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Bid to Regain Family Visits Fails in California

by W. Wisely

On December 29, 2000, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district judge's order dismissing a lawsuit challenging prison regulations, which eliminated family visits for the majority of California prisoners. U.S. District Judge William Shubb had ruled that the hastily enacted regulations did not violate the ex post facto clause of the federal constitution.

In 1998, the Ninth Circuit found that the same regulation did not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against the use of cruel and unusual punishment, according to The Sacramento Bee. Both decisions were unpublished, and cannot be cited as authority in another case. The state department of corrections claimed the family visiting program presented security concerns, and should be reserved for prisoners who will be released soon.

Former Governor Ronald Reagan established the family visiting program for California prisoners in 1968 in part to reward good conduct and to reduce violence. In the latter regard, the program was successful beyond the wildest expectations of prisoncrats. In fact, when the politically powerful guards union and their puppet victims' rights groups set out to destroy the family visiting program in 1991, it proved to be an unusual experience.

Unusual because the guards union is used to getting what it wants with little or no resistance. When they targeted family visits, prison guards figured they had a slamdunk. After all, neither prisoners nor their families have highly efficient, wellfunded and politically powerful organizations capable of, say, ruining the career of a county district attorney who dares to prosecute their members for staging gladiator fights between enemy prison gangs.

Yet, the reaction to the campaign to end the family visiting program was immediate and forceful. Wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, loved ones, and friends of people in prison fought back at the legislative level. And they won, defeating bill after bill sponsored by the guards union.

Unable to take family visits the democratic way, the union employed a timehonored political maneuver. They simply changed prison rules in 1996, without public notice or hearing, claiming an emergency exception to the usual regulatory procedures, and eliminated family visits for some 98% of prisoners.

Judge Shubb noted that in two years, Richard Dangler, a probate attorney hired by one grassroots prison visiting advocacy group, failed to undertake discovery or to produce admissible evidence showing that the rule changes were, to a greater or lesser degree, intended for punishment.

Such evidence existed in the form of a letter written by former Governor Pete Wilson to former Assemblyperson Dean Andal candidly admitting that crime victims clamored for, and deserved their pound of flesh from convicted felons. A copy of that letter was obtained and submitted as an exhibit in a stillpending family visiting suit brought in pro se by a prisoner.

In an interview with the Bee, Stephen Green, assistant secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, the umbrella agency over the department of corrections, carefully denied that the purpose of the 1996 regulation change was punishment.

"Our concern has been all along that people who never will get out of prison are fathering children that could become a burden on social services."

One product of the Doris Tate Victims' Bureau, sponsored by the guards union, is a legacy of hatred toward all things Charles Manson, including the children Tex Watson fathered while in prison. Neither the selfdescribed victims' group or guards union responded to requests for comments.

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