Transcript: Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s Q&A with Attorney Donald Specter on the role of federal courts in California’s prison reform before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment on Oct. 21, 2013

Partial transcript of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s (D-San Diego) Q&A with Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office, on the role of federal courts in California prison reform. The hearing before the Assembly Select Committee on Justice Reinvestment was held on Oct. 21, 2013:

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego):
I’ve seen a lot of your work and I appreciate your advocacy. I think it’s very, very important and very necessary for the population that don’t often have as strong an advocate.

You mentioned a lot about the physical and mental health and those kinds of things. Do you also look at the abusive nature of prison itself? I mean, in terms of its impact. I mean, I hear a lot about the violence that occurs that people are injured. I know members in peoples’ families that have been – somehow or another that whatever we’ve created in this prison population can be very abusive, can be very harmful. Physical, sexual attacks – those kinds of things can obviously increase the amount of health care necessary.

I mean, I hear you talking about the illnesses and the mental conditions. But I’m wondering if we’ve not created also other kinds of conditions that increase the need for health care assistance.

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Yes, I think you have because I think prisons are in some sense a crime factory because there’s no rehabilitation going on or very little rehabilitation going on. It’s more dangerous than it needs to be. There are lockdowns, which last a long time, so prisoners spend months in their cell when they haven’t even done anything wrong. Yeah, it’s a traumatic environment, and if you go to other states and especially other countries, it doesn’t have to be that way and it can be a more normal environment where people are punished through their loss of liberty but the main purpose of the prison system is to re-integrate them into society; we don’t do that here.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego):
Yeah, one of the things that I found interesting in your comment and when you talked about the three things and one was that we don’t provide – we don’t basically take seriously our responsibility to provide basic health care for prisoners and I think maybe that emanates because we also don’t take very seriously our responsibility to provide basic health care for those who aren’t prisoners in California.

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Yeah, it’s a very good point.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego):
…I’m not sure if we take the responsibility seriously here at this level so oftentimes our empathy and our understanding of those who committed crimes is not as high obviously because we’re punishing them anyways so the responsibility of health care – the consciousness about health care may not be as high. But we don’t even have the same level of consciousness sometimes for those who aren’t prisoners.

Donald Specter, Attorney and Director of the Prison Law Office:
Yeah, no that’s very true.

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