Friday, June 5, 2009

Inmate Employment and Mass Releases

... Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Just A Guy, an inmate blogging from within walls, shares his perpsective on mass releases on the Guardian's Political Blog. Among other issues, he discusses the impact of mass releases on support services:

In prison, Support Services are programs that often employ the lower-security inmates at lower-security institutions, who support the maintenance and running of higher-security prisons where all the really "bad" guys are. Oh, Support Services also supports various elements of the California government like the California Department of Forestry, where a bunch of us hardened criminals fight California's fires. The majority of people in lower-security institutions and in fire camps run by CDF are non-violent/non-serious offenders, a good portion of whom have less than a year left on their sentences -- and therefore, will be eligible for early release according to Arnold's plan to commute the sentences of non-violent/non-serious offenders with less than a year left.

Please listen to me, people. What do you think will happen to Support Services and to the CDF if 19,000 people are released early and a large portion of those released are the ones making sure that the "real” criminals in prison have their needs met to an extent where every day isn't a blood bath? Also, I don't know the exact numbers, but let's say that 10% of those released (1,900) are part of CDF. That means that California's trained firefighters have just been decimated right before fire season. Great.

According to Wikipedia, the California Department of Forestry employs 4,300 inmates.


Prison Clinician said...

If I can take this on a tangent on employment in general within prisons, and mentally ill inmates:

There is considerable employment of inmates within the prisons, and without their work - the cost of running the prisons would be much higher.

Work as therapy for those with mental illness is well known, and researched.

Yet, in general, CDCR's attitude towards work by those living in housing for the seriously mentally ill is that they cannot work by definition. This is a CDCR informal, custody definition - unchallenged by CDCR mental health administration.

AS such, if a seriously mentally ill individual wants to work, they have to be willing to return to the general population - where they often cannot cope with the environment - and quickly return because of decompensation, or increased suicidal thoughts/behaviors.

Fact is that many of the seriously mentally ill individuals can work, provided they are given mental health support, and structure.

(There is a similar issue with regards to education, where many of the educational opportunities are not open to those with living in housing for seriously mentally ill. And to get those educational opportunities, they have to agree to return to general population.).

These are basically outdated notions in mental health - assumptions that the mentally ill cannot work, cannot get an education etc. Unfortunately, CDCR's mental health administrators have not been willing to address these issues.

Hadar Aviram said...

Thanks for educating us about this. Surely there must be a continuum of mental well-being, so it's not a binary category.

Prison Clinician said...

There is a continuum of mental health, how symptomatic a mentally ill individual is, or how well the inmate might be managing with symptoms.

But this issue is not so much about clinical assessment. Rather, it is that the units for the seriously mentally ill (called EOP) are considered by the correctional officers (and also by some in mental health administration) to be "soft"-and if the inmate is presenting as too mentally ill to be in general population - then they (correctional officers) believe that they cannot have some of the rights/privileges. Because in their mind, if an inmate is in EOP, they should be so mentally ill that they cannot work. And if they can work, then they are considered to not really be mentally ill, or not as mentally ill to be in the EOP unit.