PALMDALE – On Oct. 1, thousands of female prisoners who have children and have been convicted of non-sexual, non-serious crimes could be released to the general public to help relieve overcrowding. And male inmates are sure to follow, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Those on early release will serve their remaining time at home.
The state of California was given two years to reduce the number of prisoners by over 20 percent. According to the state website, 29 of the 33 CDCR prisons are filled beyond the maximum operational capacity whereas inmates are currently being housed in areas of institutions that were never designed for that purpose. Prisoners are sleeping in gymnasiums, dayrooms, and program rooms.
The California State Prison Los Angeles County, located in Lancaster, currently houses 588 more inmates than designed.
Brenda Cash, the facility’s warden, says the public has nothing to fear.
“There is no major cause for alarm,” she said during her Q&A session at the Antelope Valley Black Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Palmdale Monday. “I encourage the community to speak to local leaders to address their concerns [about the early release].”
She added that low-level offenders would also be moved to county jails.
Originally from San Bernardino, Cash became the first African American female warden in the county in March last year, after more than two decades with the Department of Corrections.
Like many successful corporate executives, she also climbed the ladder to the top, but claims to not have had any challenges because of her race.
“I don’t encounter anything different than any other warden. It’s just time consuming and a lot of work. I’ve been able to demonstrate that I have the capacity to get the job done and I thank the trailblazers before me,” she said.
With the current prison system issues, including overcrowding, Cash says she’s been around long enough to recognize the need to improve security measures in the institutions.
As far as the disproportionate number of Black and Latino inmates, she passed the topic, saying, “I cannot speak on that issue because I do not have sound statistics on that. I cannot validate that [Blacks and Latinos] are the highest in the California prison system.”
According to the CDCR, in 2009, 39.3 percent of the total institution population was Latino, 29 percent was Black, and 25.6 percent was White, compared to California’s total population in which Latinos make up about 38 percent, Blacks 6 percent, and Whites 20 percent.
Prison reform, she said, is a major priority of the institution, despite the budget disparities of the state. Due to major cuts, many education and vocational programs have also been eliminated.
“[Reform] is the department’s mission and at this point with economic woes of California, a lot of rehabilitation has not been able to occur,” she said. However, volunteers frequent the facility for religious services, counseling and to prepare inmates for return to the general population.
She also assured that other rehabilitation programs and volunteers will help buffer inmates as they transition early. Visit www.cdcr.ca.gov for more information.