California Governor Jerry Brown, in his first press conference of the New Year, declared an end to the emergency announced 6 years ago by Arnold Schwarzenegger on California’s prison system. California’s prison system has been under federal oversight since 2005 to reduce overcrowding and improve inmate healthcare. Citing the billions of dollars that the state has spent to address the federal government’s concerns, Brown defiantly demanded a return to state control, particularly given California’s rampant budgetary challenges.
California’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded, once housing twice as many prisoners as they were designed to hold. Today, after reducing the prison population by 43,000, the total number of prisoners is about 119,000 – still 50% over capacity. According to the LA Times, “[s]ome prisons are at 180% of their intended capacity.”
Regarding the state’s ability to provide adequate healthcare to inmates, California’s medical receiver found that even as recently as 2011, 43 preventable inmate deaths took place that year within the state’s prison system, some of which were the direct result of improper medicine dosage and outright neglect of medical conditions.
Citing his appointment of Jeff Beard to head the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Brown referred to prisoner rights advocates, saying during his press conference, “I’ve taken their own expert and made him head of corrections, so what more do they want?” Beard has historically been critical of the state’s prison system but now claims that “[i]ndependent expert reviews have found that California’s prison medical and mental health care systems meet constitutional standards.”
The governor’s contentious press conference came hours after the state met a federally mandated deadline to present its newest proposal on reducing overcrowding. Despite vowing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to return prison control to the state, Brown faces a tough legal challenge – in 2011 the Supreme Court upheld the federal government’s oversight authority.
Also on the governor’s agenda is a plan to end the use of private prisons. Under Governor Schwarzenegger, California partially reduced its inmate population via involuntary transfers of inmates to the privately owned and run “Corrections Corporation of America.” The state’s contract with that company expires this summer and Brown has vowed to end private prison use altogether within the next three years.
GUEST: Dylan Rodriguez, Professor and Chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside, author of Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the U.S. Prison Regime, and one of the founding members of the Critical Resistance Organizing Collective. Critical Resistance is a national organization dedicated to opposing the expansion of the prison industrial complex