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State Steps Up Prison Lockdowns

June 05, 2003|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

The state's financially strapped corrections department is prohibiting inmates from leaving their cells at three prisons in an attempt to reduce overtime pay for guards and is considering further cost-saving restrictions at most of the system's 32 institutions, according to the chairwoman of the state Senate committee that oversees prisons.

Most inmates at the Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad and the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran were being forced to remain in their cells 24 hours a day on "fiscally driven lockdowns" as of Wednesday evening, said state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the Senate's Select Committee on the California Correctional System.

Romero said inmates at the state prison in Lancaster also remained in their cells without time on the exercise yard in an attempt to save money, which The Times reported Tuesday.

But Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections, said the restrictions at Salinas Valley were not fiscally driven, but the result of ongoing security concerns. Heimerich said corrections officials were trying to figure out what, if any, restrictions had been put in place at other state prisons late Wednesday, and spokesmen for the three prisons were unavailable for comment at that time.

He did confirm that other prisons are considering temporary restrictions on inmates. All of the moves are attempts to keep the department, which is $70 million over budget, from running out of money by the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, Heimerich said.

The restrictions in Lancaster have angered some inmates' families and brought criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union. On Wednesday, Ben Wizner, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said the 24-hour lock-ins were unconstitutional, although he said the ACLU had no current plans to challenge them.

Romero, who also criticized the plans as unfair, said they could be the result of wasteful spending on the part of the Corrections Department. She said that in a meeting today, the Senate committees on prisons and government oversight planned to delve into possible sources of overspending.

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