Iconic ‘Bad Beds’ in State Prisons Dismantled; Video, Photos

“The way something becomes iconic, it’s emblazoned in the minds and the memories of the citizens. Whether it was on television news, whether it was photographs in an AP story, or, like me, I saw these same photos as I sat as a witness in front of the three-judge panel in the states’ overcrowding case…It symbolized a system that was so overcrowded it could not work effectively or efficiently.”

That was CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate today, speaking about the “final deactivation of non-traditional beds” — double and triple-decker bunks crammed into gyms and other areas not designed to house inmates. CDCR was so motivated to highlight the dismantling of the “bad beds,” as they’re commonly called, that it posted a video of them being detached with a blowtorch and carted away…

The department even posted a slideshow filled with images of the infamously overcrowded prison dormitories:

The state’s inmate population has been reduced by more than 17,000 since last October, says KQED’s Michael Montgomery, which is allowing for the more traditional housing of inmates. The reduction has been achieved through the state’s realignment plan, which “keeps parole violaters and low-level offenders out of state lockups, placing them instead in county facilities,” says Montgomery.

Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that California’s overcrowded prison conditions constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and the court ordered the state to shed tens of thousands of inmates from the system. The court took the unusual step of including photos of overcrowded prison conditions in its decision.

“Between the court order and the legislative changes, we now think those non serious, non violence, non sex inmates that were churning through our system are now leaving the system,” Secretary Cate said today. “I think what we’ll see is a safer, less expensive, more effective prison system.”

Rebekah Evenson of the Prison Law Office, which provides legal representation for prisoners, says inmate overcrowding is still a major problem. “The prisons still house far too many prisoners to provide basic levels of medical and mental health care,” she told Michael Montgomery.

Mina Kim discusses the end of “bad beds” with Michael Montgomery on KQED Public Radio today at 5:30 p.m. Listen live here or to an archive later.

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Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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