Friday, December 10, 2010

Three Days Too Late?

I originally decided not to write about the linked story because I didn't think it was super news-worthy, at least for this blog. About 2 weeks ago, California finalized a deal to send another 5,800 prisoners to private prisons in other states, in addition to the approximately 9,000 they already house out-of-state due to severe overcrowding within their own system. While they continue to fight against a court order to release 45,000 prisoners, and steadily fail to implement any sort of sentencing or parole reform that could reduce the population, California's government has decided to subject an even greater proportion of its prisoners to the abuses of private prisons.

Yes, that's definitely bad. But what prompted me to write about this decision is a letter that was sent three days later. Not just any letter, but one from the Inspector General of California, who had just completed an audit of out-of-state private prisons that house California prisoners.

In the letter, which describes the findings of the audit, the Inspector General details the problems his office uncovered in their work. I often feel that when I write on here, I am unable to convey the range, severity, and pervasiveness of the problems that plague private prisons. Maybe it's because I try to focus on individual issues within private prisons, maybe it's something else. But I rarely feel like I do a sufficient job of describing how a multitude of abuses, neglect, and violations of human/civil rights can all co-exist at a private prison, and the toll their compounded effect can take. This letter from the IG achieves at least the former; the litany of issues decribed in a mere 11 pages is astounding.

Among the issues described: Using Administrative Segregation (solitary confinement) unecessarily, discriminating against Hispanic prisoners in program access, poor screening of COs before they're hired, prisoners in secure areas, not requiring COs to have weapons training, improper evidence handling, using an unapproved Use-of-Force policy, and inmates not even being provided with up-to-date facility rules. I know, that's a lot to take in. Taken together, the potential for violations of prisoners' rights is astronomical.

But maybe the most serious issue is the widespread failure of private prisons to maintain an adequate prisoner grievance process. Boxes that hold grievances forms were often unlocked and poorly monitored. Why is this the most serious issue? Because for a lot of these prisoners, those grievance forms are maybe the only recourse they have when their rights are violated. By not only subjecting these poor men to abuse, but then effectively denying or silencing their right to grieve the abuses they suffer (and they do have an affirmative right to grieve), these prisons amount to little more than closely-controlled totalitarian regimes.

So despite the findings by the IG of California that private, out-of-state prisons which house California's prisoners are essentially s**tholes, they're going to send more people there. That's just wonderful.

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