The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced that it has ended the practice of housing prisoners in out-of-state facilities.
But San Quentin inmates who have served time in private lockups say those prisons are much better than California institutions, even though they dislike the separation from their families.
“I was pissed off when I found out I was coming back to the state. Prison out there was much better,” said inmate Michael “Kofy” Taylor. “The overall feeling was better out there. The living quarters were much more comfortable,” Taylor said, in agreement with the general sentiment among the several other San Quentin inmates interviewed, “Those facilities weren’t overcrowded like the ones in state. The cells were so big there. They were actually comfortable for two men to live in.”
The last California inmates housed out of state recently returned from La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, AZ—a private prison facility run by CoreCivic. CDCR said it will not renew its contract with the private prison corporation.
“This is a historic day for CDCR, as the department has ended its reliance on out-of-state facilities, thus ending an era that began 13 years ago at the height of California’s prison overcrowding crisis,” said CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz in a press release.
California’s out-of-state prison population peaked in 2010 with more than 10,400 inmates housed in private facilities located in states such as Mississippi, Tennessee, Arizona, Oklahoma and Michigan. The practice originally began in order to help alleviate the overcrowded state prison system—which was operating at more than 200 percent of its design capacity.
“The use of out-of-state facilities was always meant to be a temporary solution to the significant prison overcrowding we experienced in the mid-2000’s, and due to meaningful prison reforms, we have been able to bring our inmates back to California and closer to their families,” Diaz said.
This is a major step toward fulfilling Gov. Gavin Newsom’s promise to reduce the Golden State’s reliance on out-of-state and private prisons.
California’s historic change comes as the private prison industry is under nationwide scrutiny, accused of placing profits, rather than public safety, as its main goal. But some SQ prisoners who were housed at these facilities disagree.
“Out-of-state prisons are a well-oiled machine. They are pro inmate,” said Patrick Ryan, H-unit Men’s Advisory Council Chairman. He was housed out of state for two years at La Palma Correctional Facility in Arizona and North Fork Correctional Facility in Oklahoma, both owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic.
“Out-of-state prisons were amazing. The cells were huge, we got three hot meals a day delivered to your cell, canteen delivered to your building, ice machines, microwaves, three 65-inch TV’s in the our experiences, thoughts, emotions and feelings into words.”
“Getting a visit wasn’t more difficult for me,” said Ryan , “I’m originally from Florida, but I also have a house in Southern California. In both instances, Oklahoma and Arizona, it was closer for my family to visit me than it is now that I’m at San Quentin. But for most guys, it was further for their family to come visit out of state.”
“Medical was very slow there,” Ryan said. He was asked about any drawbacks to being incarcerated out of state in a private facility: “The 602 (inmate appeal) process was horrendous; it was slow because we had to mail them back to California. They weren’t done in-house.”
San Quentin resident Taylor said that it feels great to be back closer to his family, but he preferred the living conditions in the out-of-state facilities. He was housed out of state at Florence Correctional Facility in Arizona, Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi, and La Palma Correctional Facility in Arizona before being transferred to San Quentin four years ago.
“I did get a visit from my parents while I was out of state. My parents were coming to Mississippi for a family reunion so they happened to stop by and visit me,” said Taylor, ” “I’m from San Francisco, so it should be pretty self-explanatory that it’s a lot easier for my family to visit me here.”
CoreCivic’s founder, Terrel Don Hutto, according to TIME Magazine, ran a cotton plantation the size of Manhattan in the 1960’s, which operated mainly off of unpaid, Black convict labor. He then went on to found Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic, one of the largest private prison operators in the nation.
Other states, such as New York, have taken measures against private prison corporations, according to an article in Forbes. The state of New York is prohibiting private prisons from operating within the state and divesting its state pension funds from CoreCivic and GEO Group (another large private prison operator). Latest legislative efforts are attempting to prohibit banks chartered in the state of New York from “investing in and providing financing to private prisons.”
Inmate Taylor shrugs off such financial issues. “They’re making money off of us right now, so knowing that they’re making money off of us through the private prison operators is no different. At least we were comfortable out there,” Taylor said. “The only thing better about being back in a prison in Cali is that I don’t have to put my family through the hassle of traveling half-way around the country just to hug me.”