Article published Aug 28, 2006

Visiting policies anger families
Protest held outside Salinas Valley State
The Salinas Californian 

SOLEDAD - Dozens of relatives of prison inmates demonstrated outside Salinas Valley State Prison on Sunday to protest what they say are unfair visiting regulations.

As about 10 California Highway Patrol officers monitored the crowd from across the street for any suspicious behavior, prisoners' family members held signs and passed out information to passersby to explain what they say are flaws in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's rules for visitors.

Some of Sunday's demonstrators belong to Sacramento-based United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect, a group organized specifically to protest the prison system's visitor policies.

B. Cayenne Bird of Sacramento, founder of the group, said one of the major problems with the prison visiting system is that family members are not allowed to see an inmate if he is too ill to come to the visiting room.

"I want them to know that we object to their methods, and I want them to see that people are upset and they're organizing," Bird said. "I want to draw attention to the inhumane and degrading treatment they've shown to these families."

Bird, an ordained minister, said she has been banned for six months from visiting with her incarcerated son at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, in Lancaster, after she was accused of assaulting a female guard during a visit "by touching her arm."

"What they're saying is that these prisoners are (their) property and therefore no better than cows," she said. "Family ties are so important for rehabilitation; these families over here haven't seen their loved ones for so long, and all this does is destroy people."

Officials at Salinas Valley State Prison, reached by telephone Sunday, declined to comment.

The California Department of Corrections Web site states that all inmates are required to fill out a form before each visit and must receive approval from the visiting sergeant.

Each prison facility holds a minimum visitation period of 12 hours on weekends and major holidays. Salinas Valley State Prison's visiting hours are 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

But Bird said many of the families protesting have mentally ill loved ones incarcerated whom they are never able to see because of the inmates' inability to fill out the visiting forms.

Maria Molina of Salinas said she and family members showed up with posters to protest the death of her uncle, Larry Saldivar, who died June 17 during his incarceration at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione.

Molina said her family had not been aware of how dire Saldivar's condition was until it was too late, and they were denied visitation when he was ill.

"I believe families should be notified when their loved ones are on their death beds," Molina said. "They denied us that, and my uncle died alone."

Jorge Serpa of San Jose spent about six hours holding up his sign in the hot sunshine of Soledad.

Serpa, 48, said he has not seen his brother, an inmate in California State Prison, Solano, for more than a year, because his brother has been placed under "lockdown" and denied visiting rights by prison authorities. "Last week I protested at Solano, and I thought I'll come out here to help with the cause," he said. "It's not just happening in Solano, it's everywhere." 

Protesters hold signs Sunday near the entrance to 
Salinas Valley State Prison and Correctional Training Facility in Soledad. 


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