Transcript: Californians United for a Responsible Budget’s public comments opposing the confirmation of Jeffrey Beard as CDCR Secretary – June 19, 2013

Partial transcript of public comments by representatives of Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) opposing the confirmation of Jeffrey Beard as Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at a hearing before the California Senate Rules Committee on June 19, 2013:

Good afternoon. My name is Emily Harris, and I am the statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget, which is a statewide coalition of organizations and advocates and family members and people who are in prison focusing on reducing the amount of money we spend on corrections in the state with an emphasis on reducing the number of people that we lock up in California.

…We have some strong concerns about Dr. Beard’s track record on prison expansion and addressing overcrowding in Pennsylvania and believe that they’re cause for concern here in California given the Supreme Court order.

During his tenure as head of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Secretary Beard oversaw a dramatic increase in Pennsylvania’s prison population and the opening of two new state prisons in Pennsylvania at that time. The population increased from 38,000 in 2001 to more than 51,000 by the time he left his position in 2010. This is a dramatic spike over nine years and a large concern given that we’re focusing on population reduction here in California and that we have not met the Supreme Court order and currently are still around 150% of design capacity and need to significantly reduce the population further.

We also have strong concerns about Dr. Beard’s sudden U-turn on questions of what needs to be done about ongoing inhumane conditions in California prisons. Based on the work of our member organizations, we’ve seen since the appointment in December that two prisoners have died due to lack of access to medical care and that Central Valley women’s prisons that have been significantly overcrowded after the conversion of the Valley State Prison.

Hundreds of prisoners have been hospitalized due to an outbreak of Valley Fever virus in Avernal and Pleasant Valley state prisons, and to date, 18 prisoners have died due to Valley Fever.

And CDCR has stalled in transferring prisoners – has been pushing back both on the courts due to the overcrowding case as well as for Valley Fever. This is a continued dragging of the feet of CDCR and believe that the conditions of torture for people who have remained in state prisons is a great concern to both this committee and to the Secretary.

We know that thousands of prisoners are planning to starve themselves in coming weeks due to the terrible conditions at the segregation housing units and know that there’s been a lot of concerns around how Dr. Beard approached segregated housing in Pennsylvania that some of my colleagues will speak to.

And of the other main concerns that I wanted to bring up that was in 2008 the Pennsylvania system reached 117% of design capacity, which is a spike in the population there because there was a three-month parole moratorium put on by the governor. And advocates in Pennsylvania that we’ve worked closely have hoped that Dr. Beard would have pushed for more sentencing reforms and other alternatives instead of asking the legislature for more money to build new prisons, and we hope that that’s not going to be a trend that’s going to continue here in California, that would be building more prisons as opposed to looking at real solutions to bring home sick and elderly and other rapidly aging prisoners.

Thank you.

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Member of CURB:

…We are here in opposition and with some statement and questions about Secretary Beard’s history in Pennsylvania and his views that will affect his term, if confirmed, as Secretary of Corrections in California.

We have a number of concerns about Dr. Beard’s records in Pennsylvania. I’m going to mostly speak about the segregated housing units and long-term segregated housing units also called isolation.

…We’re concerned about the long-term segregation housing units, the excessive use of isolation for decades at a time. There’s extensive evidence and we’ve talked about a few times mental health has been brought up in this hearing. Long-term self confinement has devastating consequences on psychological health. It increases in paranoia, hallucinations, suicide, and have been shown many times.

…We’re anticipating another hunger strike coming very soon. We’re very concerned about the health and keeping people alive.

…In Pennsylvania, there was an investigation by the Department of Justice into the long-term segregation units that Dr. Beard oversaw.

It’s been dire enough in California to provoke two hunger strikes in 2011, and again, we’re anticipating there will be another one.

We have questions about Dr. Beard’s his philosophy on California’s use of segregated housing units is as well as what his response might be if and when this hunger strike occurs…

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Member of CURB:

…In 2011, over 12,000 prisoners and their families and community members participated in a state-wide hunger strike protesting the horrible conditions in these security housing units in CDCR.

CDCR promised meaningful reform but didn’t deliver. And so prisoners have announced that another hunger strike will begin on July 8th because of CDCR’s failure to fulfill that promise.

Whomever is confirmed as CDCR’s Secretary has an opportunity to avoid the hunger strike and begin to undo the indescribable harm that the prison system has caused.

The prisoners themselves are clear that this can be avoided through good faith and accountable negotiations and their demands are reasonable and rational. Now, it’s on the CDCR to follow through on its promises.

We are also concerned about Jeffrey Beard’s actual record. At a time when state prison populations were declining all over the country over the last few years, Mr. Beard presided over a system that increased its prison population from 38,000 to 51,000 in 2010. There’s some indication that Realignment as a population reduction strategy has been exhausted and prison overcrowding is back on the rise in many facilities. So California, we believe, must explore community-based alternatives to incarceration and not go down the road of further jail and prison construction, and we hope that Mr. Beard would take that into consideration.

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