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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By Mark Wilson

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that damages are required, as a matter of law, when a parolee is incarcerated for objecting to compelled participation in a religious-based drug treatment program.

Citing “uncommonly well-settled case law,” the Court of Appeals found in 2007 that the First Amendment is violated when the state coerces an individual to attend a religious-based substance abuse program. See: Inouyev.Kemna, 504 F.3d 705 (9th Cir. 2007).

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) contracts with Westcare, a private entity, to provide drug and alcohol treatment for parolees in Northern California. Westcare, in turn, contracts with Empire Recovery Center, a non-profit facility. “Empire uses a 12-step recovery program, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, that includes references to ‘God’ and to ‘higher power.’”

Barry A. Hazle, Jr., an atheist, was incarcerated due to California drug convictions. His parole conditions required him to complete a 90-day residential drug treatment program.

Prior to his February 26, 2007 release from prison, Hazle had asked prison and Westcare officials to place him in a non-religious treatment program. Westcare officials directed Hazle to Empire.

When Hazle realized Empire was a religious-based program, he repeatedly objected to Westcare officials. They responded “that the only alternative to Empire was a treatment facility whose program had an even greater focus on religion.”

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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 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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With numerous restrictions imposed on inmates already, California prison authorities are beginning to move to tighten censorship of books, newspapers, photos, and letters in response to the first anniversary of the widespread hunger strike within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which brought substantial negative media attention to the agency. “These new proposed…

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In an unpublished ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district court’s sua sponte dismissal of a California prisoner’s claims that prison officials improperly removed money from his trust account without adequate due process protections. California state prisoner Anthony Brazier filed a federal civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,…

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The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has been granted a two-year extension to comply with court-ordered inmate population reductions.  This order came from the federal, three-judge panel overseeing the case.  Image courtesy prisonlawblog.com This extension will alter the manner in which the state of California spends funds on reducing the CDCR’s inmate population. …

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By Christopher Zoukis On February 11, 2014 the Public Safety Committees of the California legislature held their second hearing on the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) solitary confinement policies and practices. This hearing was prompted in part due to the massive, and historic, work strike and hunger strike of over 30,000 California state…

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By Prison Legal News The three-judge federal court over a long-standing prison healthcare class-action suit against California took a slight turn on January 29, 2013, when the court gave the state a six-month extension to achieve the prison population reduction it had ordered previously. The court had required the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation…

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