Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘arnold schwarzenegger

California Lifers, Though Eligible for Parole, Are More Likely to Die in Prison

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That’s the conclusion that KALW reporter Nancy Mullane found when she ran the numbers. Kudos to Mullane for her dogged pursuit of this data, employing California’s Public Records Act. I thought I’d provide some additional context, mainly in the form of rounding up some links.

Caveat before I go on: It’s essential to keep in mind, when reading about criminal justice issues, that every state has different laws, policies, and terminology. This post is mainly about California, and in particular, about California prisoners serving life terms with the possibility of parole — which is a subset of the California prison population, mainly convicted of murder. For non-homicide crimes, California offenders are typically sentenced to determinate terms of a fixed number of years. They don’t have to go before the parole board because they’re automatically released, or “paroled,” when their term ends. The terminology is confusing, because the word “parole” is used to describe the release of both subsets of prisoners.

The fact is this: Because of the tough-on-crime turn of the 1980s and ’90s, many prisoners who were initially sentenced to life with the possibility of parole are now effectively serving LWOP or “death-in-prison” terms. It simply became a political near-impossibility to rubber-stamp the release of a convicted murderer. This bait-and-switch has happened in states across the country, though with different legal and administrative underpinnings in each state. In Virginia, parole-eligible inmates claim that the parole board summarily denies parole in every case. In Michigan, it was changes to the composition of the parole board that effectively made parole harder to earn.

In California, the change came in 1988. That year, Golden State voters transferred to the governor the final say on all parole decisions for murderers serving life terms. Read the rest of this entry »


California: Gov. Schwarzenegger Vetoes Ban on Shackling Pregnant Women

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Earlier this week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1900, which would have banned the shackling of incarcerated women who are pregnant, absent a security risk. The bill was supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and had passed without any “no” votes in the state legislature. Here is a response from Karen Shain of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

California Readers: Help End Shackling of Pregnant Women

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will soon be presented with AB 1900, which would extend California’s current prohibition on shackling inmates during labor to also limit the use of restraints on pregnant women while they are being transferred, except in cases of a clear security or flight risk. The bill has the support of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among a host of other groups. The ACLU of Northern California’s Reproductive Justice Project has a form email you can send here urging Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign the bill into law.

Interview with Sac Bee Reporter Who Uncovered Abuse in California Prisons

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The other day I linked to the Sacramento Bee‘s investigative report on abuses in the so-called “behavior modification units” in California’s prison system. A reader pointed out that the Bee reporter who broke the story, Charles Piller, recently gave an interview to Democracy Now. Audio and transcript are available here. In response to the Bee articles, Governor Schwarzenegger and state Senate leaders have announced an investigation into the BMUs. More blogging coverage is available at California Corrections Crisis.

Adventures in Orwellian Doublespeak, California Prisons Edition

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Quick background: Corrections officials distinguish between three ways of measuring prison capacity: “design capacity,” “operable capacity,” and “safe and reasonable capacity.” You might think, from the titles, that the final measure would be the least crowded, but you’d be wrong…

“Maximum ‘safe and reasonable’ capacity” does not take into account “the need for humane conditions” incorporated into design capacity, or the need for programming space incorporated into both design and operable capacity. More important …, that classification does not take into account the space or facilities required to provide medical or mental health care.

(Coleman/Plata Opinion and Order, Aug. 4, 2009, PDF p. 42)

Just for those keeping score at home, the California Department of Corrections has determined that its prisons have a “safe and reasonable capacity” of 179% of “design capacity” (PDF p. 42). In recent years the prisons have held as much as 200% of design capacity at their peak, a figure brought down to about 196% by “shipping several thousand prisoners to Mississippi and other contract states” (PDF p. 42). In 2006, Gov. Schwarzenegger issued an Emergency Declaration stating that the state’s prisons had become places ” ‘of extreme peril’ that threaten ‘the health and safety of the men and women who work inside [severely overcrowded] prisons and the inmates housed in them'” (PDF p. 7). So, that’s at 200% of design capacity. But somehow if we got down to 179%, that would be “safe and reasonable.”

Written by sara

April 1, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Private Prison Company’s Contracts in California Have Soared

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The Capitol Weekly has this report on the Corrections Corporation of America, the leading private prison company in the U.S., whose contracts in California alone have soared from $23 million to $700 million, just since 2006.

Even in a state accustomed to high-dollar contracts, the 31-fold increase over three years is dramatic.

During the same period, the company’s campaign donations rose exponentially, from $36,750 in 2006, of which $25,000 went to the state Republican Party, to $233,500 in 2007-08 and nearly $139,000 in 2009.  The donations have gone to Democrats, Republicans and ballot measures. The company’s largest single contribution, $100,000, went to an unsuccessful budget-reform package pushed last year by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

The lack of competitive bidding has raised concerns about in the Democrat-controlled Legislature about prison-system procurement.

CCA operates five out-of-state facilities for the Golden State — holding about 8,000 California inmates (to increase to about 10,000 under the latest contract) — in Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. CCA, and some state officials, argue that the company has helped alleviate California prison system’s severe overcrowding problem.

Written by sara

January 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm

“Truly Appalling”

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California Institution for Men (Chino, Calif.), August 2006. Courtesy California CDCR

That’s how one expert has described the housing conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons — where inmates sleep in triple bunks, in beds crammed into gymnasiums, and two to a one-person-sized cell. “In more than 35 years of prison work experience, I have never seen anything like it,” he continued. The expert in question? Not someone unfamiliar with prison conditions, or stereotypically “soft on crime.” Rather, these observations come from the former head of corrections for the state of Texas. (Quotation from Coleman v. Schwarzenegger/Plata v. Schwarzenegger opinion order, p. 71.)

As many readers of this blog are surely more than familiar, this week a new state law went into effect to reduce California’s prison population by 6,500 inmates over the next year. Southern California Public Radio (KPCC) provides a balanced overview of the issues raised by the reforms, interviewing the LAPD union chief, who predicts the plan will undermine public safety by releasing dangerous offenders back into communities, as well as Stanford Professor Joan Petersilia, who argues that the plan will actually make Californians safer by better focusing resources on high-risk offenders. Meanwhile, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s floating a proposal to start sending inmates to Mexico, and a local sheriff pleads: “Local jails cannot bear burden of housing state prison inmates.” Of course, the California Corrections Crisis blog, run by professors and students at the UC Hastings law school, remains an indispensable resource for following these and other developments in the Golden State.

Since many of my readers are far more expert than I on these issues, I won’t belabor the details here, but after the jump, I’ll provide a bit of background for readers less familiar with California’s prison system. Read the rest of this entry »

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