The soon-to-depart chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee says the panel will investigate how the Federal Bureau of Prisons has handled what he terms “egregious” misconduct at the U.S. Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida, the largest government-run detention facility. In Mid-May, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sent letters to both the BOP and the…

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Alabama: A March 2, 2014 fight at the Elmore Correctional Facility resulted in eight prisoners being transported to Jackson Hospital, where three were admitted for further treatment. Details on the extent of the prisoners’ injuries and the circumstances of the fight were not released. Argentina: Raunchy photos depicting female jail guards and superintendents in various…

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By Christopher Zoukis Concurrent with a recommendation from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to test all inmates at two California prisons for “Valley Fever,” a new multi-million dollar lawsuit filed in federal court calls these prisons “incubators” for the disease that has killed dozens of prisoners and prison employees over the last decade.…

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By Michael Brodheim In May 2013, a California appeals court invalidated regulations promulgated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) regarding the manner in which the state executes condemned prisoners. The appellate court held that the CDCR had “substantially failed to comply” with the procedural requirements of the state’s administrative rules; the decision…

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A veteran prison guard at the California Men’s Colony was sentenced to 30 days in jail in August 2013 for accepting bribes.  Kevin Jon Venema, 50, was confronted by internal affairs officers who accused him of selling tobacco and cell phones to prisoners.  Venema, initially charged with three felonies, pleaded no contest to one count…

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By Prison Legal News On August 23, 2013, Robert Eugene Vasquez, 36, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the stabbing death of his neighbor, Bobby Ray Rainwater, Jr.  Vasquez had been told by his mother that Rainwater was a child molester, though actually he had been required to register…

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By Christopher Zoukis

In February, the State of California secured yet another extension to the date by which it must comply with the U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce overcrowding in its state prisons.  Prior to the February 10, 2014 ruling, the deadline for reductions in prison overcrowding was set for April, but in the latest decision, three federal judges gave the state an additional two years to comply.

California’s prison population is second only to Texas.  Between 2000 and 2010 the inmate population was relatively stable, with a 2010 population of 165,062, or 0.44% of the state’s population, an increase of just 1.3% since 2000.  Long-running lawsuits against overcrowding, particularly from inmates with serious medical or mental health conditions, forced a reduction.  In 2010, the prison population fell by 9.4% to 149,569, but overcrowding remains a serious problem.  California state prisons are currently 44% over the listed capacity.

The state’s increasingly harsh sentencing laws are a significant part of the problem, but despite long sentences and often miserable prison conditions, California’s recidivism rate is much higher than the national average.  Roughly 60% of released prisoners are back behind bars within three years, compared to 44% nationally.  Nor has the current strategy resulted in safer communities.  Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice for 2011 show that although rates for some crimes are below the national average (13% lower for burglary, 20% lower for larceny/theft, and 24% lower for forcible rape), for other rates, California significantly exceeded those for the nation as a whole: violent crimes are 6.4% higher, robbery 27% higher, and motor vehicle thefts a whopping 70% higher.  Given the dire state of California’s public finances and the clear failure of the prison system, it shouldn’t require a court order to persuade the state to re-think its strategy.

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