California Inmates Speak Out on Prison Overcrowding, Programming Cuts, and a Broken Parole System
New America Media has published reflections by two California inmates on prison overcrowding in the Golden State. Both are serving long sentences at the Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad. Their pieces are well worth reading in full, and — perhaps not surprisingly — evince a much clearer understanding of the real causes and costs of prison overcrowding than much of what I’ve read in local California newspapers on this issue, which tend to traffic in fearmongering rather than provide solid information. Here’s a brief excerpt from the piece by Michael Cabral, who is serving a 15-to-life sentence, directly addressing the public outcry that inevitably meets all attempts to reduce California’s prison population:
There has been much public outcry over the state’s plans to grant early releases to certain non-violent prisoners, and rightly so. But I’m not sure that people opposed to this plan are outraged at the right things, or for the right reasons. For as detrimental to public safety as such releases potentially are, making inmates serve out their entire sentences — with no rehabilitation programs — only delays the inevitable. And that should make people mad. Just like it makes those of us on this side of the walls mad.
I have been in prison for seven years now, and in that time, yes, I have met some of the meanest, nastiest, most cold-hearted human beings. But for the most part, I have met men who hate where they’ve ended up; who actually want better (for themselves, their families, and even their communities); who are embarrassed and frustrated with themselves — and starving for that which works. Yet, over the past year alone, we have seen many excellent rehabilitative programs with proven results, such as various vocational training courses, college programs, a number of self-help and substance abuse programs, and even, for a while, GED classes, all disappear. What’s worse is that the very programs being eliminated are the same ones that the public believes inmates are required to complete before being released early, when actually, the only inmates for whom rehabilitation is a requirement before being released at all, are those of us who likely will never be granted parole.