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By D. Razor Babb

Mule Creek State Prison is an approximately 4,000-man institution located in the foothills of the Sierras, 50 miles east of Sacramento. E-yard is a level II programming facility. Most prisoners here have worked their way down from level III’s and IV’s, eluding the violence, drug, and gang culture, and are now engaged in college and rehab groups. There are a lot of elderly and handicapped prisoners here, and guys who have done 30, 40 years or more. It’s the perfect place for implementation of the new California Model, Governor Newsom’s planned redesign of the California prison system based on the Scandinavian model of treating prisoners like human beings. Known as the “California Way” the impetus is on rehabilitation and reentry rather than warehousing and holding strictly a punitive mindset. That’s the concept and ideal. A year into the process it remains largely conceptual, as far as many, if not most Mule Creek residents see and experience it. One E facility long-termer comments:

California model? They ought to call it California dreamin’. Ain’t nothin’ changed, ain’t nothin’ gonna change. We just numbers and dollar signs to them. All the talk about reducing the population, treating us like people, making noble citizens outta criminals, is all talk meant to pull in money and set Newsom up for 2028. He’ll be president someday, and good for him. We’ll still be stuck behind these walls working in PIA (Prison Industry Authority) at slave wages while they’re raking in the millions. The meat packing plant on C-yard grosses over a million a month. Sewing right here on E-yard has a Caltrans contract for cargo pants at $800,000. Do you think they’re spending any of that on inmates? If so, I ain’t seen none of it. They treat us like dirt and always have. Nothing’s different now. They write us up for any little thing and knock us down at the parole board. Check out the release dates, it’s all a scam. They’ll keep these beds filled, the factories running, and the canteen lines stacked selling at premium prices. They give us ‘free’ tablets and it’s all built around selling more; we’re nothing but laborers and consumers.

The CDCR’s Director of Adult Institutions Ron Broomfield supports the four pillars of the California model. He says, “One of the areas of the new model given high priority is ‘trauma-informed care,’ a commitment to change the policies and practices and culture of the entire department, educating staff at all levels to recognize the impacts of trauma and ensure the safety of all staff and prisoners.” Another of the four pillars is “dynamic security.” This means an approach to inmate-staff relations through purposeful activities and professional, positive, respectful communications. “Normalization” aims to bring prison life as close as possible to life outside. The more life inside resembles life in the community the easier it is to transition. “Peer support” seeks to train incarcerated individuals to use their experiences to provide recovery and rehab support to their peers.

Another facet of creating a more humane system is examining the psychological effects of working in the system. Correctional officers (COs) make up most of the workforce inside and are responsible for carrying out policies and procedures. They have the most interaction with prisoners. Research has only begun to examine how working in this environment impacts individuals. Studies reveal that officers suffer higher than normal rates of PTSD, depression, and suicides, significantly higher than other law enforcement staff in other agencies and even the military. Life expectancy for a CO is 59, that’s 16 years less than average.

Similar statistics about the effect of these conditions on prisoners aren’t readily available; however, testimonial evidence suggests that any upgrade in the way prisoners are treated would be an improvement. As far as the California Way is concerned, until the dark clouds of doubt that obscure the light of hope surrounding the new model pass, and the realities of the travails and cruelty of mass incarceration are abolished, California prisoners will continue to experience dehumanizing and debilitating conditions.

The longtime resident we spoke to says, “Anybody in here wanting to program and change knows it’s up to each of us. When a man decides to change, that’s when change comes. Treating folks more like human beings? Can they do it? Would it help? It sure wouldn’t hurt.”

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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