California Prisons and Jails

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There are 33 prisons in the California Corrections and Rehabilitation Department. California also contracts with private facilities in other states to help relieve overcrowding. The California Corrections and Rehabilitation Department employs thousands of prison guards and parole officers. The expansive California prison system is home to such infamous facilities as Folsom State Prison, memorialized in the Johnny Cash song.

The California prisons provide education programs so that inmates will be able to reintegrate into society when they are finished serving their terms. Many California inmates must improve their reading and writing skills in order to find successful vocations in the outside world. If they are not able to do this, it is likely that they will return to the CA prison system. Out of the 33 prisons in the California system, 32 have fully accredited schools that deliver academic classes, vocational training, English as a Second Language programs, and library services to inmates who would flounder without these services. The California Office of Correctional Education runs the programs. The schools are accredited through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. At Folsom Prison, inmates have been able to participate in a garden project that has grown over 400 pounds of vegetables to feed rescued animals at the zoo.

California inmates also have access to substance abuse treatment while they are serving time in prison. These services are provided through the CA Office of Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Treating inmates’ substance abuse problems prevents them from ending up in prison again, especially if their crimes were related to substance abuse. After they leave the prison system, CA parolees also have access to community substance abuse programs.

Because of budget constraints, the department has had to implement a three-month treatment model that is supposed to help as many inmates as possible while being cost-effective. This program is for male inmates and replaces a program that spanned from 6 months to 36 months. In addition to this program, programs for women have been created that respond to their genders. This involves training women as substance abuse counselors, which taps into their innate mothering skills and enables them to overcome substance abuse by nurturing other women.

The California Corrections and Rehabilitation Department has a parole process for inmates that are serving life sentences with the possibility of parole. CA inmates that are serving a specific number of years are released on parole after they have completed the specified amount of time. For California inmates serving life sentences, a parole hearing must take place to determine whether they are suitable for parole.

Inmates with life sentences have a minimum eligible parole date, and they can have a parole hearing after that date. The hearing will happen periodically after that date to determine whether their suitability for parole has changed and what they can do to improve their suitability for parole. When a hearing happens, the board must say that the inmate is suitable for parole or that they are unsuitable for a certain number of years. They can only say the inmate is unsuitable for 3, 5, 7, 10, or 15 years. So, the inmate will have to wait a minimum of 3 years for another hearing, depending on what the California parole board decides.

The parole board weighs many factors when determining suitability for parole. They are charged with keeping society safe from inmates who are guilty of crimes, but when an inmate is paroled, it means that the parole board feels they pose less of a threat to society than before. The parole board considers the gravity of the crime committed, other convictions and incarceration periods, counseling reports and psychological evaluations, behavior and disciplinary actions, vocational and educational achievements in prison, participation in programs like substance abuse treatment or anger management, and plans for where an inmate would live and what they would do if paroled.

For more information about California prisons and jails, visit the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website at