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CA Families Fight to Maintain Bonds

Hundreds of family members, loved ones, friends, and advocates  converged  on  the California Department  of  Corrections headquarters April 27, 1995, to express their support for family ties and opposition to a proposed administrative regulation which would eliminate family visits for a large segment of the prison population.   Speakers,  including  volunteers  from  Pro Family Advocates,  Family Net, Concerned Citizens for Prisoners, Friends Committee on Legislation, and the Prison Law Office, were limited to five minutes each.   The public hearing ran from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., when prisoncrats shut the doors, turning away dozens of citizens, some of whom traveled over seven hundred miles, to voice their right to speak.

A rally was held directly in front of the hearing room from 12:00 noon until  2:00 p.m.  Michael Satris,  an attorney,  and founding member of the San Quentin, California based Prison Law Office, was a featured speaker at the rally.   Mr. Satris spent the morning in Marin County Superior Court moving for a prospective Temporary Restraining Order which would prohibit state prison officials from enforcing restrictions on family visiting if the administrative regulation is approved.   Sources inside the CDC admit tens of thousands of tax dollars were spent to print over two hundred thousand copies of the rule before the hearing took place.

Tremendous statewide grass-roots organizing drew an unprecedented crowd to the hearing and rally.  Most family members wore white tee-shirts,  black skirts or pants,  and a blue scarf or jacket  to  signify  their unity and support  for loved ones in prison.   The fund raising efforts of groups like Family Net enabled many family members to travel from southern California to Sacramento for the event, although the few hundred dollars these groups raised pale in comparison to the $40 million the prison guards' union rakes in each year in dues to be used to influence lawmakers.

In December of 1994, Mr. Satris obtained injunctive relief preventing the restriction of family visits for prisoners convicted of certain sex offenses.   The restrictions were included in a budget trailer bill at the last moment without public debate or notice.  The court declared that the restrictions singled out sex offenders, creating a suspect class in violation of state and federal constitution guarantees of equal protection under the laws.  The proposed administrative regulation change, which would be included in California's Code of regulations, simply expands that suspect class.  There is no rational relationship between the classifications of prisoners listed in the proposed rule and the elimination of the privilege of family visits.

This is only one of several measures the guards' union, and the two so-called victims' rights groups they sponsor, are taking to restrict or abolish family visiting.   California Senate Bill 470,  which,  among other things, would have eliminated all family visits,  was defeated April 18, 1995,  in the California Senate Criminal Justice Committee following the testimony of Family Net volunteers.   Assembly Bill 411, identical to the administrative regulation  just proposed,  was made a  Atwo year bill  by the Assembly Public Safety Committee also on April 18, 1995.   This bill may be brought up again at any time within the next two years.

The  CDC  has  issued  regulatory  notices  stating that  the proposed family visiting restrictions will begin May 30,  1995. California prisons are not issuing family visiting dates beyond April 28th, anticipating an overhaul of the family visiting system.   For many men and women who have life tops in the state's prison system, family visits are the only opportunity they have for bonding with spouses and children.  AThese people have nothing else to work for.   They don't earn time off.  California isn't granting paroles.   This is it.   And, the real tragedy is the family members, including small children, that will be harmed if they take these visits, said Ann Sullivan, a Family Net founding member who is married to a lifer. [Editor's Note: as we go to press, a temporary restraining order has been issued preventing the family visiting restriction from taking effect.  We will report more details in the Sept. 1995 issue.]

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