A Glimpse Inside California’s Prison System


The California State Prison in the Los Angeles County city of Lancaster is profiled by writer Joe Domanick in Los Angeles Magazine. Built in 1993 with a capacity of 2,200 inmates, the facility holds more than 4,500 in California’s crowded prison system. One part of the facility is a nine-year-old experiment called the Positive Programming Facility. It’s a prison within a prison and the only program of its kind in the state. The majority of the 600 men here are serving 25 years to life, often without the possibility of parole. Inmates in the program must abide by a strict set of rules and submit to random drug testing.

In exchange, they have more freedom–to take a shower or go to the canteen when they want, to attend shop and educational classes, or to sign up for substance-abuse treatment. They have a bit more control over their lives–and therefore a bit more self-respect. The effect on inmates has been profound. Within three years of the program’s start, violence and threats decreased by 85 percent, weapons violations by 88 percent, and drug violations by more than 40 percent. Still, one inmate says the state prison system overall is “still all about inflicting pain, still all about a self-fulfilling prophecy that says 'prisoners are all a bunch of dirtbags, they cannot be successful, so we will not bother investing any time or energy in helping them or encouraging them to become successful.'”

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