Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men

Leave a comment

The Overpopulation of Prisons, Part IV: Conditions and Treatment

This is the fourth and final post in my series of articles concerning the grave and disturbing issue of overcrowded prisons. As I’ve mentioned before and you’ve likely heard it elsewhere, is that the U.S. Supreme Court deemed that the current California prison population violates the 8th Amendment, falling under “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Operating at a 200% capacity, the California penal system, one of the largest prison systems in country, is struggling to deal with the enormity of their predicament: How will they release 40,000 prisoners in two years? In the meantime, they’re facing a number of problems due to overcrowding with no relief in sight.

According to this article, California inmates are experiencing year-long waits for medical care and a suicide rate that is nearly twice the national average for prisoners. In fact, every 7-8 days, a prisoner commits suicide in California. Also disturbing is that there are fifty sick inmates at a time held in 12 by 20 foot cages for up to five hours as they await medical treatment.

Gymnasiums and other areas designated for exercise and rehabilitation are now used to house 3-tiered bunk beds to accommodate the staggering numbers of inmates. Without the facilities to rehabilitate and educate prisoners, California prisons are creating a revolving door for which prisoners use to constantly reenter. They are not given the skills to become productive citizens once released. In fact, the National Center For Education Statistics, found that 7 out of 10 prisoners were either illiterate or functionally illiterate in 1992.

With the vast number of inmates, the waiting list for prison jobs is a mile long. Many of these jobs are considered “facility support services” that include kitchen duties, maintenance, and laundry jobs. With the recession hitting labor workers the hardest, it’s highly unlikely that these prisoners will find viable work outside of prison. The lack of work, coupled with the frustrations of living like a sardine, there has been a huge rise in prison violence toward one another and prison staff. Fights, riots, and rapes are reported daily.

With the emotional and psychological toll these conditions place on the average inmate, it’s no wonder they exhibit ignorance and apathy toward their situation. They experience violence, sickness (both mental and physical), abuse, and death everyday. And I’m not just talking about hardened criminals—even those serving their first time for relatively small infractions are subjected to these situations as well.

Any increase in funding has not kept up with increase in population. Basic needs are being ignored such as personal hygiene items, medical care, clean sheets and clothing, and bathing facilities. When items such as these become a hot commodity, you can bet there are those who take advantage of that by setting their own “prices” for them, oftentimes, in the form of sex.

While the U.S. “got tough” with crime and waged a war on drugs, little to no thought was designated to the consequences of these so-called good intentions. We wanted drugs and crime off of our streets, but prisons have become these efficient factories of those very things. And the solution is to release 40,000 inmates and hope that they learned enough to not come back to prison? I think what needs to change are what created the problem to begin with: mandatory sentencing, structured sentencing, 3 strikes law, and the war on drugs.

“I was in San Quentin and Soladad prisons. It’s no joke. the world passes you by. guy’s have never seen cell phones. I seen people who where in for violent acts in the 70’s with 5 to life that will never see day light except when they hit the yard because the state of California will not let violent inmates go even after serving 15 to 20 years with good time there’s so many inmates jobs are hard to get so you have to do your full sentence or go to school for your second GED and there’s always the violence just around the corner, the other side of the yard, two tables away in the dining hall. guards fucking with you. Trying to fuck your day up looking for you to make a mistake, even when your trying hard as you can not to do nothing wrong. Drama, Drama, Drama all day all night long day after day same shit different bowl.

–From a prisoner via

Leave a comment

The Overpopulation of Prisons, Part III: Minorities

The numbers are truly staggering. As I’ve mentioned in Part I of this series, it is estimated that 1/3 of all black males in the United States will experience a stint in state prison at least once. Also, young black females are the fastest growing population in prison today.

The numbers have been rising for decades and they don’t seem to be slowing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2009, non-Hispanic blacks account for 39.4% and Hispanics made up 20.6% of the jail and prison population.

These disparities between race and ethnicity garner several theories, and researchers who have examined the issue, determined that discrimination certainly plays a role—and not just with the arrest, but also occurring in the pretrial detention, prosecution, sentencing, and release decision-making. In fact, there is very little research available on racial bias in arrests.

In the 1980s and ’90s, minorities experienced the results of the war on drugs more than any other race. In 1999, blacks made up 46% of the sentenced prisoners for drug abuse in both state and federal jurisdiction. Interestingly, the difference in penalties for abusing crack cocaine (mostly used by blacks) and powder cocaine (mostly used by whites) contributed to more arrests and longer sentences for blacks. Federal law states that one gram of crack was equivalent to 100 grams of powder, thus resulting in longer sentences for the crack user.

In 2007, Hispanics made up 40% of federal offenders, a 24% increase from 1991. 48% of those were for immigration violations and 37% were drug offenses. Hispanics offenders are increasing rapidly and have violence rates that are higher than whites, but lower than that of blacks.

The Theories

Conflict Theory: Is said that the social economic forces in a society are the cause of crime; that criminal behavior is the consequence of the conflict which arises between competing groups within society; the haves vs. the have-nots.

Strain Theory: Based on the work of Robert Agnew in the 1930s and ’40s, this theory proposes that social structures in a society lead to deprivations and equality among its population, thus encourage those affected, to commit crime.

Social Disorganization Theory: Proponents of this theory accuse urban decay, or the breakdown of healthy urban communities to be the root of criminal behavior.

Macrostructural Opportunity Theory: Believes that the US is still widely residentially segregated. Proponents of this theory opine that if neighborhoods were more interracial, crime would be less prevalent.

Social Control Theory: This theory is considered one of the more popular theories. It proposes that those who commit crime, lack strong bonds with their social environment.

Subculture of Violence Theory: Anthropologist, Walter B. Miller suggested that the high of rate of crime among African Americans stems from a unique racial subculture that views violence in a different manner than the rest of mainstream America.

Because of the lack of studies and research pertaining to the growing numbers of incarcerated minorities, little is likely to be done to examine and remedy the issue. One blogger, who recently wrote about the same topic, made some logical suggestions:

Systemic problems such as lack of education, lack of community autonomy, and lack of resources, are clearly impacting  these statistics, as is the institution of racism. By putting more emphasis on success in school and programs for workforce development, and putting resources in these communities and in general breathing life and making whole these quite stagnant, at-risk living situations, we could give people the opportunity to break the cycle. Allowing returning citizens basic rights also seems democratic and just.