Past the barbed wire at Deuel Vocational Institution, prisoners in orange and blue wait in long lines for everything — and beds stand in rows in what once were gymnasiums, classrooms and corridors.
“It’s pretty obvious it’s crowded here,” said Mike Webster, 39, who’s been in DVI since late November. “But it’s prison. What do you expect”
A few of DVI’s more than 3,900 prisoners were recently given a chance to live in less crowded conditions if they qualified and were willing to go out of state, as part of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s plan to thin the ranks of California’s overcrowded prisons.
But his plan to move 5,000 prisoners to prisons in Arizona, Tennessee and Oklahoma offered DVI’s congested dorms very little relief. Only one DVI inmate qualified and volunteered to move, and only about 400 prisoners statewide transferred out of state.
To transfer, medium security prisoners must require little medical care, have at least 18 months left to serve on their sentence and have a good track record. It takes at least two months to process the papers before a prisoner is moved to another state, and a prisoner must serve the final six months of his or her sentence in California.
Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency Oct. 4, claiming the state’s 33 prisons were designed for roughly 100,000 inmates but now hold more than 174,000.
But two weeks ago Gail Ohanesian, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge, struck down his plan to move inmates out of state, whether voluntarily or by force, to end a lawsuit brought by prison guards who claimed the governor overstepped his authority.
But DVI and other prisons will continue to ask prisoners to transfer voluntarily, said Bill Sessa, spokesman for the Department of Correction and Rehabilitations.
The decision will automatically go to the federal district court for an appeal trial.
“We’re confident in our position and that we will prevail in the appeal court,” Sessa said. “We’ll continue to do the screening and to ask for volunteers so that if, in fact, we’re cleared to transport inmates, we haven’t lost any time.”
At DVI, that seems to matter little, since very few inmates there qualify to move to an out of state prison. Since 2003, when DVI’s reception center became the prison’s primary function, most of its inmates are parole violators serving short-term sentences, Deuel spokesman Lt. Ray Munos said.
Every prisoner at DVI filled out a questionnaire, and those who were eligible were told about the possibility of a transfer.
“We just told them the facts,” Munos said. “You can serve your time in conditions that aren’t as overcrowded.”
Mauricio Bortz, 24, of Santa Cruz, saw an out-of-state transfer as an opportunity to be near family in Oklahoma. He went to DVI seven months ago and has a year left to serve, but wants a break from DVI’s claustrophobic quarters.
“I thought, well, maybe this is my chance for a change,” said Bortz, who did not qualify because of his short-term sentence. “I was let down and a little bitter. I would’ve gladly taken another year if it meant I could get out of California. But I can’t argue with the state.”
Albert Jurado, 37, of Stockton, understands why few inmates were willing to leave the state, and, in most cases, leave their families. He is serving a four-year sentence and qualified to leave the state, but refused.
His three daughters, a toddler and two teenagers, visit him every weekend and share stories of high school formals, friends and school work. Even behind bars, Jurado said he feels he’s a part of their lives.
“I offer them advice, just like any other father,” he said. “For me being here, I’m trying to be the best father I can. If I was forced to leave, it’d be detrimental to our family.”
To contact reporter Danielle MacMurchy, call 830-4221 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.