Mismanaged Prisons Endanger the Public Safety
B. Cayenne Bird

B. Cayenne Bird is a 37-year veteran journalist who volunteers her time as founder and director of United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect UNION. The UNION is active in prison reform and criminal justice issues. She is a mother and grandmother and focuses on human rights and restorative justice. She is also the host of television series "Cayenne Common Sense" and publishes a daily online newsletter. She doesn't have a current photo 

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 By B. Cayenne Bird
July 15, 2005

It is only common sense that if prisoners are psychologically and physically tormented,  they will return to their communities much sicker than before they were incarcerated. The atrocities taking place in California’s prisons were aptly described by Judge Thelton Henderson as “depravity.”

Yet those who have sold their souls to the devil for a job that pays them to participate in committing depraved acts from the dark ages are offended when a call for healing is made.

Depravity is callousness and it is against the law, whether the criminal wears a badge or has been sentenced by one of our corrupt courts. Depravity is deliberate indifference to another person’s suffering which causes them to feel psychological or physical pain or ends in death.

The people who are the keepers of the bloodhouses are not supposed to be practicing callousness toward people who need healing. Yet that is exactly what has been going on in the taxpayers' name. The bullies in charge are not supposed to inflict torment and psychological unrest through degradation, abuse of strip searches, destroying legal documents and personal property, putting people in a box for months and years at a time with no human contact, abusing pepper spray or breaking their spirits with cruel “cell extractions”. The list of human rights abuses is endless and there are little or no consequences for this behavior even when the inmate finally dies.

There’s much hype about how necessary the prisons are due to the threat of child molesters and murderers. The fact is that most of the prisoners are the mentally ill or addicts. They don’t belong in prison at all because prisons are places of punishment, not healing. And mental illness and addiction are diseases which call for healing, not punishment. The public would be better served to get those who are ill out of the prison pits of hell because they are getting worse and worse in that abusive environment.

How can there be anything but recidivism when a prisoner’s spirit is so badly broken that they are depressed to a state requiring psychotropic drugs just to enable them to endure 23 hours a day in a cell no larger than the size of a bathroom? These drugs are often heat sensitive and the tens of thousands of inmates who are forced to take them so they can survive crowded rooms with bunks stacked three high, are called in from the yards when temperatures exceed 90 degrees. But how does that help when they are callously thrown into cells that exceed 90 degrees putting them at great risk for heat stroke.

And there are no ice machines, no cold showers, no relief of any kind available even to the terminally ill. 

If we did that to our family members, we’d be criminalized and locked away for a long time, yet the State does it to people every day without conscience for the psychological and physical damage they are permanently inflicting upon people.

I am not one of these unrealistic types who refuse to recognize that there are people who are indeed a danger to themselves and others and need to be removed from society.

I know that the prisons are definitely full of mentally ill people who have sometimes committed heinous crimes. But instead of having five guards beat up on one sick inmate because they can’t follow the rules, or unmercifully dump entire canisters of pepper spray on people who can’t help but act out their illness, a more healing approach could only reduce the recidivism. A more healing approach could only make it a better and safer world for our children and grandchildren.

Do we want to pay for people to be tormented and then returned to be our next door neighbors? What kind of a sick approach is this in the year 2005?

Nobody is really thinking this crime thing through and the propaganda out there causes the citizenry to trade their liberties for “safety” But there is no safety in the way that our prisons are being mismanaged for the sake of running a human bondage industry for profit.

There are no statistics anywhere that prisons, jails, juvenile halls, the death penalty or other harsh laws do one thing to reduce crime. What we are doing mostly is punishing mentally ill and addicts for acting out their illnesses. The maltreatment they are getting in prison is criminal.

It is as depraved as the actions of any mentally ill inmate only it is considered sane, acceptable and business as usual. 

It is against the law to withhold public records but the media can only estimate that some 5,000 lawsuits are filed against the Department of Corrections per year for the depraved acts of its employees. This can only amount to millions in payouts, all of it coming out of our pockets as taxpayers.

And the human toll of this condoned abuse is immeasurable. Pete Wilson’s own committees told him that rehabilitation works, but it didn’t draw in any federal funds with which to run the State’s business so he conveniently ignored this fact. 

We’ve had a gulag running the prisons, operating above the law and committing acts of depravity against people who should be in more healing facilities.

I have personally reviewed case after case and interviewed and assisted 19 devastated families whose loved one died of preventable deaths. The 3 million people connected to state inmates alone are your neighbors. They are doctors, teachers, nurses, social workers, and the clerk at the store. They are mostly mothers and grandmothers who do not deserve the kind of stress that they go through everyday worrying about whether their loved one is going to be killed in prison or catch one of the many epidemics raging out of control there.

And who knows, even you could get a knock at your own door some day that will give you an entirely new perspective on a system that you thought was working.

During the past seven years, I have witnessed depraved acts from legislators as well. One tried to make denying all inmates transplants a law. There have only been two since 1998 even though at least half are infected with Hepatitis, which almost always ends with the need for a transplant. I was aghast when almost every Republican put their name to this bill sponsored by Senator Jeff Denham. His bill which encouraged murder by medical neglect was a disgrace. 

The three million people attached to State Inmates could easily have withdrawn all their organs from the banks had such a callous law passed. Thank God for the Democrats who have staved off one punishing bill after another proposed by the Republicans which amount to torture and nothing as far as an actual remedy to reduce crime.

Torture doesn’t reduce crime! It is a crime in itself and it causes crime to rise because people who have been tortured never get over it.

The fact remains that there is little or no treatment for cancer in prison. Surgeries are routinely denied even though the law states that there is to be a regular standard of community care.

Several family members have fallen over and simply died when visiting their loved one on week ends because there are no medical personnel present. There are no defibrillators or people who can operate them, even though many inmates are physically ill in prisons.

Ambulance rides from the remote areas where prisons are located can take two to three hours. If an inmate cannot pay for the ambulance, it isn’t likely that one will get called at all. That in itself is a death sentence. But if a guard gets hurt, right away a helicopter arrives.

If the goal is to reduce crime, the inhumane overcrowding needs to end by restructuring the sentencing laws.

Those prisoners who are quadriplegics, brain dead and at the end of their lives need to be sent home or to nursing facilities where they can die with human dignity. The federal government will assume a large portion of this financial burden through Social Security (SSI) It is the right thing to do and it is fiscally responsible..

The media caught discussions during the hearing about 64 inmates per year expected to die from preventable deaths. This was after court appointed physicians studied the situation for a few months.

I have been down where the rubber meets the road 18 hours a day for seven years and I believe that the other 300 plus deaths per year that Dr. Rene Kanan admitted to should all be considered suspicious.  I believe that this estimate of 64 deaths per year is the tip of the iceberg.

Dr. Michael Puisis stated during his testimony that untold numbers of inmates are suffering from morbidity, a terms he described as an injury or illness that falls short of death. Untreated blood pressure that results in stroke or heart attack is an example of morbidity that he described. No monitoring or treatment of diabetes is common and this neglect results in the need for expensive kidney dialysis and other serious maladies that are preventable.

The filth in the prisons with the men given only a tablespoon of scrubbing powder with which to clean their cells is predictably going to result in more diseases such as the deadly staph which has now leaked out to more than 4500 California residents.  What a small investment antibacterial cleaning supplies are compared to the medical costs unmanaged  epidemics, both in prison and out.

The laundry is crammed into washers and dryers without bleach even though everybody knows half the inmates have contagious, life threatening diseases. When it comes back to the inmates it smells of urine, because it is urine. Wouldn’t you think clean laundry and facilities would be basic to good health? But no! There are so many people in prison they are treated as lower than livestock and even their diets do not include enough fresh fruits and vegetables or proper protein beyond “mystery meat”. 

There needs to be a real place for prisoners and their families to go for help when a medical emergency arises. What are in place now are ombudsmen who are as useless as yesterday’s oatmeal. Whatever the guards tell them is always considered the truth and they have no teeth whatsoever to take care of emergencies.

A mentally ill person in prison for a minor crime will be prosecuted and years added to their sentences each time they act out their illness. This is depravity at its worst.

We as voters need to stand up to these people who have sold their souls for a paycheck and put in real programs of education, prevention and rehabilitation which are the most sensible crime solutions.

Civilized nations around the world stress healing instead of punishing and we in America need to catch up. That is accomplished through forming voting lobbies to elect or recall any politician who is sympathetic with the gulag and a depraved approach to criminal justice.

There is more public safety to be found in healing than in torturing those who cannot be held responsible for their actions.

You can view the children and family members of inmates who died preventable deaths at our website.

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