Shasta College Student Essay: Reforming in the Wrong Direction

Prisons around the United States are massively overpopulated, with some at the extreme of 200% overpopulation (Prison secretary). Prison systems are scrambling to stifle the conflict before the problem grows out of hand. Prison Town USA, or more formally known as Susanville California, is home to two state prisons, as well as one federal prison. Susanville is not exempt from this problematic scenario facing today’s prison system. A potential solution has been passed by legislation called “Assembly Bill 109” (AB 109). AB 109 is a national issue being addressed as a solution to the prison overpopulation. The bill would release prisoners, who are either low level inmates (inmates who have not committed heinous crimes), or are due to be released in less than two or more years of a sentence (Prison reform). AB 109, will be a massive detriment to many jobs, the economic support, and the safety of Lassen County.

AB 109’s release of 82% of High Desert State Prisons (HDSP) 182% overcapacity will inevitably result in the layoffs of many correctional officers (Prison reform). I recently interviewed a HDSP prison guard who has over twenty two years’ experience (the prison guard asked to remain anonymous, so in reference to him, I will be referring to him as “the Guard”), I asked the Guard about the overcapacity problem prisons were facing at the national level, and he explained that there was a problem needing to be addressed. With the constant growth of incoming inmates, the harm that AB 109 would have upon the work force would be noteworthy. The Guard also explained that the way the capacity is assessed is by the number of inmates per cell. The allotted persons-per-cell is one, but since each cell had a “bunk bed” within it, it makes sense to utilize the available resources in order to be cost effective. Based on the outdated regulations the prison is wasting space by keeping open beds.

By releasing a significant amount of inmates thousands of jobs will be lost, and the Susanville community will suffer tremendously. Susanville is a very small community with an economy that is sustained by the employees of the prison. The decrease in employees from the prison system would result in a significant drop in business in Susanville and the county. The more economic damage Susanville sustains the faster the town will depreciate, which makes it a less lucrative area to live.

In addition to businesses disappearing and fewer job opportunities available, the safety of the town will also be affected. Susanville is a small town, with little gang affiliation. AB 109 would allow the early release of inmates that have two years or less of their sentence left, regardless of their crime. This would include heinous killers, and rapists. A huge issue within HDSP is that the level four inmates (level four being the worst) are over 200 percent overpopulation (Prison secretary). These prisoners will be released wherever they committed the crime, which not only endangers the local community, but also the nation (Rook, 1). These level four inmates will be placed on probation upon release. If probation is neglected, the inmates will be held in county jail rather than going back to the prison they originated from. Instead of solving the problem, it is misdirected onto the jails that are (at least in Susanville) already experiencing significant cuts, and dealing with major shortages in beds and staff. This solution temporarily solves the overpopulation problem for the prison, but may create an even greater problem for the county jails.

The current prison reform AB 109 is not a good solution to prison overcrowding. Not only should reform improve the prison system, it should include the best interest of the community. Ab 109 will affect local correctional officer’s jobs, the economy, and the safety of the greater Susanville region. The people of Susanville need to address Mathew Cate (Secretary of California Department of Corrections) and let him know the significance of this reform, and the drastic effects it will have on our beloved community.

Works Cited

“Governor’s recall sought by union” Lassen County Times. Lassen County Times, 16 Sept. 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

Landau, Julia. “Contra Costa scrambles to prepare for prison reform.” HealthyCal.org (2011) Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

“Prison reform to impact Lassen County” Lassen County Times. Lassen County Times, 15 March. 2010. Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

“Prison secretary urges legislature to fund AB 109 now” Lassen County Times. Lassen County Times, 6 June. 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

Guard, Prison. Telephone interview. 14 Oct. 2011.

Rook, Robert. “Mass Incarceration makes our Communities less safe…Looking for Smart and Safe Solutions.” NAACP (2009). Web. 15 Oct. 2011.

Click here for an explanation of the Shasta College student essay project.

Jake Riley lived in Lassen County for over a decade. He now resides in Redding, where he attends Shasta College.

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8 Responses

  1. Avatar rmv says:

    Thank you JAKE !! 🙂

  2. Avatar Canda says:

    What a huge problem, and just releasing prisoners certainly puts the public at risk even more than we already are. It would seem that a dorm-style room with 4-5 prisoners would work just fine. Does everyone really need their own room? This is a well written article, Jake. Good luck to you!

  3. Avatar Jane says:

    Dear Jake,

    I read your blog with great interest. I do wonder if you have thought about situations where your friends may have been arrested for having a bat in their back seat, took marajuana to a party or stole a six pack of beer. All crimes, all deserving punishment no doubt, but these qualify as "felony" convictions. Many nonviolent, nonserious crimes send people to jail, label them as "felons" for life, and their ability to get a job after they become a "felon" is essentially zero.

    In many areas, police can tag on "resisting arrest" to upgrade the charges to felon. Talk to your local policeman about that and get their take on that. Also, counties are given revenue based on the number of people they send to state prison. AB 117 and AB 118 holds language that may interest you about how the counties are funded for AB 109. In short, the funding encourages counties to increase their felony convictions in order to get paid. Down in LA, it is called "Operation Greenback" and the elected DA Steve Cooley is at the helm of corruption. I am all for throwing the book at a criminal, but hope that no one in your family or circle of friends gets a felony conviction because job opportunities and educational opportunities are essentially zero for a nonviolent "felon" and they will ultimately resort to more crime and escaltion to violence. Also, don't carry a gun under your seat. That will earn you a felony conviction too. I would hate for the prison guards to lose their job, but felonizing every possible crime to ensure your county recieves money is not the way to go either. Counties are felonizing criminals as fast as Jerry Brown is realigning them. There will be no reduction in prison inmates. At least in Southern California, Steve Cooley has said he is UPing the charges, no deals and no breaks in revenge to Jerry Brown for slapping Cooley down to control a mess that Steve Cooley created in the past 10 years, given that Cooley had no foresight or where with all to predict the crisis.

    Thank you for taking the time to write about this interesting topic. What's more interesting is the corruption that will come out of the funding directed by the legislature. The larger the population, the more felons, the more money for the board of supervisors! You can see where this is headed.

  4. Avatar Frank Courser says:

    The article is filled with misinformation. No one is being released! That is patently false. Those that complete their sentences will now be under the supervision of the probation department of the county of commitment. Under AB109 crimes that are non violent, non serious and non sexual in nature will stay in local jails rather than prison as well as parolees that violate terms of parole. One of the biggest problems the state had was technical parole violations being returned to prison. There they spent very short sentences usually 90-180 days and then again were paroled. State parole agents belong to the same union as the prison guards; it behooved the union to have these people spinning through the revolving door of our state prisons because it kept them full! The more inmates, the more guards, the more union dues and thus more influence peddling by the guards union. Prisons are not an engine for real economic growth. They rob our states general fund of resources that we used to spend on education and infustructure and benefit only those that have a vested interest in prison growth. While college tuitions rise again and again, the state is investing 7.7 billion dollars in prison expansion under AB900. This is not good public policy, nor does it make us safer.

    • Avatar forcommongood says:

      Thank you, Frank, for reminding us of the truth. This student may have meant well but he was pointed in the wrong direction.

  5. Avatar Bill Bauer says:

    Understand that under realignment, ALL parolees are required to serve their violation time, which has been reduced from a max of 1 year to 90 days, in County Jail. That is ALL parolees – child molesters, gang members, murderers and rapists included. These are the people being released early into our communities and without consequence.

    Some of those who are released early are committing more serious crimes. 39-year-old James Whitaker had been arrested for a series of burglaries. He was released after just a few hours in the Fresno County jail. Four days later, he allegedly held up a bank.

    Earlier in the week the story was Tino Tufono – Fresno’s Number Two car thief. He’d been in and out of the jail the past few months. He was most recently released November 28th due to overcrowding. A week later, he allegedly shot a man to death.

    And Brown just cancelled a contract to house prisoners out of state, which will result in 10,000 prisoners being returned to our Prisons, and ultimately our county probation departments and jails. All this after only 2 months or realignment, and tens of thousands slated to be transferred to our counties in the next couple of years. Realignment is not a sustainable system, and must be repealed or drastically amended sooner than later. Or things will only get worse with time.

  6. Avatar forcommongood says:

    The Supreme Court upheld the Constitution and California must reduce the number of prisoners it packs in like cattle at feedlots.

    California's prison crisis adversely affects every Californian. Our children's education and infrastructure repair money is being spent on criminal justice and incarceration practices that do not make us safer, but do reduce the quality of life in California.

    FOLLOW THE MONEY.

    Who profits from failed criminal justice and horrifically

    overcrowded prisons that are bankrupting states across the nation?

    District attorneys and prosecutors who are promoted for winning cases and harsh sentences at any cost;

    Tough-on-crime, fear-mongering politicians hoping for votes;

    Prison employee unions;

    For-profit-contract-bed-privatized-corporation prisons that profit not from reforming people, but when the recidivism rate goes up;

    Parole department in California where everyone released is on parole;

    Three strikes law that sends people to prison for 25+ years over petty crimes such as stealing a pizza;

    The bail bond industry that benefits from unnecessary criminal justice practices that increase incarceration;

    Rigged line-ups that get faulty convictions and promotions;

    Increased incarceration due to requirement of checking prior-arrest/conviction boxes on employment, government, and rental applications for those who have been crime-free for years. It makes it harder to stay out of prison (BAN THE BOX);

    Serving high calorie, high carb meals that increase health problems and pay to medical institutions.

    Private companies that raise heck when prisons contract to do labor that increases prisoner self esteem and provides skills training;

    The list goes on…..

  7. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    I enjoyed reading your article. A few grammatical errors got in the way of the read, but I knew what you meant to say. You addressed a huge problem. It's obvious from the responses you received from your article that a lot of people have spent time trying to find a solution.