Shouting out loud: Not to free the elderly from prison now is elder abuse

“Why are so many prisoners dying?” – Art: Arkee Chaney, A71362, P.O. Box 1700, Galesburg IL 61401

by Kenneth Moore

Remarkably, in this unprecedented time, I’ve noticed that reformers large and small in California have rallied to the call for judicial and prison reforms in record numbers. My family and I applaud all who have lent their voices and talents to this critical movement. A special thanks to the SF Bay View, Initiate Justice and the Ella Baker Center. 

And, for those in positions of power in this state who, for whatever reasons, choose to ignore public calls and demands for change, know that united grassroot forces will seize every opportunity to SHOUT OUT LOUD as a reminder the long, ugly history that makes these and other reforms a dire necessity.

Reform /ri form/ vb 1: to make better or improve by removal of faults; 2 reform n: improvement or correction of what is corrupt or defective (emphasis added).

In this nation’s history, Californians have proudly led the way when petitioning for change, whether the cause be civil rights, women’s rights, prisoners’ rights or LGBT rights, this state’s activists have always stood on the front lines, ready to sacrifice life and liberty, that our government get the message when it’s time for change! 

It should come as no surprise then that these reforms – recognition and liberation of our elders – sought by millions of Californians here and now by using social media and other venues represents the 21st century activists’ and reformers’ method of choice when pushing for prison and judicial change, demanding an end to the draconian, inhumane sentence of DEATH BY INCARCERATION or THE “SLOW GENOCIDE” OF PEOPLE OF COLOR, a practice whereby large segments of particular communities are oppressed, imprisoned and/or disenfranchised over decades, making it virtually impossible to re-populate and thrive in our communities due to social and economic oppression. Hence, you unwittingly witness and/or participate in the slow genocide of targeted groups.

And, while California’s previous judicial leadership has “quietly,” yet implicitly, maintained such horrible practices over the past 100-plus years, measures which favored race-based oppression, today’s staggering statistics related to mass incarceration illuminate the harsh realities of such ill-intended directives. Nonetheless, hard working reformers have tried through various means to get California’s policymakers to FOCUS ON THE NEEDS OF OUR ELDERLY, many of whom have been incarcerated the longest and, as sound research demonstrates, are the least likely to re-offend once released.

The majority of those 60 and older housed in California prisons today were arrested, tried and convicted during an era when prosecutors were routinely and systemically allowed to prosecute “in bad faith,” police were allowed to “cut corners” on evidence collection, and witnesses where threatened with jail or prison time if they didn’t cooperate in “the people’s case” at trial. 

Further, in 1970 for instance, prior to the war on drugs and tough on crime policy enactments, California’s total prison population was 25,033. By contrast, today’s lifer population alone in California is 40,691; that amounts to a 900 percent increase! 

Be mindful too that African Americans comprise about 12 percent of the total US population but represents 33 percent of the state and federal prison population! One in seven prisoners in this country is serving life in prison despite the declines in crime rates. And, as of Dec. 31, 2018, approximately 9,938 men and women ages 60 and older are held on an indeterminate basis here in California prisons. 

The current total population in California prisons is 130,263, according to the Sentencing Project. Learn more at sentencingproject.org and The Vera Institute.

This is not about numbers or statistics, but rather the aging lives they represent! Today, more progressive reformers seek, through elections, to occupy these district attorney’s offices once viewed as “conviction factories,” and, to their credit, these reformers are pledging to “fix” the racist, broken system which lent itself to mass incarceration. 

Their promises alone, however, cannot undo the decades of wrongdoing visited upon our elderly, who sit aging in large part due to the lack of courage or lack of will of policy-makers to act with meaning and compassion! Readers must understand, the time period mentioned herein truly was an era dubbed “war on drugs and war on communities of color,” licensed by both state and federal governments, who passed laws specifically targeting criminal activity in minority communities whether or not related to drug trafficking. 

It was a time when state and federal governments openly and selectively deprived its citizens of basic constitutional rights under the pretense of controlling criminal activity in the street. Many would argue that those deprivations were reflective of the South African political playbook, where, in 1962-64, Nelson Mandela and others were targeted and imprisoned for life for their stance against “apartheid.” We know how that ended 27 years later.

“Elder abuse is an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult,” someone 60 or older, according to Google.

Here, as a result of the aforementioned, states now have aging prison populations, men and women of color who’ve served prison terms and survived under the worst imaginable conditions and now, without hesitation, should be among the first considered for release. Learn more at #LetThemGo, #ClemencyNow, #CareNotCages and #FreetheElderly! 

Real judicial and prison reform must include an honest acknowledgment and amends by state actors for the corrupt and defective sham trials and convictions imposed in absence of sound judicial practices for that era. Yes, it means freeing the prisoners from the now admittedly wrong tough on crime ploys of yesteryear. Even the openly racist regime of South Africa’s government found enough compassion to release its most revered political prisoners while in their 60s, or as aging political rivals!

As a young, naive 19-year-old resident of Oakland, California, I too was unfortunate enough to be among those arrested, tried and convicted during that horrible judicial era. I have now served a total of 42 years – was age 20 when I entered prison, and I’m now 62 years old! 

DNA evidence should have cleared and released me 20 years ago, but the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office refuses to release the requested evidence for testing which would prove my innocence outright. (See more at #hematters.) 

I was also convicted as “an aider or abettor,” ONE WHO DID NOT COMMIT MURDER, now, after waiting and fighting for over a year, the COVID-19 crisis has slowed the court progress on my hearings for resentencing. Because Senate Bill 1437 demands that I be re-sentenced or released, therefore I too should be among the first considered for release in the face of this new worldwide pandemic. 

California’s overcrowded prisons are a death trap for elderly and medically infirm individuals. Why wait until the bodies are piling up? Let us go now!

Reformers are under no illusion that this is a nation and society of laws, and if we are to take that obligation seriously, then policy-makers should not ignore the illegalities of elder abuse as it relates to incarcerated seniors!

“Elder abuse is an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult,” someone 60 or older, according to Google.

California’s elderly prisoners are routinely abused – not only because of COVID-19 – under the legal definition of elder abuse! Currently we are unnecessarily placed at higher risk of death due to the overcrowded conditions of the prison system and lack of quality medical care available to us. See Plata v. Newsom and Colman v. Newsom and previous governors. 

We’ve previously asked policy-makers to personally visit the prisons in their district for these reasons. Compare Families Against Mandatory Minimums’ (FAMM’s) 2019 lawmakers’ challenge at https://famm.org/visitaprison-famm-challenges-policymakers-nationwide/. Also, visit “They Can’t Wait: FAMM’s Response to COVID-19, at https://famm.org/covidresponse/.

A country without hesitation to point its moral finger at the human rights violations abroad surely must practice doing better to address its own human rights violations at home. I do, however, salute the author of Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 186, a must read, introduced by Kamlager-Dove, Democrat of Los Angeles, regarding criminal sentencing. ACR-186 acknowledges much of the content of this article. 

I commented to my wife, immediately after reading ACR-186 that: “It’s as if 2Pac returned and wrote this legislative bill … the Sista spit some major s#-t on this one, babe! This is what happens when [w]e involve ourselves knee-deep in the political process.” So please, have friends and family members pledge their support for this important legislation and show Kamlager-Dove some love!

Shout It Out Loud! Help us make this message – to Free Our Elderly – known to all California lawmakers and Gov. Newsom. Hit ’em up on social media, call ’em out and let ’em know we care about our elderly brothers and sisters behind bars. 

Seniors in prison today should be given similar priority care as seniors in assisted care facilities during this COVID-19 pandemic. They too are at higher risk. Let ’em go now!

Send our brother some love and light: Kenneth L. Moore, C16557, CHCF E2B-118L, P.O. Box 213040, Stockton CA 95213.