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A new push to ban involuntary servitude in California prisons


Good morning, and welcome to Essential California newsletter. Are Tuesday February 28.

Most people incarcerated by the state of California are obliged to work while serving their prison sentence. The work they do includes construction work, hospice care, computer coding and firefighting (joining fire crews is based on volunteer work). They earn as little as 8 cents an hour and up to $20.44 an hour, “depending on the job and skill level required,” according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

That work can earn them time off, and prison officials say the jobs help incarcerated people pay their restitution and other court-mandated fees.

But some California legislators and social justice advocates argue that the current system represents a form of slavery. They support Constitutional amendment meeting 8 — dubbed the “End Slavery in California Act” — which would remove a grandfather clause in the state’s constitution that “prohibits slavery and prohibits involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.”

“This measure would instead prohibit slavery in any form, including forced labor forced through the use or threat of physical or legal force,” states the amendment, introduced by Assemblyman Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun).

My colleague Hannah Wiley reports:

…lawyers say the prison labor exception has allowed states to exploit incarcerated people and perpetuate slavery under a different name at the expense of Black, Latino and Indigenous communities.

This is not the first attempt to change the rule. Last year a proposal that would have put the issue before voters failed to get enough votes in the Senate to get on the vote in November.

This year’s amendment would not prevent inmates from working, and it does not set wages or dictate specific working conditions. But supporters say the change could pave the way for people in prison to have more freedom about the work they do.

Governor Gavin Newsom expressed concern last year about the impact the change could have on the state budget if higher wages went into effect.

It has been an “emotional debate,” Wiley writes, with “arguments comparing prison labor to slavery and concerns that eliminating work requirements would undermine rehabilitation and jeopardize restitution payments to crime victims.”

For Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a former inmate, the issue boils down to “a moral question.”

Nunn told Wiley about his work while incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, handling chemicals to make detergent for California’s tunnels and highways. He said he made a little over $30 a month.

“Does slavery prepare me for the best chance of becoming an asset to the community rather than a liability?” he said. “What they’re doing doesn’t necessarily lead to public safety.”

Prison officials claim the involuntary labor helps reduce recidivism. The California Prison Industry employs approximately 7,000 incarcerated workers who make office furniture, clothing and food products, license plates, and other goods. Officials there said participants in that program are 26% to 38% less likely to return to prison.

Some state lawmakers who opposed the change argue that incarcerated people owe restitution to their victims and that the change could negatively impact rehabilitation efforts.

If the bill receives two-thirds support in both the state assembly and senate, it could go to voters in November 2024. prisons in California.”

You can read Wiley’s full report here.

And now, this is what is happening in california:

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This weekend’s intense storms knocked out power for more than 100,000 LA County residents. With tens of thousands coming in for the week and still without electricity, many are wondering why local agencies are taking so long. “They saw this coming,” a resident told my colleague Laura Newberry. “Can’t they go into overdrive a little bit?” Los Angeles Times

A pedestrian walks down a flooded Vanowen Street in North Hollywood as motorists try their luck driving through it amid heavy rain on Friday, February 24, 2023.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles family seeks answers and accountability after a black mother died in childbirth. April Valentine’s family is calling for an investigation into the hospital where she died and her midwife. Valentine’s death underlined an alarming statistic: In California, black people die from pregnancy complications at a rate nearly four times that of the general population. LAist

An off-the-radar teacher union election could have a big impact on the education of LA children. United Teachers Los Angeles will decide this week who wields power within its powerful union, paving the way for what the 35,000-member union will prioritize at a critical time for students and schools to recover from the pandemic. Los Angeles Times

Check out “The Times” podcast for essential news and more

These days, waking up to current events can be, well, daunting. If you’re looking for a more balanced news diet, “The Times” podcast is for you. Gustavo Arellano, along with a diverse group of reporters from the award-winning LA Times newsroom, delivers the hottest stories from the Los Angeles Times every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from.


California community colleges rely too much on part-time teachers and lack funding intended for full-time teachers. That’s according to a new report from California’s state auditor, which blames the state chancellor’s office for failing to maintain proper oversight. EdSource

A state law introduced this month aims to do just that put down a toilet for all genders in all public schools. Several California school districts are already making that a reality for students. KQED

Can California’s public transit companies hit the brakes in time to avoid a looming “fiscal cliff”? Faced with declining passenger numbers and budget cuts, many systems are begging state legislators to send them a lifeline. The Sacramento Bee


A Los Angeles woman who admitted her role in an $18 million pandemic scam before fleeing the country is back in US custody. Tamara Dadyan was extradited from Montenegro on Monday for more than a year after being sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison. Los Angeles Times

Hearst Castle became a crime scene on Sunday after a man armed with a machete allegedly stole a utility truck in Cambria and then fled from authorities, drive to the legendary estate and barricade himself in a guest house. Visitors to the castle were told to take shelter and the suspect was later arrested. San Luis Obispo Grandstand


Facing a projected A deficit of $22.5 billion, Governor Gavin Newsom said California can no longer contribute to centers that provide COVID testing and vaccines for migrants. Now the centers are seeking federal funding to keep the resources available. San Francisco Chronicle

A $4.4 billion project to build a new reservoir on the Sacramento River has been in the works for decades — and is still nearly a decade away. Why is it taking so long to build the Sites Reservoir? Cal Matters


A historic LA movie lot is about to get a $1 billion makeover. Radford Studio Center turns 95 this year and became known as ‘Hit City’ for the popular TV shows filmed there, including ‘Leave It to Beaver’, ‘Gilligan’s Island’, ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ and ‘Will & Grace. The center’s owners have submitted plans to add up to 1 million square feet of new soundstages, production facilities and offices. Los Angeles Times

The legal battle over a Marilyn Monroe statue in Palm Springs continues after a state appeals court overturned the decision to dismiss a lawsuit against the city. In 2021, a group of residents sued Palm Springs, saying the city had no authority to close off a public street to display the 8-foot-tall statue, which has been a tourist attraction on Museum Way in recent years. I think some don’t like it. KESQ

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Today California landmark comes from Paul Ventura from Laguna Hills:

The San Bernardino Mountains.

Paul writes:

In about two hours one can go from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear and the beauty of the pristine forest and mountain air. The beauty of California is all around us, desert, mountains, ocean and redwoods.

What are the essential California landmarks? Fill out this form to send us your photos of a special place in California – natural or man-made. Tell us why it is interesting and why it is a symbol of life in the Golden State. Make sure to only include photos taken directly by you. Your submission may be included in a future edition of the newsletter.

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