Our mission is to identify the needs and concerns of the greater lifer population and community, to assist lifers in becoming suitable for parole and articulating that suitability to the Board of Parole Hearings. To educate the public and encourage dialogue between stakeholder groups on rehabilitation and reentry and to assist lifers and their families in understanding the parole system. We are the voice and presence of lifers in the community.
Our policy is to identify the resources to help in the rehabilitation and education process, through research to address those areas of greatest overall impact to the lifer cohort, rather than individual issues and events. We accomplish this through conducting seminars for families, newsletters, presentations to inmates at various institutions and reports. We will research and opine on state legislation that provides a positive impact on the circumstances and conditions of lifers, parolees and others under the supervision of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and address conditions of confinement and programming that impact these areas through testimony at legislative and confirmation hearings as well as other appropriate venues.
If we hope to have an impact on the way CDCR and BPH approach prisoners and parole, we must do so from a strong basis of fact, showing how changing long-entrenched policies will ultimately be not only more lawful, but beneficial to the public and the state. This fact-based approach, what the CDCR calls ‘evidence based results,’ is far more effective than simple humanitarian pleas to let lifers parole.
Working from a basis of fact and not emotion has proven successful and provided credibility to our cause.
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, but this attention to fact and detail over our 9-year existence has made LSA a recognized authority in lifer matters both in the community, legislature and CDCR.
We use our research to provide information on legislation affecting prisoners and families, visiting legislative offices in Sacramento and testifying on the impact and advisability of 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.
We keep 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 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.
We meet with the Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) on the conditions of parole imposed on and supervision policies for lifers, with an eye to making those conditions less extreme for lifers, the best performing of any parole cohort. Well over 3,000 lifers are on parole and that number will continue to grow, as parole grants continue. The percentage of lifers on state parole agents’ caseload continues to grow as supervision of determinate sentenced prisoners on parole has shifted to the counties under realignment. It’s important that parole agents, and DAPO as a whole, understand the character, needs and performance of lifers on parole.
Our education outreach efforts are accomplished through our newsletters, the free, email monthly Lifer-Line, as well as the larger, more comprehensive California Lifer Newsletter. CLN is published bi-monthly and sent to paid subscribers, most of whom are prisoners, but also include attorneys and other interested free parties.
These publications are sent to hundreds of prisoners each month and once inside the prisons each copy is 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. For more information on these publications, please visit our website’s Publications tab.
Currently LSA offers 3 self-help programs and workshops to lifers in prison. Connecting the Dots helps lifers identify causative factors of crime and develop insight. The Amends Project helps with writing appropriate and complete apology and amends letters to victims and their family members, and RISE, a 12-week course incorporating the above two workshops, plus mock board hearings, hearing process and challenges on coming home.
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. Rather than try to solve everyone’s issue, we empower families and individuals by providing them with the tools and information to become their own advocate. 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) held up and down the state, 4 to 6 times a year, to reach the maximum number of families and friends of lifers. These day-long events provide families with information, interaction and support, letting them know they are part of a community and can contribute to that community.
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 or if we can help them.
All of these things are accomplished by a very small cadre of unpaid volunteers in our Sacramento office, who work from commitment and resolve. We could not continue without the support of our members and volunteers. However, as the demand for our services and workshops increases and more lifers and families reach out to us, our always meager resources are stretched ever more thinly. Your support via donations or subscriptions to CLN will continue to make our efforts possible.