California Legislation for Compassionate Release for Prisoners Needs Your Support
Dr. B. Cayenne Bird

Dr. B. Cayenne Bird is an ordained minister and a 37-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. She 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 to subscribers.

April 11, 2007

 For nearly a decade the subscribers to our interactive UNION Daily Newsletter have fought one medical neglect battle after another and helped to find lawyers for 28 families who have filed lawsuits. Press conferences have been held to announce many of the filings and there has been extensive press coverage on dozens of them which you can view at our index page here.

The UNION families spent every day for the better part of a decade often being the only people to show up in the legislature for bills related to compassionate releases, medical neglect, abuse of the mentally ill in SHUs and hundreds of campaigns, rallies, press conferences too numerous to list here but our website and the Senate and Assembly archives are fully documented with our work.

I have written here in my column with the California Chronicle on this topic many, many times and have also been published numerous times in other publications including the Los Angeles Times, The Reporter in Vacaville which still has many of my articles over the years archived (if not you can order back issues or read a few of them here. 

It was the UNION who worked with the National Prison Commission in providing dozens of detailed chronologies which opened America's eyes about medical neglect and brought about excellent ideas for solution which so far have been mostly ignored. During Judge Thelton Henderson's hearings the UNION families were the only ones present beside the dedicated staff of Prison Law Office and the California media until the very, very last day, then only a few people turned out. 

When Robert Sillen was appointed Receiver, the UNION families filled up the entire right side of the courtroom at a special hearing called by John Hagar in Judge Henderson's courtroom in San Francisco last year. We were wearing pink carnations, representing the symbol of hope and trust that the death toll that we have witnessed over the years of hundreds of preventable deaths would soon end.

Two of the top news reporters in California are working on the story of Mark Grangetto, whose mother has filed two lawsuits naming everyone responsible for the medical neglect of her brain damaged son since birth. This is yet another UNION compassionate release campaign which we have actively supported with rallies, protests and even a senate hearing which still did not bring him the help he needs. Many of my columns here at the Chronicle have detailed how Mark Grangetto has unnecessarily deteriorated and is near death due to the callousness of unprincipled bureaucrats. His mother Nora Weber has spent more than $70,000 just for a few days of actual medical care. The details of this case is in the hands of the best prison issue journalist in the country right now and you'll be reading about it after the trial under his byline in greater detail. That's why I am not going to describe every horrific step of the campaign for Mark Grangetto at this time.

I need to mention it again here because the outcome of this case will affect every California prisoner and for that reason even non-UNION members should pack that Hanford courtroom this summer to support Nora Weber, a feisty and elderly mother who has spent her retirement money fighting for her son's life at a time when she should be relaxing in her rocking chair.

Currently twenty eight UNION families have sued more than 350 CDCR employees including prison guards, medical doctors, all who participated in wrongful death or abuse cases including a few people who were callous when appealed to for help. They're flaming mad after being served and forced to hire a lawyer to defend their cruelty and callousness but this is the primary form of accountability that has put prison reform on the front burner. It's the type of accountability that the State legislators would not do since so many of them are put into office to represent the interests of law enforcement labor unions and not the three million people who are related to a state prisoner. The UNION families' work on medical neglect and lawsuits that our families have filed in addition to backing most of the lawsuits filed by Prison Law Office for the past decade is why we have a federal receiver and why we stand on the edge of reform now.

Where the rubber met the road, the UNION was often standing there alone with no other "pretender advocates" present to actually fight these battles. And so it is with great pride and a well-documented track record of success through pressure that I recommend support of a bill brought by Leiber and Krekorian AB 1539.

The first step of the process is that it needs to get out of Public Safety Committee. We no longer have the sharp mind of Assemblymember Mark Leno in place as the head of the public safety committee. He has been replaced by Assemblymember Jose Solorio whom you can see in action by watching him at in some of the archives. He does not seem to know our issues very well, perhaps because he is new to this position and not many people are communicating the details that he needs. I shivered when I heard him commend the Attorney Generall's office and support District Attorneys as if they could be really trusted during the SB 40 hearing and recommend support for an unconstitutional law! Heavens to Mergatroid! None of us can relax with this legislature in session so full of new people.

What you need to do if you want to see this bill passed is fax a letter of support by this Thursday, April 12 to Assemblymember Solorio, the regular mail is too slow to make this deadline and the legislators almost never read email so send a fax

The Honorable Jose Solorio, Chair
Assembly Public Safety Committee
(916) 319-3745

Office of Assemblymember Paul Krekorian
Josefina Ramirez
Fax: (916) 319-2143 

The actual public safety committee hearing will be April 17 at 9 am in room 126 along with all these other bills. Notice the limits of two "from each side" and three minutes per speaker. The best way to be heard is to write letters to editors as these hearings are often re-scheduled at the last minute and the legislators need to be kept on the hotseat by what you write to the media as they are put into office by law enforcement labor unions for the purpose of keeping the prisons packed. We want to support this bill noisily as lives are at stake and too many people have died at my feet in full view of the UNION readership over the past decade who should have been released under existing laws.

Similar bills have gone forward in the past and were vetoed, but there might be a chance now that we have filed so many lawsuits and had such great press coverage of our many UNION campaigns to stand up against medical neglect. With the deadline for a full federal takeover of the entire prison system looming in May, the legislators might develop a conscience to keep that from happening. We have 35 new faces in the legislature and it's worth it to give them a chance to do the right thing instead of wasting milliions in taxpayer money on punishing people too sick to understand what is happening. It's beyond cruel and unusual punishment for this to be taking place in the name of the taxpayers.

Groups that have funding from private foundations usually are inactive in the lobby process because they will lose that funding if they actually show up in the legislature and appear on television. It's a violation of the tax laws of the groups that provide the funding, so usually besides a letter of support you almost never see advocates at these hearings. With 60 new bills a session, it is very difficult to cover all the bases. Our UNION is a communication system, a newsletter and we do not get funding from sources that prohibit our fighting back. 

Any of the bills brought by a Republican legislator is deeply flawed 99.9% of the time but with Solorio as the Public Safety Chair, most of these horrible bills are likely to get out of the committee and onto the floor. There are so many bills every year as lawmakers build their political careers with tough-on-crime hoopla that most of them have no idea what they're supporting or opposing. The legislators don't even read these bills most of the time and they only pay attention if they brought it on behalf of the people who financed their campaigns or for some political reason or according to the media coverage.

We saw the legislators pass an unconstitutional bill SB 40 in spite of the warnings of many lawyers and our UNION members who showed up to expose what was taking place to the taxpayers. We could count on Leno and the Democrats not to let some of the worst of these new laws out of the public safety committee in the past but that is certainly not the case now. Leno is the chair of the Appropriations Committee and he had the courage to vote NO on SB 40 but not enough of the others followed his knowledge and experience. He's a wonderful, skillful legislator and he deserves to be a senator but there is a huge hole where he used to sit.

Assemblymember Jose Solorio is the person to contact to register support or opposition on all these bills with the same deadline of April 12. My plate is full with our lawsuits in progress, as well as our ongoing work to oppose Prop 83, and I have not had time to study them all but definitely AB 1539 needs your attention.

April 17 hearing


9 a.m. - Room 126




Measure: Author: Summary:

A.B. No. 24 Richardson. Vehicles: police pursuit.

A.B. No. 39 Benoit. Undocumented criminal aliens: costs of incarcera-


A.B. No. 76 Lieber. Corrections: female inmates.

A.B. No. 116 Aghazarian. Child abuse: endangerment: controlled sub-


A.B. No. 161 Bass. Anti-Recidivism Grants.

A.B. No. 229 Strickland. Prohibited weapons.

A.B. No. 282 Cook. Crimes: military decorations.

A.B. No. 301 Soto. Criminal street gangs: statewide prevention.

A.B. No. 318 Silva. Controlled substances.

A.B. No. 337 Dymally. Controlled substances: cocaine penalties.

A.B. No. 369 Solorio. Child abuse reporting.

A.B. No. 386 Benoit. Sexually violent predator proceedings: release


A.B. No. 430 Benoit. Vehicles: speed contests and reckless driving.

A.B. No. 441 Parra. Sentencing: enhancements: methamphetamine.

A.B. No. 458 Cook. Costs of incarceration: undocumented criminal


A.B. No. 487 Garcia. Parole: sex offenders: specialized supervision.

A.B. No. 499 Swanson. Sexually exploited minors.

A.B. No. 528 Aghazarian. Graffiti prevention: Tag, You're It" Act of


A.B. No. 565 Berryhill. Arson: registration.

A.B. No. 648 Adams. Sentencing: enhancements: repeat illegal aliens.

A.B. No. 673 Hayashi. Child abuse or neglect: mandated reports.

A.B. No. 717 Fuller. Victims' compensation.

A.B. No. 780 Silva. Murder: special circumstances.


A.B. No. 790 Karnette. Witnesses: intimidation.

A.B. No. 791 Jeffries. Governmental reorganization.

A.B. No. 803 Strickland. Statute of limitations: sex crimes.

A.B. No. 824 Saldana. Inmate work camps.

A.B. No. 894 Nakanishi. Criminal street gangs.

A.B. No. 920 Brownley. Peace officers: misuse of information.

A.B. No. 924 Emmerson. Crimes: vehicles.

A.B. No. 998 Garrick. Theft: motor vehicle: penalties.

A.B. No. 1033 Caballero. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

A.B. No. 1035 La Malfa. Crime.

A.B. No. 1048 Richardson. Illegal dumping enforcement officers.

A.B. No. 1049 Solorio. Parole: reentry programs.

A.B. No. 1067 Cook. Harmful matter.

A.B. No. 1068 Cook. Sex offenders: schools.

A.B. No. 1079 Richardson. Crime laboratories. (Urgency)

A.B. No. 1081 Garrick. Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation:

mutual aid agreements: illegal immigration.

A.B. No. 1093 Sharon Runner. Bail: forfeiture.

A.B. No. 1133 Dymally. Sentencing: three strikes.:

A.B. No. 1141 Anderson. Vehicles: fleeing a peace officer.

A.B. No. 1158 Benoit. Witnesses: conditional examinations.

A.B. No. 1171 Sharon Runner. Necrophilia.

A.B. No. 1172 Sharon Runner. Inmate release.

A.B. No. 1215 Benoit. Vehicles: DUI.

A.B. No. 1229 Carter. Criminal tools.

A.B. No. 1235 Fuller. Sex offenders: Internet Web site: GPS monitoring.

A.B. No. 1300 Price. The Family Connection and Young Offender Reha-

bilitation Act of 2007.

A.B. No. 1334 Swanson. Corrections: sexual barrier protection devices.


By the way, I have news of a lockdown at Avenal State Prison which began last Thursday due to a meningitis outbreak which the media hasn't picked up yet. This is a highly contagious and often deadly disease that spreads like wildfire, so if you hear about it, remember that the journalists are banned and they get these alerts from the families who contribute to the UNION newsletter. We may not have all the news so report outbreaks of diseases to your local media outlets as the journalists are the front line of our decade-long battle for humane treatment of prisoners.

Here's the link to an article on a recent prisoner death by meningitis 

This sort of epidemic always leaks out to the community. 

Write your own sample letter to Solorio and the Public Safety Committee, here is a sample

RE: AB 1539 (Krekorian and Lieber) SUPPORT 

To the Honorable Assemblymember Solorio:

I am a California taxpayer and voter and I support AB 1539 which is written for the medical release of prisoners who are dying or who are permanently incapacitated. Punishing sick people serves no penological interest and is costing the taxpayers millions of dollars that could be better used to prevent crime through education, human services and rehabilitation. 

The current laws on the medical release of prisoners is not being followed and there are thousands being denied compassionate releases. This unlawful and inhumane practice could end with the passage and enforcement of AB 1539 which directs CDCR to train their staff on the medical release process. Why are we punishing people who are in comas, quadriplegics and otherwise permanently and medically incapable of causing any threat to our society.

It is only common sense that no matter how hard any one tries, they cannot punish the sickness out of people and it is wrong that the only way out of prison is in a pine box. Any sentence to prison is a potential death sentence during the present crisis and often people who die preventable deaths should never have been sent to prison in the first place. Examples are the woman with cancer sentenced to prison for smoking medical marijuana or people with short term sentences who committed minor crimes but contracted a major disease and were denied medical care until they died.

We hope that the public safety committee will consider the benefit to society of compassionate release and pass AB 1539 because it's time to get smart on crime and end the torture and medical neglect in the prisons or lose them to federal takeover. 

Rev. B. Cayenne Bird

Remember that the more lawsuits that are filed, the faster the reform will come about and to keep your records in writing and stay active in the UNION so you can learn from the other lawsuits in progress when, where, how and why to fight back. None of the reform came about until our UNION families got serious by filing lawsuits and doing actual campaigns to stand up to the abuses.

In the Grangetto case, a number of doctors have recommended a compassionate release but the Corcoran warden Darrel Adams has blocked it. Another appeal is being made now as Grangetto is in Mercy hospital in serious condition.

A prisoner dies in California every day. The estimate that one per week is preventable is only an estimate based on a small study done by experts but that figure is probably conservative considering all the altering and lack of availability of records that takes place when CDC employees know they will be sued.

Many of these horror stories will be told in the upcoming movie about the UNION's fight to bring attention to the present crisis for the past decade. Get active with us so you can help some of these callous bureaucrats develop sensitivity. There's nothing like their name in a lawsuit to bring around attitude adjustments. The people must vote and put people into office who will represent them, not law enforcement, for full reform to be possible.

Get involved in the process and keep up the drum beat until it's deafening. Silence and not getting out the vote is why we have all these problems.

contact me or subscribe to the daily newsletter, the sign up forms are here in English and Spanish. Make a difference and get off the sidelines as everyone with a long sentence is facing a slow, painful and lonely death unless some of this decent legislation gets passed.

I have shed a million tears watching so many families be destroyed, so many mothers suffering for their sons, it's unnecessary and barbaric. Many legislators and their AIDES have pretended to be advocates for the medically and mentally ill but in actuality they were not. 

We have recently served a lawsuit on some of these phony folks which will bring them to accountability for the people who suffered, some even died while they sat there and ignored pleas for help pretending to be advocates. Gone are the days when the families of prisoners are willing to watch their loved ones die these painful deaths without suing, protesting, and planning recalls and initiative campaigns. Be loud and very clear and don't assume the UNION is going to fight all your battles. There aren't enough of us to cover every fight needed out there but we have more than carried our share of the load for many years. Those are well-documented facts for anyone who would like to question it. Let's do some more until it's done and we can't have too many people helping.

We have coordinated many rallies and protests over the years to stand up against medical neglect and abuse of the mentally ill in prisons. When the emergency is here, it's too late to organize. Take a stand against the human bondage industry and the judges, prosecutors and lawmakers who fuel it because it's the right thing to do. If you have a loved one in prison in California, you should be a subscriber to the UNION newsletter so you can help with the fight.

Rev. B. Cayenne Bird