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The Crisis of Realignment
California’s prisons are overcrowded. So overcrowded that in 2011, the US Supreme Court ordered the state of California to reduce its prison population by 10,000 inmates. Instead of simply releasing them, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has tried to keep as many people behind bars as possible by moving them to county jails and private prisons. This shuffling about of prisoners has been termed “Public Safety Realignment”, or just “Realignment” for short.
As a result of the influx of state prisoners through Realignment, county jails are also growing increasingly overcrowded. To reduce the pressure on overcrowded jails, the state has set aside $500 million for jail expansion projects. This money will be divided up between different counties to pay for construction costs. Once built, the new or expanded jails will be operated by their home counties, with some financial help from the state. If all this comes to pass, county jails will function as an extension to the state prison system, while the root causes of overcrowding go unaddressed. We will be left with a bigger, more expensive prison and jail system, and less money for programs that would keep people out of jail in the first place: education, housing, mental health services, addiction counseling, job training, and community centers.
At the same time that legislators and law enforcement leaders are trying to build more cages, a coalition of grassroots organizations around the state is working to stop them. Individual groups are advocating for alternatives to incarceration in their host counties, and are coordinating with folks in other regions to mobilize for strategic statewide actions. It’s too soon to tell how this movement will unfold, but the demands are clear: build strong communities, not jails.
Movers and Shakers,
As we wrap up the holiday weekend and prepare for an abundant new year, Sin Barras is looking forward to ending 2013 with a big bang! Our statewide coalition, Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), is mobilizing to California’s Board & State Community Corrections Board Hearing this Wednesday December 4th to oppose jail expansion and the governor’s priorities and we need all hands on deck.
By Paige St. John
Consultants hired by the federal agent running California’s prison healthcare system say the state should put medical care for inmates under its own division to “safeguard” the gains made under court oversight.
The creation of an Undersecretary of Health Care is among more than 100 recommendations contained in the organizational draft as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation moves to regain custody of inmate care. Preliminary recommendations were provided to the federal receiver’s office last October and the final report is now circulating.
The document suggests California maximize the amount of federal funding it receives for prisoner healthcare as federal Medicaid programs expand, and seek federal matches for inmate hospitalization. It suggests the state should also prepare for shortages of prison psychiatrists and other mental health workers as expansion of federal coverage increases the overall demand for those providers. The consultants recommend increased use of tele-medicine, in which doctors use video links to “see” patients in remote prisons, and rely more on medical assistants for routine care.
The consultants say the federal receiver’s office employs too many physicians in managerial roles, and the quality of nursing remains inconsistent, especially when it comes to coordinating care of patients with complex conditions as they move between prisons in the system.
The report recommends California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation create an Undersecretary of Health Care overseeing a healthcare division, on par with the current two undersecretaries who oversee prison operations and custody.
“It provides protection from the return of pre-receivership conditions, under which health care matters often went unaddressed for long periods,” the consultants wrote.
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times