Calif. inmates face transfers to out-of-state prisons

Pending transfer would be shelved if the Brown administration's request this week to a special three-judge federal court for a three-year extension is granted


By Lewis Griswold
The Fresno Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Thousands of California inmates face transfer to out-of-state prisons as the state struggles to reduce the prison population by year end to comply with a court order.

But the pending transfer would be shelved if the Brown administration's request this week to a special three-judge federal court for a three-year extension is granted.

Officials expect the court to rule by the end of the month.

But in the meantime, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is identifying prisoners who could be moved if the court rejects the extension request.

The proposal to put prisoners in out-of-state private prisons has sparked criticism. The Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, which filed the lawsuit, blasted the plan as "bad public policy."

Traveling out of state to visit a loved one in prison is not an option for Angelina Quiroz, 80, of Riverside, whose 42-year-old son is in Avenal State Prison.

"If they do move him, it's going to be a hardship on me," Quiroz said, noting that her son said he expects to be moved to Arizona. "I can't go to Arizona, it's too far. I don't know anybody (in Arizona)."

Quiroz, a retired house cleaner and in-home caregiver who lives on a Social Security check, said she visits her son in prison once every three months; her daughter in Earlimart drives her there.

She said her son told her that 200 prisoners from Avenal would be moved to out-of-state prisons.

But Lt. Michael Tuntakit at Avenal State Prison said no decision has been made on how many prisoners would be moved if the court doesn't extend the year-end deadline.

About 1,200 of the prison's approximately 4,300 inmates are being screened for potential transfer, Tuntakit said.

A total of about 5,500 inmates statewide would be moved to out-of-state prisons if the court rejects extending the deadline, said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas.

The transfers would begin in the first week of October, she said.

Under the court order, the state must reduce the overall prison population by about 8,000 inmates to 137.5% of capacity, down from 147.1% today.

The state has a contract with Corrections Corporation of America to use about 9,200 prison beds in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Arizona, and about 650 beds are currently unfilled, Simas said.

The state would have to reach new contracts for more prison beds, possibly in Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Oklahoma or Arizona, she said.

Rebekah Evenson, a lawyer for the Prison Law Office, said the state should release prisoners based on good behavior while behind bars, like other states, instead of exiling them.

"Sending people of out of state is bad public policy," she said. "It's expensive and unsustainable and separates prisoners from their communities."

Although all 120,000 prisoners in California adult prisons are being evaluated for transfer, most of the focus is on prisoners in medium-security institutions, officials said. No life sentence prisoners, gang members or former gang members would be eligible.

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