Inside Chuckawalla Valley State Prison

A look at prison overcrowding in one California State Prison

POSTED: 08:58 AM PDT May 22, 2013    UPDATED: 07:22 AM PDT May 22, 2013 
BLYTHE, Calif. -

Thousands of prisoners in California are being released early or sent back to county jails to deal with the state's prison overcrowding problem.  Riverside County is now dealing with jail overcrowding as it takes in many of those inmates from the state.
While the problems are mounting on the local level, the release of inmates may now be improving issues inside California's prisons.

The acting warden at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, in Blythe, Maurice Gonzalez believes things are headed in the right direction.  He showed us the improvements at Chuckawalla since the governor's re-alignment law went into effect.

The law was needed after a panel of three federal judges found conditions in California prisons amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment."

Gonzales says, "What's happened with re-alignment, anyone with less than three years to do, they're now absorbed by the county jail.  Those with non-violent offenses, they're being housed by the county jails."

Gonzalez says Chuckawalla used to have 3,600 inmates.  That number is down to about 2,600.  It's a big difference inside the dorms where most of the inmates live.

Prior to re-alignment, each dorm held 340 inmates, now they're down to about 195 in each dorm.  Inmates were sleeping in triple bunks, with the person on top just a couple of feet away from the ceiling.  Now, they're using double bunks.

Other improvements include health care, a main concern of the three-judge panel.

Inmates can see a dentist.  If they feel ill, they can usually see a doctor the same day.  If they need more serious care, they're taken to a local hospital and then back to the prison where there are recovery rooms.

Gonzales says, "We offer the best possible care to the inmate population.  Just recently we had some issues with the flu, so we quarantined that."

Most of the inmates at Chuckawalla have "dates," meaning they'll be released at some point.  That makes job training and education important programs for life after prison.

Some inmates are learning auto body repair and welding.  Other inmates are taking classes.

"There's that ray of light, that they can get out and become productive in society," Gonzales says.

Even with the state's re-alignment law, the prisons are still operating at nearly 150 percent of capacity.

Governor Jerry Brown is now appealing the latest ruling that would force him to further reduce the prison population.
He's taking his argument against that to the United States Supreme Court, hoping he won't have to release more inmates from California's prisons.