Enough is Enough - Stop Homophobia, Adam Groffman 2013 via Flickr

Homophobia, Fear of AIDS Allegedly Drove San Bernadino County to Skip Safety Checks for LGBTQ Prisoners

In a white male supremacist society, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) prisoners face the compounded misery of discrimination based on their race, income, and/or sexual orientation and gender identity.

They are three times more likely to be assaulted behind bars than other prisoners, and are grossly overrepresented in our prisons — particularly our disgraceful juvenile detention centers. While only 4-8% of youth identify as LGBTQ on the outside, 13-15% of prisoners in juvenile prisons are LGBTQ.

In some jails, administrators willfully place transgender inmates with the wrong gender population — for instance, placing a transgender woman in a male population. In California, transgender women in men’s prisons were found to be 13 times more likely to be assaulted than other prisoners. Continue reading

YES ON 47

California’s Prop 47: Important, But Imperfect

California’s voters will soon vote on Proposition 47 (aka The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act of 2014), which would reform sentences for low-level, nonviolent offenders and divert millions of dollars from prisons to education, mental health and victim services.

I’m happy to see 62% of likely voters plan to support Prop 47 because it is badly-needed reform. California incarcerates more people than almost any other state in the nation, and Governor Brown’s court-ordered ‘prison realignment’ plan has only succeeded in shuffling (not reducing) the prison population and making inmates less-safe.

Meanwhile, nearly 30% of the state’s incarcerated are mentally ill as services disappear with draconian budget cuts. A 2011 report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness found the state “virtually divested itself of accountability for its residents living with serious mental illness, shifting responsibility to counties and, incredibly, slashing its state mental health staff…”:

In California, which has cut over $750 million dollars from its mental health budget in recent years, the governor suspended the mandate on counties to provide mental health services for special education students, meaning that the burden of providing and paying for their care is shifted to school systems, also struggling with limited resources.

Prop 47 would divert an estimated $750 million to $1.25 billion in savings from corrections to essential programs and services over the next 5 years.

Supporting this reform bill should be a no-brainer, although it’s unfortunate that the freedom of others will be put to a vote on a ballot. But since drug war-era politicians are loathe to lead the way for fear of Willie Horton-style reprisals, it looks like it will be up to the voters to return some sanity to the criminal justice system.

Passing Prop 47, it’s federal cousin, the Smarter Sentencing Act, and other decarceration bills, are important first steps towards breaking our dependency on prisons. The fact that these reforms exist and enjoy such a wide range of support shows that we’re moving in the right direction. But there are still lingering ‘tough on crime’ sentiments — in these bills and in the CJ reform movement in general — that remain as obstacles to achieving fair justice. Continue reading

Christopher Lopez

Prisons Are Obsolete: California Mental Health Edition

California corrections officials have reached an agreement on changes to the treatment of mentally ill inmates held in solitary confinement at their facilities.

The special attention is long overdue. The mentally ill are some of the most vulnerable people within the American prison system, and the abuse that prompted U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton to rule California’s treatment of mentally ill inmates was ‘cruel and unusual’ typifies the prison system’s failures to care for them:

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton acted after the release of videos made by correctional officers that showed guards pumping large amounts of pepper spray into the cells of mentally ill inmates, some screaming and delirious.

Under the agreement, the state will create separate short- and long-term housing units for about 2,500 mentally ill inmates who prison officials say must be kept in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons. The agreement calls for them to get more treatment and more time out of their prison cells.

For me, the issue here is not just that mentally ill inmates need specialized care they’re not getting among the general population. It’s that the very care they need is essentially at odds with the overall terms of their confinement, whether it be in isolation or in prison at all. There are, and there can be, better institutional settings for people with such needs. Continue reading

CCA employees

CCA’s $8 Million Overtime Settlement Highlights Problems Facing Private Prison Employees

The Department of Labor has ordered private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America to pay $8 million in back wages and benefits to employees at its California City Corrections Center (CCCC) — a federal detention center in California City, CA.

CCA agreed to make the payment — in which many employees will see as much as $30,000 in restitution — but disputed allegations that it had broken the law or violated an agreement with the government and its employees. This comes on the heels of a $260,000 settlement in Kentucky over denied overtime for shift supervisors, and CCA denied any wrongdoing there, too.

Employee mistreatment is but a drop in the ocean of private prison abuse, and this settlement is just one example of what happens at for-profit institutions across the country. CCA’s payout-and-denial, however, begs the question: do private prison corporations care about their workers? Continue reading

Statewide Protests Today to Shut Down GEO Group’s New Private Prison for Women in Mcfarland, California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WHAT: Rally to demand closure of new women’s prison in McFarland,

WHERE: McFarland Park, 100 Frontage Rd, McFarland,

WHEN: Thursday, July 31st, 5pm

Contact: Debbie Reyes, California Prison Moratorium Project, 559-367-6020

Misty Rojo, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, 510-213-0522

Continue reading

Incarcerated Women in California Pen Open Letter Against GEO Group’s New Private Prison

In April, The Bakersfield Californian reported that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) signed a contract with private prison company GEO Group to re-open and operate a women’s facility in Mcfarland, California.

GEO Group will own and operate the 260-bed facility and is expected to make around $9 million per year at full occupancy. Unfortunately, due to the lack of public access to private prison contracts, most of the details are unknown.

This week, a group of ten female prisoners from the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) and the California Institution for Women (CIW) have written an open letter calling on “California state legislators to direct CDCR to cancel the contract with GEO and implement existing release programs instead of opening a new prison!”

The women write that they are being “shuffled around without regard for our well-being or our human rights” due to overcrowding. They note that CCWF’s facility is currently operating at 185% capacity, and as a result, prisoners’ access to critical services such as food and healthcare have declined.

They are concerned, however, that this move by the state will not positively impact its mass incarceration problem, and women transferred to GEO Group’s new facility might not see their treatment improve.

Continue reading