WILL PARRISH TAKES TWO-YEAR INFRACTION PLEA DEAL
by Tiffany Revelle
Willits bypass protester Will Parrish took a plea deal in Mendocino County Superior Court Thursday in the trespassing case against him stemming from his 11-day occupation of a Caltrans wick drain crane last summer to delay construction.
Parrish entered a "West" no-contest plea to two misdemeanor trespassing charges, and signed an agreement to put off sentencing for two years if he serves 100 hours of community service, stays away from the bypass project except in areas the public can congregate legally and doesn't interfere with any equipment needed for the Highway 101 bypass construction no matter where it's located, among other terms.
"This is not an admission of guilt," said Parrish's San Francisco defense attorney, Omar Figueroa, explaining the no-contest “West plea” pursuant to People vs. West. “If he had pleaded guilty, Caltrans could turn around and sue him in civil court. A guilty plea could be used to show liability, and it would just be a question of damages.”
Caltrans wanted nearly $500,000 in restitution costs, claiming Parrish's occupation of their crane delayed construction and cost law enforcement overtime. Figueroa says those matters aren't “properly the subject of a restitution order,” and that the parties will likely agree on an a restitution amount of less than $10,000 for the cost of raising two officers into the air to physically remove Parrish from the crane. Unless the prosecution and defense agree on an amount beforehand, the court will hold a restitution hearing in April.
In addition, Parrish had been facing a possible eight-year sentence before striking the plea deal with the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office.
Judge John Behnke said if Parrish meets the terms of the two-year agreement, the two misdemeanor trespassing charges will be reduced to infractions, “which is kind of where it started out, so we've kind of come full circle.”
Parrish occupied a Caltrans wick drain crane that was set to “turn the wetland into a desert,” according to Figueroa, between June 20 and July 1.
The Mendocino County District Attorney's Office initially charged Parrish with three infractions in the case, but changed the charges to 16 misdemeanors when Parrish opted to take his chances in court.
Figueroa said the three infractions were “wobblettes,” meaning the violations could be charged against Parrish as infractions or as misdemeanors.
“He demanded his right to a jury trial,” Figueroa said, meaning Parrish opted for the misdemeanor route because infractions typically go before a traffic commissioner, not a judge or a jury. Parrish took that option because the three infractions came with “open-ended restitution,” according to Figueroa.
“It could have been as high as $1 million, based on Caltrans' public statements regarding the amount,” Figueroa said, adding that they didn't anticipate that the District Attorney's Office would charge 13 additional misdemeanor counts.
The plea agreement also includes a provision that the DA's office won't file a charge that Parrish in September violated a court order to stay 100 yards away from Caltrans' bypass construction site along Highway 101 south of Willits.
“He couldn't cover the protest as a journalist,” Figueroa said.
Parrish has been vocal in his opposition to the multimillion dollar bypass project, citing numerous environmental concerns.
Figueroa said Parrish plans to continue to cover the bypass and other Caltrans projects, but that he will do so with the understanding that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and in a way that doesn't involve physically blocking construction.
Parrish's supporters filled the 49-person capacity courtroom Thursday morning and held a rally outside the courthouse at noon.
(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal.)
HEALDSBURG AND CLOVERDALE are the first two municipalities in Sonoma County to impose mandatory conservation measures. Both communities lie well north of the Sonoma County Water Agency's ability to supply them, and nearby Lake Sonoma, presently quite flush, does not supply domestic water to anyone until it reaches SoCo's collection center on the Russian River at Wohler Bridge near Guerneville.
CLOVERDALE residents must reduce water consumption by 25%. Its wells draw entirely from the Russian River which, as we see, is down to a trickle, and that trickle depends on releases from Lake Mendocino, which is nearly dry.
MOST OF SONOMA COUNTY is supplied by Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma via Dry Creek, which flows south from Lake Sonoma to Sonoma County's distribution center at Guerneville. Lake Sonoma is presently 67% full, and it's a much bigger lake than Lake Mendocino. But Sonoma County uses the water it owns stored at Lake Mendocino before it taps its own supply at Lake Sonoma, much of which derives from the vast Mendocino County watershed that runs west of Cloverdale into the hills of Yorkville. Sonoma County also sells inexpensive Lake Mendocino water to Marin County water agencies as far south as Sausalito.
THE STUBBORN RIDGE of high pressure lurking offshore and blocking California's winter rains, is four miles high and 2,000 miles long, a mass of high air pressure some meterologists have likened to an aerial mountain range similar in mass to the Sierras. The duration of the upper-level ridge of high pressure anchored off California's Northcoast since December 2012 - is unprecedented in modern weather records and puzzling researchers.
“It's like the Sierra - a mountain range just sitting off the West Coast -- only bigger,” said Bob Benjamin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Monterey, Calif told Sci-Today Tech.
“This ridge is sort of a mountain in the atmosphere. In most years, it comes and goes. This year it came and didn't go.'
The current high-pressure ridge is even stronger and more persistent than a similar ridge that parked over the Pacific Ocean during the 1976-77 drought, one of the worst in the 20th century.
This ridge has persisted for 13 months and the longer it lingers, the less likely it is to leave, climatologist Brian Fuchs, from the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska told Yahoo.
This high pressure ridge system is feeding on itself, “creating a sort of perfect environment for perpetuating the dry conditions” it creates, he explained.
Yesterday House Speaker John Boehner visited a dusty California field joining Central Valley Republicans to announce an emergency drought-relief bill to help farmers through what is certain to be a devastating year.
If passed, the bill that's already stirring controversy would temporarily halt restoration of the San Joaquin River designed to bring back the historic salmon flow, among other measures. Farmers want that water diverted to their crops.
Standing on the field just outside of Bakersfield, Boehner said that where he's from in Ohio, the logic applied in California regarding water policy would cause people to shake their heads.
“How you can favor fish over people is something people in my part of the world would never understand,” Boehner said. Without the emergency legislation, thousands of farmworkers will be unemployed, he said.
The bill is expected to be introduced in two weeks. It calls for allowing farmers to pump from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta as water permits and forms a House-Senate committee to tackle water troubles.
Boehner was joined by three Republican colleagues: Rep. Devin Nunes of Tulare, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield and Rep. David Valadao of Hanford.
The announcement followed Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration on Friday that California is suffering from a drought.
Valadao said Boehner's visit draws the nation's attention to California's dry weather. In turn, each lawmaker railed on Senate Democrats for failing to negotiate with them.
(Courtesy, the London Daily Mail.)
WHAT IS A HIGH PRESSURE RIDGE?
California is under the influence of a persistent upper-level ridge of high pressure anchored off its north coast that has kept the region generally warm, dry and clear.
Nearly four miles high and 2,000 miles long, is to blame for the emerging drought as the mass of high air pressure has been blocking Pacific winter storms from coming ashore and bringing much needed to bring rain to the parched West Coast.
The mass of high air pressure has been blocking Pacific winter storms from coming ashore in California, pushing them into Alaska and British Columbia - it is even responsible for rain and cold weather to the East Coast.
Similar high-pressure zones pop up all the time during most winters, but they usually break down, allowing rain to get through to California.
The duration of its presence - 13 months - is unprecedented in modern weather records and puzzling researchers - it has been named the “ridiculously resilient ridge.” (Sci-Tech Today)
THE SUPERVISORS have discussed raising Coyote Dam, which doubles as flood control along the Russian River, to hold more water in Lake Mendocino. But, as Supervisor Pinches has consistently pointed out, more water stored at Lake Mendocino means more water for Sonoma County to sell to its many downstream customers because however much water is stored at Lake Mendocino, Sonoma County owns most of it. (If you came in late, SoCo owns Lake Mendocino because they put up most of the money to build it back in the middle 1950s.) Raising the dam wouldn't benefit inland Mendocino County except, perhaps, as flood control if it ever rains big again.
A COMPTCHE READER REPORTS: “No one buying water that I am aware of, but we are not using much yet either. We had a wild land fire early in the week. The fire department responded about 5:30am. In the process of hauling water to the fire, water tenders spilled water on the road that then froze into black ice. Hard to believe.”
ANOTHER READER COMMENTS: “This would be a good time to be a well respected dowser/water witch (and yes, our area has them). If you can identify a water source for homeowners under conditions like this you know your stuff…"
A REPORT by the excellent Mike A'Dair for the equally excellent Willits Weekly of early January, contained the following: “[Willits City Manager Adrienne] Moore said that using water from Wente Lake, located about five miles east of Willits and which is also known as the Boy Scout Lake, is an option but she added, ‘It is not going to be quickly available to us.’ Moore said that City of Willits staff has estimated that it would cost $1.8 million to bring water down to Willits from Wente Lake. Third District Supervisor John Pinches pushed hard on the Wente Lake project between 2005 and 2010. His plan was to raise the dam at the lake, which would roughly triple the amount of water held in the reservoir. Pinches said raising the dam there would cost about $800,000 and he added that the water could be available to either Willits or the town of Redwood Valley. Pinches complained about the attitude of local government officials in our area. ‘The Boy Scouts were on board with doing it,’ Pinches said, ‘because a large reservoir there would mean more recreation facilities. But when I took it to both Redwood Valley and to Willits, they told me they didn’t need the water. What usually happens around here is, everyone gets excited about the lack of water and everyone says that something has to be done, and then it rains, and everyone forgets about it.’ Pinches said that the Wente Lake project is neither being actively pursued at the present time, nor has it been decisively rejected. He said that project designs for raising the dam do exist but added that no formal agreement has been reached with the Boy Scouts of America. When asked if there has been any interest in blowing the dust off of that old feasibility study, Pinches said, ‘Couple of people have asked about it, but not the interest you would think’.”
GOVERNOR BROWN'S state of the state message this week made it clear that if the drought continues, riparian rights could be mooted until the drought is over. People with rights to the state's creeks, rivers and lakes could be ordered to halt their draws on these depleted sources. The State Water Resources Board is evaluating California's water supplies with an eye to ordering water rights holders to cease their draws, with the newer draws being halted first on down through senior riparian access. Since most vineyard appropriators are relatively new, they would have their taps shut first. If they refused they would be liable to fines of $500 a day.
QUOTING from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, “Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry group, is convening a meeting with growers and water managers Feb. 4 to talk about the drought emergency, said president Karissa Kruse. She said there has been an increase in growers buying crop insurance and that the 2014 crop could produce less wine than in average years. The lack of rain combined with unseasonably balmy weather could cause an early bud break, she said. That could expose the vine at a delicate stage to greater risk of frost, which is harder to protect against when water is restricted.”
WE ASKED MALCOLM MACDONALD about the ancient rumor of a large water supply in the Caspar area of the Mendocino Coast. Malcolm responded, “Caspar Cattle Company is, more or less, the land north of Caspar Creek on the east side of Highway One. It includes what is known popularly as the ‘Duck Pond,’ visible from the highway. At one time, probably, into my lifetime, there were two very large water tanks just east and south of the Duck Pond. These supplied the then well populated town of Caspar as well as the mill. I'm not sure of the source of the water, possibly an underground spring or like early north Albion there may have been flumes bringing the water from the creek. The early (1850s-1870s) Macpherson mill at Noyo flats got its water, via a flume system, from the south side of the Noyo River — most likely from Waterfall Gulch, near where the current reservoirs for the City of Fort Bragg reside. Oscar Smith is the current owner of the Caspar Land Company (or certainly a huge chunk of it) — he's your Comptche Road resident — a descendant (nephew or grandnephew) of Jim Lilley who was a long time (decades) superintendent for the Caspar Mill Co. in the bygone days of Caspar.” How much water is potentially available for that parched stretch of the Coast isn't known.
I HAVE ALWAYS WANTED A SWIMMING POOL, and never had one. When it became generally known a year or so ago that California was suffering severe drought, many people in water-rich parts of the country seemed obscurely gratified, and made frequent reference to Californians having to brick up their swimming pools. In fact a swimming pool requires, once it has been filled and the filter has begun its process of cleaning and recirculating the water, virtually no water, but the symbolic content of swimming pools has always been interesting: a pool is misapprehended as a trapping of affluence, real or pretended, and of a kind of hedonistic attention to the body. Actually a pool is, for many of us in the West, a symbol not of affluence but of order, of control over the uncontrollable. A pool is water, made available and useful, and is, as such, infinitely soothing to the western eye. (— Joan Didion, The White Album, 1979)
KMUD'S KELLY LINCOLN turned in a useful report on the big water meeting in Willits this week of relevance to all of northern Mendo. (Scroll down to Evening News for January 21, 2014.)
BILL JEOPARDIZES FAIR TRIALS
Today California senators will vote on a bill that would reduce the number of peremptory challenges in misdemeanor criminal cases from 10 to five. While we are rarely on the same side, statewide organizations representing 8,500 prosecutors and defenders have united in opposing SB794 because it impairs everyone's right to a fair trial.
Peremptory challenges allow attorneys to remove a potential juror without stating a reason. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that peremptory challenges "are a means of eliminating extremes of partiality on both sides, thereby assuring the selection of a qualified and unbiased jury."
SB794 would affect the reliability of verdicts, because parties would be unable to remove jurors who do not want to serve and are unlikely to pay close attention to the evidence. Diversity would suffer because minority jurors would be less likely to be in a random selection of jurors.
SB794 would not shorten trials, as proponents claim. Instead, it would lengthen the jury selection process since attorneys would spend more time questioning potential jurors to determine if they should be removed for legal cause.
SB794 jeopardizes the right to an impartial jury - something too important to be diminished.
Jeff Adachi, Public Defender, San Francisco
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY: I hate to break this to you, but the younger generations are careening towards sociopathy and narcissism as a norm.
In a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health did a study (which they quickly buried) that the number of teenagers in the US with Narcissistic Personality disorder (NPD) is almost one in ten. For their parents, the rate is about one in fifteen, and for the generation before that, it is about one in twenty. NPD is not something that changes greatly once someone reaches adulthood.
I work with a lot of people who are in the twenties and thirties. While they probably aren’t going to instigate any “quasi-Nazi” movements, they definitely are completely unequipped to do anything about it, either. I’m not putting the blame on them completely, there were raised to be the least resourceful generation the world has ever known. Most of them are good little authoritarian followers, like they were taught, and they have no idea how to be anything else. The tattoos, I think, are an outlet for both their need for attention, and their inability to express themselves otherwise.
A WILLITS READER WRITES: “You are so wrong about Willits, as always! The level of civic and volunteer activity here is extraordinarily high. Drive down Commercial Street to see all the new facilities put in since I’ve been here – the skatepark, the new ball fields (which host not only kids’ games, but charity adult softball events and such), the Frontier Days arena, not new, but revamped bigtime last year, including Willy the cowboy getting a new suit of clothes, and working on replacing bleachers this year, Frontier Days is an all volunteer effort, the new college campus, Wowser, the new ‘maker’ studio coop (founded by volunteers and available to local young people to learn skills and make stuff) in the old Little Lake Industries building (which sat empty until this project, and has been redone (well major work, volunteers did a huge amount of work) by landlord Peter Koch who supports the project), beautiful City Park, beautiful Rec Grove, and that’s not to mention the Skunk Train Depot (yes, the fence is not aesthetic) but the trains are beautiful. And the relatively new Roots of Motive Power facility, with the train loop in front of it, which organization is about as cool and unique as it gets, again all volunteer. Free Santa Train rides every Christmas, and let’s talk about the Christmas Tree effort every year, which gives needy households new toys and clothes, not just one scraggly used teddy bear, via the great idea of putting up Christmas trees in local stores, adorned with tags listing toys and clothes that kids are wishing for, all delivered on Christmas eve by volunteer Santas, some on fire trucks from our local volunteer fire department. Such efforts supported by the big Toy Run and party, all volunteer effort. Then there’s free Brown Bag lunches in the City Park every Saturday: such effort shared by many different groups informal and not, and also includes Christmas day lunch with presents for kids – I guess that’s the kind of thing that Ms. Ross said in her letter ‘invites’ the homeless people.
AND HEY, JON CARROLL, we are so happy to have a version of Oco Time in Willits now, just opened, ‘It’s Time Sushi Express’ – Japanese noodle bar (so delicious it’s addicting) and sushi and rice bowls to go. The couple who own Oco Time are up here personally tending to the businesses for a while. It’s in the tiny spot across the alley from the Noyo Theatre (not bad to have a movie theatre in our small town, new local owners struggle but are committed to keeping it open and yes they run mainstream films but also others, too). And the museum, revitalized under Alison Glassey, but there’s no doubt that the word ‘revitalized’ is correct, with the revamped gift shop, a new crew of volunteers, many more events there, and of course the Kinetic Carnival – which is big for Willits, not only because of the bringing people in to spend money aspect, but also because it brings the Roots oldtimers together to do the project with the groovy people in an interesting way. Roots now has some young, new volunteers, too. And the new Elementary Charter school, the facility mostly put up with parent volunteers, there’s a new crop of young people raising kids here, a baby boom reflected in the unexpected increase in school enrollment this past fall. They are increasingly involved in civic matters and volunteerism I could really go on and on – the beautiful little theater, the Willits Center for the Arts, the Senior Center (considered by outsiders one of the most lively and vital centers anywhere), the very active old-fashioned service clubs, including the Soroptomists. Volunteers run youth soccer, little league, and more youth sports. Then there’s the work local contractors did as volunteers all summer to redo the sports facilities at the high school, including resodding the football field and many other improvements. And the Chamber of Commerce, which actively works to support ‘buy local’ with very popular festivals downtown a couple times a year (all volunteer effort, too). The highway? Well, the north end looks good to me, attractive retail and restaurants, and yes, things like planters and benches, and Christmas decorations, and flags being put out by the Boy Scouts on 11 different holidays, and a local designer helping downtown businesses with window decorations – his work has paid off as many businesses he’s not involved in did beautiful Christmas windows this year – do help the aesthetics of town. Yes, the ‘miracle mile’ is the miracle mile, no doubt it’s not aesthetic.”
MORE WATER PLEASE
Letter To The Editor.
The “2013 Reggae on the River Post Event Report” has now been released and was submitted to the Humboldt County Planning Commission via the Planning Department's Michael Richardson. In the post event report it highlights the ongoing unauthorized changes and unpermitted activities the Mateel knowing made before, during and after the 2013 event.
Even though the Mateel agreed to abide by the stipulations, mitigation and restrictions of their County Conditional Use Permit and Environmental Impact Report, they must have had their fingers crossed when they signed it. Its very apparent the Mateel Community Centers signed agreement with the County is not worth the paper it is written on, e.g. from pumping more water then authorized from a hydrologically connected onsite well from the South Fork Eel River (5 times more), to discharging waste water/grey water into an unpermitted onsite leach field (37,000 gallons), and allowed 993 more people than approved with the 4 day event ticket. If the Mateel is truly concerned about its impacts to the environment, they have a funny way of showing it. Maybe they should take EEL out of their name.
Why are they already asking to expand Reggae on the River for 2014, by wanting to use 700,000 gallons of water from the same hydrologically connected onsite well from the South Fork Eel River, grading even more of the River Bar for parking/camping in 2014, increasing attendance levels by 1000 people and pulling the bridge only after October 15, instead of just after the event? Are they planning another event after Reggae?
In this same post event report, the Mateel makes these statements from page 8 & 9::
"Reggae on the River is an historic event that brings a huge economic benefit to Humboldt County. The Mateel's goal is to minimize the impact of their event while still being able to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for their patrons As with many projects tied to our use of natural resources, there are concerns that must be balanced and mitigations that can be employed to minimize potential impacts. The Mateel continues to support various natural resource-based projects as demonstrated by their generous donation to the Eel River Recovery Project this year"
"While use of the water poses an insignificant impact to the river; it is creating a significant hardship on the Mateel in their proper management of the site for this event. it is unreasonable for the Planning Commission or CDFW to arbitrarily limit this historical use of groundwater without having any data to support their action. The Mateel is requesting relief from this restriction for one additional year with the stipulation that a monitoring station be set up to collect data on water flow and temperature. A study will be prepared and submitted to the CDFW for evaluation. If an impact is demonstrated, the Planning Commission can set a water allocation for future years"
"The Mateei is requesting that the Planning Commission modify Condition Number 6 to require the Mateel to fill their 94,000 gallons of storage prior to May 15th and to allow them pump an additional 700,000 gallons of water between May 1st and July 31st for the 2014 event. No additional water would be pumped after July 31st"
It would seem reading this Post Event Report, the only goal the Mateel has is to maximize their over reaching foot print that creates even more impacts to the River and Aquatic Resources, while at the same time trying to justify their actions as a huge economic scheme that benefits the County?
Reggae Off the River
Ed Voice, Redway
AMERICA’S INVISIBLE AND COSTLY HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS
The Grim & Unpleasant System of US Justice
by Ralph Nader
When the news broke years ago that U.S. forces were using torture on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, many politicians and the public expressed appropriate horror. There was shock and disappointment that our country would resort to such inhumane, abusive actions against our fellow human beings, most of whom then were innocent victims of bounty hunters in Afghanistan.
With this frame of reverence in mind, it is unfortunate that many Americans do not contemplate — or are simply unaware of — blatant torture occurring in prisons every day right here in the United States. This form of physical and psychological violence is called many things: “isolation”, “administrative segregation”, “control units”, “secure housing” and by its most well-known designation, solitary confinement. This practice of imprisonment is widely used across our nation with disturbingly little oversight and restriction. The full extent of the use of solitary confinement is truly alarming — it is most certainly a human rights abuse and a blight on our national character.
Imagine yourself being locked in a small windowless room for days, weeks, or years… perhaps even for the majority of your life. You receive food and water through a small slot and have little-to-no human contact — you might go days or weeks without speaking to another person. You are allowed out for perhaps an hour a day for some exercise. This is the living reality for tens of thousands of Americans in our prison system. Self-mutilation and suicide attempts among those in solitary confinement are far too common. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that the majority of prison suicides are inmates who were being held in solitary.
Many more studies have shown that solitary confinement has a severe psychologically damaging effect on human beings. For prisoners already suffering from mental illness, it exacerbates their problems. Senator John McCain wrote of his experience in solitary confinement as a P.O.W. in Vietnam: “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.”
Many might dismiss and even justify punishment by solitary confinement by convincing themselves that those subjected to it are “bad people.” But this is a gross misunderstanding of its common use in our prisons. Many prisoners held in solitary are mentally ill, mentally handicapped, or illiterate. Some are placed in solitary purportedly for their “safety” to protect them from themselves or from other prisoners.
Some put in solitary are children as young as 14 or 15. What type of prison infraction would result in a 15 year old being locked up in solitary? — “15 days for not making the bed; 15 days for not keeping the cell door open; 20 or 25 days for being in someone else’s cell” are some, according to a report on the issue by Human Rights Watch.
Journalist James Ridgeway calls the use of solitary confinement “a second sentence.” The first sentence is, of course, being sent to prison. The second sentence is totally decided by the warden and guards without appealable criteria. As such, the act of disobeying instructions or vaguely interpreted prison rules or the whim of the warden can warrant a lengthy stay in solitary. The lack of accountability in this area is notorious and critical. For many prisoners, a stay in solitary is a death sentence.
Ridgeway, along with Jean Cassella, founded Solitary Watch (solitarywatch.com) in 2009. Their goal is to bring attention to what really goes on in America’s prisons, which are subjected to so little public exposure of their daily operations.
The United States is the world leader in locking people up. There are currently about 2.3 million imprisoned people in the United States. About 25 percent of them are there for nonviolent drug offenses, victims of the insatiable “prison-industrial complex” which costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year. Of these millions of inmates, it is estimated that as many as 80,000 are being held in solitary confinement according to Solitary Watch. Prisons are not required to provide data on how and when they use this highly questionable method of incarceration. Over 40 prisons are considered “supermax” facilities where the majority of cells are solitary units. These prisons alone account for about 30,000 people.
For-profit corporate-owned prisons like solitary confinement because it extends a prisoners’ sentence. It is also far more expensive to keep prisoners in solitary confinement — one study estimates that the average cost of housing an inmate in a supermax prison is $75,000, as opposed to $25,000 per cell in a regular state prison. This cost is passed along to taxpayers.
Imagine how things might change if more ordinary Americans had access to inspect the prisons their tax dollars pay for. A precedent for this exists. In Great Britain, “Independent Monitoring Boards” offer a unique civic perspective on regulating what happens inside prison walls. Ordinary citizens are able to volunteer to be these independent monitors. Volunteers are allowed unannounced access to prison facilities anytime, day or night. The volunteers are free to tour the prison, speak with the inmates, sample the food, and inspect the clothing and the state of medical care.
Such an idea of citizen responsibility might seem highly unusual to most Americans to whom prisons are largely out of sight and out of mind. The first step in addressing this crisis of abuse is raising awareness.
Reporters are rarely given full access to prisons so they can report on what is going on inside. Let the press in! The best source of information about the state of our prisons is the prisoners themselves — but press access to them is restricted and the Department of Justice is not listening to their appeals. With this barrier in place, prisons are virtually shut off from any accountability or independent oversight. Wardens and guards are the only ones making decisions about the treatment of many prisoners.
And where are the judges? All judges — federal, state, and local should have firsthand knowledge of the conditions in prisons so that they can make better informed decisions when sentencing those who come before them.
Here’s a bold suggestion that might move the needle. All nine members of the United States Supreme Court should spend 48 hours in solitary confinement. Imagine how quickly the treatment of our incarcerated population would change if those at forefront of our judicial system had a small taste of what it is like to be locked in a tiny cell, alone, with no human contact for such an amount of time. Just 48 hours! There is precedent for some state judges actually spending time in prison years ago.
Some prisoners, such as Herman Wallace, have spent the majority of their lives suffering under these conditions. Wallace spent 41 years in solitary confinement while maintaining his innocence. The warden of the Louisiana prison where he was held ascribed his “Black Pantherism” as the reason. Wallace was released in October of last year and died three days later at the age of 71. These acts of astonishing cruelty should not happen in a country governed by the rule of law.
Too many people overlook the plight of prisoners, deeming them criminals and not concerning themselves with the plights of people they feel have no place or say in our society. There is little recognition of wrongful convictions and the role of rehabilitation that has worked in other western countries with far less recidivist rates then in the U.S. This mindset is a major obstacle in drawing attention to the inhumane treatment inmates often receive in our justice system.
The legendary investigator Jim Ridgeway says of the Solitary Watch project: “We’re not trying to let criminals out. We’re just trying to let people know what is going on.”
For those who want to do something now, consider donating to Solitary Watch’s campaign “Lifeline to Solitary.” This lean and efficient campaign means to establish contact with prisoners held in long-term solitary. This connection serves two purposes — it allows Solitary Watch to correspond with prisoners and report on their conditions. Secondly, it provides those in isolation a key connection to the outside world and a reminder that they do matter.
Prisons are a grim and unpleasant part of our system of justice. That said, we can do much, much better about how to humanely treat people who are serving their time often under grotesquely long sentences for non-violent crimes.
(Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.)
BONES ROADHOUSE VALENTINES DAY DINNER & DANCE PARTY. Fiesta Para Feliz Dia De Los Enamorados Friday, February 14, 2014. Delicious Food & Drink All Day Dance Party & Music Starting At 7pm Celebrate Valentines Day in fine style at the South Coast's favorite restaurant, bar & place to hang out, enjoy life and friends and dance. Dance to a spicy mix of Blues, Jazz, Funk, New Orleans, Reggae, Cumbia, Salsa, Rock and music from the 40s to today, and more, expertly mixed by DJ Sister Yasmin. (Donation: $3). All ages before 10pm; 21 and over after 10pm. Enjoy Bone's regular Dinner Menu until 9:30pm. Valentines Day Special — Angus Select Rib-Eye Dinner, plus drink specials, complimentary Roses and FUN! Reservations accepted for parties of 4 or more at 884-1188. Bones Roadhouse, 39080 South Highway One, Gualala, CA Information: 707-884-1188; 884-4703.
FUNNY EARL WEAVER INTERVIEW