"Ugly beds" stacked in gyms, tiny cages for suicidal prisoners—the photos that helped convince Supreme Court justices to downsize California's overcrowded lockups.
Dave GilsonJul. 25, 2011 5:07 PM
On May 23, 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled that conditions in California's prisons violated the constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" and affirmed a lower court's order that the state drastically reduce its inmate population.
Writing on behalf of the court's five-vote majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that this unprecedented measure had become the only way to remedy the "serious" and "uncorrected" constitutional violations against inmates in the state's correctional facilities, particularly the sick and mentally ill. "For years the medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners’ basic health needs. Needless suffering and death have been the well-documented result," he wrote. "Short term gains in the provision of care have been eroded by the long-term effects of severe and pervasive overcrowding." His decision included vivid examples of the problem, from open dorms so packed they can't be effectively monitored, to suicidal inmates "held for prolonged periods in telephone-booth sized cages without toilets."
More than 162,000 inmates currently reside in California's prison system. For years, many facilities have held nearly twice the number of prisoners they were built for. As James Sterngold wrote in an article about the overcrowded system for Mother Jones in 2008:
More than 16,000 prisoners sleep on what are known as "ugly beds"—extra bunks stuffed into cells, gyms, day rooms, and hallways. [Governor Arnold] Schwarzenegger has referred to the system as a "powder keg"; in October 2006, he declared a state of emergency, citing the effects of overcrowding—electrical blackouts, sewage spills, dozens of riots, and more than 1,600 attacks on prison guards in the previous year. Last year, a nonpartisan state oversight agency declared the prison system to be "in a tailspin that threatens public safety and raises the risk of fiscal disaster."
The photographs below provide a glimpse of those extreme conditions: the E-beds (emergency beds) stacked in gyms and dayrooms, the tiny holding cells for mentally ill inmates. All of these photos, some of which were taken by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, were entered as evidence in the California prison case. Three of them (No. 2, No. 3, and the second to last), were appended to the Supreme Court's majority opinion, suggesting that they had played a role in convincing Kennedy and four other justices to endorse the plan to downsize the state's prisoner population.
Mule Creek State Prison, July 2006. Mule Creek currently holds more than 3,500 inmates and is 108 percent over capacity. Writing for the majority in Brown v. Plata, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, "The State's prisons had operated at around 200% of design capacity for at least 11 years. Prisoners are crammed into spaces neither designed nor intended to house inmates. As many as 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium, monitored by as few as two or three correctional officers…As many as 54 prisoners may share a single toilet."
Holding cells for prisoners awaiting a "mental-health crisis bed," Salinas Valley State Prison, July 2008. Writing for the majority in Brown v. Plata, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, "Because of a shortage of treatment beds, suicidal inmates may be held for prolonged periods in telephone-booth sized cages without toilets…A psychiatric expert reported observing an inmate who had been held in such a cage for nearly 24 hours, standing in a pool of his own urine, unresponsive and nearly catatonic. Prison officials explained they had 'no place to put him.'" This photograph was appended to his decision.
Inmates inside "group cages" in the Administrative Segregation Unit of Mule Creek State Prison, August 2008. In his opinion in Brown v. Plata, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy observed, "Inmates awaiting care may be held for months in administrative segregation, where they endure harsh and isolated conditions and receive only limited mental health services. Wait times for mental health care range as high as 12 months."
California Institution for Men, August 2006. It currently holds nearly 5,600 inmates and is 97.5 percent over capacity. Writing for the majority in Brown v. Plata, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy observed, "Cramped conditions promote unrest and violence, making it difficult for prison officials to monitor and control the prison population…After one prisoner was assaulted in a crowded gymnasium, prison staff did not even learn of the injury until the prisoner had been dead for several hours."
Prisoners living in a gym converted into a dorm at Mule Creek State Prison, August 2008. The words on the left wall read, "No Warning Shot Is Required." This photograph was appended to the majority decision in Brown v. Plata.
California Institution for Men, August 2006. It currently holds nearly 5,600 inmates and is 97.5 percent over capacity. Writing for the majority in Brown v. Plata, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy observed, "Numerous experts testified that crowding is the primary cause of the constitutional violations. The former warden of San Quentin and former acting secretary of the California prisons concluded that crowding 'makes it "virtually impossible for the organization to develop, much less implement, a plan to provide prisoners with adequate care."'"
It's like the Capitol Hill version of the circle of life: As a new Congress is seated, incoming members hire lobbyists to work in their offices, while outgoing members consider their next career move—which often means becoming a lobbyist.
This pattern has played out for years, but as a recent report from the Center For Responsive Politcs details, the revolving door between K Street and the Hill is spinning faster than ever. In the 2009-2010 session of Congress, 60 former lobbyists were hired to fill key staff positions; in the current session, more than twice the number ex-lobbyists have been hired.
Data compliled by Remapping Debate shows that 1 in 7 current congressional chiefs of staff are former lobbyists. Meanwhile, nearly a third of members of Congress who left office earlier this year have joined lobbying firms. So far, they're underperforming: Since 1998, nearly 80 percent of former members of Congress have done some work as lobbyists.
The military has used music to project pomp and boost morale since the American Revolution. Yet with American soldiers scattered across the globe, the days of marching bands following the troops into battle are all but over. As one of the authors of a new Army band field manual told the New York Times, "If it can't fit into two Blackhawks, it's not going to happen." That means deploying some of the 4,600 members of the more than 100 Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard bands to perform in "popular music elements" or "music support teams"—what civilians know as rock bands.
There are no fewer than two dozen official Army rock bands, with names like Show of Force, Gunpowder and Lead, Down Range, Night Fire, the Loose Cannons, Controlled Detonation, Sandstorm, 5-Star, and Burned Aftermath. They mostly play in uniform, performing covers of everything from classic rock to hip-hop. (They occasionally get to hang out with real rock stars like Gene Simmons.) In addition to entertaining the troops, the bands are also sent on recruitment tours: The Pentagon has clearly realized that teens would rather listen to Cee-Lo than Sousa.
Below, 10 videos of Army combat rock bands (and a couple of Marine and Navy ones) in action:
skArmy: What, Shock and Ska was already taken? Actually, the 300th Army Band's resident ska group plays a pretty catchy version of A-Ha's "Take On Me."
Marine Band San Diego: Members of this formal marching band lighten up to rehearse Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Arctic Groove Orchestra: Based in Alaska, the rock band of the 9th Army Band wants you to know it "does NOT play the national anthem." It does play OK Go covers, however:
Four Horsemen of the Arockalypse: A metal outfit attached to the Task Force Marine Band that has entertained soldiers in Iraq. Warning: May burst your eardrums.
The Woodchucks: The curiously named rock band of the 399th Army Band is not afraid of more cowbell.
The Electric Brigade: The Navy's "premier Pop Music Ensemble" entertains US Naval Academy officers with a faithful rendition of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
The Volunteers: Drawn from the prestigious United States Army Field Band, the Vounteers are considered the service's "premier touring pop/rock band." Here, they kick off a promo clip from their Iraq tour with Ozzy Osborne's "Crazy Train."
High Altitude: This clip of the 4th Infantry Division Band's rock ensemble playing "I Will Survive" at a mall in Bahrain is a bit shaky, but is worth watching just for the enthusiastic fans. All two of them.
Recoil:In this clip, the 77th Army Band's in-house rockers do a cover of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."
Tuff Boxx and the Baghdad Horns:And to close things out, check out the guitarist from this Iraq-based ensemble of the 56th Army Band as he shreds the solo from "Freebird."
Click here for more Music Monday features from Mother Jones.
Advice on how to ensure "voluntary compliance" from your kids—no tear gas involved.
Dave GilsonJun. 17, 2011 6:00 AM
Some of the best parenting advice I've ever gotten was from a website for prison guards. While researching a story on prison riots, I was browsing CorrectionsOne, a site for corrections professionals whose typical stories have titles like "Mass. man escapes jail wearing only boxer shorts" and "Alternative Uses for Batons" (sorry, that one's for sworn correctional officers only). There, amid the Taser ads and tales of prison gangs, I came across an article that changed the way I think about being a dad.
The article, "7 things never to say to anyone, and why", listed common statements used by prison guards and police officers and explained why they make people do the exact opposite of what they're being told to do. The seven things were:
These stories are part of our package on how corporations are shoving more work onto each employee, helping to goose profits by 22 percent. Read the essay and look at 12 charts that will make your blood boil. Do you have your own workplace speedup story to tell? Share it in the comments.
Sylvia: Warehouse loader, California
It's a big old warehouse out in the desert, a distribution center for [a major pharmacy chain]. It's way bigger than a Walmart, but with no air conditioning. Our temperature gets up to 115 degrees. Sometimes it feels so hot in there that you just can't breathe. You have a lot of people go home sick from the heat. To stay cool people put towels around their necks. They go back and forth getting ice to chew on.
In my part of the warehouse, we load products like cigarettes, shampoos, or lotions into totes that get sent down the rollers to where the trucks are. We're given orders by scanning our badges and totes into a computer system, which tells us what to pull and how quickly it has to be done. Back when I started in 1999, the rate wasn't so bad, but for about a year, they've been gradually ratcheting it up. Say the old rate was 100 orders a day. Now they're up to 160, sometimes even higher.