The best reporting thus far on the inmate hunger strike that originated in the Pelican Bay SHU—or Special Housing Unit—came from California Watch reporter Michael Montgomery, whose latest story ran on Tuesday in his series on the strike—what it meant, who is behind it, and whether it accomplished anything.
One thing you should know is that Montgomery knows this material. In past years, he has reported some deeply disturbing stories on the psychological effects wrought by these isolation units that confine inmates in windowless cells for 23 hours out of every day, separating them from nearly all human contact for years at a time.
In the course of this series, he discovered that many of the strikers’ demands already existed as recommendations that emerged from a year-long internal study commissioned by the CDCR then roundly ignore.
Below there’s a clip to give you a feel:
State corrections officials are moving forward with a major policy initiative that could improve conditions and reduce the length of time some inmates spend in controversial isolation units. The changes are being proposed amid threats of another hunger strike by inmates who spearheaded one last month at Pelican Bay State Prison.
The policy changes, which still are being worked out, are in line with proposals highlighted in an internal study completed in 2007 by a panel of experts appointed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, according to interviews and documents. The panel’s recommendations included:
***Moving to a conduct-based model that punishes inmates for tangible offenses, rather than for mere affiliation with a gang. This approach is widely used in other states and by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
*** Ending the practice of indefinite detention of alleged prison gang members and associates in the Security Housing Units
***Ending the practice of automatically sending validated prison gang members and associates to the Security Housing Units
***Creating a “step-down” program inside the Security Housing Units to encourage positive behavior by offering incentives, such as special programs
***Ending the distinction between prison gangs and other threat groups to give the department more flexibility in determining inmate placement in the Security Housing Units
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE JUSTICE GAP (YES, THERE IS A SOLUTION)
This Op Ed from the New York Times not only opines with deservedly righteous indignation, it offers a solution—or at least a good idea.
The clip below is self-explanatory:
Most low-income Americans cannot afford a lawyer to defend their legal interests, no matter how urgent the issue. Unless they are in a criminal case, most have no access to help from government-financed lawyers either.
In civil proceedings like divorces, child support cases, home foreclosures, bankruptcies and landlord-tenant disputes, the number of people representing themselves in court has soared since the economy soured. Experts estimate that four-fifths of low-income people have no access to a lawyer when they need one. Research shows that litigants representing themselves often fare less well than those with lawyers. This “justice gap” falls heavily on the poor, particularly in overburdened state courts.
There is plenty the government, the legal profession and others can do to improve this shameful state of affairs. With the economic downturn, only around two-thirds of law school graduates in 2010 got jobs for which a law degree is required, the lowest rate since 1996. That leaves the other third — close to 15,000 lawyers — who, with financial support from government and the legal profession, could be using their legal expertise to help some of those who need representation.
While the Constitution requires that defendants in criminal cases be provided a lawyer, there is no such guarantee in civil cases. The Legal Services Corporation, created by Congress, gives out federal grants that provide the bulk of support for legal aid to the poor. Over the decades, that budget has shrunk — it was $404 million in 2011, about one-third less than it was 15 years ago, adjusted for inflation. The House Appropriations Committee has proposed reducing that to $300 million for 2012. The cut would be devastating; the budget should, instead, be increased.
Half of the people who seek help from legal aid offices are already turned away…
NOTE: There will be only light blogging today because I’m spending some time with my 25-year-old son who is going to get married over Labor Day weekend (!!!)