California Jails Unequipped for 1,100 Long-Term Inmates

From: KQED 
By: Don Thompson, AP, posted by Laird Harrison, Feb. 28th 2013

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—California counties are housing more than 1,100 inmates on long-term sentences in jails designed for stays of a year or less, according to the first report detailing the growth in that population under Gov. Jerry Brown’s criminal justice realignment strategy.

[photo: Fresno jail inmates. (Monica Lam/Center for Investigative Reporting) ]

The oversight of so many long-term inmates is presenting challenges for county sheriffs, especially with the number expected to grow markedly in the years ahead. In addition to finding adequate space to house the new population, the sheriffs also must provide the inmates with education, treatment programs, rehabilitation services and recreation, which adds to their costs.

Vehicle theft, drug trafficking, receiving stolen property, identity theft and commercial burglary were the most common crimes for jail inmates who were sentenced to 5 to 10 years in county jails, according to the report, which was obtained by The Associated Press before its public release.

The report, covering all but six of the state’s 58 counties, was done by the California State Sheriffs’ Association and sent to the governor’s administration and Legislature.

“We are not set up to house inmates for this period of time,” said Nick Warner, the association’s legislative director. “They’re living in conditions that they’re not designed to stay in for this long.”

The Los Angeles County Jail is holding 35 percent of all long-term inmates. Statewide, 44 inmates already have been sentenced to more than a decade in local jails, with one Los Angeles County man serving a 43-year term for trafficking large amounts of drugs.

As of Monday, the association found that 1,153 inmates in county jails were sentenced to at least five years. Drug trafficking resulted in most of the sentences topping a decade, although a Riverside County inmate is serving nearly 13 years for felony child abuse and a Solano County inmate is serving more than 10 years as a serial thief.

– See more at: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2013/02/28/california-jails-house-1100-long-term-inmates/#sthash.SqnEUYhG.dpuf

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VERA: Oversight Status Report Regarding the Nevada Department of Corrections

VERA, Institute of Justice, produced this 52 page report recently, after a year of researching what could be improved within the prisons in Nevada (which would mean: a lot has to be improved, otherwise we would not exist).

Title:

Oversight Status Report Regarding the Nevada Department of Corrections:
A Report of the Corrections Support and Accountability Project
JULY 2010

The report can be read here:

http://www.doc.nv.gov/Vera_Oversight_Status_Report_for_NDOC_July_2010.pdf (PDF)

The executive summary:

The Vera Institute of Justice is pleased to present this report of the Corrections Support and Accountability Project. The Project partners us with five jurisdictions – two states and three counties – to help each partner jurisdiction develop meaningful oversight of its prisons or jails specifically tailored to its needs.

This report, and the recommendations summarized below, is the result of partnership
with and the dedication of several Nevada State agencies, including the Nevada
Department of Corrections and the Nevada Board of State Prison Commissioners, as well
as the participation of other individuals and agencies, including the Nevada Legislature, the Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Secretary of State’s Office, United States District Court for the District of Nevada, American Federation of State and Municipal Employees, Nevada Corrections Association and individual inmate advocates.

In particular, this work would not have been possible without the leadership of Director Skolnik, who was incredibly accommodating and willing to open up his Department to this review. With the help of these participants we investigated the current mechanisms of correctional accountability and transparency already in place in the NDOC. This process included visits to prison facilities, numerous interviews, research, and meetings with NDOC staff and administrators and stakeholders to determine the most pressing oversight needs of Nevada’s correctional system.

At the time of this report, NDOC has made progress implementing several of these
recommendations. We believe that, with time and the cooperation of other Nevada
stakeholders, implementing the remaining recommendations will enable the state to better evaluate the use of resources to support NDOC, identify inefficiencies, manage risk, measure the success and failures of programs and policies in order to guide future decision-making, build public confidence and public interest in NDOC, and promote good governance and professionalism. While we recognize that some of the
recommendations may be aspirational during these economic times, many are costeffective and may lead to long-term savings. Others should be considered for
implementation when it is financially feasible.

The recommendations are provided in summary below for convenience. We encourage a full review of the report to understand the context and reasoning behind each of the recommendations.

1. Conduct more formal and regular audits of both southern and northern
facilities.
2. Create formal follow-up for problems identified during internal audits.
3. Improve tracking system for inmate grievances and generate regular reports.
4. Resolve more inmate grievances at the facility level.
5. Consider creating a citizens review board for the inmate grievance process.
6. Implement a staff survey.
7. Provide pro bono attorneys for inmates in the Inmate Early Mediation
Program.
8. Keep more investigations at the facility level.
9. Provide additional training on NOTIS for staff at all levels.
10. Train select staff to run reports in NOTIS.
11. Set internal performance measures and formalize internal data sharing.
12. Provide more information to Board of State Prison Commission members and
in a timely manner.
13. Clarify the role of the Board.
14. Develop system for following up on concerns received at public meetings.
15. Create an ombudsman to handle complaints by inmates, staff and the public.
16. Make certain reports and evaluations available to the public.
17. Develop a publicly available data dashboard.
18. Create a dedicated Public Information Officer position.

Former inmate speaks on CA prisoners abuse series

While reading the Sacramento Bee prison abuse series (9-10 May 2010), I was forced to recall the stretch I served in solitary confinement while incarcerated in the Michigan Department of Corrections. The series reveals some horrible abuses of inmates in California’s prisons, many of which mirror the units we have here in Michigan.

One of the more troubling findings is the lack of redress for prisoners who have been mistreated. When a prisoner’s grievance process is meaningless, or when the grievance is simply never processed, there is no good resolution. Either the prisoner must accept the abuse or find an alternative method of registering his complaint. Often, the alternative method does not work out well.

Beginning my ten-year run in solitary, I was placed next to an inmate called “Brown Dog” who endured the “gas and a cell rush” about three times a week, mostly out of boredom. (By “gas and a cell rush,” I mean a correction officer shooting massive quantities of pepper spray into the cell, opening the door, then a rush of five or six officers – all geared up in helmets, chest protectors, shin shields, and arm padding – who would tackle, twist, and restrain the inmate.) Brown Dog had numerous sheets of paper hanging outside of his cell which I found out later listed restrictions of many sorts. He was not allowed paper in his cell. The water for his toilet/sink fixture was shut off. He was not allowed the three weekly showers everyone else was allowed. He was not allowed to go outside at all, and he was on food loaf, where everything from the meal – say, for instance, ham, yams, two slices of bread, butter, an orange, and red Kool-aid – are blended together into a puree, then baked into a “loaf”. I wondered why he would continue to cause more trouble. “I’m on detention for five more years, and I’ve got nothing better to do,” he’d tell me. Certainly, he had nothing at all to do. He was not allowed anything.

In the many years that followed, I learned how people came to dig such deep holes. Many times I saw simple problems mushroom. If a dinner tray lacked an item, the inmate would request a replacement. If the officer replaced the item, everyone was happy. Sometimes, however, the officer would not. The inmate would ask to speak to the sergeant. The officer would not tell the sergeant. So when the officer came around to pick up the trays, the inmate would refuse to return his tray in an attempt to get the sergeant up onto the cellblock. By this time, of course, the sergeant would come, but he would bring with him the rush squad and a can of pepper spray. Instead of the replacement food item, the inmate received food-loaf for seven, 14, even 30 days.

I don’t know what started Brown Dog down that long road that he traveled, but I have always wondered how many cases such as his could have been stopped if one person had attempted to solve the problem rather than simply resort to force. I don’t pretend that guards are mostly bad and inmates are mostly good. Real life is rarely as simple as that. But many of the problems that crop up in prison could be resolved if the parties involved would muster the effort to try to understand each other. Oft-times, however, those with authority simply choose force.

If we demanded better dispute resolution skills of the officials, we not only might see less need for isolation units but also better outcomes for inmates when they leave. I believe the only way we can achieve that, however, is to improve oversight of those officials we vest with so much power over inmates. The Bee investigation supports this conclusion. And if inmates found that they could achieve a reasonable solution through a grievance procedure instead of having their grievances discarded or ignored, they may choose that route instead of the gas and cell rush method.

By Peter Martel
Criminal Justice Program Associate
American Friends Service Committee
1414 Hill Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Office: 734-761-8283, ext 2