Really California? You can't find enough people whose health is compromised by incarceration?

California-based advocacy group Legal Services for Prisoners with Children drew my attention to this article in which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is supposedly having a hard time finding people whom it can release from prison to comply with the Supreme Court order to reduce overcrowding:
In documents filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court, the state identifies preliminary criteria for freeing elderly and medically frail inmates, as well as continuing to house nearly 9,000 prisoners in private facilities out of state.

But Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard warns the three federal judges behind the release order that there are not enough nonviolent inmates left in the California prison system to meet the court's goal of reducing crowding to 137.5% of what state prisons were built to hold. Eligibility for the proposed geriatric parole program, for instance, would be limited to those over 60, who have served 25 years in custody and are not condemned or serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. The court-appointed medical receiver is drawing up a list of potentially eligible candidates for medical parole.

The courts had calculated that even with medical and geriatric parole and increased time off for good behavior, California would have to release more than 4,000 additional inmates. Beard said the state can find only 1,205 inmates who committed nonviolent crimes, have a low risk of committing new crimes once out of prison, are not tied to a prison gang and have less than a year left to serve on their sentence.

Therefore, he said, the state is trying to come up with other criteria for release. "These evaluations and decisions are not quick, clear or easy," he said.

Perhaps they should ask Jane Dorotik, incarcerated at the California Institute for Women (CIW). She's written quite extensively about aging women at CIW, women who repeatedly are turned down by the parole board. In Issue 26 of Tenacious: Art & Writings by Women in Prison, she details the stories of five such women:
Five Women, Five Denials

This week five women here at CIW were scheduled to appear before the Parole Board seeking parole suitability, seeking that elusive approval to be released from prison and returned to society. It is the job of the Parole Board Commissioners to determine if these women pose any threat to public safety, and if so, then they should remain in prison.

At least that's how it's supposed to happen. That is what the regulations that govern parole suitability hearings say.

Four of these women, Beverly, Belitta, and Yvonne and Eara are "Golden Girls," that is they are ages 55 and older. Mary Alice is only a few years behind them, although she has been in prison the longest—her stay now spans 27 years. All five came away from the hearings without being granted release back into society.

Collectively these five women have spent 116 yaers behind bars. Collectively they are 63 years past their minimum eligible parole date. And you should know that lifers do not even appear before the Parole Board until they have already done their time. So, of course, your next question would be, "What horrible activities have they engaged in, what callous disregard, what total lack of remorse must they have, that the Parole Board keeps them in prison?" Good question.

Beverly, who is 16 years past her minimum release date, has been a model prisoner, no disciplinary write-ups, actively programming, gaining certificates in self-help rehabilitation classes, taking leadership positions in activities, helping others, obeying all the rules. She was told that the nature of her crime, now 23 years ago, was too heinous to grant her parole. This is the same boiler plate language that the Parole Board repeatedly relied on to deny parole, directly disregarding the language and intent of the regulations. Commissioners utilized this rationale to deny parole in the majority of cases, until the California Supreme Court said they could no longer rely solely on the nature of the crime to deny parole. So, I don't know, maybe these commissioners didn't get the memo. Either way, Beverly must wait another three years before she begins a new attempt at gaining her freedom.

Mary Alice was praised for all her programming, her insight, all her self-ehlp, but she was still denied because she received a "counseling chrono" for failing to "get-down" quickly enough last year during an alarm. Now this was not an RVR (a rules violation report), it was just a counseling chrono, a reminder, if yoyu will, but it still kept her from her rightful freedom. Maybe she was a little slow to get down. After all, at age 48, with arthritis and other medical concerns, it is not easy to quickly place your rear end on the ground, whether it's raining, where there is a mud puddle under you, or any other reason. The prison system expects you to respond with your rear end smacking the concrete like a well-trained dog. Mary Alice, who is 20 years past her minimum release date, also will wait another three years for her next attempt at freedom.

Eara didn't even stay for her full hearing. The Parole Board told her she should have had a new psychological evaluation prior to the hearing. Eara had actually tried to get a new psychological evaluation, but the Administrative arm of the Parole Board had told her, in writing, that it was not necessary, that the new psych evaluations are only repeated every five years. These commissioners pretty much told her that she would not be found suitable if she were to proceed, so she took her only option at that point, to stipulate her own unsuitability and hope they eventually would give her a new psych evaluation.

Yvonne, who is "only" 8 years past her release date, had tons of laudatory chronos in her file, many from the CIW staff who knew her well and applauded her work ethic. Her crime occurred 22 years ago as a consequence of Battered Women's Syndrome, and all of this is well-substantiated in her file. The commissioners also told Yvonne she should have a more recent psych evaluation. She stood her ground, producing documentation of her attempts to be provided a new psych evaluation, and the same Administrative letter informing her that psych evaluations are provided every five years. She proceeded with the hearing and was denied parole because of two non-violent rules violations four and five years ago (possession of a cigarette and refusing a medical transport). How does this make Yvonne a threat to public safety?

Belitta is 63 years old and has been in prison for 22 years. She must have been given the full gamut of the Parole Board's decision making powers because her denial was based on the heinous nature of the crime, her (supposed) lack of insight, and questions about her psych evaluation…although they praised her for remaining disciplinary free and for her positive changes.

I could give you so many more stories, outrageous reasons the commissioners offer as rationale for denying parole, but after a while it gets almost too ludicrous to list anymore.

If we look at the financial cost to keep these women behind bars, the numbers quickly become astronomical…Sixty-three years past the minimum eligible parole date, the date the judge who sentenced them, and society who believed the system was fiar, assumed they would be released from prison. Four of the five women are "Golden Girls" and so each woman, each year, costs another $138,000. A non-Golden Girl costs $50,000 each year to continue to incarcerate, so:

43 years x $138,000 per year = $5,934,000
20 years x $50,000 per year = $1,000,000

So the total cost to the taxpayer is $6,934,000 to keep these women in prison 63 years beyond their minimum release date.

Now of course, you should question, "How can you put a price on safety?" You are right…what price is public safety worth? Does it promote public safety to underfund education, let our youth fail in school and eventually drop out…knowing that 50% of all high school drop-outs end up involved in the criminal justice system? Does it promote public safety to deny a single mother food stamps, or deny subsidized childcare so she can work…knowing that, as a mother, she will do whatever it takes to feed her kids?

We know that the state has a finite amount of money to spend. We know therefore that every dollar spent on prisons is a dollar taken from education and social supports. No one wants society to be harmed. The media seems to hysterically report how some parolee got into trouble with the law, but you might want to know the real statistics, published by CDCR's own research divison.

According to CDCR's own 2011 Adult Institutions Outcome Evaluation Report, of 860 convicted murderers who have been released between January 1995 and March 2011, five have been returned to prison for new crimes (2 for second-degree burglary, one petty theft, one robbery, 2 for possession of a weapon). This represents a less than 1% recidivism rate, or less than one one-hundredth of California's overall 70% recidivism rate.

So when we talk about public safety, let's talk about the whole picture.

The CDCR could also go back and actually follow their Alternative Custody Proposal, which they had estimated would be applicable to 45% of its women's prison population. (Note: the Alternative Custody Proposal still places people under CDCR custody. It is not an alternatives-to-incarceration proposal. But it does take them out of the prison system.)

They could also ask advocacy groups like Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Justice Now and California Coalition for Women Prisoners for suggestions. I'm sure that they can easily come up with 10,000 people whom the state could safely release from prison.