Matthew Cate - Heads California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
From the Los Angeles Times
Watchdog named to head prisons
April 16, 2008
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named a prison watchdog and former prosecutor on Tuesday to lead the state's troubled corrections agency as it copes with rampant overcrowding, federal court oversight and a massive construction program.
Matthew Cate, 41, head of the Office of the Inspector General and a former deputy state attorney general, will replace James Tilton, 59, who announced his retirement, citing health reasons, effective May 16. Cate becomes Schwarzenegger's fourth corrections secretary since the governor took office less than five years ago, and said he hoped to close the revolving door.
"This mission is where my heart is," Cate said at a news conference Tuesday. "Public safety has been my career because I care about it, and I plan to stay in the job as long as the governor will have me."
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation represents a huge swath of California government, with a proposed $11.8-billion budget and 67,000 employees. It runs 33 adult prisons, oversees ex-convicts on parole and manages youth prisons, among other responsibilities.
Until four years ago, Cate had supervised a team of prosecutors at the attorney general's office and focused on public corruption cases. The inspector general's office audited the prison system, evaluating the performance of wardens, and analyzed high-profile incidents, including what Cate called the state's improper release of an inmate from San Quentin State Prison who stabbed a 15-year-old girl in San Francisco the next day.
"If the governor asked me who's the most qualified, best person in the whole state to take on this enormous challenge, I would say Matt Cate," said Barry Krisberg, president of the nonprofit National Council on Crime and Delinquency, in Oakland. "I think he's been capable of getting to the heart of the matter and clearly communicating issues without inflated rhetoric. He's not a guy who comes in and gives big speeches. He's a guy who gets things done."
Cate, whose salary will be $225,000, the same as Tilton's, has 30 days to take the oath of office and up to a year after that to win state Senate confirmation.
Tilton, who was appointed two years ago, brought a background in finance and administration to the agency's top job after the relatively short tenures of his two immediate predecessors. They had direct corrections experience, and said the governor's office had undercut their authority.
Among the officials and interest groups connected to state prisons, Tilton was initially seen as a caretaker, not expected to stay long. In the end, he won respect as a quiet, stabilizing force. But he eventually found himself confronting some of the same problems as his predecessors, struggling for access to Schwarzenegger and undermined by an aide with ties to the governor's chief of staff, according to state officials and government observers.
The sources spoke on the condition that they not be named because the issues were sensitive.
The governor's office, which released a statement praising Tilton's performance, declined to comment.
On Tuesday, Tilton said health problems, which he declined to specify, and his high-pressure job required him to go. "My wife wants me to be around to take care of my grandchildren," he said.
On his watch, the state reduced monitoring of some former prisoners on parole, a change that has resulted in fewer people cycling through prison on parole violations, and a modest decline in the prison population, to 170,000 inmates.
He reached out to county officials in an effort to persuade them to cooperate with the state's proposal for secure "reentry" facilities, where inmates would be housed in their home communities before release and receive help preparing for their transition back to society.
Joan Petersilia, a UC Irvine criminologist who works extensively with the state prison system, said that was a change from previous philosophies that focused on what was happening inside the institutions.
"What he did more than anything was take the reform on the road," she said. "It was about greater collaboration between the counties and the state, and if you look at what he did in his tenure, that, to me, was his major accomplishment. He started having conversations that prior to his administration had never been had."
Tilton said he had seen attitudes begin to change among prison guards and inmates toward rehabilitation programs within the prisons, but hadn't been able to implement them as quickly as he wanted because of budgetary constraints.
"The frustrating part, I think, is sometimes we expect things to be done overnight," he said.
"The inmates are saying, 'OK, we've understood you. We are behaving ourselves here, we are integrating, we are getting along. Where are the programs?' "
Editorial: Corrections chief needs chance to do it his way
A mess the size of the California Department of Corrections could never be fixed by one man, no matter how well he understands the issues, but here's hoping that young Matthew Cate has much more luck than the string of corrections secretaries who preceded him.
Californians who care about the penal system and the size of their state tax bill also should be hoping that, this time, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't try to run the system himself through political functionaries.
Cate, 41, named to the position on Tuesday, spent the past four years investigating California's prison system as head of the Office of the Inspector General within the department. He also is a former deputy state attorney general.
It was Cate who determined that the department's $1 billion drug treatment program was useless and who uncovered a long list of inmate abuses and administrative blunders that have added to the department's reputation as the most dysfunctional arm of state government.
Cate becomes the fourth corrections secretary in five years and, if
the past predicts the future, he will follow the others into early departure
with a push from the governor's office. Sacramento insiders say micromanagement
by the governor's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, helped drive the others
out — as if a contentious guards union, several layers of scrutiny by the
federal courts, personnel shortages and outdated facilities hadn't been
enough to make their jobs seem hopeless. The federal courts have taken
over the health care system within the prisons and are considering the
possibility of capping the number of inmates at some of the most overcrowded
If corrections can be turned around, perhaps the best measurement would be a reduction in the remarkable recidivism rate. Close to seven of 10 inmates released are rearrested within three years, which is no surprise considering that many of California's prisons have become nothing more than inmate warehouses. Educational programs and vocational opportunities have all but disappeared from many of the prisons, partly for lack of space as too many inmates were packed into the facilities and partly because of budget limitations.
Prison officials hope to start doing a better job of easing the transition from prison to community by building re-entry facilities and halfway houses throughout the state and improving pre-release counseling, but for now most inmates spend the greatest share of their sentences idle in their cells.
The governor deserves credit for giving the job to a different kind
of insider, an investigator rather than a bureaucrat. Cate's tenure should
be a fascinating experiment — if the governor and others give him a chance
to do things his way, not the way they have been done up to now.
By Daniel Weintraub - firstname.lastname@example.org
This weekend, Matthew Cate will be leading 20 runners from his office on a 120-mile relay from the Southern California town of Baker over the mountains and through the desert to Las Vegas, where Cate plans to complete the race's final, 4.5-mile leg across the finish line.
And then Cate will turn his attention to another grueling team-building task: running California's troubled prison system.
Cate, 41, was named secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Tuesday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is a little bit like being named skipper of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.
The department Cate is about to lead is under siege from every direction. Lawmakers are upset about cost overruns. The federal courts have taken over the health care system and threatened to cap the number of inmates jammed into the overcrowded prisons. The correctional officers who guard the inmates are working without a contract and seem to be at constant war with management.
Some credit the outgoing secretary, James Tilton, with at least stabilizing the operation and beginning to move it in the right direction.
But the 60,000-employee, $10-billion-dollar-a-year department still has a very, very long way to go.
Cate can't say he wasn't warned. In fact, he is the one who has been doing the warning. For the past four years, he has been the inspector general, the independent watchdog investigating management and practices inside the prison system.
That makes him the equivalent of the dog who has caught the car. Now what is he supposed to do with it?
"It's a wholly different role," Cate told me. "It's easier to find the problems than it is to actually fix them."
And Cate did find problems. Most famously, he concluded that $1 billion the state had spent on drug treatment programs was a "complete waste of money."
His report on those programs found that inmates who had undergone drug treatment behind bars actually fared worse when they got out than inmates who had received no treatment at all.
His reports also ripped San Quentin prison for mishandling the release of a dangerous inmate who then stabbed a 15-year-old girl in a San Francisco bakery; found that the state's largest youth prison isolated its wards in unsafe conditions; and determined that parole administrators had lied about orders they gave that appeared aimed at concealing the presence of high-risk ex-convicts near schools.
Given everything he knows about the department's dysfunction, why would Cate want to lead it? Apparently, he is just wacky enough to think that all of the forces converging on the prison system can be channeled in one direction to produce momentum for serious, fundamental change in the state's criminal justice policies. He looks at the deluge from a perfect storm and sees not a flood but a great opportunity for some really fun whitewater rafting.
"I want to get in the middle of it and see if there are some solutions out there," he said.
Cate's first goal will be to chip away at the prison system's 70 percent recidivism rate, which means that seven of every 10 inmates who leave prison are back behind bars within three years.
If that rate could be reduced by just 5 percentage points, he said, the effect would be tremendous. Such a reduction would require reaching just one additional inmate in 20, or 6,000 out of the 120,000 who are released each year. If each of those 6,000 would have committed five crimes before getting caught and returning to prison, that is 30,000 crimes prevented, millions of dollars saved and untold personal anguish that victims will never have to experience.
Cate believes the key to making that sort of progress is to use scientifically proven methods to give education, training and drug treatment to inmates who can benefit from it.
"Right now, 50 percent of the people who leave prison have never done anything but sit on their bunk and walk the yard," he said. "That number has got to change."
He says the state's new re-entry prisons, where inmates will go just before release to get help with housing, treatment and counseling to ease their adjustment to the community, will also be crucial.
Cate, a former prosecutor, says he never really saw himself as a prison administrator. He was working on public corruption cases in the attorney general's office when a former boss who had gone to work for Schwarzenegger recruited him to be inspector general. From there, with a front-row seat on the biggest mess in state government, he couldn't resist the chance to take responsibility for fixing all the problems his office helped expose.
"I kind of caught the bug," he said. "I am interested in it. The more I've worked in it, it's become kind of a passion for me."
Actually putting changes in place as head of the prison system rather than its chief critic, he said, "is going to make a bigger difference for California than if I write another report saying the department isn't accomplishing X, Y or Z."
Revolving prison door: Another new CDCR boss
Was it only two years ago that The Reporter was bemoaning yet another
change at the top of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation?
Mr. Tilton's announcement came a day after his department released a 20-page report lauding its success in the wake of Assembly Bill 900, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in April 2007.
Among those many successes, it counts:
• Progress toward adding more prison beds to reduce overcrowding;
• Movement toward expanding rehabilitation services;
• Progress on siting Secure Community Re-entry Facilities;
• Increases in full-time participation in inmate and vocational education programs; and
• Improvements in parole procedures.
Certainly there's been progress, but the question is whether there has been enough progress.
Even now, a three-judge panel is considering the need to order a reduction in prison population. At 170,000, the prison population is still about 70,000 over its capacity.
At the same time, a court-appointed federal receiver continues to evaluate the problems in the state's ability to provide inmates with proper medical care.
And now the department faces another turnover at the top. As Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero observed, "Once again it feels like a revolving door at CDCR as yet another secretary vacates the helm of the agency."
Less than six months ago, the state launched AB 900, its $7.8 billion prison and county jail building program. It still faces another $7 billion bill to improve inmate medical services and mental health care. Sen. Mike Machado, D-Solano, noted earlier this week that it has been difficult for lawmakers to support such spending when the department's long-term vision is so unclear.
Perhaps Mr. Tilton's replacement, Matthew Cate, will be able to bring that vision into focus.
A 41-year-old Republican from Elk Grove, Mr. Cate most recently served in the Office of Inspector General and was tasked with public oversight of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Since 2007, he has chaired the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board, reporting to Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature on the department's ability to provide effective rehabilitation programs to inmates and parolees.
Mr. Cate has said he will focus on reducing inmate overcrowding, making prisons safer for inmates and correctional officers, and increasing rehabilitation programs to reduce the rate at which paroled prisoners commit new crimes.
There will be a lot on his plate, but at least he steps in with his
eyes wide open.
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