Former jail and prison inmates say they have been charged excessive amounts for the cost of probation, which they can never repay.
Co-published by The American Prospect
The consensus among policy experts remains: Something should be done about California’s money-bail system, which most affects the poor. But the bail-bond industry — and politics — continues to be an obstacle.
When New York rapper Jay-Z played the Rose Bowl last summer, he surprised 90,000 concertgoers by making a political statement. Before launching into his hit “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” he urged fans to vote for a California ballot initiative that would dramatically reduce the state’s prison population and re-direct money into education and treatment programs.
“Prop 47, California! Build more schools, less prisons!” he exhorted.
A few weeks later, two other public figures delivered a similar rap, albeit in a different forum. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, Newt Gingrich, the Republican politician, and B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative Christian businessman, similarly urged Californians to end bloated spending on prisons and reverse tough-on-crime policies that they say have failed to significantly improve public safety. Among other things, Gingrich and Hughes pointed out that California now spends $62,396 per prisoner each year,
Detainees at the Northwest Detention Center, an immigrant detention center operated by GEO Group in Tacoma, Washington, initiated the first of repeated hunger strikes on March 7, 2014. A note from one of the hunger strikers passed to his lawyer read, “Please contact the local news. There’s 1,200 people not eating—better food, better treatment, better pay, lower commissary, fairness.”
The story of the hunger strikers is documented in a new report released by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies detailing how immigrants detained in privately run detention centers across the country are routinely exposed to shocking levels of violence, sexual abuse, neglect, filth and wrongful death.
The report titled For-Profit Family Detention: Meet the Private Prison Corporations Making Millions By Locking Up Refugee Families, exposes how Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group are both banking on a massive expansion to immigrant family detention.
With jails straining to absorb thousands of prison inmates, jailhouse guard-on-inmate beatings grabbing headlines, and public concern rising about possible spikes in crime rates, public safety issues—especially around the massive Los Angeles County jail and probation systems—have Angelenos of all stripes scrambling for answers.
The just-concluded three-part, “Smart Justice: Rethinking Public Safety in California” discussion at the University of Southern California, capped off with a fourth session at the Pat Brown Institute, brought together key leaders—from top L.A. County public safety managers to heads of organizations charged with monitoring those systems—to identify often well-known problems, but also to propose potential solutions, cures that generally involve replacing “punishment” with “rehabilitation” in corrections thinking.
A Combustible Environment
“Los Angeles County has the largest probation department in the nation, the largest sheriff’s department, and the third largest police force in the L.A. Police Department,” said Alex Johnson from the Office of County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
As California grapples with a prison system so broken that the U.S. Supreme Court has mandated reductions in the number of prisoners it holds, the three-part “Smart Justice: Rethinking Public Safety in California” discussion begun this past week at the University of Southern California is examining both consequences and possible solutions to the state’s mass incarceration mess.
Moderated by Tomás Rivera Policy Institute director Roberto Suro, the first session—titled “California’s Corrections Systems and the Lives They Impact” and organized by Californians for Safety and Justice and USC’s Students Talk Back program—featured presentations by James Austin, president of the JFA Institute and author of a ground-breaking report on reducing prison populations, Susan Burton, former inmate and founder of A New Way of Life Reentry Program, and USC graduate students Emily Reisner and Jennifer Moore.
A New Way of Life
“Each time I got out of prison,
How will America, which espouses the virtues of forgiveness and freedom, successfully deal with the thousands of people who leave its prisons every year? As the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States has a unique responsibility to chart a different, more humane course towards incarceration. Fifty years after the historic March on Washington helped usher the end of legally sanctioned discrimination, the formerly incarcerated remain stripped of basic rights. In many states they can’t vote, live in public housing or receive public assistance. And so they end up recycled in and out of some of America’s most deplorable institutions.
In the same way that Mississippi or Alabama were vital battlefronts in the struggle for civil rights a half century ago, California, with the country’s largest prison population, is ground zero for what many see as the major social and political issue of today. Like other states in the 1980s and 1990s,