The California prison system is under heavy fire once again, this time on several fronts.
Inmates are protesting horrible conditions, with 30,000 going on a hunger strike two weeks ago. Approximately 12,000 are still striking. They are protesting solitary confinement punishments that can last for months on end. These conditions have extreme side-effects on the mental stability of prisoners.
"I would argue with myself, and that only happened to me in one month. Imagine someone that’s been in there for 30 years,” Sanchez told ABC News-Univision. “Some of these folks have basically trained themselves to be able to maintain and sustain their mental state of mind under those conditions but many of them lose it.”
This isn't new information.
“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez told the General Assembly’s third committee in October 2011.
In fact, Gov. Jerry Brown has repeatedly ducked court orders demanding conditions be improved.
Per the NY Times:
Mr. Brown, a Democrat, has aggressively fought several federal court orders in the two years since the United States Supreme Court ruled that conditions and overcrowding in the system amounted to a violation of the Eighth Amendment — cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, federal judges overseeing the case have repeatedly declared that the state was not making changes quickly enough, and that conditions in the prisons remained appalling — that the state had been “deliberately indifferent.”
Courts have ordered the release of 10,000 prisoners for such poor conditions. They have ordered an additional 2,600 be moved or released because they are at risk of contracting deadly diseases.
Per the NY Times:
Last month, a federal court order demanded that the state move from the Central Valley 2,600 inmates at risk of contracting coccidioidomycosis, or valley fever — a potentially lethal disease. The state had resisted the move, saying it could cause race riots in the prisons. California is also facing a separate federal lawsuit charging that it segregates prisoners by race.
And on Thursday, a federal judge ruled that the state was not providing adequate medical care for inmates — including basics like access to clean water.
To top it off, the system is now under inspection from state legislators. They are calling for an investigation into the illegal sterilization of 148 female prisoners between '06-'10.
Per the LA Times:
"Pressuring a vulnerable population — including at least one documented instance of a patient under sedation — to undergo these extreme procedures erodes the ban on eugenics," the California Legislative Women's Caucus wrote in a letter to the federal receiver in charge of prison healthcare.
During a five-year period ending in 2010, at least 148 female inmates received tubal ligations that had not been approved, confirmed Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the receiver.
"Our physicians were not following the proper procedures," she said. "The first priority we had was to stop it from taking place, which we did in 2010."
The system is a complete mess and isn't working. At some point, the state and the nation must look at alternative ways to punish people for crimes other than incarceration. Statistics show it isn't an effective means of rehabilitation, a necessity considering the growth in prison population. If people were given tools to re-enter society and function properly, we could keep prisoners locked up for less time, reducing stress on the system.