WHAT WE DO
In our efforts to speak truth to power, educate the public and lifer families and foster hope and greater success in suitability hearings in the lifer population we employ several techniques. Rather than appeal to legislators, CDCR representatives, Board of Parole Hearings members and the public in general on an emotional level we take the time, do the work and research all positions we support and promote. This is a time consuming and arduous process, made more difficult by the CDCR’s selective release of information and the complex nature of the policies we seek to change.
This fact-based approach, what the CDCR calls ‘evidence based results,’ is far more effective than humanitarian pleas to let lifers parole. Working from a basis of fact and not emotion has proven successful and provided credibility to our cause. If we hope to change the way CDCR and BPH approach prisoners and parole, we must do so from a strong basis of fact, showing how changing these long-entrenched policies will ultimately be not only more lawful, but beneficial to the public and the state.
We use our research to provide written support or opposition to legislation affecting prisoners and families. We visit legislative offices in Sacramento each week and testify on bills in various Senate and Assembly hearings throughout the year. Many offices now contact us for information or our viewpoint on legislation regarding prison matters.
Our education efforts are accomplished through our three newsletters, the free, email monthlies Lifer-Line and After*Life, as well as the larger, more comprehensive California Lifer Newsletter, (CLN), published bi-monthly and sent to paid subscribers, most of whom are prisoners. For more information on these three publications, please visit our website’s Publications tab. These publications are sent to hundreds of prisoners each month and once inside are read by an average of 5-7 inmates other than the original subscriber. For many indigent inmates Lifer-Line is their only source of outside news and information on CDCR, BPH and relevant issues.
We are able to make our information to lifers and their families current and on-point by attending every Executive Board meeting of the Board of Parole Hearings, getting first-hand knowledge of what the board is working on, changes in the offing and speaking to the board, offering information and perception on lifer issues. As finances allow, we also travel the state to attend actual parole hearings as observers, keeping our finger on the pulse of the commissioners’ attitudes and actions. LSA was the first prisoner advocate organization in more than 30 years allowed to attend hearings. These first-hand observations, coupled with the study of literally hundreds of hearing transcripts each year, form the basis for our testimony in the Senate when Parole Board Commissioners sit for confirmation following the appointment by the governor.
Our input in recent years has helped make a difference in the makeup of the board, but more work here is always needed. We also alert the Senate and BPH to especially egregious problems with psychological evaluations, lack of self-help programming for lifers and other collateral issues that prevent lifers from attaining the access they need to programs and classes.
Toward that end we attend meetings of the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board,(C-ROB), continually reminding them that their revamp of rehabilitative programs under the ‘newly realigned’ CDCR still falls short of adequate service for lifers. We have begun talks with the Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) on the conditions of parole imposed on lifers, with an eye to making those conditions less extreme for lifers, the best performing of any parole cohort. More than 3,000 lifers were on parole as of January 2017 and that number will continue to grow, as parole grants continue. The percentage of lifers on state parole agents’ caseload will grow as supervision of determinate sentenced prisoners on parole shifts to the counties under realignment.
For families, we offer advice on how to deal with issues ranging from visiting suspension to medical problems to simply how to help their lifer have a better chance to parole. We do this via an open communication commitment and the development of contacts within the system. While we cannot solve every problem, we can usually suggest tools, provide options and contacts that family members can use to impact their lifers’ situation and empower themselves to become part of the solution.
We also offer a series of seminars for families, (see EVENTS) one geared to lifer families and a second to assist in the establishment and strengthening of Inmate Family Councils in each prison. Both seminars are held up and down the state in an effort to reach the maximum number of families and friends of lifers.
And we answer an incredible mountain of mail from prisoners each month. Each week we receive an average of 40-50 letters from prisoners, some simply wanting information on newsletters, but many that require research before responding. We even receive mail from prisoners in other states, asking about issues in California they feel might be relevant to their situation.
All of these things are accomplished by a very small cadre of unpaid volunteers, who work from commitment and resolve. We could not continue without the tacit support of our members; however, as the demand for our services increases and more lifers and families reach out to us our meager resources are stretched ever more thinly.
Your support via donations or subscriptions to CLN will continue to make our efforts possible.
Vanessa Nelson-Sloane, Director, Life Support Alliance