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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 Based on the outdated regulations the prison is wasting space by keeping open beds.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.