California Mom Leads Campaign to Get Prisoners Safe Drinking Water

California Mom Leads Campaign to Get Prisoners Safe Drinking Water

Blanca Gonzalez’s son spent years at California’s Kern Valley State Prison, where she says he was sickened by the foul water he was forced to drink – water that the state knows is contaminated with arsenic, a carcinogen that can cause serious skin damage and circulatory system problems. And she wanted to do something about it.
But where to start? For years California officials have been promising to fix the facility’s water problem – promising to provide its more than 5,000 inhabitants water that meets the standards of the EPA and World Health Organization. And for years they have failed to deliver, extending and then extending again their self-imposed deadlines for when they “anticipate” resolving the issue; indeed, just this year the supposed deadline for installing water treatment equipment has been extended from October 2011 to February 2012 – and then again to August 2012.
After reading an article last fall about Kern Valley State Prison’s dirty water, Gonzalez contacted your humble criminal justice editor here at, asking that I write more about the problem. And for weeks … well, I didn’t – hey, I’m a busy guy, alright? But after a few more friendly reminders, her persistence paid off. And now her campaign is drawing the attention of California’s top prison officials.
Since her petition was first featured here a few weeks ago, more than 2,100 people have joined Gonzalez and other mothers of sickened, incarcerated men in California in demanding that the state stop poisoning its prisoners with arsenic-laced water. That support elicited a response last week from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Scott Kernan, who oversees prison operations – a response that was characteristically underwhelming, but which shows officials are starting to pay attention. Now activists need to step up the pressure and get them to actually do something about the problem.
Speaking on behalf of her, other mothers of the incarcerated and the prisoners themselves, who she says are well aware of the petition, Gonzalez tells she wants to thank “all of you that have participated so far.”
“We couldn’t have gotten this far without,” she says – and, more importantly, the hundreds of people who have helped raise awareness about the campaign to provide prisoners in California safe, clean drinking water. “Please do not forget to post the petition to Twitter, Facebook and any other means available to get the word out there.”
Around the time Gonzalez first contacted me, she wrote that it was nothing less than “ridiculous that there are over 5,000 men in the prison and no one cares” about the fact they may suffer serious health problems from the water they have no choice but to drink. As the response to her campaign demonstrates, though, people do care about those behinds bars — those who may have made mistakes, but who deserve to be provided water that won’t sicken them. It’s just a matter of getting California’s politicians and prison bureaucrats to care too.

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