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Policy to Relocate Inmates Punishes Families

New America Media, News Feature, Raj Jayadev Posted: Sep 16, 2008

Editors Note: Beatrice Patlan would visit her son regularly at Soledad Prison in Salinas, Calif., where the 18-year-old is serving an eight year term. But those visits may now be over, as he is being sent to serve the rest of his time in Arizona, pulling him hundreds of miles away from his family. As NAM contributor Raj Jayadev reports, the state is beginning to ship more inmates out of state to address an exploding prison population. Jayadev is director of Silicon Valley De-Bug.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The saving grace when Beatrice Patlans 18-year-old son Raymond was sentenced to eight years in prison for his first offense in 2007, was that he was placed at Soledad Prison, a manageable hour-and-a-half drive from her San Jose home. On her days off from work, Patlan would visit her son regularly, bring his little brother and sisters so they didnt grow apart during his incarceration, and hug him after their long talks.

For him, it kept his mind and heart strong, and for us as a family, the visits meant Raymond could still be a part of our lives, she says.

But those visits may now be over, as Raymond Patlan is being sent to serve the rest of his term in Arizona, pulling him hundreds of miles away from his family. The story of Patlans family is playing out across California, as a budget crisis is hastening the involuntary transfer of potentially thousands of inmates out of state to ease the staggeringly overcrowded prison system.

Beatrice Patlan has done just about everything in order to keep her son close to her family. She has repeatedly called the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, spoken with the Warden at Soledad, and met with the offices of State Assemblymember Joe Coto and State Senator Elaine Alquist. But after exhausting every possible option to figure out what the rules of transfer are and if they apply to her son, she has arrived at a terrifyingly demoralizing conclusion there are no rules.

Patlan is not the only one questioning the practice of transferring prisoners out of state. The Northern California American Civil Liberties Union in July filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to stop what they call an unlawful transfer policy.

The injunction, filed in the San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the Asian Law Caucus, argues that CDCR has failed to comply with Californias Administrative Procedure Act when implementing the transfer program. Under the act, a rule that applies to large groups needs to be developed with public notification and input and allow for legal recourse if the regulation is inappropriately used.

We are trying to get the CDCR to follow the law, not secret guidelines, so people like Raymond and his family can have some input in how these decisions are made, then look at them, and see who should or should not be transferred, says ACLU staff attorney Michael Risher. He says Raymonds family is one of many casualties of a broken state prison system that is on the brink of bursting at the seams.

Since rumblings of the transfers first hit the prisons, his office has been getting calls and letters from inmates and their families. It is an enormous hardship to suddenly be snatched away and sent miles away, he says. It is hurting California families wives, parents, and children.

Risher says the hope of the litigation is that the corrections department will amend the regulations to avoid having the court decide the case against them. In a written response submitted to the court, CDCR has denied any violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Changes to the prisoner transfer policy stem from Governor Schwarzeneggers efforts to address an exploding prison population.

In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger issued a proclamation declaring a Prison Overcrowding State of Emergency. The legislature approved a bill (AB 900) that authorized $7.7 billion to create up to 53,000 new infill, re-entry and medical beds at state prisons over the next 10 years and authorized the transfer of up to 8,000 inmates to out-of-state facilities. The move came at a time when Californias prison population peaked with more than 170,000 inmates housed in facilities designed for 100,000, and 29 of the states 33 prisons are above maximum safe capacity, according to the CDCR.

People like Raymond and his family have become the collateral damage of the states crisis intervention, which even changed the state laws to enable the transfers. Prior to the Proclamation of Prison Overcrowding, inmates had to volunteer to be transferred. That protection to inmates who wanted to stay in the state, known as Penal Code 11191, was temporarily put on hold until 2011. Since last May, the state has been systematically shedding inmates and sending them to states such as Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arizona.

Californias current budget stalemate has only put more pressure on expediting the transfer process. Mike Potter, district director for Assembly member Joe Cotos office, has met with Beatrice Patlan about her sons case. Coto was one of the few Assembly members who did not vote for AB 900.

The state budget pressure is one reason the CDCR is looking to hurry and ship 8,000 inmates out of state, Potter says. On the incarceration side this program may be cheaper, but in terms of the cost to the inmates, their rehabilitation, and their families, these transfers may have a negative impact.

When Beatrice Patlan heard from her son that he had been placed on a transfer list, she formulated her own plan of action. Finding no published criteria to challenge the transfer, she initiated her own Public Records Act, and received an internal memo from the CDCR regarding its transfer protocol.

The memo lists the following five steps: 1) inmates who have been previously deported by the federal government and are criminal aliens subject to deportation; 2) inmates who are being paroled outside California; 3) inmates who have limited or no family ties, based on a review of their visitation history; 4) inmates who have supportive family in another state; and 5) other inmates chosen and considered appropriate by CDCR.

Patlan argues that the protocol lists not criteria but an order of prioritization, under which Raymond should not be first in line to be relocated. Frustrated, she wrote letters to the CDRC, the Warden of the Soledad Prison, and Attorney General Jerry Brown. All have promised written responses, which she has yet to receive.

Beatrice Paltan has not received her regular call from Raymond either. He is currently in a holding facility and while awaiting his transfer, cannot call out until he is placed at his new destination. The last time Raymond called his mother, he was trying to cheer her up about the impending transfer to Arizona that would break up their regular family gatherings. He told her, Just think of it as one more stop before I come home.

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