The Prison Law Office, a nonprofit group of lawyers who work near San Quentin Prison north of San Francisco, has scored a string of court victories, says the Los Angeles Times. The group helped spark an unprecedented federal court takeover of the state prison healthcare system after showing that prisoners were dying because of medical neglect. “There is almost no aspect of California corrections, adult or juvenile, that is not subject to a court order, and almost all of those are the result of suits brought by the Prison Law Office,” said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
The Times says the group has become a powerhouse so successful that the state in recent years has chosen to fold rather than fight it. Still, the group complains that the pace of change in California’s prisons and youth correctional facilities is achingly slow, that court orders and negotiated settlements take years to achieve and mark only the start of reform. “People aren’t shot dead anymore; let’s start with that one,” said Steve Fama, 49, who has worked at the Prison Law Office for 20 years. “During the late ’80s to mid-’90s, the number of prisoners shot dead in California was staggeringly disproportionate to the number shot dead in all the other state prisons combined.” The 10 lawyers, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, work in a cluster of modest offices on San Francisco Bay. They receive as many as 100 letters a day from inmates asking for help.