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Reducing Calif. Prison Population

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Video published January 22, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: What is the latest on efforts to reduce California's overcrowded prison system? KPBS Reporter Joanne Faryon updates us on the history behind the prison crisis, and the ideas that are being discussed to solve the problem.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): There are nearly twice as many inmates in California prisons than the system was built for. The state prison crisis is the focus of KPBS's Envision series. Joining me now to explain a recent Supreme Court ruling and the history behind the prison crisis is KPBS Reporter Joanne Faryon. Thanks for coming in.

JOANNE FARYON (KPBS Reporter): Thanks for having me.

PENNER: So, why does the state have to reduce its prison population in the first place?

FARYON: Well, Gloria, it really is all about health care. Back in 2002, a firm that represented ... a law firm representing inmates sued the state over health care claiming that inmates did not have access to health care in prisons. And in fact, they won. So, the courts got involved with the prison system. Fast-forward to 2006, the court said, "Wait a minute, you haven't fixed the problem. They're still not getting access." So, they put a Receiver in charge of all of health care in the prison system in California.

PENNER: Excuse me, Receiver? What is a Receiver?

FARYON: Well, it's a federally appointed Receiver, Clark Kelso, it's a receivership that basically takes all of health care out of the hands of the state because they said, 'Look, State, you're not providing what you ought to be providing,' and they took it over. That was in 2006. So, let's move forward to 2008. Inmates are still not getting the kind of access they ought to. A federal panel of three judges intervene. And they say, 'You know what? The problem really is: There are so many inmates in the prisons. It's so overcrowded, they're never going to have access.' And that's when we got the court ruling that says, reduce your overall population.

PENNER: But, the state's already done something in response to that order to reduce population. What have they done?

FARYON: Well, first of all, they tried to appeal this court ruling, and that's what we saw happen this week. They went to the Supreme Court and they basically argued that this panel of judges didn't have the authority really to make this ruling. The Supreme Court actually dismissed that appeal. However, the state also plans to appeal the order to redudce it's inmate population. So, that's the one that's really going to matter in the long run. Like you say, though. The state has moved forward in terms of trying to reduce inmate population. They've introduced some parole reform. Now, it's some low-level offenders won't necessarily go back to prison. They also have plans to build a new billion-dollar prison to house elderly inmates and sick inmates. They have plans to transfer some inmates out of state. So, they also have plans to expand some existing prisons to make more room.

PENNER: Now, this part, I don't understand. Ok, sending prisoners out of state, that would reduce the population. Changing the parole system, that might reduce the population, but how will building new prisons and expanding prisons reduce the population?

FARYON: Well, really what's at issue is capacity. The 33 prisons in California are meant to house 100,000 inmates and right now there are 170,000 inmates in those prisons. So, we're talking about capacity. When you really look at the court ruling, it says, 'You've got to reduce that capacity. You've got to get it down to a 137 percent, which means it's still going to be crowded, but not as crowded as it is. So, by creating more space, you're going to reduce crowding and also, you're going to have in theory, fewer inmates going into prison.

PENNER: Well, in theory, but meanwhile, they're still planning on building more prisons or expanding prisons.

FARYON: And, part of the reason that they have to address this issue in construction is because a lot of the inmates that we're seeing now are elderly and they need health care. So, even if you reduce overall population, you still have to have these so-called "chronic care beds" and that's also what the prison system is lacking, and again, it speaks to health care. So, you need a place to put these frail, old, sick inmates so even if you reduce your overall population, you don't necessarily have enough those spaces.

PENNER: And it's the older inmates, the sick inmates that need more medical care. They're the ones that are really costing the state more money aren't they?

FARYON: Absolutely, right now the receivership's newest budget figures, $2 billion in terms of how much they're spending in providing health care to inmates. And I have to tell you, it's nearly doubled in the last three years. So when the Receiver took over in 2006, that budget was about $1 billion. Now it's approaching $2 billion.

PENNER: Just briefly, Joanne. This is in federal court, is it expected to go to the Supreme Court?

FARYON: Well, that's where the state filed their appeal, so should know this year, the result of that. And in the meantime, this federal court order that says 'Reduce your prison population.' That is suspended. Even though the state is putting in some of these reforms, that clock that is ticking, that deadline that was initially imposed by the federal court, that is on hold. That will buy them some time.

PENNER: Okay, thank you very much, Joanne Faryon.

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Avatar for user 'ReEntry'

ReEntry | January 24, 2010 at 8:32 a.m. ― 7 years, 2 months ago

While the latest Supreme Court decision has confused many people, your explanation is very welcome. What is very SAD, is that no one is telling the inmates they get to wait another year, that their hopes for decreased crowding is "on hold," that their hopes to see a doctor is now on "telemed".... yes I interviewed an inmate yesterday in Avenal who saw a psychiatrist via telemed in Sacramento.... there is no longer a doctor available or a psychiatrist available on sight at this facility in the Avenal Prison... inmates are seen via telemed. Of course, this costs a lot more than paying a doctor... but a year of seeing no doctors? The California public needs to know of this kind of care. Worse, the inmates haven't had ANY EXPLANATION of what the policies are now or will be during 2010 in this "holding pattern."

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Avatar for user 'Pray4Peace'

Pray4Peace | January 24, 2010 at 6:59 p.m. ― 7 years, 2 months ago

Thank you, Ms. Penner, for including issues from the California prison crisis in your broadcasts.

Schools are accountable for student outcomes. Why are prisons not accountable for inmate outcomes? Instead, when inmates are not rehabilitated, the prisons and related industries get more business and more jobs at tax payer expense.

For-profit prisons are immoral. Their incentive is not to reform inmates but to incarcerate as many people as possible. There is little transparency in government prisons and for-profit prisons can hide even more abuses. Continually building more prisons and sending people to for-profit prisons is not sustainable and is bankrupting the state.

By now most people know that the recidivism rate was reduced from 70% to 21% at Donovan prison due to the rehab, drug, and education programs. We should not have reduced funding for those programs. They saved us a lot more money than they cost.

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Avatar for user 'thomas247'

thomas247 | March 22, 2010 at 12:03 p.m. ― 7 years ago

CCPOA is the culprit strongarming and taking through heavy overtime paid for by taxpayer's. Really though the manipulated per capita, per inmate cost is fraud. 70% of inmate's per year cost goes directly to the "prison-guard's" / correctional officer's for supervision. This is total waste over 100 grand total packages a year no major degree or brain's needed for everyday cattleprodding, shuffling of inmate's s. Upon observing a California prison in Tracy ,Ca. All I observed was: "Shut the FU@@ up , get in your house",walk in straight line all these dehumanizing repetitious control tactic's. Which just make the prisoner's even more hardened by the system. Observed the guard's/CO's provoking enticing the inmates as if they, "the prison guard's " are in fear for there safety as displayed through the media to justify the mean's for this system. Really it is'nt "public-safety" it's number's of bodies like commodities to be passed off to the taxpaying public as "public-safety". JOB SECURITY!! Really the CDCR CCPOA bank's on this broken system faithfully. Rehabilitation !! HA!! Only programmed through extreme deprivation/isolation and psychologically exploiting the prisoner's for the worst. Yes, CDCR was and is a successfull failure on the mission of correction's and rehabilitation.Self-serving entity need's to be stripped and deunionized all together.These elephant's only got fatter sitting in those swivel chair's eating,gossiping and too much time to kill not working at much of nothing except how to defraud the Californian's out of more money in the name of "public safety". Most recently CDCR re-adopted the R in CDCR as originally known as CDC CA department of correction's. How politically appropriate to switch revert to the original all the while lacking the "R" rehabilitation. This is where education went into the prison guard's pocket backed by CCPOA guard's union. Education prevent's the youth and adult's from being a statistical fact fixated into dollar $$ signs for some overpaid gestapo babysitter's playing GOD over the disenfranchised incompacitated men and women serving time behind fences and wall's. This is big bussiness with self-serving, self-interest of continuation for justification of mean's. Throughout the year's before the sub-prime and reccessional impact. CCPOA has squandered billion's till when the state is broke and the money followed. In closing: Proposition 66 in 2004 was backed by billionaire Henry T Nicholas who is indicted on fraud, sex , drug charge's. Imagine that the ammending of three strikes was defeated due to a billionaire who was serving interest of CDCR and the union CCPOA. How does a crook pay to keep three strike's and keep's CDCR personnel job safe and is facing the same three-strike's?Knowing this man will never serve a day in prison or jail for that matter. This is what's wrong with California too many politician's backing this system and it's money for self-interest not "public-safety".

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