Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chino "Archaeology" as Example of Overcrowding

This morning's editorial in the Contra Costa Times offers a critique of the legislature's watered-down decrowding plan.

Critics claimed that the original plan would have sparked crime sprees across the state. Done properly that would not have been likely, but the scare tactic carried the day.

That simply guarantees next year's session will be much more difficult because more severe changes must come.

A three-member federal judge panel ordered the state to reduce its inmate population by 40,000 in two years and the state has until Friday to come up with the plan. The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and asked for a delay of that order, but, as expected, it lost.

The state is in this corner because it has put itself there. It is the consequence of inaction — years of inaction.

This attention to the crisis in Contra Costa County is quite notable. As some readers may remember, the downscaling in charges, stemming from budgetary cuts to the DA's office in Contra Costa, has drawn critique from the police and the community. Nevertheless, the local newspaper does a good job aiming at raising awareness to the crisis. A few days ago, the newspaper reported on prison overcrowding, focusing on Chino, in the aftermath of the riots, as an example.

A gymnasium is a sea of bunk beds. The 213 inmates inside are quarantined on this day, the result of worries about a swine flu outbreak. In a room such as this, there is nowhere for a virus to go but directly to another inmate never more than a foot or two away. The basketball hoops and theater stage are reminders that this decaying part of the prison was never meant to house prisoners.

. . .

The situation ensures the spotlight will remain on prisons such as Chino's, which has operated at or near 200 percent of its intended capacity, brimming with nearly 6,000 inmates in a facility designed 70 years ago for half that.

Even the stretches of this prison actually designed to house inmates appear bleakly overtaxed. Inside Madrone Hall, two inmates jam into 6-by-11-foot cells meant for a single bed. A second bed chained to the wall during the day is dropped to the floor at night, flat and tin-looking to earn the name "cookie sheet bed."

The overcrowding also is causing predictable chaos. Indeed, just four days after the federal court order, it was the Chino prison that erupted in violence. And while the Aug. 8 riot was linked to race-related tensions, it underscored how incendiary it can be to run a prison so overstuffed with inmates.

No comments: