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June 2, 2009

Column 47

For more than 30 years there has been a steady move to the extreme right in Californiaís legal and prison systems. Today we are seeing the results of the short sighted and irresponsible way the laws and prisons in California have been exploited and used by politicians and special interest groups. The economy is in a terrible shape in every state, but in California it is in crisis mode. There are various reasons for this ofcourse, but one of the biggest contributors, to where California budget deficit is at now, is because of the prison system.

In 1980 there were approximately 8 or 9 prisons in California I think. A prison population of perhaps 40,000 prisoners. Since the 1980ís the prison system has grown to 4 times the number of prisons and close to 200.000 prisoners. There are prisoners doing life in prison for such ridiculous crimes, like stealing a pair of pants or a pizza, cdís etc. That is because of the 3 strikes law passed by the politicians. The police groups and prosecutors and victim right groups lobbied very hard to pass the 3 strike law. Too bad groups who lobby the politicians for expensive laws like this are not required to pay the cost for them, instead of having the tax payer foot the bill for their bright ideas. Some politicians who are candid admit the 3 strikes law is a mistake and a failure.

In the 1980ís there was another factor that helped create problems the prison/legal systems face today. Ronald Reagan took over as President and one of his first acts was to cut the national funding for mental health programs and treatment facilities. This resulted in mentally ill people being turned out onto the streets with no place to go and no treatment for their mental illness. It wasnít long before these mentally ill people started being housed in the prison systems across the country. Prisons that are not equipped to treat mentally ill prisoners.

Another legacy of Reagan was started also in the 80ís. We are now seeing this come fruition today, in the form of the economic crisis. This is the Republican trickle down economics that Reagan and the Republicanís suckered the American people into supporting. For those of you who still think Reagan was a great President and his policies were what our country needed, you have not been paying attention, or are in denial.

Californiaís Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been trying to resolve the budget crisis in many ways. One of the things he has been doing is making state workers take off 2 days per month without any pay. He is also talking about reducing the state workers pay by at least 5%. It could be more than that, but I am not certain. The Governor is also proposing that almost 20,000 prisoners from the California prisons be released. He is also proposing that more treatment for prisoners take place out in the community, rather than sending many prisoners to prison.

My question is, if it is okay to set free 20.000 prisoners, then why is it they were locked up in prison in the first place? If many prisoners could have gone to treatment programs outside of prison, instead of being sent to prison, why were these prisoners sent to prison in the first place ? I get very angry with the news media in California, because they never ask these sort of questions. Maybe the news media prefers to pursue the titillation and sensational stories rather than presenting news stories with substance that have a real impact on the viewers.

Recently the state of New Mexico has done away with the death penalty because it was too expensive. In my opinion it was the wrong reason, but the correct decision. It just goes to show that money is more important than ethical factors, at least when it comes to the death penalty.

Governor Arnie is also wanting to sell off a number of very valuable state properties. San Quentin Prison included. It looks like the Governor is trying to use the budget crisis to let the developers get their hands on various state owned properties that the developers have been trying to get a hold of for many years. It is ironic that the state just spent almost $300 million to build a brand new hospital and $1 million for a new execution chamber, here at San Quentin. The new hospital is due to open this Autumn.

I donít remember where I saw this statistics, but I remember reading that California prisons have a bigger operation budget than many of the states have. If that is true than it is a very sobering fact. California has been cutting education funding every year for the past decade, yet the prison funding has continually gone up. I donít know if that is true for this past fiscal year, but it doesnít matter. It seems politicians are more interested in locking up people, rather than helping them get an education. There are groups who are trying to correct this sad fact and I am sure you can find them on the internet if you want to look for them.

The people of California have allowed the politicians and special interest groups (like the victim rights groups and law enforcement groups) pretty much have their own way as far as the courts and sentencing and prisons go. Now the people are having to pay the bill for what they/you have allowed these groups to do.

I havenít written anything in a while. I just wanted to write a little bit and talk about some of the things I have observed. Maybe it is of interest to you, maybe not. I do think those of you in California who are being affected by the budget crisis should think in the long term, rather than the usual short sighted ideas that do more harm than good in the long run.

The new execution chamber here at San Quentin is completed and is awaiting approval by the courts, before the State can resume itís killing. I was talking with another guy a couple of weeks ago, out in the yard. He told me he heard the issue (execution protocol) that was holding up executions, was about to be resolved. So they will probably start the execution again in the near future. That should make all the haters happy. I suspect the state will be looking forward to being able to use their brand new execution chamber for the first time.

Sorry it took so long to write. Hopefully it wonít take so long next time.
My good thoughts and wishes to you all.

Take Care,
Dean Carter

p.o. box C-97919
San Quentin Prison
San Quentin, California 94974