I think these prisoners' judges and juries would have ordered something different from the hell they landed in, in most cases, if they knew the social, economic, and human costs of abandoning people to die in prison. Unless the court ordered death, life or its equivalent in years, they expected these prisoners to end up home one day...that should be honored, too - the right of judges to know the truth about their sentencing, and to re-do it when chronic or terminal illness strikes someone they locked away...
Sacramento Prison Reform Examiner
Editorial - B. Cayenne Bird
June 19, 2009
Senator Mark Leno explained during Monday's online Senate Town Hall Meeting that the lawmakers can sometimes jump the 2/3 vote requirement hurdle and actually pass reform bills. However, due to a lack of oversight, it can take years for the changes in laws to be enforced. Then, Senator Steinberg described the financial consequences brought about as a result of harsh laws such as Three Strikes and Jessica's Law. These are but two laws foisted upon us by special interests via the initiative process which had no funding source, meaning that they are paid for from education, human services or some other existing program.
Implementation of Three Strikes and Jessica's Law and now Prop 9 are certainly not for free and have already driven up the cost of corrections from 5.4% to 11% in just seven years, which doubled the percentage of spending in the General Fund alone. Add to these costs the millions that will be required to bring California into compliance with the hysterical federal Adam Walsh Act and it is no surprise that this $10 billion expense is still growing. Senator Steinberg is correct when he points out that such extravagant laws have contributed greatly to our meltdown. Leno says that the cost of incarcerating a prisoner under 50 years old is $49,000, but the cost doubles after the age of 50 and triples after the age of 60, which means that many elderly prisoners cost upward of $150,000 a year. Leno says that 70% of this outlay is in employment costs alone.
Imagine, an entire industry built for the purpose of punishing sick people. I. for one, am ashamed and outraged that this is being done in my name,with my precious tax dollars. I am appalled that my legislature is in total gridlock due to the malicious will of the minority party who caused the prison overcrowding crisis and refuses to remedy it other than possibly agreeing to a miniscule 12% - 15% cut which will be decided this week. There should be at least a 50% cut to Corrections, a black hole of waste that is providing few valuable services and has devolved into more of a criminal college where nobody is coming out "corrected."
See this important, eye-opening webcast about the budget crisis here.
Around the 1 hour 20 minute mark (1:20), the two senators address one of the questions I submitted to them during the broadcast, but they don't really directly answer it. I asked, "When will prisoner releases begin and why haven't they already started considering there are about 80,000 non violent people incarcerated for minor technical parole violations?"
After all, the elderly and disabled have already received an 8.5% cut in income and had all their dental services eliminated, as if teeth aren't necessary to good health or frail people being able to chew their food. It is common sense that cuts to the poor, which make bad situations worse, almost always result in a rise in crime. But common sense doesn't rule governments, organized groups and the people they put into office make the decisions for everyone. The weakest voting groups are taking the most serious cuts. After all, the elderly and disabled aren't organized well enough to elect or recall a politician, so they can take away their food and utility money, cause them to go homeless, and there won't be much of a public outcry about such unwise public safety endangerment at all.
But any move that would interfere with the job security and a salary of a prison guard has yet to be implemented. This supremacy is because the guards' union, CCPOA, can elect or recall politicians and have already put many of the lawmakers into power to serve their wants and needs. The teachers and nurses are far bigger voting lobbies, but they aren't as agressive, or generous to the politicians, so the bullies rule the day with very little public outcry from those who should be out posting at the news sites voicing opposition.
Today's prison guards are paid more than university-level professors with years of education. About $40 million per month in overtime pay alone is being spent for guards to stand over sick prisoners who can't swat a fly off their noses. This is in addition to their regular pay to just sit or stand at the door for 24 hours a day on four shifts . Very little of these billions are actually going to benefit or heal the prisoners, which would be a wise thing to do since they are almost all going to be eventually released into our neighborhoods. The goal should be to return them better off instead of broken in mind, body and spirit but that is far from the reality of what is actually taking place.
This dysfunction that Senator Leno mentions of a years-long delay in actually enforcing changed policies, even when they would remedy crisis situations, has certainly been true in the case of AB 1539, This urgent bill was passed into law in 2007 for the compassionate release of terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated prisoners. It took 15 years of painful struggle to get both parties to agree upon and a Governor to sign this desperately needed bill which would reduce prison overcrowding and medical costs. People died and are still dying cruel deaths in overcrowded prisons long past the time when they could be sent home to spend their final days with their families or to skilled nursing facilities which would cost far less than having them die in prison under costly heavy guard.
Additionally, our prisons are full of quadriplegics such as Steven Martinez (see his parent's side of the story and statement of his attorney at the links to the right of this article) and of terminally ill prisoners such as Mark Grangetto, whose torture case I have been writing about for years as it travels through the back-logged and corrupt courts. There are prisoners who cannot care for themselves dying from cancer, AIDS and every disease known to man. I have witnessed guards just standing there with their batons and pepper spray in readiness for the unlikely event that one of these dying, pathetic people might make any move at all. It's revolting and beyond ludicrous for our education and human services dollars to be wasted in this manner.
From $1-$2 billion of taxpayer dollars have been unnecessarily spent since 2007 alone to continue to punish people who meet the standards for a compassionate release or more technically, a recall of sentence. Arrogant attitudes, political posturing and unbearable incompetence by individuals in CDCr and the Board of Prison Terms, which lawyers say exceed their authority, are forcing taxpayers to pay an extravagant price for public safety services that we're not even getting. The bungling of physicians who couldn't get a job anywhere else actually caused permanent harm to many of the inmates, which is why more than 100 doctors were fired. The violence in the mismanaged prisons and the state's failure to protect the inmates in over-crowded environments have also resulted in many life-long disabilities. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in lawsuit settlements which were preventable if only the state had been following and enforcing their own laws. Still, many of these problems continue today. Why?
Attorney General Jerry Brown fights the reforms and healing programs as well as defying court orders mandated by the three judge panel and almost never prosecutes those whose deliberate indifference resulted in a death or permanent disability. The careless double celling policy, continual lockdowns in cells the size of a small bathroom where they put two men 23 hours a day, one of whom might be severely mentally ill, has caused untold maiming and deaths to occur. Some of this carnage would be stopped if the new law AB1539 were being enforced because it would reduce the over-crowding and free up space for healthier inmates.
The lawmakers from both parties passed AB 1539 for good reasons, to remedy the present crisis, and yet two years later state employees still think that they have the jurisdiction to deny compassionate releases when it is now up to the judges. CDCr administrators are doing everything in their power to stop such releases for the purpose of maintaining the human bondage industry and no one is calling them on these unlawful practices.
Steven Martinez' mother, Norma, says that "the decision to deny a compassionate release to my paralyzed son was made by Suzane Hubbard. She says she was acting on behalf of Matthew Cate." The law clearly states that only a judge can make the final determination of whether or not an inmate should be released. Both Hubbard and Cate have no jurisdiction to deny release. Martinez fits the criteria of AB1539 by being totally unable to care for himself. Both state administrators are violating the law by making such a denial which is out of their purview. Even in the Martinez case, where it is so clearly evident with him being paralyzed, the administrators continue their unlawful arrogance and still ignore that AB 1539 was passed just to remedy such an expensive and inhumane situation. How can they sleep at night?
Martinez' father is a retired fireman and he comes from a solid, loving home. Even the victim in his case has joined his release campaign. Martinez has three small children who are being disallowed regular visits with their father, a cruel practice taking place in all the prison hospitals. These three children would benefit from having him in the home because he still has his voice and they love him. There are medical providers who will care for Martinez, saving the taxpayers the expense of upwards of a million dollars just for this one prisoner. The same is true in the Grangetto case, yet the state officials refuse to obey the law and many physicians are being threatened for making compassionate release recommendations.
Taxpayers should demand that every recall of sentence denied since 2007 is immediately reviewed and that the Director of the Department of Corrections and the Secretary of the Agency, Matthew Cate, be informed and held accountable for implementing the changes that this law brought into effect. AB 1539 is still being ignored at great fiscal and humanitarian expense for political reasons which all concerned, should find unacceptable.
The solution to these problems is not to build more prisons but to release those who shouldn't be there in the first place. We as taxpayers are being sold a "security service" which we can't afford and which provides no security. And we're paying for it with actual crime prevention dollars because that's why we have human services and education, to reduce crime. No matter how hard anyone tries, a sick person cannot be punished into being well. It is very clear that the purpose of prisons is to punish sick people. Where is the public outcry about laws not being followed by those we put into power?