California Bars Male Inmates From Program

     SAN JOSE (CN) – A California prison program that lets inmates reunite with their families and complete their sentence in a transitional facility is unconstitutional because it excludes men, prisoners claim in court.
     The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation allows women to apply for the Alternative Custody Program, to finish their sentence in a residential home or drug treatment facility.
     Originally, the program, established in 2010, allowed male inmates who are “primary caregivers of dependent children” the chance to apply.
     But in 2013, the state amended the program to exclude male inmates, which plaintiff inmates Michael Berman and Darrell Stapp call unconstitutional in their July 14 federal complaint.
     “This lawsuit is about a really gross injustice,” their attorney Gay Crosthwait Grunfeld told Courthouse News. “Only women can apply, and that just violates every law there is.”
     Both plaintiffs are scheduled for early release in the summer of 2016.
     “That may seem soon, but if you’re in prison that’s a long time,” Grunfeld said. “We have two people who are sitting in prison who have literally been told, ‘You cannot apply for this program; you’re a man.'”
     The roughly 201,000 women in U.S. prisons last year accounted for 8.8 percent of the national inmate population, according to a September 2014 report from the International Center for Prison Studies. Female prison population is growing slightly faster than men, by 7.5 percent a year compared to 5.7 percent, according to a separate study. But the vast difference in numbers means more men than women are still entering, or returning to, the prison system each year.
     Gov. Jerry Brown approved changes to the Alternative Custody Program in 2013, despite legislative concerns about the constitutionality of excluding male prisoners. Grunfeld said experts warned the state that the law was unconstitutional and would be challenged.
     To be accepted into the program, an inmate must meet 16 criteria. Only low-level offenders are eligible. Inmates with prior sexual offenses or gang affiliations are ineligible, and the program is available only for the last two years of a sentence.
     Grunfeld said both of her clients meet the criteria and should be allowed to spend time with their families. Her firm, Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld of San Francisco, is trying a similar case in Sacramento Federal Court.
     “We really hope this will help not just our own clients, but men across the state who qualify and are able to participate in this excellent program, just like the women who already are,” Grunfeld said.
     The state opened an 82-bed facility for the program in San Diego last year and plans to open a second one in Southern California this year, according to a prisons department status report .
     The department of prisons did not respond to a request for statistics on the number of inmates participating in the alternative program.
     Prisons spokesman Dana Simas declined comment, saying the department had not been served with the lawsuit.
     The prisoners seek declaratory judgment that the blanket exclusion of men violates the Fourteenth Amendment, and a permanent injunction forcing the department of prisons to consider their applications for the program.

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