Letter from Women in CCWF concerning forced transfers to McFarland and overcrowding

This letter was received a few months ago by someone who forwarded it to CA PW among others, and apparently nothing has been done yet.

To Whom It May Concern:

I a writing you on behalf of the women in Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
I want to make everone aware of the transfers being forced on many to McFarland California.
I ave just spoken to a returney from McFarland and I want to inform you of what is happening there:

1. The Plumbing Is backing up and clogged.

2. There are no programing or programs of any kind nor will there be according to the staff when asked about them.

3. The Living Quarters are filthy and infested. They are putting all levels of inmates into a dorm setting together. All Custody Levels.

4. CCCMS Inmates were transfered without Meds.or Mental Health Care.

Another problem taking place here at CCWF is we are already really overcrowded in our cells with 8 or more women: The Populaton is soaring here, they are taking the overflow from receiving over 700 women and are placing them in with us. They are all going into general population as if no evaluations have taken place.

Medical has taken ALL our Meds away from us, stating to us that they are too costly and we will not be getting them any more.

I do not know whom to write to get us help?

I do not know if the woman I am sending this to will be giving her name? That will be her decision, but we are going through her hoping she can get us heard.

PLEASE RESPOND to us. We have been asking for help for a very long time.
Signed: (name withheld for now by CAPrisonWatch for anonymity reasons, out of fear for repercussions).

See also the March that the California Coalition for Women Prisoners did in August.


California Gov. Jerry Brown unveils an ‘ugly’ prison plan

This comes from the LA Times, May 3rd 2013:

By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times
SACRAMENTO — Under threat of contempt of court, Gov.Jerry Brown unveiled a plan to ease prison crowding by releasing certain inmates early, sending others to county jails and relocating some to state fire camps — but added that he doesn’t support it.

Although the plan would remove thousands of inmates from California’s packed prisons, it would not meet court requirements to lower the population by more than 9,000. The jurists could order more inmates freed if they find the governor’s plan unacceptable.

Prison plan: In the May 4 LATExtra section, an article about Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest plan to reduce prison crowding said that the plan called for the early release of thousands of inmates. In fact, the plan proposes releasing hundreds, not thousands, of inmates. —
Brown said in court filings that he would ask lawmakers to permit the release hundreds of “low-risk” prisoners who are elderly or medically frail, along with offenders who earn credit for good conduct. He would also put thousands of inmates in camps dedicated to conservation work and fighting wildfires, in empty county beds and in a new prison set to open this summer.

It was unclear Friday whether the Legislature would agree. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) called prospects for the plan “dubious” and questioned the wisdom of spending public dollars on more prison beds rather than rehabilitation efforts.

The filings, submitted just before a midnight deadline Thursday, made clear that even Brown has little taste for his own recommendations. The governor, contending that the inmate count has already been sufficiently lowered and he needs to do nothing more, will take the “unusual step” of drafting legislation he does not want, the documents say.

On Friday, his administration was campaigning against its own proposal.

“The plan is ugly,” prisons chief Jeffrey Beard, whom Brown appointed, told reporters. “We don’t like it. But … it’s the best plan we could come up with.”

Beard said the judges are fixated on an arbitrary number, ignoring improvements in prison conditions since court intervention began more than a decade ago.

“The state has transformed the prison healthcare system into one of the best in the nation,” Beard said. “This is about more than a number. The case is too important to the people of California, to the safety of our neighborhoods.”

Beard acknowledged that the state’s plan fails to meet the federal population target by about 2,570 inmates. Asked if state officials could avoid being held in contempt, Beard replied, “I certainly hope so,” adding, “We can’t do any more without creating problems.”

Prisoners’ lawyers said the governor offers too little, too late.

“There is no reason they can’t comply to the letter of the order in the extended time frame they have been given,” said Rebekah Evenson of the Prison Law Office, lead plaintiff in the 12-year-old court case that triggered the federal population caps four years ago. “They have to stop their political posturing and need to knuckle down.”

Evenson contended that California prisons are “bloated” with low-risk inmates who can and should go free.

In addition to freeing 650 prisoners who are elderly, frail or earn good-conduct credits, Brown’s plan calls for moving 1,700 others to the new prison and 1,300 to fire camps. The state would also lease 1,600 cells from county jails. Separately, the administration is already negotiating space for 1,200 additional inmates in various local facilities, some of them privately owned.

Beard said the state also is considering leasing private prisons and staffing those facilities with state corrections officers, but he provided no numbers.

Read the rest here

California Jails Unequipped for 1,100 Long-Term Inmates

From: KQED 
By: Don Thompson, AP, posted by Laird Harrison, Feb. 28th 2013

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—California counties are housing more than 1,100 inmates on long-term sentences in jails designed for stays of a year or less, according to the first report detailing the growth in that population under Gov. Jerry Brown’s criminal justice realignment strategy.

[photo: Fresno jail inmates. (Monica Lam/Center for Investigative Reporting) ]

The oversight of so many long-term inmates is presenting challenges for county sheriffs, especially with the number expected to grow markedly in the years ahead. In addition to finding adequate space to house the new population, the sheriffs also must provide the inmates with education, treatment programs, rehabilitation services and recreation, which adds to their costs.

Vehicle theft, drug trafficking, receiving stolen property, identity theft and commercial burglary were the most common crimes for jail inmates who were sentenced to 5 to 10 years in county jails, according to the report, which was obtained by The Associated Press before its public release.

The report, covering all but six of the state’s 58 counties, was done by the California State Sheriffs’ Association and sent to the governor’s administration and Legislature.

“We are not set up to house inmates for this period of time,” said Nick Warner, the association’s legislative director. “They’re living in conditions that they’re not designed to stay in for this long.”

The Los Angeles County Jail is holding 35 percent of all long-term inmates. Statewide, 44 inmates already have been sentenced to more than a decade in local jails, with one Los Angeles County man serving a 43-year term for trafficking large amounts of drugs.

As of Monday, the association found that 1,153 inmates in county jails were sentenced to at least five years. Drug trafficking resulted in most of the sentences topping a decade, although a Riverside County inmate is serving nearly 13 years for felony child abuse and a Solano County inmate is serving more than 10 years as a serial thief.

– See more at: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2013/02/28/california-jails-house-1100-long-term-inmates/#sthash.SqnEUYhG.dpuf

Join the Chowchilla Freedom Rally!

This event is organized by Occupy4Prisoners, and will take place on Jan. 26th:
We are 3 weeks away from our statewide mobilization to Chowchilla to protest the unconstitutional overcrowding in California’s women prisons and show our support for our loved ones inside who are struggling to survive as the conditions worsen. As a result of the conversion of Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW), one of the remaining women’s prisons has now reached 179% capacity. A woman recently transferred to CCWF informed us that they were given clothes and bedding that “you wouldn’t want even your dog sleeping on.” Another person confirmed: 
Everything we rely on to survive, including medical and legal, is highly impacted by overcrowding. Overcrowding is the issue. It causes everything else to come crashing down like dominoes.”

We need your help to show the U.S. Supreme Court, the government, and prison officials that not only are we witnessing this discrimination and abuse but we will not be silent! Join us in demanding an end to overcrowding! Our loved one’s deserve humane living conditions and their freedom! Bring them home!
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Contact chowchilla.rally@gmail.com or 415-255-7036 x 314

Caravans leaving from MacArthur BART in Oakland at 10:30AM and Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood at 8:30AM. We will gather at 2PM at SE corner of Ave. 24 and Fairmead Blvd off Highway 99 in Chowchilla.

Rally begins at 3PM at VSPW. 


Chowchilla Freedom Rally Benefit hosted by Occupy 4 Prisoners!
Saturday, January 19th 6 – 8PM
The Hold Out, 2313 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland
$5 – 10 donations, no one turned away

The benefit will feature “Fighting For Our Lives,” a short documentary about the history of resistance to medical neglect at CCWF & VSPW plus presentations by prison survivors, information about the protest and sign-making. We’re so grateful for the community support!

Can’t make the benefit but want to donate? Contribute online at womenprisoners.org

Solidarity actions encouraged! If you cannot make the rally or do not live in California, we encourage you to organize a solidarity action on the same day in your community. Hold a demonstration in front of the DOC offices or the county jail, organize a speak-out against prisons in a public space, stand in solidarity the Chowchilla Freedom Rally! Please let us know how we can support you! Contact info@womenprisoners.org

Interested in helping to organize this event? Join our coalition! Our next meeting is Wednesday, January 9, 2013 from 6 – 8PM at the CCWP offices. 1540 Market Street, Suite 490, San Francisco. Or contact adrienne@womenprisoners.org

The Chowchilla Freedom Rally Coalition includes members from California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Justice NOW, All Of Us Or None, Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, Fired Up!, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Transgender, Gender Variant, Intersex Justice Project, Critical Resistance, Youth Justice Coalition, Global Women’s Strike, Occupy 4 Prisoners, Asian Pacific Islander Support Committee and the California Prison Moratorium Project.

California prisons to stay tortuously overcrowded

From Russia Today (RT):
August 14th 2012

Prison officials in California have a problem with overcrowded institutions, but it isn’t what you might think: unable to keep their facilities under 137.5 percent capacity, corrections officers in Cali are asking for an increase in that cap.

California authorities have had more than a year now to try and find a solution to fix the state’s booming prison population, but as of this week say that they don’t expect to end an issue with overcrowding until even well into 2013.

In May of 2011, the US Supreme Court said that overcrowding was such an issue in California that the conditions prisoners were being subjected to there were on par with “cruel and unusual punishment.” At the time, the Supreme Court said California had two years to come to terms with the problem and ensure that all institutions on the Golden Coast were kept under 137.5 percent capacity. State officials now say that such a goal is unlikely — even with another year until their deadline — but a federal court says they want to see what is being done to address the problem.

In a last-ditch attempt to end its overcrowding problem, a panel of three federal judges say California has until this Friday to figure out which of its prisoners are “unlikely to re-offend or who might otherwise be candidates for early release,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
The federal judges want California leaders to outline a plan this week to put less harmful prisoners back on the streets as a way of opening up its jail cells. Prison officials say that they plan on offering up a proposal of their own that keeps them close-to-quota without releasing anyone, though: according to the Times, state officials intend on asking the high court for a prison cap of 145 percent, not the current 137.5, because they believe that they can keep their facilities running efficiently and still to the brim with inmates — even nearly 50 percent more than what their buildings are designed to hold.

“Reducing the inmate population is not the goal of the court,” corrections agency spokesman Bill Sessa tells the paper. “It is a means to an end, which is providing better healthcare that was compromised by overcrowding.”

Mr. Sessa adds to the Times that the state’s healthcare woes will be remediated, at least a little, when a 1,700-bed facilities is opened in Stockton next year, a city that recently was forced to file for bankruptcy protection. But even with that new institution opening up in 2013, a population cap of 145 percent means prison officials want to cram around 118,000 inmates into spaces intended for 81,500.

Read the rest here.

California Prisoners on Lockdown in Mississippi

From: UnPrison:
Jan. 5th 2012, by Bruce Reilly

Another reminder that the holiday season is not a global love-fest: this report from All of Us or None:

“I was contacted by a number of family members whose loved ones are incarcerated in Tutwiler, Mississippi. They informed me that there has been a race riot in Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, where some California prisoners are housed. Days ago the Jail exploded in violence. This is one of those private prisons where the primary purpose is to save this state money and to secure a profit for a private prison corporation. Prisoners’ safety and rehabilitation comes second to pursuit of the almighty dollar. I have been informed that it took over two hours to regain control of the environment and to end the misplaced violence, but the frustration remains extremely high during this current lock down.”

The free world can be puzzled by former prisoners who are emotionally conflicted when holidays come along. What they need to understand is that holidays in prison are typically spent on lockdown. Tempers get shorter. Depressions grow deeper. While prisons cut back on staff and pay triple-time to the guards who show up. Some prisons let people out for a 10 minute phone call, and that is the limit of getting out of one’s cell; and if nobody to call, it is all day in the cage. California is widely known for separating prisoners based on race. Arguments can be made for both integration and segregation, but what approach does CCA take to race relations? Most prisons stoke that fire, even if only in a subtle manner, as guards come to work with their own prejudices and occasional need for reality television excitement.

Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility sounds like a public prison incarcerating the locals, yet it is not. It is owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), widely known to investors on Wall Street as CXW, and currently trading at $21 per share. They make money by contracting with state and federal agencies to transfer their prisoners. Profit is made by the difference between the rental price of a cell, and how much they spend to keep the prisoner alive. Tallahatchie has 2800 cages and two primary “customer bases”: the local county and the state of California (who send 2500 prisoners). They collect about $65 per day per prisoner from the taxpayers of California; who also pay for transportation costs.

Oakland, CA is 2,170 miles from the prison. Any family member seeking to visit a loved one would likely need to fly in to Memphis, then rent a car for the two hour drive to Tallahatchie. The separation of families by prisoner-peddling carries stark consequences. Family reunification, and staying in touch throughout a prison term, is widely touted as the number one path for successful reintegration. California is under court order to reduce its prisoner population, as they have long-since reached an overcrowded level of inhumane conditions. Renting space elsewhere, although costly, is their answer. They have over 10,000 prisoners currently out of state… and climbing.

Read the rest and check out Unprison blog here.

Overcrowded jails inimical to justice

From: Al Jazeera
In California, long jail sentences pack prisons, but a Supreme Court ruling and a hunger strike may improve conditions.
Rose Aguilar
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2011

The Supreme Court recently ruled that overcrowded prisons in the state, such as the one above, violate prisoners’ constitutional rights [EPA]

It’s been two months since a divided US Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling, which ordered the state of California to reduce its prison population by roughly 33,000. The state’s 33 prisons currently hold 156,000 prisoners, nearly double the number they were designed to house.

In the 5-4 ruling, the court said that overcrowded and unhealthy living conditions violated constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment and threatened inmates’ health. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care has no place in civilised society.”

In order to highlight the inhumane conditions, Justice Kennedy, in a rare move, included three photos in his opinion showing overcrowded conditions in gymnasium-style rooms and holding cells used to house suicidal inmates. Because of a shortage of treatment beds, suicidal inmates may be held for prolonged periods in telephone-booth-sized cages without toilets.

“A psychiatrist expert reported observing an inmate who had been held in such a cage for nearly 24 hours, standing in a pool of his own urine, unresponsive and nearly catatonic,” wrote Justice Kennedy. “Prison officials explained they had ‘no place to put him’.”

Justice Kennedy also noted that California’s prisons have operated at around 200 per cent of capacity for at least 11 years, as many as 200 prisoners live in a gymnasium, and 54 share a single toilet.

Inaccurate media coverage

The ruling has since received national media attention, much of it focused on the false premise that the “worst of the worst” will now be released onto the streets, looking for the next crime to commit.

On May 23, CBS Evening News anchor Russ Mitchell said the decision “could unlock prison doors for tens of thousands of criminals in California”.

KTLA-TV reported that the “Supreme Court is handing a ‘get-out-of-jail’ free card to thousands of California convicts”.

“Inmates are being ordered back on the streets because the state is chronically unable to hold them in decent conditions,” said anchor Micah Ohlman. In the piece, victim’s rights advocate Ana Del Rio, whose 23-year-old daughter was shot to death, said she now worries about a crime wave. “Put ’em where the Supreme Court lives,” she said.

In addition to the media spreading false information, the dissenting Supreme Court Justices are engaging in predictable fear mongering. “The majority is gambling with the safety of the people of California,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito. “I fear that today’s decision, like prior prison release orders, will lead to a grim roster of victims. I hope that I am wrong.”

Justice Antonin Scalia went further, calling the ruling “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history”. He wrote that many of the released inmates “will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.”

As Sacramento Bee senior editor Dan Morain noted in a recent piece, Justice Scalia is operating on outdated information. “Officials removed weights from the prisons in 1997.”

Much of the coverage has spent more time on the dissent than the ruling itself, and fails to state that California is not giving “get-out-of-jail” cards to anyone. Beginning October 1, non-violent offenders will be sent to county jails.

‘Three Strikes’ law packs prisons

The conversation we’re now hearing about county jails that are already overburdened fails to address the real questions. Why does the US send so many people to prison in the first place? Why are sentences eight times longer than those in Europe? We need to be talking about sentencing reform, especially for drug possession and petty theft, racism (70 per cent of US inmates are of colour), technical parole violations, and California’s infamous “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law, the harshest sentencing law in the country.

What should the punishment be for people like Isaac Ramirez, a man with no violent past who was charged with stealing meat, a TV, and a VCR on three separate occasions?

If it weren’t for Three Strikes, he would have been charged with a misdemeanor and served a maximum of six months in jail. Under Three Strikes, he got 25 years to life. You read that correctly. Ramirez’s third strike, stealing a $199 VCR from a Sears store in Southern California, got him 25 years to life. And we live in a “civilised” society?

In prison, Ramirez taught himself the law by reading books he requested from California law schools because the materials in the prison library weren’t up to date. He says his lawyer “dropped the ball” on many occasions, so after a few years of constant reading, he represented himself in court and got out after serving almost seven years. He was lucky. If those law schools had ignored his request, he would probably still be behind bars. He now has to live with and try to heal from the pain and suffering he experienced. He says the state did nothing to help him make the transition.

“I served with people serving multiple life sentences for murder. I saw a lot of violence behind bars. A friend a few feet from me was shot by a prison guard. You never forget those experiences,” he said. “I’m not the same person I was. My wife knows I love her, but I tend to withdraw. I missed seven years of my children’s lives. They know I love them, but there’s a compartment in their hearts that has been hardened and I have to work on that for the rest of my life.”

Over 8,500 people have been convicted under California’s Three Strikes law, which was enacted in 1994. According to Stanford’s Three Strikes Project, over 4,000 inmates are serving life sentences for a non-violent third strike. People are rotting away, and, in many cases, losing their minds in inhumane conditions for stealing one dollar in loose change from a parked car, attempting to break into a soup kitchen, and possessing less than a gram of narcotics.

If you’re caught with even a small amount of drugs for personal use, you could be charged with a felony. According to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), over 9,000 people are sent to California state prisons every year for drug possession, costing taxpayers $450m.

“If you made non-violent property offences and possession of small amounts of drugs misdemeanors instead of felonies, you’d reduce the annual prison population by tens of thousands and save billions of dollars,” says Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the DPA.

According to California Prison Focus, California is cutting $150m from its education budget in order to pay $140m in overtime costs alone to guard thousands of prisoners with no violent write-ups or behaviour.

Many California Democrats will privately say they back sentencing reforms and overturning the Three Strikes law, but they’ll never say it publicly for fear of being branded “soft on crime”. Their inability to do the right thing for fear of losing the next election is ruining lives and breaking families apart. Mass incarceration has also been extremely detrimental to the economic development of communities of colour, which, in turn, leads to violence and an even larger prison population.

Protesting inhumane conditions

Prisoners and their supporters are working to break this deadly cycle. Last month, more than 6,600 inmates in 13 California prisons went on a 20-day hunger strike to protest cruel and inhumane conditions. The inmates issued five demands seeking better treatment and living conditions.

“The decision to strike was not made on a whim. It came about in response to years of subjection to progressively more primitive conditions and decades of isolation, sensory deprivation and total lack of normal human contact, with no end in sight,” said a written statement by hunger strike leaders at Pelican Bay State Prison, a Northern California supermax facility where inmates live in windowless cells for years. It costs more than $50,000 a year to house these men in isolation.

“This reality, coupled with our prior ineffective collective filing of thousands of inmate grievances and hundreds of court actions to challenge such blatantly illegal policies and practises led to our conclusion that a peaceful protest via hunger strike was our only available avenue to expose what’s really been going on here and to force meaningful change.”

Here’s how National Public Radio reporter Laura Sullivan described Pelican Bay in 2006:

“Everything is gray concrete: the bed, the walls, the unmovable stool. Everything except the combination stainless-steel sink and toilet … The cell is one of eight in a long hallway. From inside, you can’t see anyone or any of the other cells. This is where the inmate eats, sleeps and exists for 22 1/2 hours a day. He spends the other 1 1/2 hours alone in a small concrete yard. You can’t move more than eight feet in one direction.

“One inmate known as Wino is standing on just behind the door of his cell. It’s difficult to make eye contact, because you can only see one eye at a time. Wino is a 40-something man from San Fernando, California. He was sent to prison for robbery. He was sent to the special housing unit for being involved in prison gangs. He’s been in this cell for six years. The only contact that you have with individuals is what they call a pinky shake,” he says, sticking his pinky through one of the little holes in the door. That’s the only personal contact Wino has had in six years.”

The inmates said they met with several top Corrections Department administrators and were told “meaningful changes” would be made.

Those of us on the outside have a responsibility to support and speak out for those who are being tortured on the inside. As the inmates at Pelican Bay stated, “Without the people’s support outside, we cannot be successful!”

We should also pressure the media to stop the fear-mongering and address the real issues. “The media is the most important tool we have to educate the public,” says Isaac Ramirez, the man who got 25 years to life for petty theft. “Our prisons are a reflection of our society. The Supreme Court decision has given us the opportunity we need to make real changes.”

Rose Aguilar is the host of Your Call, a daily call-in radio show on KALW in San Francisco. She’s the author of Red Highways: A Liberal’s Journey into the Heartland.