CDC - Receivership?
Hearing exposes rifts over solving Calif. prison
SAN FRANCISCO—The seemingly endless effort to solve California's prison overcrowding will get even more complicated Friday when a panel of federal judges is presented with a settlement proposal that already appears to be falling apart.
A court-appointed referee outlined the proposed settlement last week, calling for a gradual reduction in the state's inmate population by 2011.
That plan, as originally outlined, tried to strike a balance: It would avoid an immediate early release of inmates by seeking alternate punishments for some offenders, diverting parole violators to treatment programs and making more prisoners eligible for programs that could shave time off their sentences.
Critics say it has been changed quietly since it was announced on May 19, setting up what is likely to be a divisive hearing before the three-judge panel in federal court.
The settlement proposal has been criticized by Republican state lawmakers who could try to block any deal. It also was failing to win support from local law enforcement and county officials, who fear they would end up caring for criminals who otherwise would be sent to state prisons.
"The settlement appears to be dead on arrival," said state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, who has his own concerns about the plan.
The stakes for the state are high: The federal courts could order an immediate release of tens of thousands of inmates or a cap on the prison population, something lawmakers and law enforcement groups want to avoid.
At the same time, the proposed solutions will cost billions as the state faces a $15.2 billion deficit and cuts to basic services.
Court-appointed referee Elwood Lui, a former state appeals court judge, described his proposal last week as a way to avoid capping the prison population and releasing inmates before they complete their full sentences.
The issue is before the federal courts because of a series of lawsuits related to inmate medical care, mental health treatment and other services that have suffered as the state's prison system has become ever more crowded. The 33 state prisons hold 170,000 inmates, about 70 percent over capacity.
Republican lawmakers and law enforcement officials said Lui's settlement was changed this week in a way that could allow the early release of inmates if the state is unable to reduce the prison population sufficiently by 2011. The target inmate number would be set by a panel that has yet to be created.
Republicans said the changes also create the potential for less parole supervision of ex-convicts, something not in the version Lui outlined May 19.
They said the latest proposal would give the state corrections secretary discretion to increase early release credits and put more criminals into drug treatment, mental health or other diversion programs.
"They snuck in early release. They snuck in summary parole," said Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, who has been involved in the ongoing talks. "It changed things dramatically."
Sen. George Runner, R-Lancaster, said objections to the settlement persuaded Republican state senators to defeat a bill this week that would have borrowed $7 billion for new medical and mental health facilities.
That money was demanded by a federal receiver who has been appointed to oversee medical care in the prison system. The bill's defeat means a federal court judge could order the money be taken directly from the state treasury.
Runner said there are too many questions about the various fixes in the works for the state prison system and whether they will be coordinated. Those fixes include:
— The proposed settlement on overcrowding that is the subject of Friday's hearing.
— The $7 billion proposal for improved medical service.
— And a plan the Legislature approved last year to spend $7.4 billion in bonds to build 53,000 new prison and jail beds.
"There are just a lot of parts and pieces that are just not cooked," Runner said.
Lawyers representing police chiefs, county sheriffs, probation officers, district attorneys, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration and inmates' rights attorneys were expected to ask the three-judge panel for more time to continue negotiations.
At the same time, attorneys representing
inmates plan to ask the judges to schedule a trial. They want the courts
to determine whether severe crowding is stalling efforts to improve conditions
People in the News
January 25, 2008 12:01am
• Clark Kelso, a professor at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, has been appointed the new federal receiver overseeing health care for California prisons.
Mr. Kelso replaces Robert Sillen, who has served in that role since April 2006.
Mr. Kelso comes to the California Prison Health Care Receivership with more than 15 years of experience in a wide variety of positions in all three branches of state government, including the California Judicial Council and Administrative Office of the Courts, where he worked in support of court unification; the Department of Insurance, where he replaced Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, who abruptly resigned amid allegations of corruption; and as California’s Chief Information Officer, where he turned around the state’s troubled information technology program.
Herhold: If you hire a pit bull, you get a pit bull
Prison health czar shown the doorWhen I read about Bob Sillen's firing Wednesday as California's prison health czar, the first thought that came into my head was this: Just what did U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson expect?
Henderson, a very decent and smart judge, was the man who hired former Santa Clara County VMC director Sillen to his $500K-per-year state job not quite two years ago.
Even the quickest reference check - just a look at newspaper stories - would have told Henderson he was hiring a pit bull with an aggressive temper. That was the boldface on Sillen's résumé. The judge called the hiring "drastic but necessary."
Now there seems to be regret, or perhaps bewilderment, that the pit bull went out and bit people. And so we're moving on, replacing him with a comfortable Lab.
Is this Bob Sillen's fault? I'd say no. Sillen is irascible, profane, manipulative and insulting. He managed to offend not just legislators and unions but also the Prison Law Office that brought the lawsuit that resulted in his appointment.
You still have to say this about the former VMC chief: He never pretended to be something other than what he was. He began his gig blaring contempt for a broken system, saying that politics got in the way of logical solutions. Now that system is ejecting him like a nightmarish burden.
Fig leavesYes, I know the fig leaves crafted to garb Wednesday's firing: Sillen has done the needed shock work, boosting doctors' pay, ordering a new medical facility at San Quentin, and bringing in an outside contractor to fix the pharmacy system. Now's the time to bring in a more collaborative guy, J. Clark Kelso.
Make no mistake. This was not the original plan. Sillen himself said he had scarcely begun, talking about a 10-year plan to bring the medical system into muster.
What happened Wednesday eventually had to come back to the relationship between Henderson and Sillen, two men who do not owe their posts directly to electoral politics but eventually had to acknowledge the limits it sets.
If you wanted a date when things turned undeniably sour, it would have been last Aug. 27. That was the day that Henderson refused to grant Sillen's request to cut off the Prison Law Office from monitoring prison health.
Henderson called the fracas "unseemly." Then, significantly, the judge added a piece of self-criticism that he repeated in Wednesday's order. He said he had not furnished the hands-on leadership he wished he had. He acknowledged his pit bull was not on a tight enough leash.
Anyone skilled in the arcane dance of moving executives aside might have predicted Sillen's demise from that point. Henderson formed a committee. He appointed a special assistant to run it. He sought their recommendations. And ultimately, he dumped Sillen.
Different strategiesWas it inevitable? Well, maybe, even probably. You can argue Sillen and Henderson shared long-term goals but had vastly different strategies and timetables.
For the 65-year-old Sillen, this was likely the last hurrah, a well-paid chance to do what he saw as right, damn the consequences. For Henderson, it was an opportunity to deal with a difficult case by bringing in a shock therapist who could scare the bejesus out of Sacramento.
Ultimately, the judge had to conclude that the political damage inflicted by Sillen endangered the good will needed for lasting reform. The sad thing is that Sillen has very good ideas. But ultimately, like Henderson, he got his paycheck from a political system that seeks above all to preserve itself. In a year of crushing budget deficits, he made for a convenient - and maybe even logical - sacrifice.
Contact Scott Herhold at email@example.com or (408) 920-5877.
From the Los Angeles Times
June 28, 2006
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER'S collapse on prison reform is one of the most disappointing failures of his tenure. Soon after taking office in 2003, he embraced initiatives to reduce the inmate population. The extent of his retreat in the face of opposition from the guards union is evident in his new four-part plan for the prisons.
The centerpiece of the governor's plan is a bill by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) to build two prisons using lease revenue bonds, which are advantageous for politicians because they don't require voter approval. The downside is that they are horribly expensive, with higher interest rates than voter-approved bonds. The two prisons, which would cost at least $500 million each to build, could end up costing taxpayers a total of at least $2 billion.
The expense might be worth it if building new prisons were the solution to California's correctional problems. It is not, which is why voters refuse to back them. New prisons are much like new freeways, in that they don't do much to solve overcrowding problems — as soon as you build them, they fill up. Further, although overcrowding is a serious issue, the state's corrections system also is plagued by ineffective management and a dangerous shortage of guards; building more prisons alone would only exacerbate the latter two problems while doing little to solve the former.
The governor also wants to use lease revenue bonds to build "parole reentry facilities" — secure detention centers in communities where male inmates would be released and where those near the end of their sentences could be sent for mental health counseling and job training. It's a fine idea, though politically impractical — if there is a community in California that would welcome the construction of a small prison, we'd like to see it. The costs of these facilities are unknown, but the funding mechanism guarantees that they would be steep.
Equally problematic is the governor's proposal to shift 4,500 nonviolent female inmates to community rehab centers near their homes. This might work if there were enough existing centers to house the inmates or guards to staff them, but there aren't. That means building even more expensive mini-prisons in communities that don't want them.
The governor's plan does nothing to address the concerns of a federal judge investigating abuses of inmates by guards. It doesn't address the shortage of guards nor the management problems that make California's prisons a national embarrassment. Though ostensibly aimed at overcrowding, it doesn't even propose genuine solutions to that problem, such as reforms in sentencing laws and a major boost in rehabilitation programs. If the Legislature, which met in special session Tuesday night to discuss the governor's proposals, wants to set things right, a radical shift in approach is required.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Think outside the cellblock
Gov. Schwarzenegger's decision to call for a special legislative session to consider four specific prison-reform proposals may be intended to divert attention from recent criticism by a special master appointed by a federal court dealing with prison problems in California. The governor's proposals, however, studiously ignore the problems that put prison reform on the agenda in the first place.
Federal courts have found that, as the recent special master's report put it, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation "internal affairs investigations and administrative discipline were plagued by systemic problems that, in terms of actual practice, rendered investigations and discipline entirely ineffectual."
In addition, the report found "a pervasive code of silence in the CDCR (a problem so ingrained in California prisons that there was a code of silence about the code of silence itself), a pattern and practice of interference with administrative and criminal investigations at Pelican Bay State Prison by representatives of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, and the inappropriate termination of the Post Powers investigations by the former Director of Corrections."
Other reports have noted that health care in prisons is virtually nonexistent.
The report went on that while the Schwarzenegger administration cooperated with the courts on trying to fix these problems, since the appointment of former Davis administration Cabinet officer Susan Kennedy, the administration has retreated from reform efforts and cozied up to the prison guards' union, whose overweening power was the source of many of the problems in prisons.
So what did the administration come up with?
A special session on prison reform to be focused narrowly on four issues:
•Special facilities for nonviolent female inmates;
•Creating special "reentry" facilities in which prisoners would be moved closer to home and given counseling and other help before returning to society, hopefully to reduce recidivism;
•Funding (perhaps through bonds) for two new prisons, and
•Improving contracting procedures so new facilities can be built faster and cheaper.
With the possible exception of going into debt to finance new prisons, these are generally constructive ideas. And if they really reduced overcrowding in prisons they might make the climate inside a bit less brutal. But they do not address the problems that have made the California prison system a scandal.
Overcrowding in prisons is also a function of sentencing laws.
California's prison population has increased sevenfold in the past 25 years; that includes the highest rate of drug incarceration in the nation, according to the Justice Policy Institute. While it is appropriate to put violent offenders away for a long time, prisons are overcrowded mainly because so many marginal activities have been criminalized. If we're serious about creating a more humane society and a prison system that is not simply a graduate school in how to get away with it the next time, we need to look at reforming drug laws, the "three strikes" law, and harsh sentences for marginally harmful activities.
The governor's special session won't address any of these problems.
A little prison reform
Which is it: prison reform, or a sellout? Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed reforms are some of each, which is better than the alternative.
In his call for a special legislative session the governor asked for four prison reforms, all of them worthwhile. The drawback is that these limited improvements do nothing to clean up the worst of the prison mess.
The four reforms include regional facilities for nonviolent women inmates; reentry facilities to help inmates return successfully to society; two new prisons, and improved contract procedures to build new facilities more efficiently.
You may have noticed something missing. Nothing was said about the awful problems described in a federal master's report, including health care that is almost worse than nothing; a management system so derailed that investigations and discipline are all but meaningless; improper interference by prison guards so pervasive that, as the Orange County Register said, there is a code of silence about the code of silence.
Is there anything constructive about this? Absolutely. Nobody wants the federal government to seize control of the prisons because of lack of reform efforts. Also, if Schwarzenegger had taken on the prison guards more aggressively, their union, which is accomplished at buying off politicians, might have made his re-election in November more problematic.
Some of us are unenthusiastic about the governor's plan
for financing his limited reforms, which is to go further into debt. But, heaven knows, the additional prison space is needed; prisoners are sleeping on gymnasium floors, and violence always is near.
The prisons are overcrowded for two reasons: longer terms mandated by the three-strikes law, and excessive imprisonment of substance abusers. There's an area ready for reform, though it won't happen soon. (Dan Walters has more about this on the Comment page.)
Schwarzenegger's opponent for the governorship, Phil Angelides, said the governor's call for a special legislative session was political grandstanding. He was partly right. He also said the governor should have worked cooperatively with the Legislature. (Now who's grandstanding?)
The special session began Tuesday, providing easier rules for swifter legislating. Since Schwarzenegger and Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez agree on debt financing to build new prisons, there is at least a chance for constructive action.
Better than the alternative.
Federal judge threatens to put state prison system into receivership
A federal judge threatened to take over the state's troubled prison system after warning that a guard contract renegotiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger undermines reform efforts in the nation's largest state correctional system.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which already has a pattern of tampering with investigations and lax employee discipline, would gain more management control under the deal, U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson wrote in a letter received Tuesday by Schwarzenegger.
Despite numerous warnings that the union already has too much power, Schwarzenegger's proposed pact would worsen problems by giving more favors to guards in return for postponing pay increases, the judge said.
Henderson asked to meet with Schwarzenegger to discuss the failure to heed a court investigator's findings that "bad investigations, a code of silence and the failure to discipline correctional officers has been condoned for many years by the highest level of California officials."
Lance Corcoran, the union's executive vice president, said it was unclear why Henderson concluded the new deal would give greater authority to the union. He also objected to Henderson's reasoning that the union doesn't have the prison system's best interests at heart.
"Unfortunately, the judge has painted us as the cancer within corrections, and that's patently untrue," Corcoran said.
Schwarzenegger's administration did not have an immediate comment.
The judge has been considering assuming oversight of the prison system as an outgrowth of a trial into alleged abuse of inmates by guards at Pelican Bay prison. He is also considering issuing a contempt of court order against Edward Alameida, who resigned as Corrections Department director last year amid accusations of covering up a prison-abuse perjury probe.
Two key Democratic state senators said they would urge the Legislature to reject the revised contract, which Sen. Jackie Speier of Daly City called a "policy swindle" that mocks reform efforts.
Speier and Sen. Gloria Romero of East Los Angeles, who chair committees reviewing the prison system, said proposed revisions bring no significant savings and grant more perks to the guards.
Schwarzenegger sought $300 million from pay raises that guards won under a heavily criticized contract granted by former Gov. Gray Davis, but his revised version would only save about $108 million over two years.
Henderson said he had been prepared to let court-appointed Special Master John Hagar work with the new leaders of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency and the Department of Corrections to fix "systemic problems."
However, if the state is unwilling to fix the problems, "I must consider the appointment of a receiver over the CDC to bring California's correctional system into full compliance with the court's orders," Henderson wrote.
Meanwhile, YACA spokesman J.P. Tremblay said about a half-dozen significant reforms should result from a retreat last week by about 150 corrections managers. But he said the proposals are still under review.
The retreat was to plot the future for the state's prison system at
the end of a two-decade building spree, and to consider 239 recommendations
proposed by a Schwarzenegger-appointed reform panel.
-- The Associated Press
Three Strikes Legal - Index