After the Hunger Strike: Criminal Justice Activist Discusses the Potential Impact of Prisoners' Action
Continued from previous page
A3N:Further influencing California prison politics is a recent US Supreme Court ruling that calls for the reduction of California state prisoners by at least 30,000, in response to overcrowding. How significant is this ruling?
IO: This ruling is very significant. It says even the Supreme Court—which is far from a politically progressive entity—recognizes that the California prison system is scandalous, devastating and deadly. It says change needs to happen immediately. The Supreme Court decision gives us a chance to address the human rights crisis in California prisons, and to change the system itself, hopefully so that we can avoid further crisis. Acting strongly here also positions us to take steps to address human rights crises happening outside the prisons, in the communities from which these thousands and thousand of prisoners are taken.
A3N: Since the CDCR released its proposal responding to the US Supreme Court ruling (which has been criticized by CURB in an open letter to Gov Brown) has there been any response from the state government?
IO: Unfortunately, but maybe not surprisingly, Gov. Brown and the CDCR’s plan is to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. They came up with a scheme called realignment where--rather than let people out of cages, reforming parole conditions, and using the tens of millions of dollars that would free up to support these prisoners return to their communities—they have decided to shift these 33-40,000 prisoners to the county level, i.e. jails. Brown and the CDCR are responding to one crisis by creating the conditions for 58 crises.
For example, Los Angeles County is 33 percent of the entire California prison system. Its jails are already overcrowded and have been the subject of human and civil rights abuse scandals. Brown and CDCR’s realignment scheme would add at least an extra 11,000 to that system. Their scheme does nothing to address sentencing guidelines, and there seems to be a not-so-hidden construction scheme bubbling away on the side burner already. So, they propose more disaster.
What’s hopeful is that, luckily, people all over the state are more imaginative and humane than Brown and Co. and are ready for some serious changes. A recent poll shows a vast majority of Californians oppose cutting key state services and increasing taxes to pay for more prisons and jails: 80 percent of Californians favor paroling people who are terminally ill or medically incapacitated, and 60% support reducing life sentences for third-strike prisoners.
People are ready for changes, and I’d wager they are ready to think about even greater changes. If Brown and the CDCR want to shift the burden to the county-level, then, with some strong organizing, residents, organization, and coalitions like CURB can meet them on their own turf, and say, “the only solution is to bring our friends, family member, and neighbors all the way home.” And we can move forward from there.