David Beck-Brown - Writer - Jack's Back Out

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Jack's Back Out
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3-Strikes is a Trick
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Jessica's Law: One-strike Laws are Bad
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More Trouble for Our Prison System
Rebuilding the California Department of Corrections
New Prisons Chief Faces Tough Task
Can Our Prisons
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Tough on Crime?
Our Wallets Take the Beating
An Open Letter to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
An Argument for Funding California's Arts in Corrections Program
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David Beck-Brown

  Jack's Back Out

Jack's Back Out

By David Beck-Brown

A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) Newsletter
April, 2011

S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E! Prison Jack has popped out of his box. Tens of thousands of felons convicted of nonviolent crimes will soon be transferred from the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) into jurisdictions financed by local government. The decision to move inmates to County lock-ups was made by the State in anticipation of saving approximately $1.4 billion. This is a clear indication that the State’s prison budget has ballooned out of control. The annual cost of housing one State inmate is currently $49 - $50,000. Medical costs increase this figure since California inmates have free medical care covering bodily injury, organ transplants and treatment for cancer and AIDS. Shifting the monetary burden of housing inmates to local government is problematic in that Counties currently spend half that amount annually (approximately $25,000) to incarcerate one inmate.

Power without oversight is dangerous. In order for citizens to stop fearing prison reform, they must first be made aware of the current problems within the system. The public has been shielded from what occurs behind the razor wire through the restriction of media coverage. The truth is CDCR corruption can be attributed to several issues including secrecy, security, documentation, waste and mismanagement.

  • Secrecy: Hiding behind the badge of authority is a common practice. I recall attending a mandatory staff meeting once where the facilitator asked participants, “Are there any snitches present?” Obviously he didn’t want his message to leave the room.
  • Security: In prison cameras and recording devices are forbidden, even though employees are threatened and told, “We’re watching you.” Apparently officials view photographs as a weapon equivalent to the pen mightier than the sword.
  • Documentation: On that note, a picture is worth a thousand words. As the Arts-in-Corrections Facilitator I had clearance to use cameras in the photography component of my program. The cameras became part of the tool count. In 2003 when inmate programs were cut, I photo-documented the destruction of state material being piled into an empty warehouse on the grounds of the institution. Tools and equipment were boxed in large crates and sold at public auctions for pennies on the dollar. Brand new GED textbooks were tossed into dumpsters and discarded in public landfills. Consequently, inmates working to complete their GED were denied access to a State mandated program. A few educators were able to retrieve some of the materials in an effort to fulfill their professional duties.
  • Waste: Destroying State material is a criminal act. Instead of discarding the unwanted equipment, tools and text books, a logical alternative would have been to donate the items to other public agencies facing severe budget cuts such as the California Conservation Corp, Parks and Recreation facilities, libraries and local school districts.
  • Mismanagement: On the taxpayer’s dime, I was flown to the State Capital with dozens of State employees to attend a CDCR meeting lasting no longer than one half hour. Another time we were transported to Sacramento to attend a computer-training course. Apparently no one in management looked into the possibility that a similar class was offered locally.

Transferring prisoners to local government without consideration of a plan to address failed policies only compounds the problem of mass incarceration. Financially strapped Counties with limited resources must be offered a solution instead of having to listen to the broken record dwelling on the problem. After all, no one wants a prison built in their backyard.

Therefore, I have a solution. In the 1950’s my older brother Tommy, a typical teen, wanted attention when my parents were preoccupied with their professional lives. Living in the greater Los Angeles area, Tommy would hot-wire cars for a joy ride. I believe he perceived himself as a modern day Robin Hood. After driving the stolen car, he would return it with a full tank of gas and a freshly waxed spit shine. Eventually his luck ran out and he was caught. Rather than sentencing him to the clinker, the judge ordered him to serve time at an alternative facility my family referred to as The Pig Farm. This country farm was located in a distant town known as Ramona. I recall my parents driving the family station wagon from LA, through the old orange groves, past Disneyland and along 101’s two lane highway before winding up the mountain road to Ramona.

At The Pig Farm, my brother took care of livestock, tended crops, completed farm chores and worked with others under strict discipline. Several years later he enlisted in the Army and quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant before receiving an honorable discharge. After the successful rehabilitation of my brother, my father requested a transfer from LA and its historically deep-rooted gang culture to San Diego, a quieter place. One would have thought we had moved to a small Midwest town. My mother was amazed when drivers at 4-way stops would wave us on because at that time, there were no Hollywood stops in San Diego.

By today’s standards, my brother would have received a stiffer jail sentence and a strike or possibly two for auto theft since laws prior to the implementation of 3-Strikes were less rigid. I believe today’s inmates would prefer to work on a low cost, well-managed country farm than be housed up to three years within a concrete fortress, droning with jail-house white noise. San Diego County has the land and space to develop future Pig Farms that would allow individuals the chance to become contributing citizens for the well being of themselves and the community. Most important, this solution would save hard-earned taxpayer dollars.


Beck-Brown is a Community Ambassador for a New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing) and retired from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.