This was going to be the year that Dion DeMerrill would fully explain to his sons why he is in prison. The virus lockdown made that unlikely.
DeMerrill looks forward every year to this one chance to see his kids, when he and other incarcerated men and women link up with their kids, thanks to the Get On The Bus program.
Get on the Bus brings children and their caregivers from throughout the state of California to visit their mothers and fathers in prison.
But the COVID-19 pandemic forced all programs in state prisons to be suspended, including the Get on The Bus program that allowed him to visit with his kids.
He’s a father of three — an 18-year-old daughter, D’oni, who is in college, and two boys, 13-year-old Dion Jr. and 9-year-old Dr’Lon.
With numerous parents serving time in California prisons, their children are in the homes of relatives or subject to foster care.
According to research by the family reunification organization, Get on the Bus (GOTB), the negative outcomes of children with incarcerated parents include decreased mental health, behavioral and educational challenges, as well as higher rates of being incarcerated themselves.
“Before, when they asked when I was coming home, I told them I was in Texas,” DeMerrill said. “But my oldest son kept asking questions, so I told him what happened. A few weeks before Get on the Bus last year, my youngest son was told I am in prison. He still doesn’t know why. This year, I wanted to tell him the whole story.”
DeMerrill, 43, became an incarcerated parent when he was sentenced in 2013 to 16 years in state prison for involuntary manslaughter.
“The crime happened because of a lack of communications and respect,” said DeMerrill, who had never been in trouble with the law before. “I just happened to be in the middle of something.”
DeMerrill, the fourth child of five — and the only boy — added, “I was raised by my mother — a single parent. I grew up in West Oakland, California. My mother did her best with us. It was hard to raise a boy alone. She did not do just a good job, but a great job.”
When he was 21, DeMerrill moved out on his own, but kept in close contact with his mother and sisters.
“When this accident happened, they all came together to help me,” he said. “They are still supportive to me. If I need anything, they are right there for me. We were taught to always help each other when in need.”
DeMerrill came to San Quentin State Prison in 2017.
Talking to his kids on the phone helps him get by, he said. He also likes to relax by playing board games, exercising, watching the news and writing letters.
Since arriving at San Quentin, he’s been attending self-help groups. He’s graduated from the violence prevention programs No More Tears and Non-Violent Communications, and is currently enrolled in the Guiding Rage Into Power (GRIP) program.
Two years ago, another prisoner told DeMerrill about GOTB.
“I filled out the application because my daughter just turned 18, so she was able to bring my two boys,” DeMerrill said.
An annual event, Get on the Bus offers free transportation for the children and their caregivers to the prison, provides travel bags for the children, comfort bags for the caregivers, a photo of each child with his or her parent, and meals for the day (breakfast, snacks on the bus, a special lunch at the prison with their parent and dinner on the way home), all at no cost to the children’s family. On the bus trip home, following a four-hour visit, each child receives a teddy bear with a letter from their parent and post-event counseling.
“At that time, I hadn’t touched my kids since December 2013 and I hadn’t seen them since December 2014. I was only able to call them once a week.
“Last year was full of tears,” he recounted. “When my kids saw me, they stared at me because they hadn’t seen me in so long. My youngest son was in Pampers when I came to prison and I missed his second birthday.” During the visit, they played board games and he gave his sons “horsey back rides.”
“I was too old for that,” DeMerrill said. “I thanked the lady who was responsible for bringing my kids.”
His daughter, D’oni, said last year was about “holding, touching, and hugging our dad — that’s the main thing.” Her brothers agreed.
DeMerril said he had wanted to use this year’s GOTB visit to teach his sons about prison — “that this is a place where you never want to come” — but the pandemic has kept them apart.
For D’oni too, this hit hard. She said the program is important because it’s the only time she and her brothers get to see their father.
She said she “hates COVID-19 because so many lives are being taken and everybody can’t go outside like how it used to be. I cope with it by spending quality time with my family.” But her dad is just too far.
“It’s too expensive for a plane ticket,” D’oni said. “So we rely on the Get on the Bus to see him. My favorite memory was being able to hug him, so being able to see him in 2019 was one of the best days of the whole year. I miss our trips together. They used to be so fun.”
DeMerrill’s 13-year-old, Dion Jr., said that COVID-19 is “kind of scary, because it’s deadly and we can’t go to school.” Like his sister, he said it’s hard to miss out on the only opportunity to see his dad. Getting the chance to spend time and play games with him were his best memories from last year.
Dr’lon said he’s coping with COVID-19 by playing video games with his older brother. He also said his favorite memories from 2019 were being with his dad on their Father’s Day visit.
“He always makes me laugh,” Dr’lon said. “I miss him playing with me.”
All but nine of California’s 35 prisons house more people than the facility was designed to hold.
The following article by Juan Haines, Senior Editor of the San Quentin News and Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg is reprinted by the permission of The Appeal, which produces original journalism on how policy, politics, and the legal system impact America’s most vulnerable people.
The conditions for the novel coronavirus to spread rapidly have long been in place at San Quentin State Prison. Like much of California’s prison system, it has been dangerously overcrowded.
As of May 30, no prisoners at San Quentin had tested positive for COVID-19. That day, 121 people were transferred there from a facility with a deadly outbreak. On May 31, California’s department of corrections reported the first confirmed case of a prisoner with COVID-19 at the prison—and within weeks, hundreds were infected.
As of July 20, there have been 2,089 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among prisoners at San Quentin, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). About 1,100 people have recovered.
Thirteen people incarcerated at the prison have died from complications arising from COVID-19, according to the CDCR; six were serving a death sentence. Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions and ordered the execution chamber closed. California has not carried out an execution since 2006.
The cause of death for the remaining nine is pending, according to CDCR’s website. Of those nine, three people were found unresponsive in their single cells—on March 28, June 24, and July 1. The remaining six died between July 3 and July 20 of apparent complications from COVID-19, according to the CDCR; all six were hospitalized at the time of their death.
Some who test positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who tests positive are isolated in administrative segregation housing units, according to the CDCR. Administrative segregation is generally considered to be a euphemism for solitary confinement.
“Those being placed into segregated housing due to COVID-19 are not being moved for punitive reasons, they are moved in order to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 virus in the affected unit,” reads the CDCR website. “Patients on isolation are screened twice a day by health care staff.”
When asked for the number of people in administrative segregation because of COVID-19, CDCR spokesperson Jeffrey Callison, emailed The Appeal, “We don’t share numbers in quarantine or isolation.”
As early as March, public health experts warned of an impending crisis facing the state’s overcrowded prisons. (The Justice Collaborative organized a letter by public health experts to urge the governor to release individuals who are over 60 or medically vulnerable, and identified as low-risk or have five years or less left on their sentences. The Appeal is an editorially independent project of The Justice Collaborative.)
“The crowded conditions make it difficult, if not impossible, for the prison system to spread people out,” said Don Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office. “They’re living in a place which makes contagion very probable.”
The Prison Law Office, along with other attorneys, filed an emergency motion in March, asking the federal district court to order the CDCR to release to parole or post-release community supervision prisoners within a year of their parole date who were either serving time for a nonviolent offense or identified as low risk by the CDCR’s risk assessment tool. Even before the pandemic, some prisons had too few on-site medical beds to meet patients’ needs, the attorneys wrote. A pandemic, they cautioned, would be catastrophic. The court denied their motion.
Throughout the pandemic, the prisons have remained overcrowded even though the department of corrections has reduced the state prison population by about 10,000 people since March. All but nine of California’s 35 prisons house more people than they were designed to hold. For the prisons to operate at about 100 percent capacity, the population would have to be reduced by more than 16,000 people. Without mass releases, few options remain to keep prisoners safe.
To stem transmissions, San Quentin’s population must be reduced by 50 percent, according to a report released in June by the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health and Amend, a prison reform organization. As of July 15, the prison housed 3,362 people, at about 109 percent of its capacity. At the beginning of this month, David Sears, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the University of California-San Francisco, spoke to state legislators as a representative of Amend.
“California prisons are already over 100 percent capacity,” he testified. “We must depopulate all of our prisons immediately if we are to have any hope of avoiding what has happened at San Quentin at California’s other facilities.”
After public outcry about the rising infection and death rates, the state’s department of corrections announced on July 10 that up to an estimated 8,000 prisoners could be eligible for release by the end of August. As part of this effort, the CDCR will grant a positive programming credit to prisoners, which would reduce a sentence by 12 weeks. Those who committed a “serious rules violation” between March 1 and July 5 of this year are not eligible for the credit. Serious rules violations include murder, rape, and assault, as well as possession of a cellphone and “gang activity,” according to the CDCR’s announcement.
The department also plans to release prisoners based on a number of criteria, such as type of offense, medical vulnerabilities, and time left to serve.
For those incarcerated at prisons with “large populations of high-risk patients,” people will be considered for release if they have a year or less to serve, are not serving time for a violent crime, have no current or prior sentence that requires them to register as a sex offender, and are not at a high risk of violence, according to the department.
Prisoners who are 30 and over and meet these criteria are “immediately eligible for release,” according to the CDCR. Those who are 29 and younger, will be reviewed case by case. These groups will be screened on a rolling basis until the department “determines such releases are no longer necessary.”
People who are identified as “high-risk medical,” such as those who are over 65 and have chronic conditions, are eligible for release, as long as they are not serving a life without the possibility of parole or death sentence, and are not identified as “high-risk sex offenders,” according to the CDCR.
The department is also “reviewing potential release protocols for incarcerated persons who are in hospice or pregnant,” according to the department’s announcement. “Everybody will be reviewed based on both their current health risk and risk to public safety.” CDCR spokesperson Dana Simas confirmed to The Appeal that the review will include those sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole.
The department will be “expediting the release” of those who are still incarcerated despite being approved for parole by the Board of Parole Hearings and the governor. As of July 15, there were 436 people who were incarcerated after having received a grant of parole, according to the CDCR.
The department of corrections’ announcement featured a number of statements from local advocacy groups, praising the release plan. “We applaud the Governor for working on two crucial fronts: getting the most vulnerable people out of harm’s way and stemming the spread of COVID-19 inside prisons and neighboring communities,” said Anne Irwin, director of Smart Justice California.
But other experts condemned it as dangerously inadequate.
The type of crime should not disqualify people for release, as there is no correlation between offense and risk to public safety, said Hadar Aviram, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. “It’s too little, it’s too late, it’s too reactive, and it’s too restrictive,” she said of the CDCR’s plan.
Those who are over 50 should be prioritized for release, as research shows people typically age out of committing crime, she said. More than 30,000 people age 50 and older were incarcerated as of December 31, 2017, the most recently available CDCR data. According to the same report, almost half of the state’s prisoners—over 60,000—were identified as low-risk to reoffend.
“I’m seeing the pattern of trying to carve out of the prison population,” Aviram said, “these slivers of people that they think are going to be non-controversial and hoping that if they have this sliver and this sliver and this sliver, overall the numbers are going to add up. The numbers are not going to add up. The number is 8,000. It’s not enough.”
Adnan Khan, executive director of Restore Justice, agrees that the plan fails to protect the people incarcerated inside the state’s prisons. The day before the plan was announced, he stood outside San Quentin at a press conference with the Stop San Quentin Outbreak coalition.
“This is not a COVID response. COVID responses are urgent and they’re much more drastic,” he said. “This is more of a political response to the pressure versus a COVID response for health.”
In 2003, Khan, then 18 years old and homeless, committed a robbery with an accomplice. He had agreed to grab the victim’s marijuana, believing that no weapons were going to be used. But during the crime the getaway driver stabbed the victim, killing him.
Under the felony murder rule, Khan was held responsible for the murder, and sentenced to 25 years to life. Last year, he went before Judge Laurel Brady who resentenced Khan, then 34, to three years, thanks to a change in California’s felony murder statute.
“In a matter of three minutes I went from being a violent, crazy criminal offender, whatever those derogatory terms are,” said Khan. “Three minutes later, I’m not even on parole or probation. I’m safe for society.”
Khan was incarcerated at San Quentin for four years. At least two people he served time with their died from COVID-19, he said.
“I’m doing this interview with a heavy heart and really frustrated,” he said. “It’s like, who’s next? Which one of our friends is next?”
The crisis facing California prisoners has been years in the making. Between 1980 and 2006, the state’s prison population increased by 514 percent, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, in part because of harsh sentencing laws. In 1994, California enacted the three strikes law, which mandated at least a 25 to life sentence for any third felony.
As the prison population increased, conditions inside deteriorated.
In 1990, a class action lawsuit, Coleman v. Brown, alleged that prisoners with severe mental illness were denied adequate mental healthcare. The federal court agreed and appointed a special master to monitor reforms. In 2007, he reported that the declining quality of care was due to overcrowding.
Then in 2001, the Prison Law Office filed a class action suit, Plata v. Brown, alleging that prisoners with serious medical issues were also denied adequate care. About four years later, the court appointed a receiver to oversee changes to the medical system. In 2008, he reported that overcrowding was contributing to dangerously inadequate medical care and the spread of infectious diseases.
The cases were consolidated before a three-judge panel and, in 2009, the panel ordered the state to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity within two years. Individual prisons could go beyond that, as long as other prisons balanced them out.
“Until the problem of overcrowding is overcome it will be impossible to provide constitutionally compliant care to California’s prison population,” the judges wrote.
The state appealed and, in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that overcrowding in California’s prison system violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. “Prisoners are crammed into spaces neither designed nor intended to house inmates,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority. “As many as 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium, monitored by as few as two or three correctional officers.”
Prisoners at San Quentin have had to struggle with the ominous threat of infection in an increasingly distressing environment. They can only shower every three days, unless they’ve been identified as critical workers who are permitted to shower after their shift, according to a page on the CDCR website that details actions the department is taking to address the outbreak at San Quentin.
On July 14, the CDCR suspended phone calls in shared spaces, according to CDCR spokesperson Callison. When asked if there is any phone access that is not in communal spaces, Callison emailed The Appeal that there is not. “If it is a legal call, requested by the attorney or the court, it is facilitated in a counselor’s office on a non-recorded phone,” he wrote.
The CDCR has also attempted to stem transmission by increasing social distancing among prisoners. As the outbreak at San Quentin became one of the largest in the country, tents to house prisoners went up on the baseball field outside.
In the spring, the gym was turned into housing, according to the CDCR. In Amend’s report, the authors warned that “there is little to no ventilation” inside the San Quentin gym. The conditions, they wrote, were creating a “high-risk for a catastrophic super spreader event.”
On April 11, North Block had just finished serving breakfast to the more than 750 prisoners there. “I need seven volunteers to work in the gym,” a correctional officer asked over the block’s public address system.
The day before, a flatbed truck drove up to the gym. The truck’s sideboards were topped with battleship-gray 3-inch twin-size mattresses that most California prisoners sleep on.
Six prisoners went to the gym to set up 112 cots, in two rows of four with 30 inches between beds on the sides, and 12 inches head to head. Six feet separated 14 pods of eight beds, each. Several men continued the work over the next two days. For their labor, the set-up crew earned extra lunches and cleaning supplies.
Before the pandemic, the gym’s morning hours were filled with prisoners taking rehabilitative classes. At night, they watched TV, and played basketball, table tennis, card games, role-playing games, and chess. There were guitars and keyboards, haircuts being given, and guys sitting at stainless steel tables studying parole plans—what to do on the other side of the wall.
Those sleeping in the gym said they did not feel they could keep an adequate distance from one another. De’Jon Tamani Joy said when he and other prisoners got to the gym, they were promised there would be partitions between the beds.
“No partitions have been made available, nor seem to be coming,” Joy said. “The environment I’ve been housed in has created stress and anxiety.”
Curtis Thiessen agreed there should be partitions. “I don’t feel safe here because of the living conditions,” he said. “I believe we’re too close together.”
Fearing he would contract the virus, Ronald Shanko said he didn’t want to move to the gym but feared a disciplinary report if he refused. “We’re jammed in like sardines in a can,” he said.
Because of the COVID-19 situation at the prison, the San Quentin News newsroom has been shut down and staff members have been unable to meet to create new issues. The articles in this online issue were written by incarcerated staff members before the shutdown. This online version of the paper was published with the assistance of former San Quentin News incarcerated staff members, who have been released, and long-time volunteers, plus the support of San Quentin Public Information Officer Lt. Sam Robinson. When the emergency relents the paper will resume coverage.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to struggle in its effort to stop the introduction of contraband inside its 35 prisons.
In a recently released Notice of Change to Regulations (NCR 20-01), the Department’s Regulation and Policy Management Branch stated, “Current strategies have been effective overall,” but CDCR still expects that it will expand its search methods.
“ION scanners and low-dose, full-body x-ray scanners as supplemental inmate search options will increase the Department’s ability to discover illegal drugs and contraband that are being introduced into and throughout the institutions,” the NCR’s Initial Statement of Reasons stated.
The CDCR is proposing to amend the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, Section 3287, which governs inspection of property and inmate body searches. It will include ION scanners as search options, according to the NCR.
The NCR stated that the existence and use of contraband inside the state prison system causes death, damages rehabilitation efforts, and facilitates criminal activity within the institutions and the community.
“Without the use of the many layers of interdiction devices and strategies available, inmates will continue to die from drug overdoses,” the NCR said, adding, “Staff and visitors will continue to be compromised by being pressured by inmates to smuggle illegal drugs and contraband into the institutions.”
To underscore its point about contraband, deaths and prosecutions for these crimes, the CDCR released some of its most recent numbers on its findings below:
Type of Contraband Discovered 2017 2018
Cellular Telephones 13,195 phones 11,715 Phs
Heroin 28.83 pounds 30. 8 pounds
Marijuana 91.77 pounds 131.9 pounds
Methamphetamines 43.55 pounds 44.22 pounds
Tobacco 635.8 pounds 527.9 pounds
Data obtained from CDCR’s Office of Research.
Year Overdoses Resulting In Death
Data obtained from California Correctional Health Care Services, Medical Services Division.
Number of People Prosecuted for Attempting to Introduce Drugs, Alcohol, or Contraband
Fiscal Year Staff Visitors Non-Visitors Totals
2014-15 6 211 51 268
2015-16 7 224 51 282
2016-17 9 221 32 262
2017-18 4 269 57 330
Totals 26 925 191 1142
Data obtained from CDCR’s Office of Research.
The importing, trafficking and use of illegal drugs and contraband pose many problems in an institution setting, including an increase in inmate violence, power struggles within the inmate population, the establishment of an underground economy, staff corruption, and inmate death due to overdose.
Timothy Hicks wrote the following article well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit San Quentin. It foretells the disaster that would unfold at prisons generally and at San Quentin in particular.
The Corona Virus has hit the U.S., prompting a fear is that it may hit prisons, with many questioning its possible impact.
“Given the volume of incarcerated people in America, the conditions under which they are detained, and the current spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, there is every reason to question whether American detention facilities, as a whole, are up to the challenge,” said Nina J. Ginsberg, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
According to Business Insider, the US prison and jail systems have more than two million people incarcerated.
“They’re unique because these people are in tight confines, often tightly packed,” said Dr. Burton Bentley II, emergency medical physician and founder of the consulting firm Elite Medical Experts.
The respiratory virus has sickened almost 100,000 people worldwide, reported the Marshall Project. Almost 5000 people have died so far with many of the initial deaths in Wuhan, China where the virus originated.
At San Quentin, prison officials are taking preventive measures to stop the virus from spreading into the prison from the outside. They have shut down the visiting room at the prison, as well as all the volunteer-led programs.
“I’m going to miss my wife,” said Arthur D. Jackson. “But, she understands why they would do that, because if it got in here in this close environment it would spread like wildfire. Although, I am conflicted and I miss my wife I do understand and I know it is for the best,” said Jackson.
Earlier, college classes within the prison closed down because of the coronavirus.
“It’s disheartening,” said Jackson, who works as the main clerk for Mt. Tamalpais College (formally known as Patten College.) “It’s going to stagnate a lot of guys’ programs and put their education on hold. Some people are working on their A.A. degrees and earning credits that can reduce their time they spend in prison.”
“The suspension is a hiccup but I really commend the college staff for making that move to suspend its program voluntarily. It shows how much they really care for us in this community in prison,” Jackson added.
According to local news agencies, schools and other social gathering places were recently shut down and those elderly and most vulnerable to the virus were advised to stay home. Now, everyone in the six Bay Area counties has been told to “shelter in place.” Only those in the most essential services will continue to go to their workplaces.
“There is no way to stop it in prison,” said Don Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office. Specter has been briefed by correctional officials on plans how to handle the COVID – 19 behind bars. This theory is based on protocols on how the prison system handled the flu virus.
In China, the prisons have become a hotbed for the new coronavirus, reported the Business Insider. Iran has already had outbreaks in their prisons of the Covid-19 virus.
According to a Prison Policy Initiative report, some of the considerations to combat the coronavirus:
Release medically fragile and older adults from prisons and jails. Those with complex medical needs are more than likely to be affected. That will reduce the need of care for those who have chronic illnesses. It will also help prevent them from being infected by viral infections like COVID-19. Iran has already given temporary leaves to a quarter of its prison population, said the report.
Other solutions the report lists: Lowering jail admissions to reduce “jail churns.” To reduce the churns some state leaders are re-classifying misdemeanor offenses, reducing parole or probation meetings and even eliminating parole and probation revocations for technical violations altogether.
A joint statement by 31 elected prosecutors from jurisdictions throughout the US supports such changes and also advocates for immediately releasing those who are within six months of finishing their sentences, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Meanwhile, Yale School of Public Health epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves blames the prisons for having many issues that are hazardous. “Prisons throw people into the paths of epidemics, whether it is TB or HIV or corona virus, said Gonsalves.” He continued, “People without proper ventilation is a perfect breeding ground for quick transmission of any respiratory virus.”
People who are incarcerated do have health care, but he doubts that it is adequate. “Prison healthcare isn’t what it should be,” said Gonslaves. “The question is whether the U.S., state and local correctional facilities are up to the task of preventing infections and whether they have necessary resources to care for the sick, and I’m not sure they are up to the task.”
California is spending $6.4 million to expand its pre-release tattoo removal program from two locations to 21 prisons and facilities across the state. The effort will take place over the next four years.
The program began in 2018 at the Folsom Women’s Facility and the Custody to Community Transitional Reentry Program in Sacramento under a contract with the California Prison Industry Authority. The large demand for tattoo removal led to the dramatic increase in funding and programs, which will now be under the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
“Highly visible tattoos unfortunately present a significant obstacle to employment, and their removal can also signify a new chapter in someone’s life. We treated about 140 women at CCTRP and FWF, with more requesting services beyond what the current contract is able to provide. Hence, the expansion,” says Krissi Khokhobashvili, chief, Office of Externa Affairs, CDCR.
The program will take place at 21 prisons and facilities.
The new sites were chosen based on location – to make sure services are spread throughout the state and be available to all genders and security levels.
CDCR has proposed that those eligible for the procedure have highly visible tattoos. They must also be nearing release to the community or have completed gang debriefing (a formal, multi-step gang disassociation process). Based on the number of members of these two groups, the CDCR estimates that as many as 3,032 people could receive treatment each fiscal year.
While tattoo removal at the two existing programs is done by a mobile tattoo removal unit, the CDCR has not yet determined how the procedures will be carried out in the additional facilities. A decision will be made once the vendors are selected.
The competitive bidding process begins this month. The procedure is an invitation for bid rather than a request for proposal. In an RFP, which is usually for new services and programs, bidders propose how they will deliver their services and the price they will charge. An IFB, on the other hand, gives information on the tattoo removal services and how they will be delivered. It then asks bidders to submit what it would cost them to provide those services.
Those who are interested can find out more information and submit a bid through the Cale Procure website. They can also contact the CDCR’s External Affairs Chief Khokhobashvili, at <Kristina.Khokhobashvili@cdcr.ca.gov> or 916-324-6508. The actual tattoo removal services will begin in January 2020.
CDCR will evaluate the program during year three of the four-year contract to determine its effectiveness. At that point, the department may request additional funding to continue the program and expand tattoo removal services to California’s remaining adult institutions.
Individuals who start their tattoo removal process on the inside but still require
additional treatments for completion once released may be able to find a free or low-cost tattoo removal program by checking out Jails to Jobs’ national directory of these programs.
Jails to Jobs is happy to offer a complimentary copy of our how-to guide for establishing such a program to any organization that plans to create a free or low-cost community-based tattoo removal program. Those interested can contact us to request a copy.
The locations where tattoo removal procedures will soon take place: Avenal State Prison, Central California Women’s Facility (Chowchilla), California Health Care Facility (Stockton), California Men’s Colony (San Luis Obispo), California State Prison-Corcoran, Deuel Vocational Institution (Tracy), Folsom State Prison (men’s), Kern Valley State Prison (Delano), Mule Creek State Prison (Ione), North Kern State Prison (Delano), Pleasant Valley State Prison (Coalinga), California State Prison-Sacramento, Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (Corcoran), Sierra Conservation Center (Jamestown), California State Prison-Solano, San Quentin State Prison, Salinas Valley State Prison (Soledad), Valley State Prison (Chowchilla) and Wasco State Prison.
California released a record numbers of prisoners without an appropriate place for them to go. Often, the formerly incarcerated are put in programs that offer no real help for the problems they face.
The parole board grants parole, but a prisoner must show that he or she has a place to stay upon release; 80% of those released are placed in state funded or philanthropically supported transitional housing, according to an article in Mother Jones.
People are placed in drug programs when they don’t have drug problems and wind up living in conditions that resemble those in prison, reported Marissa Endicott.
Terah Lawyer, after 15 years in prison needed to show the parole board she had a place to stay upon release. She had already secured a job working for the California Coalition of Women Prisoners.
Her reentry placement turned out to be a drug treatment facility with strict schedules and restrictions requiring her to attend treatment classes that she did not need. In fact, she had become a certified drug counselor while in prison.
She had to delay starting her new job for 90 days due to the program’s restrictions..
“The whole process of transitioning was hindered and stalled. It handicapped me in in certain areas because I didn’t have that immediate exposure I needed to see what life was like out there,” Lawyer told Endicott.
Thousands of parolees are released each year, with stable housing being critical to their future success. Problems occur when home owners are reluctant to rent to them or allow placement of transitional housing in their neighborhood.
Few appropriate reentry options exist for those who have served long sentences, increasing the chance of former prisoners soon becoming homeless.
California is ground zero for this problem due to its lack of affordable housing. In the midst of criminal justice reform, California’s prison population has dropped by 25%. New reform laws implemented are putting more people back on the streets.
Between 2017 and 2018 there was a 7% increase in the number of lifers released, 25% increase in 3-strikes releases, a 48% increase in releases for people who were serving life without the possibility of parole, and 50% increase in releases for those who were once sentenced to death, according to Mother Jones.
It is a crisis within a crisis: the special housing needs of people released from prison while an affordable housing crisis spreads across the state. Crystal Wheeler, served 22 years, struggling with trauma issues from the years spent in prison and the mental and physical abuse by her husband.
With no family, her parole conditions mandated she stay in a re-entry housing program, a six-month program in Claremont Calif., which specialized in drug and alcohol treatment.
Despite her never having a drug or alcohol problem, Wheeler was forced to attend daily AA meetings at 6 a.m. “That time could have been better used for teaching us things that our husbands never let us do,” she said.
The department of corrections acknowledges shortcomings in re-entry housing and has a policy to reduce the number of people without drug problems ending up in drug treatment centers.
In 2016 the state allocated $10 million for re-entry services for people who had served long sentences, starting a six-month transitional housing program the following year.
By 2018, CDCR’s long term transitional housing had produced 257 facility beds. But, the demand continues to grow. According to Mother Jones, 902 people were paroled in 2014 and an estimated 20,500 long term incarcerated people will be up for a parole hearing in the next 10 years.
Facebook has policies in place to thwart inmates who use their system to harass, threaten or make unwanted sexual advances.
“Access to social media allows inmates to circumvent our monitoring process and continue to engage in criminal activity,” said former Secretary of Corrections Matthew Cate. “This new cooperation between law enforcement and Facebook will help protect the community and potentially avoid future victims.”
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), said that previously it was made aware that a convicted child molester had sent mail to his 17-year-old victim. This mail included current sketches of the girl although the offender had been in prison for seven years, according to an article by CNET News.
“Details of the victim, such as how she wore her hair and the brand of clothes she wore were accurate,” said CDCR.
CDCR’s investigation found that the inmate had a cell phone that he had used view the girl on Myspace and Facebook web pages. The offender then used this access to draw his pictures
As a result of this crime, Facebook’s security team is working with CDCR to prevent inmates from using their “user accounts” to threaten or harrass.
An inmate can have or
possess an account that was created prior to their incarceration. However, Facebook user policy prohibits users from sharing their password so that others can create posts on that account.
“If a state has decided that prisoners have forfeited their right to use the Internet, the most effective way to prevent access is to ensure prisons have the resources to keep smart phones and other devices out,” said Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes. “We will disable accounts reported to us that are violating relevant U.S. laws or regulations or inmate accounts that are updated by someone on the outside. We will also take appropriate actions against anyone who misuses Facebook to threaten or harass.”
Striving for a good education has its challenges for anyone, but for incarcerated students those trials and tribulations are greater. However, one incarcerated man has persevered and has become the first student to earn a Master’s of Business and Administration (MBA) degree at San Quentin State Prison in almost a decade.
“He is the first guy to receive that level of a degree since I started overseeing the education department in 2013,” said Michael Wheeless, the principal of San Quentin’s education department. Wheeless is in charge of handling educational tasks and the overall education responsibilities, plus keeping track of who receives AA degrees and BA degrees.
There are other outside correspondence colleges active at San Quentin, as well as the Prison University Project that offers face-to-face classes and awards Associate Degrees upon graduation.
“For an incarcerated person to achieve any accomplishment in education is remarkable,” Wheeless said.
“Since Proposition 57 was implemented in November of 2016, there have been plenty of instances when inmates have earned time off their sentences for achieving AA and BA degrees, but this is the first time under the San Quentin rules of Prop.57 that I’ve seen a Master’s earned.”
Smiling while leaning back in his chair and beaming proudly, Wheeless continued,
“I’m impressed with Mr. Johnson’s educational achievement, at having earned an MBA degree while incarcerated. It means even more to have earned it while in prison rather than being on the streets.”
However, Johnson is modest about earning the MBA during his prison stay. Although he received his bachelor’s degree while at another prison, the challenges there were much greater to overcome.
“I treated my prison time as if I was away at college,” Johnson said, “I did my time and did not allow the time to do me.”
Johnson took such courses as Managerial Accounting and Business Management along with a laundry list of other business classes– and emerged triumphant.
He maintained a 3.86 grade point average, earning “A’s” and “B’s,” grades that he could not imagine earning back in Woodland, California where he was born.
“When I was in the fourth grade I could not even read; I was like in what they call, “slow learning classes,” said Johnson. He was a late starter and said that he actually started learning after he got to high school.
“I was determined to learn, though,” said Johnson.
Other SQ residents stopped by to congratulate Johnson even during this interview, but he modestly accepts compliments on his achievements from his peers. His wish is that he can encourage other guys in prison to pursue their dreams like he did.
Johnson understands the challenges an incarcerated person can face while in prison. During his humbling six year prison experience, Johnson was not always on the right path to education. It was a life-altering experience with a family member that sparked his desire of higher learning.
“My first year in prison my grandmother passed away,” Johnson recalls, “Her name was Mary Rita Moncrif. She was my inspiration to do better. She raised me and when she passed, it pained me that I could not be there for the funeral.”
He somberly sank back in his seat at the memory. So, in honor of her memory, Johnson wanted to do something that would make his grandmother proud of him. For Johnson, education was the best way to show his appreciation to his grandmother for raising him.
Throughout his life, Johnson has been familiar with loss in many other situations. Due to alcoholism he lost his wife and other assets. “Now I know how to appreciate the things that really matter in life, like family and loved ones, not the material things, the superficial things.”
He credits his Aunt Elizabeth for supporting him financially and helping him achieve his education goals.
“Feels good to be the first one to achieve this milestone at San Quentin,” Johnson said.. “I encourage other guys to go ahead and do it, too.
“If the government would focus more on education instead of just locking people up, I believe that would help communities out there a lot better.”