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Bringing Prisons into The 21st Century

How Sensitive Needs Yards save taxpayers millions every year

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     Keeping sensitive needs prisoners in "protective custody" by throwing them into solitary confinement as WDOC does now, not only costs the prisoners dearly in terms of physical and mental health; it MORE THAN DOUBLES THE CUSTODY COSTS!
 
     Separating predator prisoners from their potential victims drastically lowers the number of assaults, medical expenses, lawsuits, etc. Besides being conducive to mental and physical health, education and rehabilitation, SENSITIVE NEEDS YARDS are by far the most inexpensive way of housing prisoners.
 
     WDOC's present practice of forcing rehabilitating prisoners to live among violent prisoners simply gives the predators AN ENDLESS SUPPLY OF VICTIMS. (This also conveniently gives any potentially corrupt WDOC or union officials a perfect opportunity to expand their turf and continually threaten and plead for ever bigger and bigger budgets by pointing out the high violence rates to the legislature and the media!)


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Crowding at Prison Threatens Honor Program 

Dangerous criminals at the Lancaster facility are being housed with those who have pledged peace. 

By Richard Fausset 
LA Times Staff Writer

     An innovative program that seeks to reduce violence among maximum-security inmates is being severely tested at the state prison in Lancaster, where a population squeeze is forcing officials to house dangerous criminals with others who have vowed to remain peaceful.

     Since 2000, Lancaster's honor yard program has created a special housing area for prisoners who have promised to stay away from gangs [of the violent variety], drugs and violence. Families, convicts and prison experts have praised the program for reducing violent incidents, and prison officials have considered taking the idea to other lockups around the state.

     But last month, about 130 inmates who did not meet the criteria were transferred to honor yard housing, prison spokesman Lt. Ken Lewis said Monday. Some of them are responsible for a stabbing March 16 and a violent melee Friday involving six prisoners.

     As a result of the fight, some honor inmates remained locked in their cells Monday while prison guards investigated the incident.

     Lewis acknowledged that the transfer ran the risk of diluting the honors program.

     "But our main goal is to house inmates, [and] we have to do what we have to do to house inmates. We're overcrowded," he said.

     The honors yard now houses 850 inmates.

     Lewis said that state corrections officials had told the prison to make more room for convicts with "sensitive needs," [such as informants or other potential targets]. In the last few weeks, the number of these inmates has doubled to 2,000.

     That change displaced inmates who do not qualify for either the sensitive needs or honors program. Some were shipped to different prisons, but others remained at Lancaster, where the only beds available for them were in the honor yard, he said.

     Kenneth E. Hartman, an honors program inmate, wrote a letter to Youth and Adult Corrections Secretary Roderick Q. Hickman after the March stabbing incident, saying he feared it was "the start of a spate of violence."

     Lt. Charles Hughes, president of the local chapter of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., said that staff members also worried about the changes. But he hoped the prison could find a way to maintain peace in the yard, he said.

     "Cops want it, inmates want it and management wants it," Hughes said. "I still think with some good managerial stuff we can make it work."

     The recent melee was quelled when officers fired block guns and sprayed mace at the fighting inmates. Giving few details, Lewis said all of the honor yard's black inmates and those classified as racial "others" by the Department of Corrections — usually Asians or Pacific Islanders — would remain locked in their cells for the time being, because the fight involved members of those two groups.

     A study released by Lancaster prison officials in 2003 compared illegal activity in the yard before and after the honors program was established. It showed that weapons infractions decreased 88%, violence and threatening behavior dropped 85% and drug-related offenses and trafficking were down 43%.

Safer Communities Begin With Safer Prisons