WITH JORDANNA THIGPEN
Prison time with Fabian and Arnold
By Jordanna Thigpen
June 2, 2006
Suddenly, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has come out in favor
of constructing more prisons. He recently launched legislation
that would call for bonds (ie, more debt for my generation) for
more prison cells. Interesting, because this is also one of Arnold
Scharwzenegger's pet projects.
Nunez has his heart in the right place. California experiences
some of the worst overcrowding of any state prison system. Recent
Department of Corrections data indicates that California's 33
state prisons are overcrowded by an average of 187.93%. Overcrowding
leads to increased disease, riots, gang activity for survival,
and risk to staff. It also leads to inhumane behavior such as
staged gladiator competitions that would rival Nero's. It's only
natural - California runs the largest prison-industrial complex
in the world.
Judge Thelton Henderson, the most outstanding member of the federal
bench in the entire country (sorry Antonin, it was so close),
placed our state's prison health care system in federal receivership
last year. Receivership is a drastic step which typically comes
only as a last resort. Total receivership - for the entire system
- remains a specter. Is this a system for which we want new debt?
And don't think it will be any better with privatization - private
minimum security facilities are just as likely to experience problems.
Moreover, the corporations responsible for running private facilities
for the state are more likely to donate to candidates who promise
to "get tough on crime" and sponsor legislation which
will place more individuals in prison. Whole PACS have been formed
with revenue from these companies to promote mandatory sentencing,
and defeat alternative sentencing initiatives or attempts to weaken
3 Strikes and its accoutrements. If there was ever a poster issue
for placing limits on the free market system
So if the state can't run the prisons, and the private companies
are ensuring need for them, where does that leave the political
state of our sorry system? Mr. Scharwzenegger, at first, stuck
true to his Republican roots and shunned the California Correctional
Peace Officers Association, one of the most powerful unions in
the state. But that didn't last long. The CCPOA raised dues last
year to finance campaigns against the debacle that was our special
election. Suddenly, building new prisons is a really good idea
for everyone. Earlier in May, at his infrastructure love parade,
Scharwzenegger reminded us, "As you know, I have always wanted
to build more prisons." Really?
The Nunez proposal is ridiculous. If Nunez wants to have a dialogue
about prison reform, fine. There are many fine CSOs and legislators
who would love to discuss it. If Nunez wants to work on prison
overcrowding, that's fine too. There are many legislative solutions
- such as a new initiative launched at eliminating Three Strikes
and mandatory sentencing guidelines. But spending more on prisons
- when our prison budget this year will surpass $8,000,000,000
- does unconscionable violence to California's future. Where is
the dialogue on the multi-faceted and spectacular failures of
the farce War on Drugs? Where is the dialogue on the scandalous
California Youth Authority, which has failed its target population?
Where is the demand for resources for African American communities,
who are disproportionately more likely to be incarcerated?
Getting in bed with Scharwzenegger may be thrilling for a moment
(just think of the Conan years if you must). And it may be thrilling
during campaign season when the CCPOA contributions start rolling
in or when GEO's President does an IE for you. But the People
of the State of California are watching, Speaker Nunez. Will you
mortgage another generation's future to manifest more violence
in the State?
District 6 resident Jordanna Thigpen is an attorney, small
business owner and President of the San Francisco Small Business
Commission. You can usually find her at work and she doesn't get
to Ocean Beach often enough. Email Jordanna at firstname.lastname@example.org.