whom are to be fined and or dispossed of their ill gotten gains. If they are complicit in a violent crime then execute them.
    The fire of murder needs to sweep through the prison system as how the fires in California are preparing the ground for the next batch of seeds and new growth in those areas despite the valiant efforts of those fighting it…
    A Nazi soultion to the problem should point things in the right direction.

  • 8. Oelsen  |  September 9th, 2009 at 5:29 am

    Hm. TB in prisons?

    That compares to pigs and cows in factories. I hate it – everything converges to a big giant monster.

  • 9. Katto  |  September 11th, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I suggest turning over the entire judicial and law enforcement system of problem states like California to the Chinese. They know how to conduct law and order, and punishment.

  • 10. effie m williams  |  September 11th, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Wake up people,every body in prison is not a criminal.Is has already been proven many people in california prisons are innocent.It appears human in prison is nothning but a business.Has anyone cared to find out how many corporations are invested in the prison system.We must be smart enough to know that the problem does not have the solution.and dont forget the tax payer pays the bill.

  • 11. Wiki wiki wiki  |  September 11th, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    @10 ?

  • 12. Carney  |  September 12th, 2009 at 5:05 am

    So just build some more prisons. Everybody wins – the prisoners get more space, the contractors make more money, the prison guard union gets more dues-paying members, and the public doesn’t get robbed, raped, or murdered.

    Oh, and to help prevent the cycle, start mass deportation of illegal aliens via racial profiling and neighborhood sweeps and roundups- you know, the one thing we’re told we can’t and shouldn’t do?

    Plus mandate that everyone on welfare be put on lasting contraceptives. And offer reduced sentences to criminals who get vasectomies. And substantially reduced sentences to those who get castrated (can’t be reversed, and far less testosterone-induced aggression).

  • 13. Mr Natural III  |  September 16th, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Crime is necessary (according to sociologists).
    Now figure out why . . .
    It’s just another industry.

  • 14. Marlene Dolph  |  August 1st, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Lets start with our judicial system. I know there are guys and girls in prison that does not belong there. Start with the public defenders the DA the judges. I have sit in that court room in victorville and watches how the public defender among the rest railroad people into to plea’s they don’t want to take they lie and scare these people right up to the day of trial. My son is one I had affaidavits and gave her witnesses and motions to put in and she did not do anything for my son. He had a rape charge and they threatened him until the day he went to trial. and they made every one get out of court room but the judge and public defender, DA and my family. and talk to us for 2 hours to get him to take the plea. In stead of 103 years he would get less that 3 years for something he did not do.This girl was a transient that live with 3 other men down the street and she moved from place to place. she left my home the afternoon he was suppose to have raped her and went to another guys house down the street and spent the nite every one was home when this rape suppose to have happened. she called the police the next day after going back to where she was staying with these three guys and they convinced her to call the police they were drunks and druggies one had a gruge against my family. My son was not perfect but he would never do this. and we would have heard something this is a mobile home and there were 3 doors she could leave from as she was alone when he went to the bathroom He was never interviewed by his attorney and never given his discovery. and the Judge told me to be quiet when I told him No don’t take the deal he told I wasn’t the one who had to spend time in jail.He was so confused that he didn’t know what to do when his attorney told him she did not have to testify and she was not calling any witnesses on his behalf.So He took the deal I could not get him to understand what the consquenes would be but he was to scare. The judge told him he was sure he would never do this again. Then His attorney was going around saying the DA would rott in hell. And told me she didn’t think he did it. Alls I could say was then why did you not fight for him. Half the time when she saw him in court she could not remember what he was there for and she and the Judge both admitted in court they never went over his case they didn’t have time. So Its ok to let some girl ruin his life and they helped her to do that. But people don’t want to here That they are quick to judge. whey can’t any of the parole’s get a job because no one once to give them a chance but yet if the police rape or get in any trouble we are suppose to for get that and move on or if probation officers charge TVs and other personal stuff to state credit care we are forgiving or polititions can get away with taking money.we say well thats what they do and fire them and its forgotten.Our govenor was accused of sexual abuse but thats ok to. what is justice I don’t know. So lets persecute the one who made mistakes and paid thier price for it. Some day maybe it will be you. I am not talking about everyone in prison there is no doubt they are there for good reason. I always thought every one that was arrested was guilty but I sat in the court room enough to know and see how these public defenders work. No one is innocent until proven guilty it is diffently the opposite. I don’t trust the justice system at all. I have seen the police come to the place where I live and sleep with some real sleazy women in here and there kids get away with everything. Thats a fact!!!!! so don’t be so quick to judge unless you know facts.

  • 15. Karel  |  May 23rd, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Exactly playing out as Dmitry Orlov predicts…

  • 16. Srw  |  March 9th, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Well. I think he’s getting at the fact that if a prisoner who has been institutionalized gets released into society when there is minimal opportunity already, that their efforts to release people from prison will be null and void.

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