Human Rights

California Unlawfully Tranfers its Prisoners to Other States

The state's prison system is being sued for its practice of involuntary transfers of prisoners out of state -- and away from their families.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Several leading advocacy organizations have filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), challenging the agency's failure to make public and to provide an opportunity for public comment on the policies it uses to determine which prisoners are chosen to be transferred involuntarily to out-of-state facilities. The lawsuit alleges that CDCR's use of secret guidelines to transfer inmates creates a situation where inmates and their families do not know what rules apply and where CDCR officials could use "arbitrary and subjective judgments regarding race, ethnicity, and immigration status" to transfer inmates.

The lawsuit is brought on behalf of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the Asian Law Caucus, on the grounds that CDCR has failed to comply with California's Administrative Procedure Act. The Act serves as a check against arbitrary decision-making by state agencies and officials. The groups are seeking an injunction to stop the transfers until proper policies are in place, sufficient notice has been given and, public comment allowed.

"Before an inmate in a California prison is transferred thousands of miles from his or her family, both the individual and the family are entitled to know -- at a bare minimum -- what rules are being applied," said Ajay Krishnan, an attorney at Keker & Van Nest, LLP. "These transfers impose significant hardships on prisoners and their families."

The attorneys and advocates who have filed the suit charge that the current policy is effectively an underground one, as it lacks public, enforceable standards and a transparent process for determining who will be involuntarily transferred out of state. State law recognizes the benefit of placing inmates near their visiting family members.

"State agencies need to follow the law, and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is no exception," Michael Risher staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, which, along with attorneys from the law firm Keker & Van Nest, LLP, is representing the three advocacy groups. "California law requires the Department to classify inmates based on fixed, public, enforceable regulations, rather than on internal policy memos developed in secret. The Department should not be sending inmates to prisons as far away as Tennessee and Mississippi without lawful rules to determine who will be subject to these involuntary transfers."
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