Stop the Merging of Sensitive Needs Yards and General Population in California Prisons
Unite the People is joining families of those incarcerated within California's state prison system and the Youth Justice Coalition in asking the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to STOP the integration of Sensitive Needs and General Population yards until a full assessment and plan includes input from people inside, families, and frontline CDCR staff.
What is the Coalition Requesting?
1. Immediately end the integration of Sensitive Needs Yards into the general population - (e.g. families are concerned that people in general population are being integrated with people from Sensitive Needs Yards in smaller numbers, including Norco State Prison where people have reported having 5 general population individuals with 25 SNY individuals);
2. Meet with families and people inside through the established advisory councils and self-help groups in order to solicit ideas for the full programming, access to medical and other resources, and possible plan for any future integration of people incarcerated within CDCR facilities;
3. Meet with advocacy and organizing groups who signed this letter – many of which are led by formerly incarcerated people and/or the families of incarcerated people, and others that work regularly inside the institutions – to further advise CDCR on these matters;
4. Meet with union membership to gather staff advice on these matters;
5. Develop a work group including representatives from people inside, formerly incarcerated people, family members and community organizations (among those who signed this letter) and task the work group to release a report on the best way forward to ensure programming, medical and mental health care, treatment, rehabilitation, safety and an environment free from racial and geographic hostilities, politics, violence and coercion for everyone.
Why is this important?
The merging of state prison yards in this way is dangerous, reckless and could lead to deaths, injuries and increased time on people's sentences.
We stand in solidarity with Californians across the state – family members who have loved ones inside the state’s prisons and fire camps, and people who are incarcerated within those facilities – who are panicking that the announced reintegration of Sensitive Needs Yards (SNYs) into CDCR's general population will increase violence, serious injuries and deaths throughout the system.
Already, a riot that broke out at Norco is suspected of being caused by reintegration. People who have been forced to debrief in order to leave secure housing units or access programming fear that they will be mistrusted and attacked in general population. People who have experienced or are at greater risk of sexual and physical assault fear that they will be victimized. People who are working hard to come home fear that they will catch new charges and/or disciplinary write-ups jeopardizing their release date. Everyone fears that this will increase prison politics and racial animosity – spreading violence across facilities and, ultimately, into communities.
While we agree with CDCR management that the goal of the system should be integration and peace-building, we also recognize that CDCR – and sheriff’s departments in the local jails – built a culture of racial and gang separation and segregation decades ago that has been maintained until the present day. This served to feed prison gangs and violence, while also creating a system of divide and conquer that pitted detainees at the county level and incarcerated people at the state level against each other, enabling CDCR control through disunity.
In 2011, people held in the SHU – Security Housing Unit – at Pelican Bay State Prison declared a hunger strike to protest the cruel and inhumane conditions inside. The hunger strike spread to more than 7,000 people locked up in California prisons. People from all “sides” - Blacks, Whites, Asians, Sureños and Norteños put all politics behind and came together to demand change. On October 10, 2012, the men in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay called for “an end to all hostilities” within our state’s prisons and jails. After doing so much time, the men in the Pelican Bay SHU realized that they were “being recycled over and over through the same dead-end system." They stated further that "For all of us, there must be a cut-off point – a time at which we stop participating in our own destruction.” CDCR could have supported the call to end all hostilities and worked with the hunger strikers to bring an eventual end to segregated housing and yards. Instead, CDCR denounced and undermined the effort to end all hostilities.
Now, incarcerated people and their family members are urging CDCR to stop exacerbating violence and allow for peace to flourish with a plan that is created with the input of all those involved. Our goal is peace and successful reintegration into society, and the only way to get there is if we work together.