Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sentencing Commission Bill Update - and a Trailer for an Excellent Film

Earlier this month, we reported on the Sentencing Commission Bill's move to the suspense file. The bill has passed on the committee (12 ayes, 5 nos) and is moving on to a third reading at the Assembly. Perhaps this reflects the wish for a more systematic alternative to the threatened mass-releases to relieve overcrowding, but your guess is as good as mine.

Incidentally, I am posting this from the Law and Society Annual Meeting in Denver, where I just had the chance to see Susanne Mason's fantastic documentary Writ Writer, about Fred Cruz, the inmate who started the avalanche that would end in the Ruiz v. Estelle case, which revolutionized the cruel, slavery-like Texas prison system. It is absolutely fantastic and I strongly recommend it. More on the film here


Prison Clinician said...

An interesting documentary for sure, the self taught "prison lawyers" are often despised by CDCR because of the well written complaints they file, that actually require time and effort to respond. And sometimes they do win their case.

Ironically, CDCR's mental health administration also has a very similar attitude, they seem to forget that their jobs exists because an inmate filed a complaint.

It seems to me that part of this is an attitude, or belief that inmates (especially those with serious mental illness) are supposed to not be able to read, write, or be otherwise articulate. There is a sense of nervousness - when an inmate does continue to complain, along with attempts to shut the individual down through various indirect (but "legal") punitive measures.

Hadar Aviram said...

The system's fear of prison activism is a fascinating topic. One of the things featured in the documentary is that the Texas correctional system had a practice of BANNING prisoners from helping other prisoners to produce legal claims, an unconstitutional practice which, at first, was upheld by Texan courts.

The writs that ended up becoming the Ruiz class action suit had been smuggled out of prison at first, on old bags and toilet paper; later, the prisoners were aided with an outside lawyer and with the NAACP. While the outside help had been invaluable, the inside talent and energy was crucial.

To read more about activist inmates, I strongly recommend Eric Cummins' The Rise and Fall of the California Radical Prison Movement.