Posts Tagged ‘NPR’

California PrisonsAs individuals across the U.S. endure furloughs, plummeting 401(k) plans, and job losses, state governments are struggling through their own fiscal battles—particularly California. The Golden State has officially become The Bankrupt State, juggling a $26 billion deficit and millions in cuts to much-needed social and government programs.

Conveniently enough, however, California’s fiscal crisis coincides with a recent federal ruling that the state come up with a plan to release 40,000 of its prisoners over the next two years—a move that could instantly ease some of the state’s financial woes while vastly improving conditions in its overcrowded prisons.

The problems within California’s broken prison system have become alarmingly apparent in recent weeks: a prison riot in Chino on August 10 injured nearly 250 inmates and caused extensive damage to the prison. The prison was desperately overcrowded, with 5,900 men packed into a facility designed to hold only 3,000 bodies. This trend of overcrowding has become a hallmark of California’s prisons; it is estimated that the state’s prison system is only capable of safely holding half of the 170,000 prisoners it currently houses. Some 16,000 inmates in California don’t even have cells to share and instead are tightly packed into leftover spaces such as gyms and hallways, which simply crowds facilities even further and hinders recreational opportunities in common areas.

Though he has vowed to appeal the federal ruling, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a $1.2 billion cut to the state’s $10 billion prison budget in an effort to address the state’s prison and financial troubles. Initially, the cut came with a mandate to release 27,000 prisoners, but this provision was eliminated from the governor’s proposal after intense GOP opposition.

Click here to listen to an NPR podcast about the Chino riot and problems in California’s prisons. Click here to read an editorial by Neal Peirce at the Seattle Times about prison overcrowding.

Click here for a breakdown of California’s prison population.

Email or call Governor Schwarzenegger to demand better conditions in California’s prisons.


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jim-webb2Jim Webb, a first-term Democratic senator in Virginia, announced new legislation this week that would create a National Criminal Justice Commission tasked with rigorously analyzing the criminal justice system and making recommendations for reforms in sentencing and prison policy.

Inspired by his experiences as a lawyer and journalist, Webb’s push for change has been described by many politicians and experts as nothing short of courageous.  Glenn Greenwald, a civil rights lawyer, wrote on Salon.com that “there are few things rarer than a major politician doing something that is genuinely courageous and principled, but Jim Webb’s impassioned commitment to fundamental prison reform is exactly that.”

Webb’s legislation is wide in scope– it addresses overcrowding, prison gangs, community safety, rehabilitation, prisoner health, and sentencing for nonviolent offenses, to name a few. Here are the main concerns that the National Criminal Justice Commission will tackle, according to Webb’s website:

  • With 5% of the world’s population, our country now houses 25% of the world’s reported prisoners.
  • Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.
  • Four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.
  • Approximately 1 million gang members reside in the U.S., many of them foreign-based; and Mexican cartels operate in 230+ communities across the country.
  • Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for ex-offenders to become full, contributing members of society.

Webb will face a difficult road in both assembling the Commission and implementing the policy reforms it suggests. Contact Senator Webb and express your support for his brave approach to prison reform:

Senator Jim Webb
1501 Lee Highway
Suite 130
Arlington, VA 22209
Toll-Free 1-866-507-1570

Contact your own senators and urge them to publicly endorse Senator Webb’s legislation by clicking here.

Listen to an NPR interview with Jim Webb, read a fact sheet about the legislation, or read his upcoming article in PARADE magazine.

**Update: In the June 15 issue of Newsweek, Dahlia Lithwick argues why focusing on prison reform in the United States is more important than the issue of Guantanamo. Features a nice summary of Jim Webb’s proposed legislation.**

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