3 Strikes- Inhumane Failure
By B. Cayenne Bird
There are about 5,000 inmates in state prison on a 'third strike' now, and about half of them are in for nonviolent crimes. Many taxpayers are not yet fully aware of what an incredible burden has been placed on them. Not only are these sentences likely to cost the taxpayers up to $1,000,000 per inmate, but there is greater loss in human terms which no one is really thinking through properly.
As Director of the U.N.I.O.N., United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect, a statewide group out to reform the Criminal Justice system, I see factors that are hidden from the public. These conditions are likely doing more to cause crime than to cure its underlying causes. It appears to me that no one is really trying to reduce crime with this retributive-style law. The goal seems primarily to be to create jobs for the CCPOA Prison Guards UNION and various state agencies.
1. Welfare rolls are skyrocketing as young fathers are taken from their homes.
2. Grandparents are mortgaging their homes in order to save their children by hiring high-priced attorneys. The grandparents often end up homeless, a burden to their families and many become very depressed and ill over the injustice.
3. When a young person in particular is over-punished by a cruel prison sentence, the entire family falls into a state of grief and dysfunction. It almost always destroys the mental and physical health of everyone connected to the prisoner, especially their family. It drains the family financial resources. The destruction of the family unit is so great that there is no possible way to justify stealing the lives of people for minor offenses.
4. Imprisonment offers no rehabilitation, training, or future. It simply wastes lives. This will cost us a great deal when hurt people are set free among us. How will they earn a living? Prison is a training ground where simple offenders become criminals. It is full of people who should be in hospitals for substance abuse and mental illness. Prisoners come back to society in worse shape than when they were originally put away.
5. People who once settled for deals offered by District Attorneys are demanding full court trials. This is costing millions of dollars and backing up the system. It is not unusual for public defenders to have caseloads of 100 accused people or more. The poor are getting inadequate defenses with little or no investigations conducted.
6. It is not unusual for $250,000 to be spent in order to prosecute one three strikes case. Since judges are mostly politicians who love to grandstand their "tough on crime" positions, the defendant is often allotted only $10,000 for his side of the battle, which assures a loss of his case from the beginning. Up front costs of prosecution are never included in the cost per prisoner figures given out by the State. Taxpayers are paying dearly and the trials are a shame and a sham.
7. There are billions of dollars not included in that $21,000 cost per inmate figure which is commonly brandished about. The State Auditor did a report Sept. 1998 which admitted to about $3,750 per inmate which should have been included in the figures released continuously to brainwash the public that SB79 isn't costing them much money. If you estimate what is not included, the figure is much, much higher.
8. Animals in the zoo are treated better than most of our inmates. We receive hundreds of complaints about the lack of medical treatment, dangerous living conditions, and an approximate 40% Hepatitis C infection rate, not to mention continual outbreaks of TB, AIDS and other diseases. Fresh food and citrus are rarely served, the emotional and physical health of 160,000 inmates at any given time is shameful. Lifers tend to be suicidal, especially when their sentence was for some minor offense. The entire atmosphere inside is run with the same inhumanity and inefficiency of the court system, only worse because the guards have guns and absolute power. Prisons aren't hospitals, they are blood houses were people who need help become even sicker. Disease is spread to the children and then back out into the population. Children of prisoners very likely also end up in prison too later on because of the poverty and lack of parenting imprisonment imposes on these families. The cycle perpetuates itself.
We have members of the U.N.I.O.N. whose husbands, brothers and fathers were sentenced to life for running away from a police officer, stealing a $16 screwdriver which never left the store, stealing three cookies, food or aspirin, very minor petty thefts or small drug charges. Whenever people must steal for food and medicine and the taxpayers wind up paying a million dollars for them to be incarcerated for life, we must stand back and do the arithmetic.
What can be done about this legal crisis which is tearing the heart out of thousands of California families and creating walking dead among us? Public sentiment is callous and people wrongly assume the system is in place and functioning because of all the media coverage supporting the CCPOA. The average citizen cannot imagine that 70% of the people in prison are there for nonviolent crimes and many are innocent.
Even though California's Three Strikes Law amounts to nothing more than cruel and unusual punishment, the Democrats in the California legislature are waiting until it is politically safe to make any serious reform. They are so fearful in fact, that SB79 by Senator Tom Hayden has been reduced to nothing more than a study, similar to SB873 which did pass this year. SB79 in its new, watered-down version is about to come up for a vote on the Senate floor. This happened because prisoner's groups are too small and don't do their lobby work on a large enough scale. Hayden still needs support with people contacting Senators and Assemblymen for even setting up a task force to look at the situation in July 2000.
The public doesn't know the law goes too far. It is morally wrong to take people away from their families for such long terms with phony crime stats as the only justification for it. But those courts enforcing these laws take great pride in this unnecessary cruelty and aren't going to stop until the media and the people call a halt to it. So citizens need to flood the media with 150 word letters to the editor on a weekly basis to show some resistance and the destructiveness of the law. The topic must be kept in front of the voters.
Secondly, fax, phone, and visit your local Assembly persons and Senators. I have heard the legislators say there is very little vocalization against the law, so it must be acceptable. In Sacramento, only the squeaky wheels get the grease. Keep in mind that the CCPOA and the various crime victims groups (which are financed and manipulated by the CCPOA indirectly) have donated literally millions to buy off the legislators. The CCPOA is in equal partnership with the State as the Los Angeles Times so aptly stated few months ago.
Thirdly, there will be no reform of the criminal justice system until mainstream groups such as churches are literally marching in the streets of Sacramento.
The movement needs to move into the middle class. The voters are the ones who must be convinced that the law is destructive, unaffordable and not doing one thing to reduce crime. Unfortunately, 97% of the voters are either Democrat or Republican so it is necessary to do extensive public relations work out in the community.
For the past year, the U.N.I.O.N. has recruited members to engage in letter bombardments to key people who tout the three strikes and related laws, organized several demonstrations, attempted to raise money for mailings. We believe that we are doing the right actions but need thousands more members in order to equal the power of the CCPOA and Crime Victims groups. We are falling down on getting the lobby work done because the people most hurt are usually poor, uneducated and dysfunctional. Many do not even speak English. Only organized LARGE groups are recognized in Sacramento.
Please join the UNION and help us fight. We need copies, postage, money for transportation for our demonstrators, printing and operational funds. The power of numbers lobbying in unity is the only solution at this point. We will be ignored in Sacramento until we can organize better.
Our website has many details on alternative solutions to crime through prevention, rehabilitation and restorative justice methods. There are many studies to support these methods as effective. Not one study supports prisons, Three Strikes, Mandatory Minimums and the Death Penalty as effective at reducing crime.
The site also details many of the lies around the crime statistics.
To join, mail $30 payable to B. Bird for subscription. Address is
Box 22765, Sacramento, Ca. 95822.
Current 2006 Address:
B. Bird, Journalist,
P.O. Box 340371
Sacramento, Ca. 95834