California Needs Prison Reform Now!

With all the talk about reforming California’s prisons, the discussion has yet to focus on the destruction caused by the intergroup tensions that are cultivated by the corrections system itself. Clearly, very little … nearly nothing … is being done about this particular problem. Yet, the issue is so bad that our prisons are now a public safety threat — the exact opposite of their intention. We see “black vs. brown vs. white” violence on the streets, in our communities, and in our schools. These tensions can be directly traced to our prison system. Men go into the system, become inculcated to hate “the other” and then, when they are released back into mainstream society, they bring their new culture of hate with them, indoctrinating their associates (particularly younger siblings and children) with it. Think about this. California’s largest institution is an incubator of hatred, and actually threatens public safety. We need reform now.

This isn’t a new problem. We have needed reform for a long time. PREVENT HATE provided the State of California with a white paper on this issue several years ago. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to listen; and now, here we are with yet another inter-ethnic riot in a California prison — this time between blacks and Latinos. This one was at Chino State prison and was bad. Dozens of people went to the hospital. Hundreds were injured. A dormitory was burned down … And you know what? Many of these guys may not have had an “us versus them” mentality before they went into the system, but developed one only after they went in.

What do our politicians think happens to this mindset when the prisoners are released? Here’s a not-so-subtle hint. Entire communities get dragged into it, innocent children get murdered, and hate proves itself to produce devastatingly tangible results. The primary purpose of government is to provide public safety. When it ceases to do that, it has failed.

Tomorrow is the meeting of the California State Advisory Committee for the United States Commission on Civil Rights. We are going to discuss our strategic agenda — what institutions, if any need federal inspection so that Congress will be informed. Reforming California’s prisons to limit intergroup hate must be our priority. You can rest assured, I will bring it up and advocate for us to direct our efforts upon this issue. No more silence. We need to reform our prisons now. Prevent hate!


1 Comment

  1. It is not complicated. Prison system problems and solutions are obvious if you simply view prisons as a part of the state/local corrections system. There are three actual correctional system problems –the jail bed shortage, the broken technical parole violation system, and the influence of the correctional employees union, the CCPOA. The long term jail bed shortage caused the shift of about half of the county jail bed population (parole violators and wobblers) to prison, resulting in overcrowding.
    Only 23% of California parolees discharge compared to 60% for the other states and 50% of the county felon probationers. The high violation rate can be eliminated by passage of a law allowing the state to contract with counties for parole supervision and the courts dealing with violations. Under the courts, violation rates would return to standard levels, resulting in annual savings of $750 million. Such legislation has always been defeated in the Legislature due to union opposition.
    In the short term, counties and the state should increase correctional contract beds to eliminate overcrowding. Each prison contract bed saves $30,000 annually due to lower operating costs. There would probably also be savings with county contract beds.

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