Inside California's overcrowded prisons
December 8th, 2010
05:41 PM ET

Inside California's overcrowded prisons

What used to be a gymnasium is now a housing unit for 150 inmates. Bunk beds are arranged in the center of the gym floor. Inmates have to turn sideways to walk between the bunks.

The gymnasium is one of two being used as housing units at the California State Prison in Los Angeles County. There are also two day rooms used for "nontraditional" beds at the facility. In all, there are about 450 inmates without cells.

The rest of the prison's 4,500 inmates share cells at a facility designed to hold 2,300. Corrections officer Lt. Michael Stratman says the prison is just under 200% capacity, which increases the potential for violence.

But that's not the basis of a U.S. Supreme Court case that may result in the high court forcing California to release 40,000 inmates to reduce crowding. The case is about health conditions.

Attorney Don Specter argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that with so many prisoners, there isn't adequate physical and mental health care and the inmates are living in less than humane conditions.

The high court is set to decide whether to uphold a lower court's decision forcing the reduction.

State Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said efforts have been made to reduce the prison population since its peak in 2007, mostly through parole. Thornton said the state doesn't need the high court's help reducing the number of prisoners.

CNN Radio's Jim Roope visited the California State Prison to see the conditions for himself.

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Filed under: California • Justice
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. happyperson

    Its not easy for the state to spend when they don't really have money

    December 9, 2010 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  2. helenhull102951

    My thought is find an island far away from the mainland and put the criminals there and forget them.. Lesser crimes such as robbery,shop- lifting,carjacking,drug dealing. They should use the same rules as middle east, cut off their hands so they won't be able to pick things up that does'nt belong to them. Put tracking devices in all of them and if they are caught again,. They go to the island with the murders,rapiest,childabuse cases of any type.. The ones on the island are on their own to learn how to do things in a productive way, if not they will die and that's their fault for not learning something.. Out of our hair and out of our socieity.. Child crimes can be rehabed. If they continue to commite crimes then they go to the island for up to a year for a reality check... PROBLEMS SOLVED!!!

    December 9, 2010 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  3. Frank

    Dear Governer Elect Jerry Brown and President Obama,
    If you really want CA. to go deeper into the toliet then by all mean release the 40K inmates into society before their time is up but spare us all the "I'm shocked,shocked to find out the crime rate has increased in CA."spin.In order to fix this problem fast let me make some suggestions to both of you.
    First;Emergency Federal Funding is required in order to turn closed Military Bases into temporary Prisons.Next,call up the CA. National Guard to run these Prisons until more Correction Officers can be brought on line.My son lives in L.A. so I have some insight into whats going on in CA.

    December 9, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Tired Tax-payer

      @ Frank,
      Perhaps your son forgot to mention that us tax-payers here in CA can not afford to continue funding the
      California Department of Corruption and Recidivism. You might want to have your son send you clippings from Sacramento's newspapers. The corrupt activities of the CDCr & the CCPOA (correction officer's union) are published daily. Right under the headlines exposing the growing cost of incarceration are the shrinking figures alloted for education. Be Forewarned Frank-if your grandchildren are being raised in California chances are they won't graduate college-they'll be serving 10-20 for jay-walking.

      December 10, 2010 at 2:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Tired Tax-payer

      Please excuse the errors in my post above. My grammar teacher got fired so they could hire another prison guard.

      December 10, 2010 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |
  4. Ricky D's Girl

    What's up with the non-violent Three Strikers? They are older men & women majority ages:50yrs to 76 yrs. Send them home they've alreqady served 15-20 years Come on these poor people received strikes reaching back far as teenagers(What was your mind like as a teen?) They were charge for crimes 15 yrs prior to the law coming into existence! Shame on the person that wished death on our loved ones that are dying off anyway weekly due to horrible prison conditions in Calif. They have served their time & have suffered long enough Free These People for the real dangerous criminals can be taken off the streets! Free The 3 Strikers Governor Jerry Brown we need them home to become tax paying citizens!

    December 9, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  5. Homer Simpson

    just kill them

    December 9, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shelley Ready

      What a terrible remark to make toward another human being! I may not be able to get a job very easily due the fact that I am a felon....but I can sure pray like nobody's business for people like you Homer Simpson!

      December 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Alma Tretteen

    Let's face it there is no getting around that tax-payers have to pay for the cost of the criminal to be pushed through the system. However, there are several different types of sentences with stipulations that can be placed upon a majority of these criminals that would be effective and with the same cost if not less as the cost of housing them in jail giving them a choice of just to sleep off their sentence. Many felons are in and out of the jails because of addiction or due to the fact that they are struggling finding employment due to the fact that they are a felon. Why not use the money to build more treatment facilities which engage in not only a very structured and rigid schedule (same hours consisting of a full-time job) of behavior modification as well as education them and training them with a skilled trade. Instead of having them sit on their rumps in the penal system, sentence them to these types of placed when it is apparent that a criminal keeps coming through the revolving door of the court system due to addiction. The sentences placed upon many criminals are lengthy in months or even years so why not take the equivalent of this time spent inside of jail system and put them through a program that not only educates them on taking on the battle of their own addictions, but empowers them with the confidence and skills of how to get back into the job market quickly versus having them come out of jail with nothing to offer society except of bunch of excuses and reason for them to resort back to their criminal mentality.

    If felons can see that there are places and people out there who may be willing to give them a second chance it gives them incentive to continue to lead out a healthy lifestyle and motivate them to continue to work for successes in life surrounding their choices of lifestyle. It gives hope to hear of people trying to make a difference for those wearing a "cover" such as felon does. It makes them feel like there is that genuine opportunity for that second chance.

    December 9, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Did you read this Gov. Terminator? Take heed.

      December 9, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shelley Ready

      I am in this boat right now in my life. I could only wish I would received help with my addiction instead of a long prison sentence and now I have nothing!

      December 10, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  7. gangsta

    There are so many criminals running free that if you loosed every prisoner, the crime rate would hardly go up. Especially since 70% of them are non-violent offenders.

    December 9, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. helenhull102951

    Homer Simpson your view of the poor pieces of

    December 9, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Never Give Up

    @Shelley Ready, You have a wonderful OPPORTUNITY TO EDUCATE OTHERS. Please take full advantage of that opportunity.

    December 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Morris1

    It is unfortunate that most people posting have not read the "Population reduction Order". It is not a 'RELEASE" order. If you read through it there are several ways to relieve overcrowding. They are sending inmates out of state now and will continue to do so. They can continue to reform parole so simple infractions like missing a PO meeting or a dirty drug test. It is true that a large portion of these inmates are addicted to drugs and prison DOES NOT cure addiction. We incarcerate because it is EASY not because it makes any kind of sense. We are going to continue to spend BILLIONS on incarceration if we don't take steps that will reduce the 70% recidivism rates. IShould we really be incarcerating drug addicts? I am sure they didn't grow up dreaming of becoming an addict. Young people do stupid things and for some reason our society has turned into a ZERO TOLERANCE society and has begun to destroy our young people. The truly sad part is they are labeled for life because of mistakes they make in youth. So many people have forgotten thing they did in youth yet condemn others for the same. We can fix it and save BILLIONS in tax dollars and save our kids or continue down this tough on crime black hole that destroys lives and drains the coffers. I'm for fixing it. California has had 20 years to fix it. The first step needs to be that SCOTUS sides with the inmates and confirms the order. That will get the ball rolling.

    December 11, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
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