California Senate Passes Family Connection Bill

More good news from California. The State Senate has just passed the Family Connection Bill (AB 1300) in a unanimous 39-to-0 vote. Here’s a summary of the bill from the good folks at Books Not Bars, who helped craft the legislation and who have done wonders to raise public awareness and help push the bill through:

The Family Connection Bill will enact several key reforms that will make it easier for youth to stay connected to their loved ones while they are in the youth prison system. The bill will:

• Make it part of the purpose of the Division of Juvenile Justice to educate the youth in its care and promote family ties;

• Require that visitation lists be transferred when the youth is transferred to a new facility;

• Require that every youth in a state Division of Juvenile Justice facility be allowed a minimum of four phone calls to family each month;

• Set up a toll-free hotline for information and updates on visitation;

• Require that young people be placed at facilities near their families when possible.

Today’s vote comes, perhaps not coincidentally, on the second anniversary of Joseph Maldonado’s suicide. Maldonado was a lanky 18-year-old who had been brought in on auto theft and sent down the line until he wound up at Chad. An Inspector General’s report published in December 2005 explains that his death (the fifth in the CYA since 2004) was preceded by an eight-week lockdown during which education, health services, visitation and exercise were cut off; it also explains that Maldonado had been denied mental health consultation four times.

As I wrote in an investigative piece for The Nation last year, Maldonado “was presented with two impossible options: He could earn programming privileges by forsaking his gang (which would likely have prompted a beating from one of the Norteño leaders in his unit) or remain in solitary confinement, a condition that was becoming increasingly untenable. Cornered, desperate, he resolved to die. On the night of August 31, 2005, the guards on duty broke procedure and waited more than half an hour after noticing Maldonado had covered his cell window before opening the door to find him hanging from a bedsheet.”

Now, exactly two years later, the State Senate is taking a big step toward preventing such tragedies in the future. “Had the Family Connection Bill been in place two years ago, Joseph Maldonado’s death might not have happened,” said Books Not Bars policy director Sumayyah Waheed. Renee Nunez, Maldonado’s sister, who was denied the right to visit her brother, believes she could have helped him cope with life inside had she been allowed to see him. Her family has filed a wrongful death suit against the CDCR and Chad officials reponsible for his death.

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