13th November 2003

Column 38

A lot of what I write about is specifically about the death penalty, or about death penalty related matters. I also will often write about other prison related topics. I think that is what I will do this time. I think it is universally agreed to that in order for people to make a successful transition back to the free world, one of the keys is to have a support system in place to help you. That support comes usually in the form of family or friends.

Reasonable and logical people would assume the prisons would do everything in their power to insure every step was taken to maintain and strengthen the ties between prisoners and their families and friends who are out in the free world. The reason for that is so when the prisoner is released he will have as much help as possible to succeed in staying in the free world as a productive citizen who doesn't fall back into the way of life that led them into prison to begin with.

I was reading in this booklet the California prison system puts out which covers all the rules and policies of the CDC (California Department of Corrections) regarding all aspects of prison life. In the section where they explain the general visiting policy they say: "The value of visiting as a means to establish and maintain meaningful family and community relationships is recognized and encouraged".

I don't think it is any secret when a person is sent to prison it often tears families apart and the damage done to families is often more then can be salvaged after the release of the prisoner. I have learned a bit about the prison systems in other countries over the years and it seems they all share at least one thing in common. A philosophy regarding the family and prisoners. The common theme is, all is done to encourage the prisoner maintain strong ties with family and friends to help with the rehabilitation of the prisoner. It is also interesting to see how they do all they can to insure the family, friends and the prisoner are allowed to spend as much time as possible with each other.

The reason I am talking about this is because the California prison system is planning to cut the visits between family and friends with the prisoners to 2 days a week. They have gone about this in a sneaky and underhanded way. They still haven't announced that they plan to do this. But according to the people in the know, it is pretty much a done deal. The new visiting days are supposed to go into effect on January 1, 2004.

The CDC is using cost cutting as an excuse to cut the visits from 4 days a week to 2 days a week. But it is disingenuous I think. The CDC has been working on a long term plan for many years that isolates and takes away more and more things from prisoners. Visits are just one aspect of this larger plan. It used to be the visits were allowed 7 days a week, then they were changed to 5 days a week, then it was changed to 4 days a week, and now they are planning on changing it to 2 days a week. It is pretty obvious where this is headed.
The part that is the most interesting to me is how they claim this is a cost cutting factor. Running visits doesn't cost the CDC much more then not having visits because the guards would have to be supervising the prisoners regardless of where they are.

I think if the CDC was serious about cutting costs they would do like any large corporation does when they want to cut costs. They start with middle management and eliminate those jobs before they start trying to cut costs anywhere else. If the CDC was serious about cost cutting they would eliminate all the excess Captain and other administrative positions in the CDC bureaucracy before they started cutting into the essential programs for the prisoners. The CDC has way too many people in their administration and it wouldn't be noticeable to cut the administrative personal by 25% to 50%. It would save a lot more money than cutting visits by 2 days a week.

I think the prison system has become like most bureaucracies that have become top heavy. You have these middle level bureaucrats who's only interest is making sure they maintain a secure job position. As a result you have administrators who create paperwork in order to try and justify their position. I guess as with most bureaucracies, if you create enough paperwork it looks like these jobs are important and needed, when in fact they are just part of a bloated system that is more interested in maintaining the status quo than anything else.

I believe if the prison system was serious about cutting costs they would cut many of the administrative positions that often duplicate other positions in the same bureaucracy. That is why their excuse about cutting visits back for economic reasons rings a bit hollow.

There are the less obvious benefits to maintaining visits the way they are, or in fact increasing the days of visiting. These are the costs that would be saved when the prisoners get out and do not come back to prison because they have strong family relations and strong relationships with friends who all help prisoners to acclimate and adjust to life in the free world and to do it in a productive and positive manner.

I have no doubt that the prison system knows if prisoners don't have close family and community relations when they are released, they are more likely to end up in prison again. Where is the savings in cutting visits when this is the case then? The things I have talked about here are common knowledge, but maybe a bit esoteric to people involved with prisons and corrections. But it is common knowledge to them. Since the public isn't aware of things of this nature, the system can tell the public anything and the public generally believes it. But it is also the public that ends up paying the price for the manipulation and disingenuous efforts of a prison system that places more importance on empire building and maintaining the status quo then they are in having a system that functions in a productive and positive fashion. It is a shame the bureaucracy becomes more important than the bottom line, which is to ensure prisoners do their time and are returned to society in better shape than when the prison system received them.

Over the years I have seen the prison system chip away at the things that help maintain as healthy and close a relationship as possible, between prisoners and their family and friends. It seems the prison system isn't finished with this crusade they have been on to create even more distance and isolation between prisoners and their families and friends, when their efforts should be directed at doing everything they can to strengthen these essential ties between prisoners and the outside. 

That is all I have to say for this time. Take care.