California’s judicial solution to the problems of prison overcrowding is gonna spell a major change across the state—including the IE, which is expected to become ground-zero for droves of non-violent inmates. The problem is that there aren’t enough public and nonprofit resources to keep them from returning to the slammer or—worst-case scenario—keep them from becoming a danger to themselves or others.
At least that’s the doomsday scenario predicted by some city officials and activists.
California’s 167,000-inmate prison population is estimated to be cut by 6,500, and a percentage of those who are eventually freed may end up in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, says an IE-based faith group called Congregations Organized For Prophetic Engagement, or COPE.
So, are both counties—including their respective law enforcement agencies—ready to shoulder the burden? Is the state providing a helping hand to deal with the influx?
The answer is a distinct no, according to COPE spokesman Samuel Williams, Jr.
“The community is bracing for the problem, but the state seems to be washing its hands of the responsibility for the inmate once released,” he tells the Weekly.
Last month, COPE Executive Director Rev. Samuel Casey joined roughly 400 others from faith-based groups, county social services departments and law enforcement agencies in Sacramento to vent their concerns to officials with the state Assembly—and hopefully prompt some aid.
Local churches are willing to help out—but Sacramento’s gotta pony up cash and resources to make successful “re-entry programs”—which provide health care, employment, housing, food, training and drug-treatment that help inmates transition back into society—work.
“This is an important issue for COPE since its congregations represent two California counties that are going to be greatly affected by this issue,” Casey says.
But not everyone is waiting for the influx of recently freed inmates with open arms like some local churches—some in fact are adopting deterrents. Case in point: Colton last month adopted new restrictions on parolee homes in the city. That move will now require boarding home owners to obtain a conditional-use permit, prohibits more than one parolee from living in a home and requires that the landlord inform his tenants when a parolee moves in.
And this San Bernardino County city isn’t alone. Over the past four years or so, Fontana, Yucaipa, Highland, Redlands, Loma Linda, Murrieta and Norco have imposed various types of restrictions—some temporary, some not—on parolee housing that would serve freed inmates.
Colton Councilman Richard DeLaRosa chimed in on the apocalyptic warnings during a council meeting last month. DeLaRosa is a corrections officer at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco.
“I have worked the prison system for 23 years and know the dangers that exist within the prison system, as well as allowing the convicted felons out of the prison system,” he said.
“This is a serious issue. This is an issue that every voter, every resident, should be calling their legislator on.”
The state’s in this bind to begin with as a result of a three-judge panel that ruled, in January 2009, that California officials must reduce its prison population because overcrowding deprives inmates of their right to adequate health care. The state’s 33 prisons were designed for 84,000 inmates, but have been estimated to have held up to 158,000.
Some prison-overcrowding critics pointed to last year’s riot at Chino’s California Institution For Men as an example of a worst-case scenario of what can happen when too many inmates are housed and how dangerous a packed-beyond-capacity prison can become.
In this case, 55 inmates ended up hospitalized. The prison was housing nearly 1,300 inmates yet was designed to hold only about 600.
Surprise-surprise, politicians chimed in.
“Prisoners don’t need an excuse to riot,” state Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R-Chino) said, according to press reports. “That’s why we cannot release these people early.”
But to COPE, “these” people are California’s most vulnerable population.
“We need to remain focused, persistent, and most importantly prayerful as we continue to advocate for change,” Casey says.