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Monterey County Grand Jury Report Blasts Two California Prisons

In its 2006 report on Monterey County?s two state prisons (Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP) and the Correctional Training Facility (CTF)), the Monterey County Grand Jury made 23 findings and 13 recommendations for SVSP plus 5 findings and 4 recommendations for CTF. In general, it found counterproductive conditions of overcrowding, lack of programs and poor ?vertical? staff communication. In addition, it found too many unfilled guard positions at SVSP, which it laid to unaffordable housing in the county. But this did not explain why neighboring CTF had almost full employment.

SVSP is a new style (?180 degree?) prison, designed in 1996 to hold 2,234 prisoners on its 300 acres. However, as of March 2006, it housed 4,267 Level 1 through Level IV prisoners in what were intended to be single-occupied prison cells, as well as in gymnasiums and day rooms.
SVSP has had twelve wardens in the past ten years (five since 2004), suffering a record of constant violence, ?Green Wall? Code of Silence incidents, lockdowns, and demoralization of both staff and prisoners.
SVSP has terminated all of its vocational programs, cut its Prison Industry Authority programs to one (a minimum security dairy), and reduced its educational staff from 60 to 6. The report notes, not surprisingly, that during protracted lockdowns from gang violence, rehabilitation stops and prisoners only learn how to be better at prison violence.

To deal with staff shortages and the resultant huge overtime burden, SVSP has put into place a one-year moratorium on guard transfers to other prisons. This has perhaps aggravated the already-broken-down ?vertical? communications between line staff and upper management. While medical care is under federal receivership, there is still an acute shortage of medical and mental health beds, for which proposals have been made to quadruple the latter. The report notes that ?the average prisoner?s physical age is 20 years higher than his chronological age, requiring additional medical care.?

Recommendations include ?continuing efforts to reduce overcrowding.? Of course, all of California?s state prisons are overcrowded, so there is little one prison?s management can realistically do. The jury recommends cost-of-living adjustments. But this writer finds a flaw in the analysis here. Neighboring CTF, the jury noted, has a very low job-vacancy rate, suggesting that housing costs are not the driving force in SVSP?s vacancy rate. To countermand the problem, the jury recommends increasing the minimum SVSP duty assignment (before transfer) to two years. (This is reminiscent of President Bush?s solution for maintaining unpopular Iraq troop levels.) One solution offered was to have the state build affordable housing on grounds for staff. Additionally, the report addressed non-custody staff retention problems by recommending salaries competitive with private industry in the region. Finally, the jury recommended reinstating all of the vocational and Prison Industry programs that had been cut, so as to foster some path for growth out of the debilitating gloom and doom of lockdown status.

The jury was more charitable in its review of adjoining 1950?s-era CTF. While finding CTF?s overcrowding worse than SVSP?s (7,038 prisoners vs. a design capacity of 3,325), the report noted a veritable wealth of vocational and educational programs as well as a large number of Prison Industry jobs. Unlike at SVSP, staff morale was high and guard job-vacancy was one-fourth that of SVSP. Prisoners are being used to construct short-term staff housing (studio and one-bedroom units) on grounds. Recommendations regarding CTF were to continue to follow its ?well-run? programs, add staff housing and reduce prisoner population. See: 2006 Monterey County Grand Jury Final Report (Section 13). The report is available on the PLN website.

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