The sheriff’s office recently proposed limiting all mail sent to inmates to postcards instead of the envelope-enclosed letters currently allowed. Sorting through the 200,000 letters a year is tedious, jail officials say. Some of the letters are soaked, spliced or stamped with drugs: PCP, acid, meth and other contraband. Some contain needles. Some hide gang communications. The idea of switching to simply postcards—outside of inmates’ communications with their attorneys—would save money and time. But families and friends of inmates, as well as community activists, argue that the change would constitute a civil rights violation and endanger the rehabilitation of those incarcerated.
Most people do not consider jail inmates to be an empathic interest group. But many in custody are innocent, as they have not yet been proven guilty, and as a matter of law and right they must be treated justly. That’s why the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections (DOC) was right in halting a new proposal to limit mail in county jails.
The last week of September was busy for Gov. Jerry Brown, as he signed and vetoed bill after bill. A bill that many justice advocates were watching was SB 9, called the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act and authored by San Francisco Senator Leland Yee. The bill carved out a narrow opportunity for certain adults who were convicted as juveniles—serving life sentences without the possibility of parole—to appeal for resentencing. The Governor signed the bill September 30.
County Supervisor George Shirakawa waded into the fight over who’s to blame for the rise in crime in San Jose Thursday afternoon, releasing a statement voicing his displeasure with comments San Jose Councilmember Sam Liccardo made to the media. In response, Liccardo shrugged before calling out Nora Campos for her letter to San Jose’s police chief. Go ahead and click through, because this gets good.
U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren led the effort to create the Department of Corrections when she was a county supervisor in 1988. The move took the jails away from a sheriff who didn’t manage his budget well and saved the county millions by replacing expensive sworn sheriff’s deputies with correctional officers. Two years ago, the County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to return to greater oversight by the office of Sheriff Laurie Smith. She’s better at managing a budget and the move eliminated redundant management overhead. An influx in inmates created greater security threats as well, requiring trained law enforcement officers. Unfortunately, the cost-saving measure—estimated at $5 million already by County Executive Jeff Smith—might not have been legal, according to a lawsuit filed by San Jose attorney James McManis. A “yes” vote on Measure A is the equivalent of approving something everyone already agreed is a good idea.
I have been working most of my adult life to reduce the number of kids locked up in jails. It has been an uphill battle in most communities, especially in the last decade when we have passed legislation allowing juveniles to be tried as adults. A new report is out by the reputable Annie E. Casey Foundation that supports my belief that juvenile hall is not rehabilitative and is ineffective in preventing future criminal behavior.