CDCR to release 4,000 primary caregivers from women’s prisons


Community leaders call for re-entry support, prison closure and release of caregivers from men’s prisons

by Emily Harris, Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Oakland – The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced Tuesday that non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders who are female, pregnant or were primary caregivers prior to incarceration and have less than two years of their sentences left are eligible to serve the rest of their sentences in residential homes, residential substance-abuse treatment programs or transitional care facilities. Community leaders from around the state offered cautious optimism, noting the project’s very limited scope and vague details while calling for stronger re-entry support and prison closure.

“When my mom got out, she didn’t know what to do. She had no access to services, counseling or housing,” says Charise McMahan, youth advocate with Project WHAT! whose parents have both been imprisoned. McMahan continues, “We need to begin the reunification process before parents are released and provide families with all the services they need to be successful.”

According to a poll by the California Research Bureau, 59 percent of mothers and 31 percent of fathers were unemployed in the month prior to their arrest. The same study showed that as of 2001, California imprisoned 10,300 mothers and 84,000 fathers.

Karen Shain, policy director for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, states: “California must reduce its prison population, and we see releasing parents as a good place to start. We know when it comes to this plan that it is all about the details.”

In January 2006, Gov. Schwarzenegger announced CDCR had identified 4,500 people locked in women’s prisons who don’t need to be in prison. “Rather than waste more Corrections money on electronic monitoring, the state should be funding programs that help the formerly incarcerated rebuild their lives and reconnect with family,” said Deirdre Wilson, program coordinator for California Coalition for Women Prisoners and a former prisoner separated from her own children. Wilson also highlights Tuesday’s move as a stepping stone for further change, saying, “This plan is a tip of the iceberg for the re-orientation of resources and services needed to support real community rehabilitation, including expansion to men as caregivers.”

CDCR’s plan could have a significant impact on California’s ongoing budget crisis. “This plan offers a unique opportunity to free up money to use for desperately needed services without posing a threat to public safety. To reap these benefits, we must hold the state accountable to this promise of releasing 4,000 people,” noted Cynthia Chandler, executive director for Justice Now.

Under CDCR’s plan, the world’s largest women’s prisons, which are located in the Central Valley, could be emptied. Chandler cautions, “We won’t save any money, reduce harms or help communities if we convert an emptied prison for women into a prison for men or by crowding women into a smaller number of prisons. We must be vigilant to ensure this plan is not cloaked with false promises.”

Californians United for a Responsible Budget is a statewide coalition of over 40 organizations working to reduce the number of prisoners and prisons in the state of California. Project What!, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and Justice Now are members.

Emily Harris is statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), 1322 Webster St., Suite 210, Oakland, CA 94612, (510) 435-1176. She can be reached at



  1. My girlfriend is at Valley State Prison for Women. What the administration is telling the women there is that this program is only for "primary caregivers." This is not only wrong but it goes against what the law says. My girlfriend meets the criteria. She is not a primary caregiver but she is female, non-violent, not a flight risk, and is a model inmate.

  2. Jerry Brown took $1.8 million from CCPOA to get elected. We worked for these releases for more than a decade and there are 54,000 non-violent inmates who are costing California billions of dollars. Brown never holds prison guards or law enforcement accountable for the torture and murder taking place in the prisons. Please help 1528 people recall him (takes 6500 workers minimum) Liberals to Recall Jerry Brown,… Group voting blocs count in California, helping no voting bloc to reach the goal means no voice.

  3. what murder? what torture? have you ever been in a prison? what inmates do you know that have been torture or murdered in a California Perison by "perison guards" By the way we are Correctional Officers. We work hard doing are jobs to keep inmates from getting murdered or hurt by other inmates. beleave me if we hurt or allow a inmate to be harmed in any way we are held accountable.

  4. I'm speaking as an ex offender who served time in VSPW and I never seen any kind of mistreatment of the inmates by the officers there, but a whole lot of women who acted out and then cried when they were taken out and disciplined for their ridiculous outbursts. But anyhow, here's a thought, lets help change the laws that state how one is to be sentenced when convicted of a crime so we don't have people sitting in prison. I got 2 yrs for forging the signature of my mother on a check for $400 as a young adult, and I don't see how sitting in a state prison rehabilitated me one bit. Our entire court system and how it passes down sentences needs to be changed, period. That would keep so many people that really don't need nor deserve to be in state prison out of these facilities.

  5. And when I say disciplined I mean hand cuffed and walked to solitary. Not beaten one bit, but they sure did kick spit and throw punches at the officers.

  6. I guess it's best when children grow up with their mothers. However, they should be closely monitored. I don't get it why primary caregivers could get into prison. I mean that job requires you to becoming almost a saint. Our live in care in Sussex and the people there are lovely!

  7. To spread the awareness of health care and primary care experts are now opening several primary care giver service program in the prison; therefore in California we women in the prison are able to get sufficient and reliable health care service in affordable cost and effective results. It ultimately helps to promote the awareness of health care service in prisons.

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