Soon, the nation’s highways will be full of inmates.
Facing costs over budget and overcrowding, the state of California began transferring prisoners to various facilities in other states. Up to 5,000 prisoners will be moved from California to most likely private prisons located in Mississippi, Arizona, and Oklahoma. Although a measure signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger allowed a volunteer-based transfer, most prisoners elected to stay, thus causing the involuntary move.
According to Department of Corrections Secretary James Tilton, these actions should begin to take place 60 to 90 days from now. He believes that the overall condition of the prison system will vastly improve and is in the interest of public safety. “These transfers allow us to improve the safety of inmates and correctional officers while avoiding the potential of being unable to accept new inmates.”
Tilton is also looking out for the safety of his staff. “We have tension now, and every day we don’t move inmates, it just gets worse,” Tilton said in a telephone interview. “The pressures are on us already. We can’t just sit back and do nothing.”
As of now, California’s prison system is designed to hold 100,000 inmates but currently houses 174,000. A good portion of them sleep in gyms or on cots in the common areas.
There is opposition to this move. Several agencies, to include some democratic legislators and prison guard units, feel that forcing a move is against the rights of inmates. Two state unions are going to file suit against the private prison contracts. Trial begins on February 16th. Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, thinks that a decision favoring the unions will stop the transfers. He believes that “involuntary transfers are illegal, that there’s a specific statute that requires an inmates’ consent before transfer, and that the governor can’t override it with his emergency powers.”
When Governor Schwarzenegger authorized voluntary and involuntary transfers last October, over 20,000 inmates expressed interest in making a move, yet only 380 followed through. Those who did make the transfer volunteered to make videos encouraging others to do the same; they highlighted the often-better living conditions in their new prisons, citing things like better television channels.
Currently there are 33 state prisons in California. Governor Schwarzenegger asked law makers in his state to approve an $11 billion measure to build more inmate space and health care units and to even revise some of the sentencing and parole laws. However, changes in laws, if approved, will most likely take place several years down the road.