Why Prisons Like Pelican Bay May Be a Necessary Evil
Vince Beiser's article on Pelican Bay State Prison ("A Necessary Evil?" Oct. 19) makes a good argument for allowing prisoners in the Security Housing Unit, or SHU, time to decompress in the general prison population before release. However, his general criticism of the prison system, and SHU in particular, is both ill-conceived and naive.
Prisons are a necessary evil. While many inmates avail themselves of rehabilitative programs and emerge from their incarceration better people, a large number are simply being warehoused behind bars before they commit their next crime.
When criminal recidivists are behind bars, they are not victimizing the public. The murder rate in California dropped just years after the inception of the three-strikes law. Other contributing factors aside, it cannot be disputed that if we incarcerate the relatively small percentage of people who commit violent crimes, the violent crime rate will drop precipitously.
Pelican Bay's SHU is a monster factory. California voters who are "not especially concerned" about the psychological disturbances this unit appears to create have been warned that their tax dollars may be financing their own potential victimization every time an unbalanced SHU inmate is released to the community. The community's interest would be better served if a significant portion of the thousands of dollars the Department of Corrections spends on isolating and containing each SHU inmate per year were dedicated to therapy and rehabilitation.
Beiser should bring a couple of these unfortunate SHU prisoners home for a nice weekend with his family, and then he would understand why there are such places and thank goodness there are. The old arguments are once again trotted out by shrinks and, of course, the ACLU. All of this hand-wringing about prisoners who have committed the most heinous crimes is entirely misplaced. The cost is money well spent.
If Beiser had dealt with ex-cons as I did in my 25-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department, he would have had a much different take on this matter and not listened to self-serving garbage from hardened convicts. During my career, two of my ex-partners and one friend were gunned down in Los Angeles by ex-cons.
Perhaps Beiser should have spent more time explaining why "select" inmates end up in the SHU. I'm a former state prison inmate and parolee who is now in graduate school. I spent time in the Tehachapi administrative segregation unit for protection because I was assaulted by an inmate. Inmates in the SHU are not to be coddled. I strongly feel that SHUs serve their purpose.
However, maybe we can reinvent "rehabilitation" within the Department of Corrections instead of chasing idealist positions on corrections in America. Perhaps state Sen. Gloria Romero and attorney Charles Carbone of the advocacy group California Prison Focus can gather public support for a mandatory psychosocial intervention program that will prepare these "select" inmates for their pending release and require post-release supervision transition services within the parole and community services division.
Luis S. Garcia