California Prison Teachers Protest Layoffs

November 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is planning to cut between 600 and 900 prison staff members across the state to deal with a more than one billion dollar budget deficit.But employees at the two prisons in Chowchilla say the proposed lay-offs come with too high of a price for the public.

Dozens of staff members from the two women's prisons in Chowchilla rallied outside the gates of the Central California Women's Facility in hopes of sending a message to the community.

John Plain said, "The state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to severely cut the number of teachers who work in prisons and that will severely impact public safety, and we want them to know what's coming."

Many of the protestors are teachers or vocational instructors. They say their classes and programs help prepare the women serving time inside these walls to be contributing members of society once their sentences are complete. They teach everything from reading and math to carpentry and landscaping.

Catherina Fowler said, "We also teach life skills which is important. We teach people how to balance a checkbook, how to read a contract, how to apply for a job."

The teachers say without those skills, the women are more likely to commit crimes and end up back in prison. But prison officials say the state budget has left them with no choice but to scale back the programs.

Bart Fortner said, "We're looking at anywhere from 30 to 50 percent cut in staffing in our education and vocation programs."

Spokesman Bart Fornter says CCWF and the other state prisons will try to minimize the impact of those cuts by giving help first to the inmates who are closest to being released. There are also plans to use teachers aides instead of certified teachers ... and to train inmates to mentor each other. But the protestors say those substitutes won't be the same. And it will still leave them out in the cold.

Barbara Greninger said, "We are about to join one of the largest unemployment lines there is."

The protestors say the programs also save taxpayers money by keeping released inmates from returning to prison. They're asking residents to contact their legislators and demand they prevent the lay-offs.

Meanwhile, officials here at cCWF say they're still waiting on word on exactly how many positions will be cut.

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