Governor Jerry Brown this week slashed a modest $49 million from the California prison bureaucracy budget supporting rehabilitation and training programs for inmates already existing in cruel and unusual conditions, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, hundreds of Pelican Bay inmates, jammed into the most extreme conditions in the state system, launched a hunger strike.
Senator Loni Hancock, chair of the Sacramento budget subcommittee on prisons, said the governor’s veto allows the prison authorities to spend the $49 million on anything they choose, redirecting the funds to what a Senate aide called their “slush funds.”
Brown’s veto message was another sign of his reluctance to cooperate positively with the Supreme Court’s order to reduce the overcrowded conditions by 40,000 – which still would leave inmates living in double-bunks and lacking medical support in violation of their constitutional rights. In his veto message, Brown said the funds should be used to realign the prison population to local levels. But that decision is left entirely to the discretion of the prison bureaucracy.
Ironically, the long-standing California prison crisis began in 1993 at Pelican Bay, a high-security prison far north of the Bay Area, with a class-action complaint from the Prison Law Project, representing 3,600 Pelican Bay prisoners (Madrid v. Gomez). In January 1995, federal Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that the use of force and lack of medical care were unconstitutional, and eventually the site was placed under a federal monitor. Brown, as California attorney general, vigorously fought against the civil rights ruling, which was upheld by the Ninth Circuit and, two months ago, by conservative Roberts Supreme Court.
The immediate response of Pelican Bay officials to the hunger strike was dismissive. According to a Crescent City newspaper, The Daily Triplicate, a top prison official, Terry Thorton said, “inmates refusing to eat for various reasons is not typically unusual.”
- An end to the policy of group punishment for individual infractions;
- Abolition of the policy of requiring inmates to “debrief” [or snitch] on others;
- Changes in the criteria for classifying whether gang members are active or inactive;
- Compliance with the U.S. Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 recommendation on ending long-term solitary confinement;
- Adequate and nutritious food;
- More constructive programming for inmates held indefinitely.
For more information, contact Sen. Hancock, Critical Resistance (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Prison Law Office, and the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition, who are helping to circulate an online petition in support of the prisoners.