Prison Reform Articles




Blame Democrats for blocking prison reform

Of course the Republicans oppose a much-needed bill, but it's Democrats in the Assembly who are standing in the way.
August 22, 2009

 What else has to go wrong before California lawmakers will solve the state's prison crisis? Solid advice issued over the course of more than a decade by blue-ribbon commissions has been ignored; directives from federal judges to reduce the population of our overcrowded prisons are challenged in court rather than obeyed; and even when the state is faced with a wrenching income shortfall that demands $1.2 billion in cuts to the corrections budget, the Legislature seems incapable of doing the right thing.

On Thursday, lawmakers debated a package of prison measures designed to trim both the budget and the inmate population while embracing policies that criminal justice experts have long proposed to make the corrections system more efficient without endangering public safety. The bill was narrowly approved in the state Senate. That glimmer of hope was quickly dashed by the Assembly, where the bill stalled.

Most of the package wasn't new -- it had been proposed last month by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and included measures to repair the dysfunctional parole system, send low-risk offenders to community centers for the last 12 months of their terms and give inmates credit for participating in drug-rehab or job-training programs. The measures would have cut the prison population by an estimated 27,000. Democratic leaders in the Senate, with the governor's blessing, added one other element to Schwarzenegger's plan: creation of a sentencing commission that could streamline and improve California's byzantine sentencing laws.

It's a given that every Republican in the Legislature opposes the package; the state GOP's stance on criminal justice issues is, after all, molded by talk radio hosts who enhance their ratings with fear-inducing rants about newly released prisoners flooding the streets of California. Such a party can hardly be expected to embrace complex ideas on corrections policy, no matter how successful they have proved in other states. Yet Republicans are a minority in both houses -- it is Assembly Democrats, notably a handful of representatives who face tight reelection contests or plan to run for higher office, who are standing in the way of sensible reform.

They aren't making Californians safer. The sentencing and parole fixes in the package would change the way inmates are assessed and supervised so that scarce law enforcement resources could be focused on the most dangerous criminals. California's corrections system is in crisis because the state is unique nationwide in its failure to impose such assessments. In other states that have done so, crime rates have fallen.

The Assembly is expected to take up the bill again Monday after heavily amending it to weaken the package, lower the inmate population reductions to 17,000 and reduce the savings by $200 million. This would fall far short of a federal court order to cut the prison count by 40,000 and would all but assure mandated early release of prisoners down the road. Moreover, at the rate it's headed, California may soon spend more on corrections than on higher education. Now that's a crime.

Copyright © 2009

 A Flat Tax for California?

'California is so broken that we must look at every bold proposal out there, no matter how daring or radical -- including the idea of a flat tax." 

-- Arnold Schwarzenegger, June 11, 2009

Now we're getting somewhere. Having had his grand budget deal repudiated by the voters, and facing a $24.3 billion deficit only six months after raising taxes to close a $40 billion deficit, California's Governor is going back to his roots as a reformer.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has shocked nearly everyone in Sacramento by embracing some seismic policy changes to fix the California budget for the long term. These reforms include a flat-rate income tax, a spending limitation measure with teeth, and deep cuts in wasteful spending. Yesterday he declared that he won't sign another tax increase and he will no longer allow the state to issue new short-term debt to punt its budget problems down the road. He even told the liberal Democrats who run the legislature that if they're not ready to make cuts, get ready for a long hot summer that may end in "a shutdown of all the funding -- a grind to the halt" in government.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has called for cutbacks even in education, Medicaid, prisons and pensions, heretofore the sacred cows of state politics. And why not? That's where three-quarters of the money goes and the dollars are buying far too little in results. The state has the highest teacher salaries in the nation, but the second lowest math and reading test scores, according to U.S. Department of Education data. The state spends $49,000 per prison inmate, or 50% more per criminal than the average state.

"Other states have privately run correctional facilities," notes Mr. Schwarzenegger. "Why not California?" Good question. The Governor also wants to eliminate and consolidate scores of mostly useless boards and panels -- such as the $1.2 million blueberry commission -- that exist mostly for political patronage.

The best idea is his semi-endorsement of a flat tax for California. The state's budget problem has two main causes: The first is runaway spending and the second is a tax structure that smothers businesses and entrepreneurs. California's income tax is the most progressive of all 50 states, with the second highest top rate (10.55%) after New York City's 12.62%. The Governor's revenue office calculates that between 50% and 55% of the income tax in the state comes from Kobe Bryant and the rest of the richest 1% of taxpayers.

This sounds like a liberal's tax paradise, but the "soak the rich" system has imploded on itself. As tax rates keep rising, more Californians move to places like Nevada and Texas where they can pay zero income tax, leaving Sacramento with fewer revenue sources. Moreover, the progressive rate structure means that California experiences more extreme gyrations in its revenues than any other state.

The nearby chart shows how state tax revenues rise and fall more excessively than does state personal income. From 2003 to 2008, state revenues boomed by 40% as the economy expanded. But in the last year, revenues have fallen by more than 20%. Politicians in Sacramento pile on new spending in the boom years, building in new pension and other commitments that are unsustainable in the downturns. The interest groups furiously oppose any spending decline, so the politicians dutifully raise taxes, and the cycle repeats.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has appointed a bipartisan tax reform commission and it is exploring a "uniform tax" with a rate of 6% on individuals and corporations with few deductions. This would raise enough revenue to run the government while reducing the sharp revenue shifts from boom to bust and back. More important, it is the kind of tax overhaul that could start to attract business back to the state.

None of this will be easy to pass, but Mr. Schwarzenegger has everything to gain for his state and his reputation. His term ends in 2010 and he's not running for re-election. The state's economy can't prosper under its current burdens, and voters have resoundingly rejected tax-and-spend-as-usual. Arnold became Governor on the promise of reform, and in his final months he once again has a chance to make good on that promise.


March 8, 2009

Smart On Crime Ways To Reduce Prison Spending
by Marti Hatfield
CoWritten by Elena Morris and Kim Albanese 

21st Century TEA Party for Criminal Justice Reform

Prison is not supposed to be a Country Club nor is it supposed to be a place of human torture. Being in prison is supposed to be punishment, however, that does not mean lock the doors and forget that these are human beings who will one day be returned to society. Feed those incarcerated decent food and provide adequate medical, mental and dental care and programs to teach them to support themselves when they are released and you will see the lawsuits against California decrease and you will stop the revolving door to prisons as well. 

Give them an incentive to change their ways. You will see men and women come out of prison with a different outlook on life, and perhaps we will finally have less crime on our streets.

Ways to reduce prison spending and stop the California revolving prison door.

1. Reduce the prison population, but do it wisely. No one wants murderers, rapists or child molesters who are still a threat to society released en masse.

a. Prisoners who are disabled, chronically and/or terminally ill, who have served at least half their sentence with little or no disciplinary action should be considered first. Not only will this help to reduce the prison population, it will save millions and perhaps billions of dollars in medical costs. These, and death penalty prisoners are the inmates that are the most expensive to incarcerate.

b. Prisoners who have served more than half their sentence with little or no disciplinary action, who hold a job or have successfully completed one or more programs, should be considered next. 

c. Prisoners who are serving sentences due to three strikes convictions should have their cases reviewed and if the strikes are not for major felonies, their time should be drastically reduced or they should be released.

2. Re-write the sentencing laws in California. Make the sentence fit the crime. A first offender should not be sentenced the same as a repeat offender. 

3. Fund the Innocence Projects. It has been estimated that at least 10% or more of those incarcerated are innocent of the crime they were convicted of. In California that would amount to approximately 17,000 inmates. At $47,000 per inmate, this equates to approximately $800,000,000.00 per year that could be saved as well as the compensation the state must pay when these prisoners are finally exonerated.

4. Put a stop to District Attorneys and police using threats to intimidate suspects into accepting a plea bargain, even if they are innocent.

5. Each prison should be designated by level/type of conviction. Throwing a scared 18 year old in with a seasoned criminal only produces another hardened criminal being released back into society.

a. Since Death Row is already at San Quentin, fill the rest of the beds with the worst of the worst in California prisons. For those prisoners that are designated in this category that will not fit into San Quentin – send them to Pelican Bay, the Super Prison. 

b. All SNY prisoners should be grouped together into facilities just for SNY. Substance abuse offenders should be grouped together. In this way, the professionals needed to treat/handle these offenders are concentrated instead of each prison having to dilute their efforts by having to administer to different categories.

6. Refit six prisons and designate them as chronic care centers. Two prisons in Northern California, two in Central California and two in Southern California should be able to handle the number of inmates in this category according to the reports that have been released. Use these six prisons, staffed with doctors, nurses and mental health professionals who can handle all but necessary surgeries. Postoperative care in prisons is practically non-existent at this time and is probably the cause of many unnecessary deaths. 

7. Increase programs to help those that want to reform. Substance abuse and anger management should head the list.

8. Increase education opportunities. There are many intelligent prisoners who could teach learning basics to others which would decrease the number of teachers required. Unfortunately, there is no incentive for inmates to help others in this way - no extra time credits. For those prisoners who already have a high school diploma or GED, there are no educational opportunities available unless they have family who can pay for distance learning. Currently those courses are rare as we advance ever farther into the computer age and prisoners have no access computers. Those incarcerated quickly fall behind in a world that is continually advancing in technology. They become institutionalized by the lack of technology allowed inside the prisons. The changes create a huge obstacle for them to overcome upon their release. 

9. Teach prisoners a trade. Give them the tools and knowledge to successfully reintegrate into society.

CDCr needs to expand REAL trade programs (automotive, welding, cabinetry, etc.), and allow more prisoners to partake in these trades.

Most prisoners would like the opportunity to work, but as of now, there are too few opportunities for this. Once a prisoner has completed the programs deemed necessary by CDCR, let them apply for a job they want to learn to do just as they would in the private sector. These jobs are a privilege that an inmate must earn.
If the state could get a few manufacturing corporations to invest in the prisons, set up manufacturing again like they used to, prisoners could learn something they definitely could use AND the jobs won't be shipped overseas for cheap labor. That is just the way it is in the US. We are too expensive in the manufacturing area. We really do not manufacture much in the United States anymore. Everything we buy is from another country, like CHINA. Just look at the auto industry and you can see we are too expensive and it finally caught up to us. 

If a company contracts with CDCR for labor at as an example, $2.50 per hour (which is far cheaper than they could hire an employee in the private sector), and pay the inmate $1.00 per hour for they work they do, it would be a win-win situation. Half of the money the inmate earns could go towards any restitution they owe and the balance could go in their trust account. Since CDCR is making $1.50 an hour for every employed inmate, drop the “administrative fee” that is now charged. Inmates could earn enough to have a nest egg for when they are paroled which is another win situation.
Prisons could rotate inmates so each one learns to do different jobs. Inmates would not have to do one thing for their whole sentence; they could become proficient in several different jobs. Maybe then, they could actually find a job on the outside.

The Corporations should have a contract to do a portion of their manufacturing within the prisons and then agree to hire parolees when they get out if the parolee has done well and wants a job. Give them employment for the first year and then they can move on to other jobs that will open up to them once they have been on the job for a while. Most people start working at one place and it leads to another as they increase their proficiency and get to know other people and make business contacts.

The company would benefit from cheap labor inside but then must pay a decent wage to the inmates that come to work upon parole. The company can then compete with overseas labor.

10. Make prisons more self-supporting. If prisons were run as a business, they would decrease the drain they have become on the State Budget.

a. Make the prisoners grow as much of the food they eat as possible. For prisons with soil that will not support growing food, raise animals to be used for food or make it a manufacturing plant.

b. PIA already has a clothing industry in place, so expand it and have it supply the clothing for all of the prisons. Currently, from reports by inmates, the clothing provided an inmate is of inferior quality that must be replaced often. This increases the cost in the end. 

c. Teach the prisoners working in the kitchen to make their own bread, to cook food that is wholesome and appetizing. If schools can provide wholesome appealing food, every day there is no reason that prisons cannot. Provide a healthy diet instead of the high sugar, high carbohydrate diet that is used now that contributes to the possibility of inmates contracting diabetes and high blood pressure.

d. Teach prisoners how to maintain equipment. Teach them to be plumbers and electricians and heating/air conditioner repair people. 

e. Set up a print shop and teach the prisoners to print all the forms that the prison uses. 

f. Many other jobs could be taught to the prisoners to reduce the amount that must currently be paid to outside contractors. Contract with local businesses to teach classes in various useful jobs that inmates could secure employment in once they are paroled. These classes could be given on a rotating basis and the inmates could apply for the classes they want to take. One prison has a coffee roasting program in place at this time, but how many inmates are going to find employment in this area once released?

g. Let the inmates earn enough money to pay for restitution and special purchases. Make working worthwhile and the jobs will be done and done well.

11. For the prisoners who are physically and mentally able to work that refuse, move them to a prison that has little ability grow crops or to be more self-sufficient. A prison designed for those prisoners who have no desire to program. While this prison should still have decent food and medical care, the privileges should be reduced. Teach prisoners that they must follow the rules or take the consequences. In order to be transferred to a prison with more privileges, the inmate must remain discipline free for six months and show they have a genuine desire to program.

12. Re-institute good time credits. Model prisoners should be rewarded, while those that cause trouble should get no reduction in sentence.

13. Cut excess staff starting with the CDCR main office. If people are not doing their jobs or doing it poorly, get rid of them and get a staff that actually earns the money they make. CDCR employees need to be held responsible for their actions. Citizen complaints about an employee need to be investigated and not ignored.

14. Six months prior to release, inmates need to be transferred to a re-entry facility. This facility should be staffed with people who will make sure the inmate understands parole procedures. Staff should help the inmate to obtain a State ID, apply for Social Security or Social Security Disability where applicable, obtain a Social Security Card and teach them how to apply for a job. Practice job interviews would be a good idea also. Teach them how to balance a checkbook and how to budget, all the skills to make them successful in their transition back into society.

15. Release money for the inmates needs to be increased. In the 19th century when a prisoner was released he was given a horse, a gun and a $20 gold piece. While prisoners should not be given gun today, the equivalent of those items would be far more than the $200 that a parolee is given today. They must pay for transportation, food and lodging out of that $200 until they can find work, which is not an easy task. Too many roadblocks in their path only increase the recidivism rate.

16. A paroled inmate should be able to view his parole officer as an ally, not a foe. Parolees should be able to approach their parole officer for help, which is not the case today. A parole officer’s job should be to make sure a parolee is given the best chance for successful re-entry into society. Instead, they violate them for the smallest infractions and ship them back to prison. That does a disservice to both the public and to the parolee. We must make a serious effort to bring these parolee’s back into society as contributing members. A parole officer needs to be armed with all the tools necessary to direct the parolee to programs that are designed to rehabilitate them and facilitate their success; Reentry Centers, substance abuse programs, employment opportunities, lodging, food banks, Faith based organizations, and other programs that have been proven successful. Parolees should also have more access to public assistance funds until they can establish housing and secure employment. According to a Little Hoover Commission report, we spend 88% of our parole dollars on tracking down and re-incarcerating parolees for “technical violations,” and only 12% of the parole budget to provide services and support. Life takes money and denying this fragile segment of society only guarantees their re-entry failure.

17. Another area we should address is why so many parolees are being sent back to state prison, the most expensive lodgings in the Corrections system, for technical violations (not new crimes). These technical parole violators are taking up an incredible amount of space in our prisons, at a cost of $47,000 a year and rising. It is a waste of taxpayer funds and it has greatly contributed to the overcrowding crisis. 

18. Implementing a community corrections programs would go a long way to help reduce incarceration costs. Individual counties would be more responsible for this segment of its society, and the counties that achieve lowered recidivism rates should be rewarded with additional financial benefits from the state. It is a win/win situation. Many states have instituted community corrections programs with favorable results. California should do the same. An interview done by the Pew Center on the States with Dr. Joan Petersilia, an expert on criminal justice, gives some good ideas that can be found here. 

19. Counties should be compensated for keeping violators at the county level. Make them responsible for coming up with alternatives to prison. Nothing is gained by returning these parolees back through the system only to be returned a few months later. These parolees should be the responsibility of the county that convicted them. Counties have gotten away with sending too many people to prisons. Prison should be for only the truly deviant. This is poor management at all levels. 

20. If common sense alternatives are not found, California will be forced to continue spending billions of dollars on its failed criminal justice system, taking much needed resources away from other important social programs that are already seriously underfunded. Supporting Senate Bill 125, which calls for additional federal funding through the SCAAP program, would also, be a sound financial measure. This state currently receives only 12% federal reimbursement for its incarceration of criminal aliens, yet this segment is composed of nearly 26,000 people (and 15% of our total prison population). 

My grandmother used to tell me “idle hands are the devil’s playground”. Keep the inmates busy and it will solve many problems. It will reduce the cost to incarcerate offenders and it will teach prisoners how to support themselves when they are paroled.

For too long the battle cry has been “tough on crime”. It is time to change that to “SMART ON CRIME”.

Posted on March 04, 2009 
Something has to change. The system is embarressing to all!! Over-incarcerated convicts need to be released and prison staff wages reduced to a set dollar amount, not these $6000. + a month to a correction staff member who stands and shoots the breeze with the prisoners and fellow staff. Free staff & CO's need to be professional and stop using the inmates as free-be to supply drugs, cell phones & smokes to make additional money. Someone needs to stand and take control, this year and not 2 yrs from now... Thanks for the moment.

Posted by: AJ2Mutch at March 4, 2009 08:10 AM

Something has to change. The system is embarressing to all!! Over-incarcerated convicts need to be released and prison staff wages reduced to a set dollar amount, not these $6000. + a month to a correction staff member who stands and shoots the breeze with the prisoners and fellow staff. Free staff & CO's need to be professional and stop using the inmates as free-be to supply drugs, cell phones & smokes to make additional money. Someone needs to stand and take control, this year and not 2 yrs from now... Thanks for the moment.

Posted by: AJ2Mutch at March 4, 2009 08:10 AM

Something has to change. The system is embarressing to all!! Over-incarcerated convicts need to be released and prison staff wages reduced to a set dollar amount, not these $6000. + a month to a correction staff member who stands and shoots the breeze with the prisoners and fellow staff. Free staff & CO's need to be professional and stop using the inmates as free-be to supply drugs, cell phones & smokes to make additional money. Someone needs to stand and take control, this year and not 2 yrs from now... Thanks for the moment.

Posted by: AJ2Mutch at March 4, 2009 08:11 AM

You have made excellent points! Have you sent your article to any of the larger California newspapers? This is what mainstream Californians need to know. 

Posted by: Waste No More at March 4, 2009 08:16 AM

You have made excellent points! Have you sent your article to any of the larger California newspapers? This is what mainstream Californians need to know. 

Posted by: Waste No More at March 4, 2009 08:18 AM

You have made excellent points! Have you sent your article to any of the larger California newspapers? This is what mainstream Californians need to know. 

Posted by: Waste No More at March 4, 2009 08:19 AM

Good article! The california department of corrections is dysfunctional and serves only to make alot of people wealthy, prison contractors, employee unions, and politicians whose campaigns are paid for by the stake holders. 

Until the people of California make a decision that they will not tolerate a system that does not make them safer, and is costly beyond belief this prison system will continue to grow, unfettered, robbing the public of money that could be used for education, or job creation, both of which are more likely to reduce crime than this broken system that draws no distinction between an addict, or a mentally ill individual and a truly dangerous predator. 

Posted by: Lynne B at March 4, 2009 08:22 AM

“SMART ON CRIME”-WOW! Great article! The intention is public safety, the system needs to change. 

Posted by: Blanca at March 4, 2009 10:00 AM

Your article is filled with common sense!! Thank you all for your hard work on this. 

Posted by: dmanswife at March 4, 2009 10:13 AM

The intent of this article is noble but it is rife with errors and written by someone who really doesn't know much about how prisons are operated. She is totally bought into the concept that prisons serve some purpose, which Judge Karlton adamantly stated during the Plata hearing "prisons are not working." The prisoners DO work and they are used as slave laborers by the state. The prisons are very much run as a business - human bondage is California's largest industry. Prisoners harvest almonds, make up most of the firefighting force, run dairies, process meat, grind eye glasses for the poor, record books on tape for the blind, and are used by business. If they were forced to grow their own food, we would have even more the same crisis that we do now with epidemics spreading because of the lack of screening for Hepatitis and other diseases. Plus the guards would manipulate this around so that conditions would be on a par with farmworkers. Not to mention having weapons with such as hoes and metal gardening tools which Corrections in never going to do. Corporations already contract to the Dept of the Corrections. What a terrible idea this one is, she is promoting more slave labor so that prison building will escalate instead of investing more in education and prevention of mental illness. She is also asking the lawmakers to not only increase the slave labor, but to change sentencing laws, which they are never going to do with so many Republicans in elected office. The voters must change the sentencing laws. We just saw from the budget mess that our legislature is in total gridlock. The 5 million people related to a prisoner have to change the sentencing laws. The people profiting and feeding off the prison industry certainly aren't going to cut back on the number of their slaves that make them money. The entire humanitarian crisis exists because a profit cannot be made off the prisoners if they are given medical, dental, and health care, education or a proper diet. There is no leading criminologist or sociologist that thinks prisons work to deter crime, they are for the sole purpose of bringing a profit to the bureaucracy. With the attitudes expressed in this article, the human bondage industry is safe from being dramatically cut back. Half the prisoners have life-threatening diseases according to the Center for Disease Control, they make very poor slaves. The more profit they bring to the state, the more the human bondage industry will be built up. This author did bring out a few good points, but overall she has little understanding of the issues and what's going on. The voters aren't going to be rescued by the lawmakers on prison issues, the money's too good. Why promote even more profit in the human bondage industry? Is this Tea Party affiliated with the national Republican Tea Party movement? You never see this group at important hearings. Are they teaching people how to organize to change the laws? Nope.

Posted by: Stephanie Gooding at March 4, 2009 10:25 AM

I think that you are all crazy. I would like to know if your opinion would change at all if you or a family member are on the receiving end of a crime. Do you know that the inmates get better health, and dental than you or I? Hell, I think that I might commit a crime, cuz their life looks more appealing than mine does right now. Did you know that they are able to have transgender surgeries at the taxpayer's expense? Or, transplants? I for one do not believe that they should have it better than our elderly, and they do. I think that they should have to go through the "HMO" process like everyone else and be denied the same types of care that we are. I think that they should have a co-payment too. If they are getting ready to rejoin society as you say, then let's prepare them for the real world! I do not believe that someone that can rape, or murder can be considered a "human being" and you are right, prison is not a country club, but, they can have TV's, radios etc. We have people and children who are not able to have those things. Not to mention that they still can have visitors and their fair share of illegal drugs and other contraband. So, please tell me where these human beings are entitled to breath the same air as you or I? I for one am tired of paying for their life of luxury and I can't even afford to take a family vacation. It is obvious to me that you have money and lots of time on your hands. You need to get a grip on reality! 

Posted by: Michele at March 4, 2009 10:39 AM

I think that you are all crazy. I would like to know if your opinion would change at all if you or a family member are on the receiving end of a crime. Do you know that the inmates get better health, and dental than you or I? Hell, I think that I might commit a crime, cuz their life looks more appealing than mine does right now. Did you know that they are able to have transgender surgeries at the taxpayer's expense? Or, transplants? I for one do not believe that they should have it better than our elderly, and they do. I think that they should have to go through the "HMO" process like everyone else and be denied the same types of care that we are. I think that they should have a co-payment too. If they are getting ready to rejoin society as you say, then let's prepare them for the real world! I do not believe that someone that can rape, or murder can be considered a "human being" and you are right, prison is not a country club, but, they can have TV's, radios etc. We have people and children who are not able to have those things. Not to mention that they still can have visitors and their fair share of illegal drugs and other contraband. So, please tell me where these human beings are entitled to breath the same air as you or I? I for one am tired of paying for their life of luxury and I can't even afford to take a family vacation. It is obvious to me that you have money and lots of time on your hands. You need to get a grip on reality! 

Posted by: Michele at March 4, 2009 10:39 AM

It's not about who receives what there or on the outside. Bottom line is the prison system needs REFORM. If there were less prisoners...therefore less spending on their medical needs maybe our healthcare on the outside could be better. The overcrowding is outrageous on ALL fronts. PERIOD! Something needs to be done & it needs to be done the RiGHT WAY!! Not sentencing people to 25-to-life for stealing a candy bar! Think about it a less than a dollar candy bar versus $46,000 a year for MANY YEARS! You do the math! 

On another note-GREAT article! Hopefully people will listen.

Posted by: Nic at March 4, 2009 11:02 AM

It's not about who receives what there or on the outside. Bottom line is the prison system needs REFORM. If there were less prisoners...therefore less spending on their medical needs maybe our healthcare on the outside could be better. The overcrowding is outrageous on ALL fronts. PERIOD! Something needs to be done & it needs to be done the RiGHT WAY!! Not sentencing people to 25-to-life for stealing a candy bar! Think about it a less than a dollar candy bar versus $46,000 a year for MANY YEARS! You do the math! 

On another note-GREAT article! Hopefully people will listen.

Posted by: Nic at March 4, 2009 11:03 AM

Michelle, you sound very ignorant when you accuse inmates of getting better medical care than the average Joe. Truth be told, inmates do not receive adequate medical care, and in fact, one prisoner dies every six days due to medical neglect. A three-judge panel in San Francisco tentatively ruled last month that because the medical care for prisoners was so bad the State of California had better do something or they would reduce the prison population. You say that inmates get to watch TV or listen to the radio.....WHAT ARE YOU SUGGESTING? Should they be locked down 24 hours a day with absolutely nothing? If you treat someone like a caged animal....that is exactly what you will get upon release. Do you want these caged persons coming to your community to harm you? You will never be able to heal a sick person by punishing them. If you'd rather see your tax dollars going to more worthy programs then we need to get prison reform. Under the current system the ones profiting from the suffering of others are CCPOA (prison guard's union) and the correctional staff. The system is set up for these men and women who have been incarcerated to fail. 

Posted by: Kadeesha Watts at March 4, 2009 11:58 AM

Why can't legislators, the governor, and the CDC have any common sense? These ladies wrote a wonderful article about the problem with the prison system. People are so ignorant when it comes to those who are incarcerated. I can promise that these men and women did not aspire to be "criminal." Prison was not their ultimate goal in life. Many of them were not priviledged to grow up in a "normal" loving home as us. A lot of them grew up in broken homes full of abuse. Sometimes committing a crime was a way of survival. Putting a band-aid will not on a deep wound will not heal properly. And that is what prison is doing; only covering the wound. Prison is not healing the wound heal. 
My prayer is that one day these men and women will get the help they need. They need to be taught how to survive on the outside. If society continues to treat inmates like they are worthless, then crimes will continue. My question is; do you think God looks at them as criminals? No, he sees all those inmates as HIS children. He does not see the crime they commit, HE sees them as the apple of HIS eye. So who are we to judge these men and women? People forget that even though they may not be "criminals" they are still committing a greater crime of their own by judging. 
Great article ladies!!!

Posted by: Dee at March 4, 2009 01:51 PM

Great article. Something needs to be done to ensure that upon release the inmates are equipped to change their lives so they don't end up going back to pirson.

Posted by: light at end at March 4, 2009 03:24 PM

Great article. Something needs to be done to ensure that upon release the inmates are equipped to change their lives so they don't end up going back to pirson.

Posted by: light at end at March 4, 2009 03:25 PM

Stephanie- Actually, prisons DO serve a purpose. They are there for public protection from some pretty hardened criminals, of which a small percentage are serving sentences for violent or heinous acts. Unfortunately, it seems that people tend to lump ALL prisoners in with the minority who are truly deviant. 

I think you misread or misconstrued the point of prisoners growing their own food. Please note – the article stated THEIR OWN FOOD. As in, the food that THEY eat! Do you find it wrong that a prisoner should be able to work for some of the food that goes on his plate, and healthy food at that? The point is not to bring in more profit, but to supply edible, fresh food directly to the prisoners who are themselves growing it. This would also allow for beneficial exercise and fresh air, along with a pay number. And in case you didn’t know, there are prisoners who handle, gasp...knives! They work in the prison kitchens. There are also inmates who handle axes...we call them inmate firefighters. I imagine that there are plenty of low level inmates who could be cleared for “garden duty”.

According to a 2007 study by the LAO, less than 50% of all existing California prisoners participated in any rehabilitation or work program during their entire prison term. Notice that this percentage included both work AND rehabilitation – and was for an inmate’s entire prison term. In other words, there are not enough jobs or programs for these prisoners to participate in. Providing them with additional self-sustaining jobs makes sense. If it also saves tax payer money, that’s a bonus.

Prisoners have been legally used as “slave laborers” since the presently acknowledged 13th Amendment was signed by President Lincoln in 1865. It states: "There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." But that’s another subject and it would take an amendment to the US Constitution to see it done away with. Since it hasn’t been, we need to work with the system we have to make it better. Better at providing front end diversion programs, better at rehabilitating these folks, better at implementing health and mental care when these inmates are under state control, and better at helping the 95% that will be returning to society become more useful and productive citizens. 

Sentencing reform is also necessary. But you can’t pick just one issue and expect to solve the problem by pointing only to that. This prison crisis we’re facing is comprised of many, many nuances – and they must all be addressed if we expect there to be a change in the status quo.

PS: I believe you are confusing the 21st Century TEA Party for Prison Reform with former presidential candidate Ron Paul’s tea party campaign. As far as this group “organizing”, I think they’ve done a good job making people aware of the need for change, and getting letters to the legislators. There are other groups that do a very good job “teaching people to organize to change laws”, such as TiPs and FACTS. And Caravan4Justice had a recent rally at the State Capitol which drew a huge crowd. But every prison reform group has a purpose, and it seems a bit unenlightened to suggest otherwise.

Posted by: Kim Albanese at March 4, 2009 04:47 PM

This is an excellent summary on how CDCR could begin to truly reform the prison system. However, there are certain misconceptions on the part of some people who have posted and I presume, among the general public as well. Prisoners do not receive better medical care than the general public. They cannot go to the drug store to purchase medicines when they get a cold, unless they happen to have canteen line at the same time, and if they have any money on their books to purchase items, which many do not. Regarding more serious illnesses, there are prisoners living in dorms who are literally dying of liver failure following HepC. There are prisoners who have cancer and their treatment can be so delayed that they live with the cancer, sometimes up to a year or more before finally being treated or having surgery. And there are those with chronic medical and mental health disabilities who don't have any place where they can be cared for long-term, because CDCR's care facilities are all short-term. CDCR does not pay for sexual reassignment surgery. They will only maintain a person at the state they are when they enter prison, such as providing hormones or other maintenance treatments. In addition, there is no segregation, and transgender inmates are in danger of being sexually assaulted. Transplants rarely, if ever occur. Nor can inmates donate organs to their own relatives who may be in need because of security issues. Prisoners do have co-payments for medical care, but they cannot go home at the end of their day to see their families, nor can they meet their visitors in private and most do not receive any visits because their families are too far away, or they are too old to have any relatives left. The literature that you see about CDCR generally implies that the situation is so much better than it is in actuality. So before you begin calling the life of a prisoner a luxury, you better get the facts straight. No all inmates are rapists, murderers and child molesters. Most commit crimes of property or drug crimes. In addition, it is estimated at approximately 10% are innocent. What do you think they deserve? 

Elaina Jannell, Ph.D. 
AFSCME Local 2620

Posted by: Elaina Jannell at March 4, 2009 07:33 PM

This is an excellent summary on how CDCR could begin to truly reform the prison system. However, there are certain misconceptions on the part of some people who have posted and I presume, among the general public as well. Prisoners do not receive better medical care than the general public. They cannot go to the drug store to purchase medicines when they get a cold, unless they happen to have canteen line at the same time, and if they have any money on their books to purchase items, which many do not. Regarding more serious illnesses, there are prisoners living in dorms who are literally dying of liver failure following HepC. There are prisoners who have cancer and their treatment can be so delayed that they live with the cancer, sometimes up to a year or more before finally being treated or having surgery. And there are those with chronic medical and mental health disabilities who don't have any place where they can be cared for long-term, because CDCR's care facilities are all short-term. CDCR does not pay for sexual reassignment surgery. They will only maintain a person at the state they are when they enter prison, such as providing hormones or other maintenance treatments. In addition, there is no segregation, and transgender inmates are in danger of being sexually assaulted. Transplants rarely, if ever occur. Nor can inmates donate organs to their own relatives who may be in need because of security issues. Prisoners do have co-payments for medical care, but they cannot go home at the end of their day to see their families, nor can they meet their visitors in private and most do not receive any visits because their families are too far away, or they are too old to have any relatives left. The literature that you see about CDCR generally implies that the situation is so much better than it is in actuality. So before you begin calling the life of a prisoner a luxury, you better get the facts straight. No all inmates are rapists, murderers and child molesters. Most commit crimes of property or drug crimes. In addition, it is estimated at approximately 10% are innocent. What do you think they deserve? 

Elaina Jannell, Ph.D. 
AFSCME Local 2620

Posted by: Elaina Jannell at March 4, 2009 07:34 PM

This article gives some great ideas about how to reform our prisons. Some very basic, sound ideas.
I really think that those that are IN CHARGE need to look into implementing some of these ideas.
Its true that there are not enough "jobs" for the prisoners to do. Many WANT to work, and not even for money. They want something to DO.

Good job ladies.

Posted by: sidewalker at March 5, 2009 07:31 AM

Some good ideas. I would be concerned with inmates who are sick and are handling food (growing their own food). There is already so much sickness and disease in the prisons, I certainly wouldn't want to eat food from someone who has Hepatitis or any other disease. And to the person who said that inmates get gender reassignment surgery - that is a myth perpetrating by the guards to inflame the public. Inmates barely receive medical care. When an inmate is sick he might get some aspirin and even that takes a few weeks. 

Posted by: Sarah Castaneda at March 5, 2009 10:13 AM

Thank you Marti Hatfield, Elena Morris, and Kim Albanese for the article that proposes common sense solutions to really hard problems that are made into horrific problems by our present incarceration policies.

Posted by: Itmaybesaid at March 5, 2009 09:01 PM

I think the ladies who wrote this article have good intentions, but the prisoners are already slaves to the state.

How are the 40,000 mentally ill people going to be good slaves?

Or the 15,000 terminally ill, paraplegics, quadriplegics and people on life support or with dementia?

There are no new ideas here. The people themselves have to change the sentencing laws. This article wants the state to do everything that the families of prisoners have to do for themselves, which is change the sentencing laws. The lawmakers run the government off budgets and revenues generated by slave laborers in the prisons.

You can't ask people put into office by law enforcement labor unions to do the right thing, you have to change the law yourself. If you don't like what's going with prisons, elect some people to office who represent you. Instead of expecting those who work for law enforcement to do the right thing.

The author has it half right, she's not accurate with her facts though.

Shut down the meat plant at Mule Creek that is contaminating the rivers there and replace it with fish farms, that makes more sense. 

How can sick people make good slaves? How can sick people be punished into being well?

Pipe in educational TV to everyone on lock down, that would be a good move. But of course if education is given there go the slaves. Can't have that now, who would fight fires and build all the state's furniture if the prison slaves were educated.

This author needs to get herself informed if she wants to be respected for original ideas. After 20 years of these same suggestions, if the lawmakers haven't done anything by now, what are the chances that they ever will. This is about profits people. Get a clue and organize so you can elect your own people to office like every other citizen's group has to do. The state is killing people in the prisons, do you think they are going to do anything unless you change the law yourselves?

Posted by: Sandy Port at March 6, 2009 06:27 PM

I think the ladies who wrote this article have good intentions, but the prisoners are already slaves to the state.

How are the 40,000 mentally ill people going to be good slaves?

Or the 15,000 terminally ill, paraplegics, quadriplegics and people on life support or with dementia?

There are no new ideas here. The people themselves have to change the sentencing laws. This article wants the state to do everything that the families of prisoners have to do for themselves, which is change the sentencing laws. The lawmakers run the government off budgets and revenues generated by slave laborers in the prisons.

You can't ask people put into office by law enforcement labor unions to do the right thing, you have to change the law yourself. If you don't like what's going with prisons, elect some people to office who represent you. Instead of expecting those who work for law enforcement to do the right thing.

The author has it half right, she's not accurate with her facts though.

Shut down the meat plant at Mule Creek that is contaminating the rivers there and replace it with fish farms, that makes more sense. 

How can sick people make good slaves? How can sick people be punished into being well?

Pipe in educational TV to everyone on lock down, that would be a good move. But of course if education is given there go the slaves. Can't have that now, who would fight fires and build all the state's furniture if the prison slaves were educated.

This author needs to get herself informed if she wants to be respected for original ideas. After 20 years of these same suggestions, if the lawmakers haven't done anything by now, what are the chances that they ever will. This is about profits people. Get a clue and organize so you can elect your own people to office like every other citizen's group has to do. The state is killing people in the prisons, do you think they are going to do anything unless you change the law yourselves?

Posted by: Sandy Port at March 6, 2009 06:28 PM

I agree with Stephanie. Nestled among the “common sense” bromides, the condescending Goody-Two-Shoes nostrums, and a number of completely out of touch assumptions lies the notion that prisons are full for good reason, and it's just a matter of making prisons a paying proposition so that respectable blue-haired Republican Tea matrons like yourselves don't have to pay the cost. It’s not about the irrational punitiveness that makes the United States a pariah among nations, or the injustice of undeserved human misery at the hands of rogue prison guards, it’s about the cost-—which apparently, is the only thing that gets people’s attention in this whole sordid mess. 

Unfortunately, what is missing from your analysis is the fact that every one of the things you have proposed has already been proposed and beaten back by the CCPOA, the prison guard union, a gang of right-wing thugs with a $24 million war chest to spend on lobbying the legislature for more prisons, harsher sentences and less oversight. Members of the CCPOA, by the way, are not above issuing death threats to California legislators. 

In California 92,628 (or 66%) of the 139,608 people sent to prison in 2007 were parole violators, the vast bulk of which were sent back for technical "offenses" like missing an appointment with their parole officers who are members of CCPOA. Of those who have committed actual crimes, roughly half were for drug offenses, and half were for minor property crimes. Rape and murder account for less than 0.5%, of all crime and criminals, and “serious violent crime” accounts for less than 4% of the people in prison. 

We could safely cut prisons by 90% (back to pre-1983 levels, where we managed just fine). As it is, we incarcerate 7 times more people on a per capita basis than in Europe, Canada or Japan, and still experience about the same level of crime. Prison is not--and never has been--about crime rates or public safety, it is about high paying jobs for prison guards and getting right-wing “law and order” politicians elected. So stop floating that insipid lie that prisons are necessary to protect us from "dangerous criminals." What we have now is a self-serving special interest group that has a political life of its own. Let's be honest: prisons disenfranchise poor people and racial minorities—people who tend to vote Democrat—and it knocks people out of the political process for generations at a time.

When I see Kim Alabanese waxing nostalgic about the 19th Century and the 13th Amendment’s exception to the prohibition against slavery, it tells me pretty much everything I need to know about you. Here we are, basking in the warm glow of Obama's victory, thinking that we had finally turned the page on racism, and you are talking about bringing back slavery! Gosh! It's still on the books, isn’t it? 

Well, actually no. Most of the states have repealed their statutes enslaving prisoners. But thanks for bringing it up. It's important to know that you don't see prisoners as full human beings, and that you are fine with having second class citizens who will wash your car and make your beds, and do it on the cheap.

Now to your misinformation:

“12. Re-institute good time credits.” GOOD TIME CREDITS NEVER WENT AWAY. All prisoners work, study or "program" in order to earn their good time credits. As a matter of fact, most of inmates earn between 9 and 42 cents an hour--less 55% deducted for restitution (none of which goes to the victims since, for the most part, there aren’t any). How good a job would you be willing to do for 19 cents an hour? 2.50? Think you could be "good" for 6 months to earn the "privelige"? What's wrong with paying prisoners the minimimum wage? Or market rates?

“10 a. Make prisoners grow as much of the food they eat as possible. First of all, you can’t MAKE a prisoner do anything. What are you going to do if they say NO, horse whip them? I’m sure the blacks would really love it, as would the racist guards who are always itching for an excuse to humiliate and degrade. Second, prisoners DO grow a lot of their own food, and cash crops to boot. With modern farming methods, it only takes a couple of prisoners to look after a few thousand acres of wheat or corn. And it is already a logistical nightmare, strip searching everybody coming and going. As for the food, anything good is sold off to the public and the prisoners get the unappetizing dregs—sour mottled fruit, chickens with tumors, and grey meat patties made from soy and ground up cows that have died from udder infections. I don’t know what prison kitchen you’ve ever been in, but PRISONES ARE NOT ALLOWED TO HANDLE KNIVES! Everything comes in frozen chunk or patty form and is baked, boiled or steamed. The PIA already DOES make inmate clothing, only they charge more for it than an outside vendor. All the printed forms in CDCR ARE ALREADY printed up by prisoners! 

“10c. Teach prisoners working in the kitchen to make their own bread, to cook wholesome and appetizing. What condescending crap! A lot of the guys in prison are cooks—-some of them actual chefs. The reason the food isn’t wholesome or appetizing is not because they don’t know how but because they AREN’T ALLOWED to make it healthful or appetizing. The free staff steals tell inmates to their face that they don’t think they deserve even the slop they get, which may help explain why a lot of of the food never makes its way to the prisoners. 

“10.d. Teach prisoners to maintain equipment … to be plumbers, electricians and heating/air conditioner repair people.” Hello! In any group of 4,000 men there is going to be more plumbers, electricians, etc. than you can possibly gainfully employ. And, for your information, they already do what little maintenance gets done in and around prisons. There IS NO AIR CONDITIONING IN PRISON! No hot water, no microwaves, no washers or dryers, only the irreducible minimum of everything. 

“11. Teach the prisoners that they must follow the rules or take the consequences.” OH REALLY? OR WHAT? You going to throw them in prison? Take away their “privileges”? What privileges might those be? What makes you think it is a privilege to work for your oppressor? Or that working to pay some inflated bogus restitution bill is going to make work “worthwhile”? We have thousands of people living in supermax prisons where their whole interaction with the world is reduced to having a tray shoved through a slot in the door twice a day (at double the cost of a regular prison). What makes you think that prisoners are the least little bit afraid of you and your punishments? What about making the prison guards follow their own rules—and not just the ones that most inconvenience and deprive inmates? 

What about asking the prisoners whether they want to be sent to a faith based “help” facility and have religion forced down their throats under the threat of being sent back to prison? What about treating people as if they were human beings, as if their opinions and lifestyle choices matter? Where do you (or anyone) get off telling people who like to smoke a little pot (or anything else) that they have to be “rehabilitated”? As long as you arrogate the right to meddle in people’s lives YOU DESERVE TO PAY THE COST. It SHOULD be costly, and believe me, the prisoners will do everything they can to make sure it is.

Posted by: Daniel Zuma at March 6, 2009 09:31 PM

Yes, they do have knives (along with many other types of tools). There are also provisions for their use, supervision and secured control:

52040.4.1 Critical Tools
Critical tools include all tools that are extremely hazardous when uncontrolled, i.e., hacksaws and blades, cutting torches, large pipe wrenches, all types of knives, bolt cutters, axes, or any additional tools which work
supervisors and instructors or the captain feel are dangerous to institution security or inmates' well being. Tools in this category shall be coded and marked to conform with DOM 52040.5.

Dangerous Tools
Dangerous tools may be utilized without direct staff supervision. Some examples of dangerous tools include, but are not limited to, the
All sharp pointed tools.
Diagonal pliers.
Electrician's pliers.
Side cutters.

52040.4.2 Non-Critical Tools
Tools not included in DOM 52040.4.1 are not normally classified as critical tools; however, the work supervisor may request a critical tool classification through the work supervisor's supervisor and captain. Examples of noncritical
tools include, but are not limited to, the following:
Lawn mower.
Lawn rakes.
Small open and closed wrenches.
Long-handled gardening tools.
Electrical testing equipment.

52040.13.5 Culinary
All tools used in the preparation and serving of food in the culinary area shall only be used under direct supervision of culinary staff. When not in use, tools shall be kept in a security locked box. In addition to inventory checks
covered in DOM 52040.8, an inventory check shall be made prior to starting and after closing culinary operations by staff designated by the Warden or RPA and noted on the inventory log. The time of the inventory check shall be noted on the watch commander’s report (Daily Report of Watch
Activities). Any discrepancies shall be noted. Examples of tools are, but not limited to:
Long-handled spoons (over six inch handles).
Long-handled forks (over six inch handles).
Rotating discs from potato peeling machine.
Band saw blades.

Mr. Zuma (?), with all due respect you are much older than I am (according to your blog you are in your 60's) so if I am a "blue hair", and you're old enough to be my father, I guess you're a grey hair. But what of it? Why would it matter what color my hair or my age? I realize that since you received a three year sentence for a drug conviction you have personal and inside information about the prison system that I have not experienced. I am sorry that you got caught up in this war on drugs, but please do not assume that the author(s) of this article are unaware of CDCr policies, rules and regulations. 
As it stands now, EVERY prisoner is given the same guidelines for "good time" credits. There are across the board percentages that every inmate receives (35%, 50%, 80% and 85% time served). They can LOSE some of this "automatic" time credit through behavior infractions, but they CAN NOT EARN MORE for "programming". There has been discussion by legislators to institute additional time credits for such things as completing certain education and/or substance abuse and anger management programs. As it stands now, whether an inmate works or not, gets a GED or not or completes a drug or alcohol program, they do not get additional time off their sentence. Even fire camp inmates, who serve at 3:1, cannot further reduce their sentence through additional earned credits. In other words, there is nothing "earned" with the system we have now. There is only "loss" that is possible. I hope that you can discern the difference.

Should a prisoner choose to continue with their lifestyle of drug or alcohol abuse, that is up to them. However, for many it is a dead end road - often times LITERALLY, and they want help to overcome the destruction that this lifestyle has brought into their lives. If faith based organizations are paying for programs to be available to prisoners that want to "rehab", then more power to them. Should Atheist, Pagan, Muslim, Native American, Hindu, Buddhist or any other religious or non-religious organizations want to fund rehabilitation programs through donor funds, there is nothing stopping them from doing so. In fact, there are programs available through many other sources besides just Christian. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship has an excellent list of some of these post-release prison resources at this link:
No one FORCES a prisoner to be involved with a specifically Christian-based program, and no one forces them to "convert". If there were more atheist or other non-religious OR religious based donors (besides Christian) that wanted to raise the funds necessary to initiate and oversee such programs, they could do so. It just so happens that through Christian donorship, more programs have been implemented to meet this need.

There is a link in this article to the 21st Century TEA Party, which if you follow it you will quickly see that there is no relation to any other tea party, Republican or otherwise. We have democrats, republicans, independents, green party members and anyone else whose concern is for prison reform involved in this movement. We do not hold a bias against someone's registered political party affiliation. In fact, I would consider that to be discrimination, wouldn't you?

13th Amendment:
While some states may choose not to implement it, NO state can repeal it. That would be like saying a certain state doesn't agree with the 8th Amendment (Cruel and Unusual Punishment) so what the heck, let's repeal it. Or Freedom of Speech. We don't like that one either, so let's just throw it out, too. I think you get the drift. That's why it is the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION. Of course, each individual state has their own set of constitutions but they are not in direct conflict or violation of our US version. I didn't write it, but you speak to me as if I did. I am in NO WAY in agreement with it. I find it reprehensible that this is still on the books, especially considering WHY it was included there in the first place. And I know very well the history of this amendment and the reasons it was initially written to exclude prisoners from being considered as slaves. I think I made it pretty clear that since it IS in existence, and since the UNITED STATES has not repealed it, then we need to work within the system we currently have to MAKE IT BETTER. I find it very offensive that you would suggest I support slave labor of ANY kind. That was completely uncalled for, and brought any valid concerns you have with this article to such a low level that I cannot respect anything you have to say on this issue. Firsthand knowledge, or not.

Posted by: Kim Albanese at March 7, 2009 09:56 AM

Very well said Kim Albanese. I just wanted to say that my son who is incarcerated has worked in the kitchens for the last couple years. He is an 85% er. He handles knives on a regular basis. He also has hot running water, air conditioning and heating. Now, it is usually still a bit warm in the summer time and a bit cold in the winter, but they do have it. Do they have it in all prisons? I don't know. There may be older prisons that don't.

Also, I am sure that the food is not top notch. But the one thing I do know is that USDA will not allow sick or diseased animals to be used for human consumption. I have been in the livestock business for many years. Those animals are tagged "condemned" destroyed immediately and taken away to rendering plants. Dog/cat food products can be made from these animals. I will start worrying when Purina trucks start delivering to the prisons.

Mr. Zuma, it is a shame that you have chosen to maline those who care about reforming the prison system with facts that are completely wrong or just out of date. You are very well spoken and people would tend to believe what you say because of that. Please take care in what you present as fact as this affects us all. Maybe those things could have been policy decades ago, but things change.

Certainly we would rather not have prisons, but that is something we will never see. We have some truly deviant evil people in our society that need to be locked away. Society will never accept treating prisoners the same as those on the outside that have broken no laws or harmed another human being. The most that we can hope for is that they come to understand that prisons should work on changing prisoners for the better, not making them worse which is what we have now.
To understand that 95% of these prisoners will be released and it is much safer for the public and parolee if we actually try to help them be good citizens. 

As Kim stated, no one forces a parolee into any kind of faith based programs. The fact is though that the faith based organizations are much more willing and able to give a parolee the chance and help they need where our government is not. 

Faith based organizations actually care about the human kind. If you are waiting for the government to do anything to help, you will be waiting a very long time. Faith based organizations have and always will be the safety net for many who fall. You just have to walk through the door. 

We are very aware that parole is a huge problem. 70,000 parolees were returned to prison in 2008 for TECHNICAL VIOLATIONS. 20,000 were returned for new crimes. Obviously the overcrowding issue could easily be solved. Reforming parole would go a long way in dropping the population.

You also lead people to believe that everyone in prison is sick. That is not the case either. Thousands are perfectly healthy enough to work and they should. Hep C is prevalent but it can take decades to manifest symptoms. Many don't know they have it. They can be treated. 

There is nothing wrong with teaching someone a trade they can actually use to support themselves on the outside. It has nothing to do with slavery. We have become a lazy society that believes everyone should have everything given to them without working for it. Well, it doesn't work that way. Using the "Slavery" slogan is the same type of rhetoric that the CCPOA uses with their "murderers and rapists will be roaming the streets" nonsense. 

We are all working for the same thing. We want fairness in sentencing. We want those incarcerated to be treated as humans. If they give respect, respect should be given. We want them to come out healthy and alive and hopefully better people. Alot of work needs doing and conditions are right for there to be big changes.

Releasing the sick, infirmed, elderly etc. will help a great deal but it will not solve the root problem. 

Out of control sentencing laws. 

Posted by: Morris1 at March 7, 2009 04:39 PM

Ms Albanese, 
Just because you found a copy of the Department Operations Manual (DOM) and can quote the section covering the security protocols surrounding knives and other tools doesn't mean they actually have knives in any given kitchen. Every institution is different. Any time there is an incident, they make the rules more restrictive. They almost always overreact, and whatever they implement stays that way for years afterward because there is no mechanism for undoing outdated and outmoded policies once instituted. CDCR is absolutely hamstrung with layers upon layers of obsolete rules and policies that nobody can remember the reason for. For example, about 7 years ago, an inmate walked away from a minimum security ranch and went on a crime spree (because CDCR violated its own guidelines). To this day they still count the prisoners every 4 hours, even though this inconveniences everyone, adds nothing to security, and severely disrupts evening programming. 

Anyway, your point about the knives is--apart from your condescending and snarky putdown of Stephanie--that prisoners should have to work for their food (as if they don’t). I think your exact words were, "Make them grow their own food." The operative word here is “MAKE.” I can think of a hundred good why I would joyfully grow my own food, but as soon as you say you are going to MAKE me, I don’t want to have anything to do with you, your program, or the high horse you rode in on. MAKE is what you do to slaves. So spare me your hypocritical indignation; you make have made it quite clear by this and other statements in favor of coercion that you support slave labor. 

As for the 13th Amendment, it does NOT make prisoners slaves. Like the provision on felony disenfranchisement, it is PERMISSIVE; that is, it does NOT automatically disenfranchise prisoners; it ALLOWS states to enact statutes that enslave or disenfranchise. So, “working within the system” does not mean treating prisoners as slaves of the state. There is no such thing as making slavery “better.” You may think that you are noble and well-intentioned, but your thinking reeks of arrogance and condescension, like we are all a bunch of ignorant savages who are waiting for you to grace us with your middle class sensibility and your armchair do-gooder pipedreams about what is good for us. There is absolutely nothing in what you have written that shows even the slightest concern or respect for what prisoners might think or feel about any of it. 

Good time credits are not “automatic.” Programming is compulsory. If you don’t program, you don’t get your good time credits. Whether you “fail” to earn them or they take them away from you for not programming, it’s pretty much the same difference. 

What makes you think anyone in prison wants drug treatment? I took a survey in one 300 man dorm I was in once. Under the assumption that every man has his price, I asked all the drug users I could safely talk to how much money they would be willing to accept in exchange for giving up drugs. There were only two out of about 100 that would give me any number at all—one said "pay for his college education" and the other said $5,000 a month (but I could tell he was planning to take the money and keep on using drugs). For all the rest, NO AMOUNT OF MONEY would be enough to interest them in giving up drugs. In fact, they would talk about how they were counting the days when their “ole ladies” would be picking them up, with a full rig in her handbag so that he could have a needle in his arm before they even got off the parking lot. Treatment programs are a monumental sham and everybody except do-gooders like you seems to know it. There is no confidentiality, paid police snitches and personal enemies abound, and most of the people who staff these incestuous little cults are former addicts hustling money from the state. They seldom have any formal training or expertise whatsoever. Nobody in his right mind would open up in one of these groups, much less go to one of his own free will. 

It doesn’t matter how many different flavors of Christian or other religious treatment programs there are available, you go to the program where your parole officer tells you to go, or you go back to prison. End of story. Don’t tell me that no one is forced to go to a Christian program they don’t believe in. I know different, and it is absolutely despicable. True, nobody forces you to “convert” at a Christian soup kitchen, but that doesn’t mean they don’t subject you to the indignity of having to listen politely to their pious horse crap as the price of their charity. Forcing people to humiliate themselves because they are in need or otherwise captive is the one of the worst kinds of humiliation. I don’t mind religious people funding substance abuse treatment, so long as they leave their religious hokum at the door. I would be in favor of one of those check offs, like they have on your taxes for breast cancer, instead of soul soliciting opportunists.

You may have a nominal democrat or a green party member on your mailing list, but your ideas are pure status quo Republican. By that I mean that you basically accept the premise of the carceral state (Google it). Your agenda, handed down from on high, doesn’t really consider what the prisoners think or need or want or might have to say about any of it. You see nothing wrong with inflicting religion on captive audiences. You think you can shovel out rehabilitation and MAKE prisoners take it without considering whether it is really needed, wanted or presented in a dignified manner. You’ve already seen what a hash CDCR has already made of health care. Do you really want them messing with your loved one’s minds in the name of “rehabilitation”? Do you really want to put CDCR in a position where they force your loved ones to take a half-baked anger management courses that only make them more angry? (I’ve seen it.)

Obviously, you think that coming in and saying “increase training” and “let them bake bread” automatically establishes your reform bona fides. I’m sorry, but a lot of your ideas are half-baked, insulting and oppressive. To wit: “Since Death Row is already at San Quentin, fill the rest of the beds with the worst of the worst in California prisons. For those prisoners that are designated in this category that will not fit into San Quentin – send them to Pelican Bay, the Super Prison.” Really? Put all the bad people in one place? (Like no one ever thought of that before!) Isn’t that a lot like rounding up all the plutonium and putting it in one place? And why put them right next to Death Row? Were you thinking, perhaps, of cranking up the gas chambers after you’ve got everybody who’s expendable together? Hey, three chairs, no waiting! And who decides who “the worst of the worst” is? Would they be “troublemakers” (i.e., people who file 602s, lawsuits or otherwise annoy CDCR staff)? Were you going to have any kind of due process in increasing the level of custody and (hence punishment they would endure), or were you thinking of herding them all into a soccer stadium and having guys in black hoods point out the “bad” like they did in Argentina? Who do you think is in Pelican Bay already?

Another one: “4. Put a stop to District Attorneys and police using threats to intimidate suspects into accepting a plea bargain, even if they are innocent.” Just how DO you put a stop to it? Are you going to wag your finger, or frown, or write a letter? You are up against a political machine that has $24 million a year to spend on lobbying and their interests are diametrically opposed to yours, and they don’t play nice.
You are acting entirely on your own agenda with only passing regard for those you deign to help. You show no interest in their issues, their empowerment or dignity. You think that just because you have made a few recommendations that YOU think are reforms that you are seek to improve prisons by, does not automatically engender my respect And beyond that, you’re are insufferably condescending and snarky. 

I have been out for about year and a half now, so my information is fairly recent. So they let your boy have access to knives; they didn’t where I was. 

I am glad to know that there is no possible way that sick or diseased animals could be consumed by humans, the neighbor who disposed of the dead cows must have been wrong about their final destination. I wish I could say the same for the milk. There was/is no air conditioning in the inmates’ part of the prison housing about 4,200. There was a swamp cooler in one 200-man dorm I was in toward the end, but it was in such poor repair that it didn’t really cool the air more than a few degrees. There were 3 other 20-man dorms which had better coolers, so yes, there are a few—a very few—inmates that do have it. I’m glad to hear that your son has hot water. In the main part of the prison it was cold where I was. It never got more than warm elsewhere, except occasionally, when it would get too hot. The hot water would go out 2-3 days a week, not because the prisoners didn’t know how to repair it, but because it was a huge complicated deal to keep the parts in stock. 

I haven’t maligned anyone. I’ve just pointed out that several of these “reform” proposals are patronizing and sound a lot like about creating a “kinder, gentler” form of slavery, not anything the prisoners would really be interested in. I surmise that your son is one of those truly deviant evil people that needs to be locked away, since you seem to be fine with a system that treats him that way. I hope he isn’t so lazy that he can’t or won’t learn a trade. Maybe, if Kim gets her way, the guards can MAKE him straighten up and not be such a burden on the rest of us. After all, would it really be too much to ask him to grow the food he eats? As you said yourself, he has become lazy and believes that everything should be handed to him without working for it. That was him you were talking about, wasn't it? 

Posted by: Daniel Zuma at March 7, 2009 09:53 PM

Actually Zuma I wasn't talking about my son. My son got 10 years, didn't hurt anyone (but he could have), isn't a drug addict or a thief. But he did do wrong. He should have done about 2-3 years. That is all I can say on that.

My son actually had a full time job and was taking college courses (however he didn't apply himself as he should have been). He is by no means lazy but he thought he should be able to have things that he really had not earned. We gave him too much, that's our mistake. People in general today believe they are entitled to about anything they want whether they can pay for it or not. They don't believe they have to follow rules. They believe any behavior they want to follow should be just fine. In my eyes there must be consequences for bad behavior and prison is a consequence. 

We are witnessing the fall of this country as the takers are now outnumbering those pulling the wagons. People have less and less desire to earn their being and are just fine with expecting someone else to pay for it. You are very educated but you seem to go along with that thinking. 

Prisoners ususally have done something to get where they are, my son included. They will never be treated (on the inside) as those on the outside, nor should they be. However once their sentence is complete, the punishment should not continue. This is where the most reform needs to occur.

You seem to have a deep seeded hatred for any kind of organized religion for some reason. I respect that. Of course these organizations are going to try to set them on a different path so they can be successful citizens again. Obviously their way didn't work, their way put them in prison. Something in their life needs re-directing. 

I'm with you on the drug thing. I think it should all be legal and if people want to kill themselves with it, they should be able to. I also believe as an employer that if someone is on drugs I have the right to refuse to hire them. They are a liability to me. That is the rub. They choose to destroy their lives with drugs and then want the state (you and I) to pay for them. 

This country is going down the tubes because our population has become lazy and they want to blame everyone else for their problems but themselves. I happen to believe that people need to take responsibility for and care of themselves. That is what made this country a super power. Now we are on the road to being a 3rd world country. As the new administration tears down capitalism and when they finally run out of wealthy people to pay for everything, they will figure it out, too late. As more and more corporations leave our country for cheaper labor and keep their money offshore people will see who was keeping this country afloat. Manufacturing has almost completey left our shores. We have become far too dependent on other countries to make our goods as unions have made it impossible to continue business here. We will no longer know how to make things.

We will have another civil war as this country tears itself apart.

I am happy that the Federal Government as well as state governments have opened dialogue for Justice Reform. We have reached a tipping point and the only logical choices are reform. One thing the new administration will be good for is Justice Reform I think.

Take a quick look at this:


A Silver Lining to the Economic Crisis: Less Money for Prisons
By Liliana Segura, AlterNet
Posted on January 22, 2009

If you're seeking a silver lining to the current economic crisis, this may well be it: As states across the country confront historic budget shortfalls, more and more politicians are looking toward long-overdue criminal justice reform as a way to cut spending. Suddenly, the money local governments stand to save by slowing down incarceration rates is trumping the political costs traditionally associated with it.

Good news, perhaps, this evolution in thinking, but it's hardly a burst of innovation (let alone political courage). The nation's prisons have been dysfunctional and overcrowded for ages, reaching emergency levels in recent years. Around this time last year, a study released by the Pew Center found that 1 in 100 Americans was behind bars, a sobering statistic that spurred calls for reform, from news articles to op-eds, to (briefly) Hillary Rodham Clinton's primary campaign. One year later, the economic crisis has given reluctant governors and state reps the political cover to initiate reforms that they previously would have considered too risky. Virginia and Kentucky are pondering early release for thousands of low-level prisoners and Michigan, one of four states that spends more on incarceration than education, is considering deep reforms as well.

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project recently told the Associated Press, "Many political leaders who weren't comfortable enough, politically, to do it before can now, under the guise of fiscal responsibility, implement programs and policies that would be win/win situations, saving money and improving corrections."

Most crucial, perhaps, is the focus on the parole system, where the uniquely American rush to incarcerate meets the ham-fistedness of our so-called war on drugs. According to federal parole statistics, at the end of 2007, more than 5.1 million adult men and women were "supervised in the community, either on probation or parole" in this country. That's 1 in every 45 adults. Furthermore, "the most common type of offense for which offenders were on parole was a drug offense."

California, Facing Fiscal 'Oblivion'

The cost of locking up parole violators has been a major drain on states' resources -- and no state knows this better than California. In 2002, a study by the Justice Policy Center calculated that the Golden State -- which leads the country in the size of its parole population and recidivism rates -- spent some $900 million a year to keep parole violators (who spend an average of five months in prison) incarcerated. That year, according to the same study, nearly 1 in 5 parolees lived in California.

California's prison system was so embattled that when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took office in 2003, he had almost no choice but to start looking at ways to overhaul it. He renamed it, from the California Department of Corrections to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- and set about refocusing on treatment and re-entry. Political push-back led to immediate setbacks from prison unions and interest groups operating under the banner of victims' rights, and within a couple of years, the central component to California's reform attempt -- parole reform -- was rolled back. In April 2005, the Los Angeles Times reported, "parole violators will no longer be diverted into drug-treatment programs, halfway houses and home detention instead of being returned to prison …"

"That strategy had been pushed by the Schwarzenegger administration as a way to save the state money by reducing the prison population -- and to improve the odds that ex-convicts would turn their lives around."

Now, however, California faces its biggest budget deficit in the state's history. The Economist magazine described it as nearing fiscal "oblivion."

"California, first in many things, is facing America's worst budget crisis. The gap between projected revenues and spending during this fiscal year and next amounts to $41.6 billion, which is almost half the total sum that the state expects to raise next year."
Schwarzenegger's response has been to use the kind of fearmongering usually reserved for pushing tough-on-crime legislation to force the legislature to pass sweeping austerity measures. On Dec. 10, standing alongside a distressingly large clock that broke down the losses -- $470 a second, $28,000 a minute, $1.7 million an hour and $40 million a day -- he announced: "California faces a growing financial crisis, and if we don't put aside our ideological differences and negotiate and solve this problem, we're heading towards a financial Armageddon."

Among his proposals is getting rid of parole for nonviolent offenders altogether -- a radical measure for a state that is only one of a handful in the country that makes three- to five-year parole mandatory for anyone released from prison, regardless of the crime. If implemented, such a reform could dramatically reduce the recidivism rate.

According to the most recent data available on the CRDC Web site, of the more than 171,500 prisoners behind bars in California, 123,144 are locked up on parole violations.

Overall, Schwarzenegger's plan calls for an $842 million budget cut for the CDCR, according to the Sacramento Bee -- an "8.7 percent slash that would take the agency's overall spending down to about $9.6 billion."

While he's at it, the governor would do well to consider scrapping another wasteful pet project, scheduled to start this spring: a planned overhaul of San Quentin Prison's Condemned Inmate Complex -- otherwise known as death row -- at a time when the state's execution chamber has been inactive for almost three years. State politicians recently launched a bipartisan campaign to block the project, which one assemblyman describes as a looming "$1.6 billion blunder."

"The death row expansion is a bottomless money pit that will drain hundreds of millions of dollars from the state's massive and ever-increasing budget deficit," Republican Sen. Jeff Denham told reporters earlier this month. On Jan. 12, he introduced legislation to stop the project. According to the Los Angeles Chronicle, "if the state cuts this project as a midyear spending cut, it could save $18.6 million per year -- a total of $93.2 million in avoided operations and maintenance costs if the project is delayed five years."

Goodbye to New York’s Unjust Drug Laws?

California is not alone in re-examining its prison policies. In New York, where the notoriously harsh Rockefeller drug laws -- which impose mandatory minimum sentences for the sale or possession of small amounts of illegal drugs -- remain embedded deep in the fabric of the state, Gov. David Paterson recently announced his intention to roll them back, as well as plans to close 13 prisons and jails.

Paterson, who was once arrested at a protest against the Rockefeller drug laws in front of Gov. George Pataki's office, continued to be an outspoken supporter of prison-reform legislation until his unexpected rise to power last year. With New York embroiled in a serious deficit, Paterson suggested during his State of the State address earlier in 2008 that enough is enough. "Few public-safety initiatives have failed as badly and for as long as the Rockefeller drug laws," he said. "These laws did not work when I was elected senator in 1985, and they do not work today." Paterson also reiterated what may activists against the Rockefeller drug laws have argued for years: that the hard-fought reforms established a few years back were only a start.

"We enacted modest reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws in 2004. Yet these reforms still did not go far enough to expand the availability of drug-treatment programs, allow judges to order low-level offenders into mandatory treatment and assure that prisons are used for the most serious drug offenders," Paterson said.

Anthony Papa, an activist who served 12 years in prison under the Rockefeller drug laws before being granted clemency, believes Paterson is sincere in his efforts to overhaul the laws.

"He went to great lengths in showing he was sincere by getting arrested with us in 2002 at a protest … in front of then-Gov. George Pataki office in Midtown. I am hoping he remembers the fire that roared in his heart in the past and utilizes it to procure the much-needed reforms of a broken criminal-justice system." What's more, "I think the stars have aligned together to help him make the necessary changes if he takes the lead and follows his instinct." Indeed, with Democrats now controlling both legislative houses in the state, Paterson's initiative has a far greater chance of succeeding.

The Bad News

In both California and New York, the dramatic budget reductions cut both ways, and the potential for meaningful prison reform comes wrapped with measures that are devastating for other areas. Schools and hospitals will bear the brunt of Paterson's plan, which calls for $9 billion in spending cuts.

In California, education will suffer similarly deep cuts in funding. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "around the state, school administrators have begun looking at how many employees they can lay off next year and which programs they can cancel."

"This is the worst it's ever been in the state of California," one school superintendent said.

While the economic crisis alone does not necessarily mean a spike in crime rates, the social underpinnings of crime have everything to do with factors like education. The progress on prison reform spurred by the crisis is an ironic counterpoint to the harsh austerity measures we face across the country. It is too soon to tell what the implications will be of our economic meltdown, but prison reform is long overdue.

Daniel Weintraub: Governor should take a chance on prison reform
By Daniel Weintraub - 
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger missed a perfect opportunity to overhaul the state's criminal justice system when, early in his first term, he ignored most of the recommendations of an independent commission chaired by California's tough, former law-and-order governor, Republican George Deukmejian.

Now Schwarzenegger is getting another chance to end, or at least significantly reduce, the dysfunction in the state's chronically overcrowded and increasingly expensive prisons. His next move will tell us whether he wants to be a risk-taking, reform-minded chief executive, or just talk like one.

The Deukmejian commission, appointed by Schwarzenegger in 2004, recommended junking the state's rigid sentencing system and replacing it with a program that would reward inmates who completed rehabilitation programs, including literacy and job training. It called for the state to perform an individual evaluation of every new inmate and develop a program designed to reduce the chances of the inmate committing new crimes once he was released.

The commission also suggested reducing the number of parolees returned to prison for a few weeks or a few months for violating the conditions of their release, unless they had committed a new crime.

The recommendations on evaluating and sentencing inmates went nowhere. The parole alternatives were tried, but a jittery Schwarzenegger quickly abandoned them amid signs that ex-cons who were left on the streets were committing new crimes.

Rehabilitation programs, meanwhile, continued to wither away. And the prison population, once projected to decline to 148,000, grew instead and now totals more than 170,000.

Now another expert panel appointed by the Schwarzenegger administration to study the problem has made some of the same recommendations, and more. But this time, the context is different. Schwarzenegger has just signed a bipartisan bill to expand prison capacity while boosting rehabilitation programs. He says he is committed to changing the culture of the prisons from punishment-only to at least trying to turn around those few inmates who, research shows, can be reached with the right approach.

Like the Deukmejian commission, this panel, which included academics, consultants and prison officials from other states, recommended new, positive incentives to encourage inmates to enroll in and complete education, job training and drug addiction programs. It suggested the adoption of a new "risk assessment" tool designed to determine which inmates are most likely to commit new crimes after they are released, and to give prison managers options to reduce that likelihood. Every inmate would have a behavior management plan and would be rewarded if he met its objectives. And the churn that now sends criminals into and out of prison for short terms would be dramatically reduced.

Specifically, the panel recommended:

• Replacing current work-incentive programs, which reduce inmate sentences by a day for each day worked or attending school, with a program that grants those sentence credits to inmates who demonstrate good behavior.

• Awarding additional good-time credits to offenders who complete any rehabilitation program in prison and while on parole.

• Stopping the return of parolees to prison for violations of parole rules short of committing a new crime.

• Releasing low-risk, nonviolent offenders without parole after the end of their terms.

• Ending parole supervision early for offenders who complete rehabilitation programs and follow all the rules set for them after their release.

Taken together, these policies would reduce the state's prison population by as many as 43,000, the panel concluded. That reduction would save about $600 million a year, even after accounting for the increased cost of new education, work-training and drug addiction programs to serve prisoners and parolees.

"We believe that our plan would increase public safety, reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars," the panel concluded.

The governor has said repeatedly that he won't release prison inmates early to reduce overcrowding. But this panel is saying that releasing inmates early might actually make the public safer, if those releases are tied to behaviors that could reduce the chance that an inmate will commit a new crime.

Schwarzenegger's prison managers have begun to implement a program to assess each inmate and give him or her an individual program to follow while in prison. They have also begun a comprehensive re-evaluation of every rehabilitation program to determine which work and which should be abandoned.

But the biggest reductions in overcrowding would come from changes in sentencing laws and parole policies. On those issues, Schwarzenegger must lead the way.

California has the highest recidivism rate in the country, with 70 percent of inmates returning to prison within three years after release. What the state has been doing for a generation is not working. The current policies are draining the treasury and making the streets less safe. It's time to try a new approach.

In my next column I will review a scathing examination of the prisons' failed drug addiction programs and explore what the state is doing to try to fix them.


California Legislature approves plan to add prison beds
By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer

Thursday, April 26, 2007

(04-26) 12:15 PDT SACRAMENTO, (AP) -- 

The California Legislature on Thursday approved a $6.1 billion prison package that will add beds for inmates and provide a jolt to rehabilitation, a move designed to avoid a federal takeover of the severely overcrowded system.

The urgency bill, negotiated by the Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, passed 69-0 in the Assembly and 27-10 in the Senate, where it barely won the required two-thirds majority.

The plan, which goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, would add 53,000 beds, boost education, job training and other rehabilitation programs, and allow the governor to continue to transfer thousands of inmates out of state. It includes 13,000 beds to be built at county jails, with local governments contributing an additional $1.2 billion.

It would reduce overcrowding in state prisons and county jails, while trying to end the cycle that sends seven of every 10 ex-convicts back to prison soon after their release.

"We are not treating a symptom, we are proposing a cure," said the bill's co-author, Greg Aghazarian, R-Stockton.

The governor and lawmakers were pressured to act by a looming June deadline set by the federal courts. A federal judge had ordered the state to create a plan to reduce its overcrowding problem — the state's 33 prisons were designed to hold about 100,000 inmates but now house more than 172,000.

If the state failed to act, it faced the prospect of federal judges ordering early release of inmates or stopping convicts from being sent to state prisons, adding to the backlog in county jails.

Critics of the plan emerged immediately. The union representing state prison guards and a coalition of interest groups said it focuses too heavily on construction and not enough on long-term sentencing and management reforms.

"California is again putting prison construction in front of reform. Real reform would mean no need for more prison, jail and juvenile detention beds," said Rose Braz, a spokeswoman for the group Critical Resistance, which opposes prison construction.

Lance Corcoran, spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, also said reforming the state's sentencing guidelines is the key to easing overcrowding, which he said is threatening the safety of prison guards. Lawmakers acknowledged that the state needs 4,000 more correctional officers.

"This is just putting even more stress on an already over-stressed system," Corcoran said.

He said the union's criticism was not related to its ongoing contract negotiations with the state.

The four legislative leaders said the plan they hammered out this week will not only reduce overcrowding but also handle an expected increase in the prison population, expected to hit 190,000 by 2012.

Democrats, the majority party in both houses, wanted any plan to focus heavily on rehabilitation to ensure that prisoners had adequate schooling and job training before being released back into their communities.

Republicans wanted to make sure that any plan to ease prison crowding would not include provisions to put dangerous felons back on the street.

Leaders of both parties said they got what they wanted.

"There is nothing in this package today that will release one, single dangerous criminal," Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, said.

He called the bipartisan compromise "a proud day for California."

Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines called the bill "a good first step" that bodes well for debates on other tough issues throughout the year.

His Republican colleagues in the Senate were not as pleased. Several of them questioned the cost and the way the bill was handled, bypassing the normal committee hearings and given to lawmakers just hours before they were scheduled to vote on it.

Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, said the plan will cost taxpayers $15 billion by the time the bonds to pay for it are fully repaid. Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, criticized the plan for failing to control costs and lobbied for greater use of privately run prisons, saying they could cut the cost of incarceration in half for thousands of inmates.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said no one liked voting for the bill but that it was necessary to address problems that had been building for years and to head-off a federal takeover.

"You think you're writing big checks now — wait until you write one at the direction of the federal government," he said before the Senate's initial vote.

Schwarzenegger acknowledged the plan's high cost during a news conference after Thursday's Assembly vote.

"But the fact is we have to invest in our prison system because it is costing us more and more money because of the high recidivism rate," he told reporters. "With the decision they have made today ... we are actually investing so we can cut down the cost of our prison system."

Assembly Republicans said they were pleased the plan includes no early release of inmates and no sentencing commission that they fear would recommend shorter prison terms. Democrats say they are satisfied because it requires the Republican administration to improve management in the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and provide a boost to rehabilitation programs. Those conditions must be met before all the money can be released for new construction.

The building program and other reforms would be in two phases, with $3.6 billion in the first allocation and $2.5 billion in the second.

The money would add 16,000 beds at cell blocks to be built at existing prisons; another 16,000 beds at new, smaller prisons to be built throughout the state to house parole violators and inmates nearing their release dates; and 8,000 medical beds for the prison health care system.

Another 13,000 beds would be added to county jails, while $50 million would be added to the prison budget for rehabilitation, drug treatment and vocational education programs.

The state would contribute $6.1 billion and the counties $1.2 billion.

If the governor signs the bill, it still will have to pass muster with the federal courts.

Severe overcrowding is at the core of many of the problems plaguing California's prison system, especially the way it delivers inmate health care and its high rate of inmate suicides.

Over the years, lawsuits have led to a patchwork of federal judges being put in charge of many aspects of California's prison operations, including employee discipline, parole and the treatment of sick and mentally ill inmates.

Three federal judges have scheduled June hearings to determine if the persistent overcrowding, which forces some prisoners to sleep in hallways or gyms, violates inmates' constitutional rights. State lawmakers and the governor were required to submit a solution before those hearings began.

Mike Villines: In prison reform, public safety is first
By Mike Villines - 
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, January 2, 2007

I believe the most important role for government is protecting our neighborhoods, schools and families. All of the prosperity in the world means nothing to people if they are living in fear in their own homes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's reform proposals to add prison beds will be the single most important public safety proposal the Legislature will consider this year. Other vital programs being proposed, including increasing parole supervision for the most dangerous offenders and re-entry facilities -- if done appropriately -- will enhance our public safety network. I commend the governor for addressing the prison crisis that faces our state.

While many different ideas will be considered, some of the proposals should be approached with caution. Legislative Democrats have long argued for a sentencing review commission to reduce overcrowding, under the misguided premise that mandatory sentencing laws are responsible for the overflowing inmate population in our prisons. While all of our state laws deserve ongoing scrutiny, historically a sentencing commission is nothing more than a backhanded attempt to reduce prison sentences.

Unless carefully designed, these proposals will undermine public safety laws such as "three strikes" and "10-20-Life," which have been responsible for reducing California's crime rate by 40 percent over the last decade.

California's prisons hold some of the most dangerous criminals in the entire nation -- brutal murderers, violent rapists and repeat sex offenders. A 2005 report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that more than 85 percent of the male inmates in our prisons were convicted of serious or violent crimes, crimes against individuals or crimes aggravated by prior felony convictions.

In truth, weakening sentencing laws means releasing felons before they have paid their debts to society or their victims and their families. Do we really want dangerous criminals like these moving into the neighborhood or roaming the streets? 

Some have argued that our prisons are overcrowded because too many nonviolent offenders are filling up cells. While 23,000 inmates are serving time for commitment offenses such as drug possession, burglary or first-time theft, this does not tell the whole story. A prisoner's commitment offense is simply his current offense, which may actually understate his entire criminal history.

Consider the following: The 2005 corrections report found that 14,000 inmates were serving sentences for sex offences, but 21,000 inmates would be required to register as sex offenders upon their release. This means 7,000 sex offenders could receive a "get out of jail free" card if sentences for so-called nonviolent offenders are weakened. It is irresponsible to place families at risk by ignoring a criminal's complete record when determining release eligibility.

Figures recently released by the attorney general's office show violent crime rising 4 percent in California's major cities during the first six months of 2006. Now is not the time to make matters worse by letting more felons loose in the name of prison reform.

While sentencing laws are blamed for overcrowding, California's inmate population has only increased by modest annual percentages over the past 15 years, even declining some years. In fact, California did not reach 170,000 inmates until this year, seven years after originally forecast.

The problem with our prisons is not sentencing laws, but lack of capacity. Rather than let criminals run free, we should build more prison space to house them. While we should support time-tested rehabilitation programs for those prisoners who are susceptible to rehabilitation, we should not embrace feel-good programs that provide nothing more than a get out of jail early card. Let there be no doubt: Republicans will stand firm this year against any irresponsible proposal that weakens public safety protections for California families.

October 27, 2006.

Why Prison Reform Doesn’t Happen

By Jackie Speier
California State Senator

The California prison crisis is like a ship slowly taking on water. We know where the leaks are and we know they have to be plugged, or eventually the ship will sink. Plans to plug the holes have been drawn up in detail. Unfortunately, the ship is not under the command of a captain who can unify the crew to get the work done. Consequently, the ship is dangerously close to sinking. In real terms, the bow goes up in June 2007 when the overcrowded prison is forced to tell counties it can no longer accept new commitments.

It would truly be a tragedy of failed leadership if the June 2007 shut down order is issued. 

It is already a bureaucratic embarrassment that the bold steps of prison management reform have been mere tiptoes, even though the path to be taken was mapped out in the 2004 Deukmejian Report and most recently in Professor Joan Petersilia’s document, Understanding California Corrections. 

Here is a quick thumbnail on the key reforms needed to keep our prison system afloat:

1. Reduce overcrowding by ending the practice of recycling inmates who commit purely technical parole violations; send incarcerated illegal immigrants to other states; move non-violent, low risk women to community correctional facilities. Put the severely mentally-ill in facilities separate from the general prison population. Put the sickest inmates in a prison hospital designed to provide care.

2. Employ high technology in the parole system, as Florida has done, to reduce crime and recidivism by requiring certain parolees and to wear a GPS anklet or bracelet that allows them to be monitored 24 hours per day. We could probably save $1 billion per year within a few years simply by adopting the Florida reforms. My legislation last year, SB 619, authorized the use of GPS surveillance of parolees and probationers. I followed up this year with SB 1178, which mandates the use of GPS on all high-risk sex offenders. The Governor signed the bill last month, so we are moving forward.

3. Given that 95 percent of inmates will be released from prison within five years, it is critical that rehabilitation efforts affect as many inmates as possible. But, only seven percent of inmates receive alcohol treatment although 42 percent have a high need for treatment. Worse yet, only 2.5 percent of inmates with a serious need for drug treatment actually receive treatment during their time in prison. Again, California recycles rather than rehabilitates men and women who have broken the law. The Governor signed my SB 1453 last month—this bill provides realistic incentives for inmates to enroll in in-prison drug treatment programs and to keep their treatment going during parole. Again, we are going in the right direction. But it is a small step. 

Why haven’t most of the reforms needed taken place?

I appeared before the Little Hoover Commission on January 27, 2005 to state rather flatly that the Governor’s proposed reorganization plan for the Department of Corrections “wasn’t ready for prime-time.” It was a change in name only.

Secretary Hickman and his successor, Secretary Woodford, both resigned this year. And that is unfortunate, because they experienced all the birth pains without the birth of true reform.

We need to remember the insights of Judge Steve White, the former Inspector General, who stated the following at a 2004 Senate hearing on prisons: The Department of Corrections is an immense organic entity with no center to it, no leadership, and no structure that stands on principle. It has an organization that doesn’t work except in ad hoc and informal and let’s-make-it-go-aways that have been largely managed on local levels—that is to say in the respective prisons—by virtue of collaboration between the wardens and the CCPOA. 

The CCPOA has a mission of its own, and it has a fairly narrow scope. The department has a very large mission. It’s statutory and it’s constitutional. It’s a very wide scope. The CCPOA has managed, through its leadership talents, its ability to amass political monies, and its sheer competence to move the department off of its larger comprehensive role and refocus the department on the CCPOA’s ground.

Unless you do something different than what normally is done in the wake of these events, is that there will be great focus, there will be great saber rattling, there will be sincere commitments. Heads will roll, butts will get kicked, and three months later, when you’re not looking, it will be back to the way it was. I know this to a certainty.

The lack of a management center cited by Judge White has worsened since 2004. We still have the CCPOA and CDCR at odds. But now we have Robert Sillen, the federal receiver in charge of a $1.2 billion prison health care system as well as the added pressures from several federal court orders. 

The Schwarzenegger Administration prison team has been unable to centralize control. The current management system is frayed by the following eight pressure points: 

1. As just noted, a court-ordered federal receiver has taken over control of the prison health care system. The system suffers from high vacancy rates among medical personnel; a lack of computerized medical records and pharmaceutical controls; poor morale; professional incompetence; unsanitary work conditions; poor facilities; questionable medical contracts with outside providers; lack of disease control measures in overcrowded living quarters; and a negative commingling of inmates that counters good care efforts (mentally ill mixed with level III and IV inmates; geriatric inmates mixed with young inmates, etc.).

2. Treatment of mentally-ill inmates is also subject to a federal court order that, among other things, dictates the hiring of competent professional who will receive appropriate compensation. 

3. Judge Thelton Henderson is threatening to slap sanctions on the department if it does not regain control of its prisons.

4. The Administration and the union (CCPOA) are negotiating an expired labor contract that has a dramatic effect on prison operations. Currently, in the vast majority of cases, it is the union, not the prison warden, who determines what officer works where and when. The contract provides for constant shut downs through the work-grievance process. And the lucrative contract ensures that guards earn more than college professors.

5. The CDCR says it will run out of space in June 2007 and, as a result, will be forced to refuse commitments from county jails. Legislative efforts to relieve overcrowding failed for political reasons. Overcrowding could lead to riots, or a disease outbreak. 
Overcrowding increases inmate-guard tensions and that leads to lockdowns which, in turn, cause rehabilitation programs to be shut down. The Governor has set into place a procedure to send inmates to prison in other states, an emergency effort to reduce overcrowding. This move may help if it survives legal challenges. In fact, I understand that as many as 19,000 inmates want to leave California, presumably for private prisons where they hope conditions will not be as bad as they are here. 

6. Reform progress is hampered by the lack of automated data systems and comprehensive analytical models to help CDCR be more efficient in managing inmates and resources.

7. The federal court mandates and overcrowding are fueling spending at the department at record levels. Health care is $1.2 billion and rising. The specter of building more prisons could add $3 billion more in costs. The Correctional Budget is the greatest threat now confronting California taxpayers. But let me interject this key point on the need to spend money. Prison expert Professor Joan Petersilia has already identified the steps that need to be taken to get CDCR spending under control. But Joan Petersilia has thrown up her arms, having done all that she can do, to show us the way. Her message is--We don't need to throw more money at the overcrowding problems. Simply put, don't rush to build more prisons until we embrace the alternative solutions at hand! In other words: parole reform and rehabilitation directed at those inmates who can be helped. Stop the recycling of inmates.

8. The CDCR suffers from decades of poor morale that has manifested itself in a work culture that embraces the status quo rather than the pursuit of excellence. The department is a like a baseball team on a 20-game losing streak. The players expect to lose. However, I believe the will to win is still alive; we just need a few well placed home runs. There were some hits Wednesday at a hearing I chaired involving several department whistleblowers connected with the department’s Office of Substance Abuse Programs. They had provided me with information that I subsequently turned over to the Inspector General. Next week there will be full disclosure about how contracting practices at this program were in violation of state contracting law. Perhaps, as much as $6 million was misspent at this very small arm of CDCR. More significantly, the department overall spends $2.6 billion annually on contracts in a manner than may be inconsistent with state contracting rules. My sense is that Secretary Tilton will follow through on making immediate corrections. The whistleblowers are giving a thumbs up to management reforms that are less than a month old. It’s an important start. 

As I have stated, the core elements of corrective actions to reduce overcrowding and lower recidivism are identified in Professor Petersilia’s Understanding California Corrections (May 2006, California Policy Research Center). But there is no political will to push for the reforms in the Petersilia plan and instead, we are confronted with the following typical scenario:

Two years ago a work group of legislative staffers and CDC director Jeanne Woodford and her top medical people and met several times to identify actions needed to stabilize medical costs. Woodford said it was critical to:
• Construct a geriatric prison near a major metropolitan area to house the oldest and sickest inmates, especially those with chronic health care needs;
• Separate the mentally ill from the general prison population.

Same old story. We know what to do, we just don’t do it unless a federal court order is involved. 

One of the Deukmejian Report’s top recommendations was the formation of a citizen’s commission to oversee progress on prison reform. The former governor believed, and rightly so, that if the public eye was not focused on what needed to be done, it would not get done…and he was right…we’ve turned a blind eye to date on prison reform. 

The chief blinder is fear! Elected officials are afraid of appearing to be weak on crime…that is, any effort to help an inmate, whether it be sentencing reform, the establishment of clean medical facilities, or the use of taxpayer funds to erase illiteracy, anything positive for the inmate can be viewed as negative for the victims of crime. Punishment still dominates the majority of legislative rhetoric. 

I have been a victim of a violent crime. But even with this calling card, I have to be prepared to defend myself against criticism that reform proposals make me soft on crime.

If I am not attacked on the right, I’m sure to be hit on the left. When I proposed that men convicted of rape and murder be sent to other states if they committed their crime while they were in California illegally, I had to defend myself from charges that I was committing a social injustice. And that is why for some legislators, it is easier to do nothing. 

In the world of prison reform there many lines to be crossed. Some crossings invoke the ire of the prison guards’ powerful union, the CCPOA, or the CCPOA-related group, Crime Victims United. Some reforms anger the ACLU or the Coalition for Public Safety.

We need leadership, not lip service. It is unacceptable that we have allowed the federal courts to take over much of our state prison system. But the only noticeable changes in prison reform over the last three years have come from these federal mandates and the fearless work of Judge Thelton Henderson, Special Master John Hagar and Reciever Robert Sillen. They cross lines every day. 

As proposed by former Governor Deukmejian, we need a public commission to make certain that California’s leaders are up to the task of restoring sound management practices to the business of incarceration and rehabilitation.. Yes, a few bills have been signed and an emergency proclamation has been issued, but as of a few days ago, a record number of adults were in state prisons—more than 173,000. I ask, what will it take for California leaders in the public and private sectors to grasp the severity of the California prison crisis? It affects us all.

Prison fix: $600 million

Estimate is just a start as the receiver's report hints at cost to improve inmate health care.
By Andy Furillo - Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:00 am PDT Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A federal court official signaled Tuesday that he's ready to sock the state with hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction and operational costs as a down payment toward fixing its prison health care system.

Most of the money would be spent on providing 5,000 new medical care beds for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- at least a $600 million item, according to one legislator's estimate.

Millions more would be spent on building medical care and inmate reception facilities at San Quentin State Prison, which were also outlined as top priorities in a 57-page bimonthly report issued by prison health care receiver Robert Sillen.

A spokeswoman for the receiver characterized his report as "a forecast of what's to come." The spokeswoman, Rachael Kagan, said Sillen's office had not yet estimated costs but suggested that the fixes -- subject to approval by the judge who appointed Sillen -- will not come cheap.

"It's a starved system that created the need for receivership, and it will cost money to repair the system," Kagan said.

The 5,000 prison hospital beds will cost $600 million "at a minimum," said state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden, who chaired the Select Committee on Prison Population, Management and Capacity during the recent special legislative session.

Machado said that Sillen, with the authority vested in him by a federal judge, "can trump the state" and order the expenditures directly from the general fund if the Legislature doesn't give the receiver what he wants.

"He has access to the state's checkbook without any oversight," Machado said. "He's holding a gun to the state's head, and if the state doesn't respond, he's likely to pull the trigger."

Sillen has been meeting regularly with officials from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's departments of Finance, Corrections and General Services, to work out a prison medical care compliance plan.

"We share the same goal, to get the correctional health care system at the level the courts have required, but to do so in as cost-efficient and timely a manner as possible," said Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer.

Kagan, the spokeswoman for the receiver, said, "We'll be working with the state" to come up with the best way to finance the changes. Selling bonds would be one possibility, she said. But "in a worst-case scenario, the receiver could simply take the money from the general fund through a court order" -- without regard to state programs, such as education and health care for the poor, that might suffer as a result.

"That's just not our area," Kagan said. "We are a federal court intervenor. We are not part of state government. We're not responsible for other policy areas. We're responsible for bringing prison medical care in line with constitutional standards."

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson in San Francisco appointed Sillen earlier this year to take charge of the $1.5 billion prison health care system, making him singularly responsible for a little more than 17 percent of the state's $8.7 billion corrections budget. Henderson also has given Sillen access and "exclusive control" over an additional, unallocated $100 million for the current budget year. Sillen can seek more money through Henderson.

Henderson created the receivership last year after finding that dozens of inmates had died because of shoddy care.

Sillen's report came after the Legislature last month failed to approve a Schwarzenegger-supported plan to ease prison overcrowding. Sillen listed the "political machinations of state government" as one of the "root causes of the devolution of the prison medical care system." The state's "entrenched unwillingness" to resolve California's prison crisis "underscores the critical importance of the court and the receivership in its attempts to assure inmate/patients of their constitutional rights."

"Suffice it to say, the receivership will not be as reluctant to effectuate positive change," Sillen wrote.

His report did not directly spell out recommendations the receiver plans to forward to Henderson for approval. Instead, it said he plans to focus over the next two months on projects such as the 5,000 medical care beds. Kagan said they could be located at new prison hospitals of various sizes throughout the state.

Along with those beds, Sillen said he would be coordinating with a special master in another federal court case to determine whether an additional 5,000 new beds are needed for mental health care.

In a separate section of his report on the problems at San Quentin, the receiver said a team studying medical care problems at the Marin County prison is looking to call for construction of a medical center and inmate reception center.

Steve Fama, an attorney with the Prison Law Office, which filed the federal lawsuit that brought on the appointment of the receiver, called Sillen's report "impressive."

"If he sees something that's a problem, he's not going to screw around," Fama said. "He's going to do what's needed to fix it."

About the writer:
The Bee's Andy Furillo can be reached at (916) 321-1141 or .

Don't postpone prison reform

Thursday, August 17, 2006 

THESE DAYS, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez are good friends. 

The governor's relationship with Democratic legislators has come full circle. He entered office in late 2003 with a charm offensive -- quite successfully -- then dismissed his Democratic adversaries as "girlie men" when they resisted his policies in 2004. He has turned the charm back on, and it's being reciprocated. 

"You could say we have become pretty close in the past year," said Núñez, in a meeting with The Chronicle editorial board last week. "He knows my family and I know his family. I go over to his house, we talk on the phone every couple of days at least." 

Wouldn't it be terrific if that relationship could translate into something substantive in the legislative "special session" Schwarzenegger has called to deal with California's prison crisis? 

Núñez fully accepts we have a problem. "California is on the verge of having comparable inmate conditions to Third World countries," he said. 

But he went out of his way to deflate expectations that anything significant would come out of the session, which began in earnest this week in a couple of tedious hearings in Sacramento. 

Núñez said there may be some "discussions" on dealing with the thousands of inmates with mental-health problems and some other areas. But "you are not going to get anything real (in terms of prison reform) in an election year," he said. 

"If you want jails, you also have to talk about the recidivism rate, you have to talk rehabilitation, you have to talk about sentencing reform." He suggested that Schwarzenegger's prison-reform plan, which calls for revenue bonds worth $6 billion for building new prison beds, falls short in all those areas. 

"Fundamental reform requires us taking a look at sentencing," Núñez said -- but "that is just not going to happen this year." 

Núñez criticized Schwarzenegger for waiting three years to come to the Legislature to tackle the problem. He conceded that the Legislature has to shoulder some blame for not taking on the problem. But, he said, the primary responsibility was Schwarzenegger's. "The governor is the governor, he runs the correctional facilities and he has to take leadership on this." 

Our view is that both the governor and the Legislature have to take equal responsibility for the crisis. After all, the Legislature did pass more than 1,000 laws which filled our prisons to twice their capacity. 

So what can we expect to come out of the special session? 

"We will put some patches on the holes this year," Núñez told us. 

Just adding more costly prisons or "patches" is the last thing our oversized and over-patched prison system needs. Schwarzenegger and Núñez, with their excellent working relationship, should use the special session to set in motion a plan for fundamental reform. That should include creating a Commission on Sentencing Reform and coming up with a plan for revamping the parole system. 

Posted on Sun, Aug. 06, 2006 

How to fix our broken prisons

By Peter Y. Sussman

With a unanimity rare in public policy circles, politicians, penal experts, judges and special commissions are agreed: Every facet of California's $8 billion-a-year prison system is in a state of collapse.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has described his Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as ``falling apart in front of our very eyes.'' His top assistant calls the dangerously overcrowded system ``a powder keg.'' And the man brought in by a federal court to correct health-care conditions it found unconstitutional says the level of care ``is at or below Third World standards.''

Schwarzenegger, pedaling hard to assert at least some display of authority over the paralyzed prison system, called the Legislature into special session. With legislators convening Monday, the governor has yet to present a well-thought-out package of reforms addressing the system's structural ills and abuses. His initial improvisational proposals included one that would limit the number of times inmates in overcrowded prisons can flush their toilets.

Schwarzenegger has since offered more comprehensive, costly and unbudgeted proposals, but in their current form, few of them are expected to have much more impact on the underlying crisis than controlling inmates' toilet flushing. Nor is the election-year climate -- or the campaign money that comes with it -- conducive to systemic remedies.

To effect significant change, even in a non-election year, politicians would need to buck both the financial power of the prison guards' union and a reflexive fear of crime among Californians that has led to ever-longer sentences during a period when violent crime was decreasing dramatically. Scholarly evidence suggests that the reduction in crime may well be unrelated to one of the biggest prison-building sprees in history -- 22 new California prisons and a five-fold increase in the adult incarceration rate over 20 years, at the end of which our prisons were twice as overcrowded as they were before construction started.

In the end, the state's best hope for a long-term fix might be that the federal courts, either directly or through legal pressure on the state, set the agenda.

The heart of the governor's package is a prison construction program that would cost taxpayers $12 billion and be financed through an expensive type of bond that bypasses the electorate, which has rejected previous prison bond issues.

Though details are sparse, the governor's construction wish list includes two major new prisons, several-dozen small, local lockups and additions to current prisons that together would house tens of thousands of inmates. He has also talked of paying private prisons and other jurisdictions to take thousands more inmates off our hands. Operational costs would add many millions more to the bill for the new prisons.

No one expects construction alone to be sufficient to meet the projected or even immediate demand. At current rates of imprisonment, we could be out of prison beds in eight to 10 months.

With the volatile prisons crammed with 171,000 convicts, twice the buildings' designed capacity, the governor's proposals have a kind of superficial logic. Schwarzenegger hopes that construction would keep the public safe and create room to house and rehabilitate prisoners now sleeping in gyms, corridors and day rooms.

But ``you build them, you fill them,'' as one critic put it. In practice, building more prisons results only in more prisoners and ballooning costs. Overcrowding worsens as funds are diverted to prison structures instead of the already-starved programs to help people develop skills for surviving outside prisons.

The governor's plan ignores the consensus of numerous expert studies -- including those of a panel he appointed that was headed by former law-and-order Gov. George Deukmejian. As the Deukmejian commission put it, ``The key to reforming the system lies in reducing the numbers.''

How did one of the nation's most respected prison systems descend over several decades into what today is considered in national correctional circles a dysfunctional disgrace, not to mention a gold-plated albatross for taxpayers? There's plenty of blame to spread around.

Since the late 1970s, the state has relied on so-called determinate sentencing -- long, inflexible terms that offer no incentive for prisoners to enter rehabilitative programs. Sentences are unrelated to an individual's potential for violence or prospects for success outside prison, or to public safety, prison space or budgetary capacity.

Prisoners who will one day rejoin society -- and that's most of them -- have nothing to show for their years in prison except bitterness and enough ``gate money'' to purchase a few days' supply of heroin. The predictable consequence is that our recidivism rate is the highest in the nation: 70 percent.

The most extreme form of determinate sentencing, the voter-approved three-strikes initiative, has resulted in increasing numbers of long-term and geriatric prisoners. The increase in elderly patients is adding new costs to our soaring prison bills. The average annual cost of incarceration is $31,000, but the Legislative Analyst's Office reported in 2004 that elderly inmates are ``two to three times more expensive to incarcerate yet they have a high level of success on parole.''

Voter approval of three-strikes was an emotional response to the murder of Polly Klaas -- a single horrible, if unusual, crime that was generalized and magnified grotesquely by politicians, journalists, prison guards and victims' rights groups formed and financed by the guards' union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Both Schwarzenegger and his challenger in November, Phil Angelides, have declared three-strikes untouchable. (Angelides has also supported expedited prison construction.)

Provoking fear of crime is an effective electoral strategy, so politicians of both parties in recent decades have responded to each new headline with longer prison terms for the crime-of-the-moment. In addition, the guards' union adeptly muscles political support for ever-greater reliance on imprisonment, thereby increasing its ranks and influence. The union is amassing a $15 million war chest for November's elections. And it has purchased $5 million worth of television time in October to support candidates to be named later, presumably based on their compliance with the guards' wishes in the interim.

The union has been powerful enough not only to assure its members extravagant benefits but also to thwart rehabilitation reforms, secure longer sentences and gain effective veto power over many prison management decisions, leading to the premature resignation of two successive top prison officials.

Longer sentences aren't the prison system's only burdens. Add to the mix:

• Well over 10,000 mentally ill inmates for whom we have developed no effective alternative since Gov. Ronald Reagan closed the mental hospitals. A federal judge, who previously found ``deliberate indifference'' and ``gross inadequacies'' in the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, has declared that it's time to ``pay the piper. And it's going to be horrifically expensive.''

• The state's imprisonment of many drug users rather than providing them treatment in the community. Approximately 20 percent of the inmate population is there because of drug use, sales or manufacturing.

• The almost complete abandonment of prison literacy, vocational and addiction programs considered essential to success on the outside.

• The revolving door of parole. Overburdened parole officers supervise more than 116,000 parolees, a tenfold increase in 24 years. With few resources at their disposal, about all parole officers can do is return to prison parolees who have not met technical conditions of parole, such as missing drug tests. About 59,000 felon parole violators -- more than a third of the total prison census -- were returned to custody in 2004 alone for violation of parole conditions. The comparable figure for 1980: 1,602.

• State contracting, purchasing, budgeting and personnel straitjackets that have stymied previous attempts at reform. Robert Sillen, the court-appointed health-care receiver, blames the rules for retention of incompetent prison doctors, expensive and inefficient inmate treatment, abysmal medical facilities and exorbitantly priced, unneeded medicines, not to mention scores of unnecessary deaths a year. An audit by State Controller Steve Westly released last week confirmed Sillen's conclusions and added lurid details like one surgeon's $1.48 million in bills for a year's services at two prisons.

There is surprising consensus among court and academic experts on the key reforms that are needed to ease these interwoven crises. Essential components include reduced and proportionate sentencing; dramatic increases in humane health care and parole and in-prison re-entry programs; effective prison and parole management systems insulated from political and union pressures; and more openness to the press and public so that an informed electorate can help establish the state's priorities.

Because they want to insulate the renewal process from political pressures, some reformers are placing their hopes in the federal courts, including the one that has taken over the health-care system and is increasingly impatient with the state's continued failure to fulfill court-ordered obligations.

The state's incompetence or intransigence on health-care and various other issues now before the courts could lead to court jurisdiction over ever-larger segments of the prison and parole systems.

If the courts were to broaden their jurisdiction further -- and if that expansion survived any legal challenges -- the key would be to put operational control in the hands of people immune to political pressure and free of bureaucratic encumbrances. One idea being floated is the establishment of an executive commission of nationally respected outsiders -- judicial and correctional experts -- operating under the federal court umbrella and exercising administrative control in lieu of the secretary of corrections.

Similar extraordinary outside management may be needed to oversee a massive shift of funding priorities from prison custody to programs designed to help parolees stay out of prison. That would probably need to be coupled with some carefully controlled early releases of non-violent prisoners to immediately free up prison beds and money for remedial programs.

Perhaps most important would be an overhaul of the state's sentencing structure, instituting flexible sentences that reflect the threat posed by individual prisoners and restore their incentive to participate in rehabilitative programs. Lawmakers are reluctant to cede control over sentences, but the courts may apply pressure to do so.

Realistically, are any steps to fundamental reform possible in this legislative session?

Health-care receiver Sillen has already floated one specific idea: substituting new prison hospitals for the two prisons the governor wants to build. A knowledgeable source suggested that one hospital could be devoted to medical care and another to mental health care, both of which will probably be ordered by the courts in any case.

Such a deal would be a help in the long run only with ironclad guarantees that the new facilities won't experience the kind of ``function creep'' that has turned other ``medical facilities'' into general purpose prisons -- and with continued court oversight to ensure compliance.

The first step to any larger-scale reform will be the recognition that, in fighting crime, prisons are a sign of failure, not success. Decades ago, they became the state's default solution for ingrained social problems. The IOUs have now come due.

PETER Y. SUSSMAN, a longtime local journalist, co-wrote, ``Committing Journalism'' with prison writer Dannie M. Martin and is the editor of the upcoming ``Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford.'' Sussman also was co-author of ``Three Strikes: The Unintended Victims,'' a 1994 foundation-funded report. He wrote this article for Perspective. 

August 3, 2006

Reforming the prison system 

San Gabriel Valley Tribune 

OUR reporter Mason Stockstill's yearlong investigation ("Jailhouse blues," July 23) demonstrated decades of failed management at the California Institution for Men in Chino, where prison guard Manuel Gonzalez of Whittier was stabbed to death. 

But the problem is far bigger than that. CIM is among the state's worst prisons by several measures, but its shortcomings in large part stem from management failings at the very top of the prison system in Sacramento. 

Look at what has happened already this year. 

Rod Hickman, who promised to turn the prison system around when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him secretary of the department a couple of years ago, resigned in frustration, saying he didn't have the political backing to stand up to the correctional officers' union. Two months later, his replacement quit abruptly. James Tilton, now acting secretary, is running things only until a new department leader is named. 

There's no continuity, no chance to hold a prisons chief accountable before he or she departs. The shortcomings of the department and the individual prisons are well known, but any follow-through on fixing them dissipates with turnover at the top. As we've said in this space previously, the state needs a permanent head warden and soon. 

Here's a solution: Let's make the prisons chief an elected office like the attorney general or the superintendent of schools. It's a huge responsibility overseeing a growing inmate population of 172,000 and a skyrocketing budget of nearly $9billion a year. It just isn't working to have the prison boss part of the governor's cabinet, subject to gubernatorial whims and politics. 

We're not talking a whole new bureaucracy here, just shifting the top prison official from an appointee to someone elected by - and accountable to - voters. 

If we don't want to increase the number of statewide elected officers, we could compensate by getting rid of the extraneous lieutenant governor's office. That position is a relic of the days when a governor who left the state needed someone to cover for him - a day before modern communications technology. (Yes, we know the lieutenant governor is president of the state Senate and sits on some state boards. So?) 

Are the prisons' problems sufficient to warrant this kind of move? You bet. 

The prison health system is so bad that a federal judge, citing dozens of preventable deaths annually, placed it in receivership, ceding the state's decision-making power to an outside appointee. 

The same judge earlier appointed a special master charged with oversight of use of force, internal discipline and other issues in the prison system. The special master clashed with the governor's office and the guards' union earlier this month, charging that coziness between the two had forced out the last two secretaries of the corrections department. 

The prisons budget, $4.8billion in 1999, has increased to $8.7 billion - and the department overspent its budget by $1billion over the past two years. 

Most telling of all, the state has the nation's highest recidivism rate, meaning that more released prisoners wind up back in prison than anywhere else. Rehabilitation, in other words, is not happening in California. 

Electing an independent prisons chief might not be a panacea, but it would be a good start. Someone would take on the job for four years, or eight, with his political future on the line. Anyone who could improve the broken prison system would make a pretty good case for himself as a potential governor? 

At the least, it would make a more convincing political stepping stone than the lieutenant governor's office.


Missing piece of prison reform 

Sunday, July 23, 2006 

THE "SPECIAL SESSION" of the state Legislature called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to deal with the state's correctional crisis will get under way in earnest on Aug. 7 -- when lawmakers return relaxed and rested from their summer vacations. 

To convince skeptics that the session is more than a cynical election-year exercise, lawmakers must also be willing to reassess California's sentencing laws. 

Reforming California's Byzantine sentencing system is essential to reducing California's ever-increasing prison population. 

Beginning in 1977, California began imposing "determinate" sentences, which in essence said, "Do a crime, do the time." These laws replaced previous "indeterminate" sentences, which allowed a judge to hand out sentences of different ranges -- such as 5 to 10 years -- then left it up to a parole board to decide when an inmate should be released. 

Over the next decade, California passed more than 1,000 laws imposing longer and longer mandatory prison sentences. As in many other states, they were typically approved without any analysis of whether the state had the resources to implement them, or how many people would end up in state prison because of them. 

In a bold speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco in 2003, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy asserted that when it comes to prisons, "our resources are misspent, our punishments too severe and our sentences too long." As a result of Kennedy's speech, the ABA set up a commission to study prison reform. It came up with two major conclusions: 

-- Lengthy periods of incarceration should be reserved for the most serious offenders, who present the greatest danger to the community; 

-- Alternatives to incarceration should be provided to offenders who pose minimal risk to the community and appear likely to benefit from rehabilitation programs. 

Those two principles must be incorporated into the Legislature's deliberations on prison reform. 

We have argued numerous times on this page about the need to revise the state's controversial "three strikes" law. But we recognize that, especially in an election year, too few politicians are brave enough to touch laws affecting inmates with violent or serious felonies in their backgrounds. 

That's why the Legislature and the governor should begin with reforming laws affecting inmates who commit nonviolent or so-called "victimless" crimes. 

It's not rocket science. Lawmakers should take another look at the 2004 recommendations made by the Corrections Independent Review Panel, chaired by former Gov. George Deukmejian. The panel was appointed by Schwarzenegger -- yet he has consistently ignored its cogent insights and recommendations. (For the full report, go to 

The Deukmejian report suggested providing inmates an incentive to reduce their prison time by increasing the "day-for-day credits" they could earn if they participated in a range of educational, vocational and drug-treatment programs. It also called for replacing the "determinate" sentencing system with one in which a judge would impose a minimum "presumptive" sentence and a longer "maximum sentence." In order to be released after serving the shorter "presumptive" sentence, an inmate would have to complete a "program plan" assigned to the inmate on his or her arrival in prison. 

To advise it on longer-term reforms such as these, the Legislature should create a California Sentencing Policy Commission. As suggested by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland, the commission would be chaired by California's chief justice, with other appointments made by the Legislature, the governor and the attorney general. 

Just as expanding freeways will only relieve traffic congestion in the short term, building more prisons won't offer a permanent solution to the prison crisis. Schwarzenegger and other visionaries in Sacramento must be brave enough to take on the root causes of the problem. That must include sentencing reform. 

On Prison Reform 

Keep fewer behind bars 
Close prison's revolving door 
- Kamala D. Harris
Friday, July 14, 2006 

One staggering fact risks being overlooked in California's debate over prison reform: 90 percent of state prisoners will return to our neighborhoods sooner or later. And after they come back, more than half of them will go straight back to prison within two years, most for committing more crimes. The surge of repeat offenders returning from jails and prisons is emerging as the most urgent threat to public safety in California. 

As state lawmakers engage in a special session dedicated to prison reform and prepare to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to effect that reform, we must demand that they get it right. What happens when former offenders return to our cities and towns must not be an afterthought, but our top priority. 

The stakes couldn't be higher for crime victims and their families. California suffers from the dangerous combination of having the nation's largest prison population and one of the nation's worst recidivism rates. An estimated 120,000 former offenders will be released into California neighborhoods this year, and without an effective strategy to keep them from ending back in prison, the safety of our communities is at enormous risk. We must enact a statewide plan for closely supervising former offenders by making an historic investment in programs to prevent re-offending. These programs must target the crucial process of what's called "re-entry," the release of former offenders from state prison or county jails back into society. 

Making re-entry a central tool of ensuring public safety means that we need to fundamentally re-think our approach to keeping people safe. We have to start doing what works, rather than just doing what we're used to doing. My fellow prosecutors and I convict offenders, send them to prison, and last year, taxpayers spent $7 billion to house and feed them. But after serving their sentence, more than half of these offenders come back to their neighborhoods to pick up right where they left off -- committing more crimes and claiming more victims. To truly protect residents in our communities, we need to be more than tough; we need to be smart. Public protection demands that we stop the revolving door between prison and the streets and reduce the likelihood of re-offense. 

Re-entry programs do work, both in preventing crime and saving taxpayer dollars. Last year, we convened a broad partnership of San Francisco public and private industry leaders to launch a re-entry program called "Back On Track." Back On Track changes the lives of young adult first-time drug sellers in an effort to prevent them from re-offending. Defendants are required to plead guilty and then are released from county jail directly into an intensive, full-time, 12-month program at Goodwill Industries that requires them to get their GED, attend community college, hold down a job, pay child support and engage as responsible parents and good neighbors. The results have been remarkable. 

Out of nearly 150 participants in Back On Track over the last two years, only two have been re-arrested -- an enormous improvement over the 47 percent recidivism rate among drug offenders statewide. All current Back On Track participants are employed full time, in school full time, or both. The program is a bargain for taxpayers; for every $1 spent on Back On Track, San Francisco saves $5 in jail costs alone. Re-entry programs in Brooklyn, N.Y., the state of Michigan and other parts of the country, have shown similarly positive results. For offenders who genuinely want to re-enter society, the most effective re-entry programs impose swift sanctions for bad choices and offer strong incentives for good ones. This combination of accountability and opportunity is turning lives around. 

For example, one young woman entered Back On Track after being arrested for selling crack on a San Francisco street corner in San Francisco's Hunter's Point neighborhood. After pleading guilty and entering Back on Track, she was closely supervised while she enrolled in school, performed community service and held down a full-time job. By the time she graduated from Back On Track, she had received a full scholarship to attend Academy of Art University, where she recently finished her first semester with a 3.8 grade point average. 

Re-entry programs work. They must be at the center of any prison-reform effort, however, not at the margins. We are at a critical moment in California's dialogue on public safety and, as elected leaders, we have before us a tremendous opportunity to find new ways to keep people safe. It is time to make serious investments in reconstituting former offenders back into society, so they can be good parents and good citizens. With so much at stake and so many of them returning to our streets every day, we must embrace bold, cost-effective ways of doing the business of public safety. Ultimately, it is the right and smart approach, not only for victims of crime, but for all of us. 

Kamala D. Harris is the district attorney of the City and County of San Francisco.

Article Launched: 7/09/2006 09:43 AM 

Governor must play major role in prison reform 


California's court-appointed receiver for its dysfunctional prison medical care program has been on the job only since April, but already he sees the enormity of the work ahead of him. 

In a report released this past week, Robert Sillen wrote, "Almost every element of a working medical care system either does not exist, or functions in a state of abject disrepair," noting that this includes medical records, pharmacy, information technology, peer review, training, chronic disease care and specialty services. 

"Remedies envisioned," he wrote, "may be more dramatic, far reaching and difficult to achieve than previously envisioned." 

His report backs up the concerns we've expressed for years: The system has spiraled out of control, is wasting taxpayer dollars at breakneck speed, and is inflicting unnecessary pain and even death on inmates. It has, in essence, turned life sentences into death sentences, and created a deplorable environment for thousands of hard-working employees. 

This madness must come to an end, but that will only happen through strong leadership, unwavering focus and cooperation throughout the ranks. 

Is it an impossible task? We hope not. 

Mr. Sillen was appointed by U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco in February after hearings revealed that no consequential improvements had been made to the prison medical system, despite the settlement in 2002 of a class-action lawsuit. 

He began in April and in the ensuing months has visited five prisons, interviewed hundreds of executives, employees, and inmates. 

He has been respectful, focused and driven, thus far. And, as a result, his 33-page report is insightful, pointed and focused. 

One interesting conclusions is that the system's problems reach far beyond the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Mr. Sillen said the governor, the Legislature, and the departments of Finance, General Services and Personnel Administration are all in part responsible for the morass. 

Reform is difficult enough when dealing with one entity, but with so many, it is overwhelming. We encourage Mr. Sillen to pull representatives of the many parties to the table. The objective is not so much to point fingers and cast blame, but to find collective solutions. 

Key will be getting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on board immediately. He has taken some harsh criticism in recent weeks for having his staff cozy up to the immensely powerful California Correction Peace Officers Association. It is, after all, an election year. Some say that relationship led to the resignations of two corrections chiefs since February. 

As prison overseer John Hagar wrote in a recent report, "Integrity and remedial plan efforts must begin at the top and then percolate down." 

The prison conundrum may be the state's biggest problem. And it has grown to monstrous proportions because most of California's citizens would rather not think about inmates and prisons. But the fact is that we as taxpayers will spend nearly $8 billion on the system this year, and it is a failing system, with medical services "broken beyond repair," according to Mr. Sillen. 

With two prisons in Vacaville, which employ hundreds of our neighbors, we demand that prison reform be a front-burner issue for the governor and his challenger.

There are a couple of hearings in San Francisco this month about this issue: one on Wednesday looks into leadership issues; another on July 26 explores the pharmacy crisis. 

Public airing is critical. Reform will be possible only when the dirty details come to light and when unwavering leadership takes command. 

Daniel Weintraub: Governor has a mixed record on prison reform
By Daniel Weintraub -- Bee Columnist
Published 12:01 am PDT Thursday, July 6, 2006

Only Gov. Arnold Schwarz- enegger could make it appear as if he is on the take to a group from which he has refused to accept a dime in campaign contributions.

That's what California's larger-than-life governor has managed to do with the state's powerful prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

After freezing out the union's leaders while trying to make prison reform a top priority early in his term, Schwarzenegger has since warmed his relations with the guards while at times seeming to backpedal on his commitment to serious change.

Schwarzenegger doesn't take campaign donations from public employee labor unions, including the guards. But his recent actions have left many in the Capitol convinced he is trying to gain favor with the correctional officers, who have the ability to raise and spend $15 million or more from their members in the coming election.

Those impressions were reinforced by a recent report from a lawyer who monitors the prisons for the federal courts. John Hagar, the court-appointed special master, said last month that Schwarzenegger and his staff, by cozying up to the union's leaders, had undermined earlier efforts at reforming the troubled system.

Then, last week, Schwarzenegger rolled out a new plan for changes in the prisons that included the construction of two lockups at a price of $500 million each. Since the officers' union is always in favor of building more cells and keeping more inmates in them, this was another sign that the governor was beginning to see the world their way.

But the truth, as is usually the case with Schwarzenegger, is more complicated.

The governor is definitely trying to make nice with the union to, at a minimum, keep it from endorsing his Democratic opponent, Treasurer Phil Angelides. Schwarzenegger's new chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, has opened doors that her predecessor had closed, and the new attitude seems to be that no real change can ever come if the guards are not included in the discussion.

There are at least two separate issues here, however. One is the administration of the system, from the selection of wardens, to the day-to-day operation of the yards, to the investigation of alleged abuses committed by guards. Most of the damage done in this arena was in the 2002 labor contract the guards signed with then-Gov. Gray Davis. It ceded too much control to the union.

Schwarzenegger tried to undo that pact in his first year in office, but was stymied by the Legislature. He vowed to end the "code of silence" through which the guards are said to protect their own from discipline, but so far he has done little to follow through on that pledge.

Voters concerned about these issues should keep an eye on the new contract the governor's team negotiates this summer with the union. Aside from any raise the state grants the guards, the governor's success -- or lack of it -- at returning more control of the prisons to the wardens who are hired to manage them will be one way to gauge his commitment to cleaning up the problems he inherited.

The other issue in the prisons involves broader questions about crime and punishment, sentencing and rehabilitation. Here the governor has a better track record.

Because he strongly supports the state's tough sentencing laws and has proposed building prisons to accommodate the growing number of inmates, Schwarzenegger sometimes gives the impression that he does not believe rehabilitation should be part of the mission of the state's correction system.

But the state budget he proposed this year and the Legislature just adopted includes more than $100 million in new money dedicated to helping inmates straighten out their lives before they are released, which almost all of them will be.

The increase includes new money to expand education opportunities inside the prisons, create more ties with community groups that help ex-cons adjust to life on the outside and increase efforts at finding housing for inmates leaving prison. The state also will do more research on what works and what doesn't, so it can invest scarce resources more efficiently.

The administration, as part of a lawsuit settlement, also has made a huge commitment to improving the state's youth prisons, and the budget includes more than $50 million in new money meant to ensure that every ward receives rehabilitation programs. The inmates' housing will be broken into smaller, more manageable units, the wards will be separated more carefully according to their level of delinquency, the state will hire more teachers and counselors, and the health and mental health programs will be upgraded.

These changes probably represent the most serious commitment to rehabilitation the state has made in a generation. The overall message seems to be: Break the law and you will do time. But before you are released, the state will give you every opportunity to clean up your act.

That seems to be a pretty good approach, and one that will have broad support from the public. The fact that it might also win the backing of the prison guards should not make it any less appealing.

About the writer:
The Bee's Daniel Weintraub can be reached at (916) 321-1914 or at . Readers can see his daily Weblog at

Posted on Tue, Jun. 27, 2006 

Prison reform debate renewed
By Steven Harmon
Mercury News Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, under mounting pressure to produce prison reform, asked state lawmakers Monday to approve a sweeping plan that would build more prisons, shift some non-violent female inmates out of prisons and move soon-to-be paroled inmates to new facilities that provide counseling.

Schwarzenegger called lawmakers into a special session, beginning today, to address the issues. The proposal comes less than a week after a special master ap- pointed by a federal court blasted the governor for failing to enact reforms and at a time when the federal government has threatened to take over the system.

The plan, however, was met with sharp criticism from reform advocates who say it relies too heavily on adding cells and not enough on keeping people out of prison.

Schwarzenegger proposed financing two new prisons -- at a cost of $500 million each -- with bonds that would allow them to be built quickly.

The state's prison population is at an all-time high of 171,527 in a system built for 87,250, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The crisis has come to a head, Schwarzenegger said, with double-bunking and inmates being housed in prison gyms and day rooms.

``Our prisons are at the crisis point because the state of California has . . . not faced up to the need to build new prisons,'' Schwarzenegger said. ``By building more prisons, managing the inmate population more effectively . . . we can greatly improve our prison and rehabilitation system.''

Schwarzenegger also proposed establishing new community-based prison facilities to house criminals who are months away from being released. These new centers would provide inmates with ``counseling services and other help to re-enter society safely and productively,'' according to the plan.

The plan also would move 4,500 non-violent women who are near their time of release into community correctional facilities that are closer to their families.

Still, criticism was swift among inmate advocates.

``It's time to stop pretending that increased capacity is part of the solution,'' said Sitara Nieves of Critical Resistance, an Oakland-based prison watchdog group. ``The governor's plan would put us right back in the thick of the Wilson and Davis years -- we know that a policy of expansion is a guaranteed disaster.''

What's ``fundamentally missing'' from the proposal is a plan for rehabilitation, said state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Select Committee on the California Corrections System. ``The real issue is sentencing reform and parole reform.''

If the focus was on cutting back on recidivism -- the rate of parolee returns after three years out of prison is 57 percent -- there would be no need to build prisons, Romero said.

``If we cut the recidivism rate in half, that's 60,000 beds,'' she said. ``We're never going to get out of this if all we do is build prisons. We've got to focus on rehabilitation. We've got to look at sentencing reform.''

But Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez of Norwalk, who chairs the Select Committee on Prison Construction and Operations, supports the plan, and noted rehabilitation will be an essential component to reform.

``It's what goes into the buildings,'' he said. ``Appropriate staffing leads to reducing stress on inmates and provides an atmosphere conducive to one desiring to be rehabilitative.''

The governor's plan would allow private companies to build and run the prisons, though state correctional officers would guard the inmates, administration officials said.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland said Schwarzenegger needs to address the leadership problem in the Department of Corrections, where there have been three directors in the past two years and numerous other administrative posts have yet to be filled.

``A special session is only of value if it addresses the true problems in the system,'' Perata said, ``if it includes sufficient information and discussion and, most important, if its results can be given to permanent leadership at the CDC.''

Laws passed in special session take effect 90 days after the session's closing.

Lance Corcoran, chief of Governmental Affairs for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said it's obvious the state can't build its way out of the crisis, but new prisons are unavoidable given population growth and tough sentencing laws.

``We're the dirty part of the law enforcement picture,'' Corcoran said, ``but the reality is we're as necessary as those other infrastructure needs. I don't want to have to build new prisons, but we're not standing on a corner recruiting inmates. If you can get courts to quit locking 'em up, more power to you.''

Contact Steven Harmon at  or (916) 441-2101.

Schwarzenegger calls for special session to address prison reform 
- By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer
Monday, June 26, 2006 

(06-26) 13:59 PDT SACRAMENTO, (AP) -- 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday called a special legislative session to address reform in the nation's largest prison system, asking lawmakers to consider wide-ranging changes that will include building two new prisons.

Schwarzenegger's move comes the week after a special master appointed by a federal judge issued a report that was sharply critical of the governor's administration, saying it had retreated from prison reform efforts this year. In part, the report said the administration's actions have led to turmoil in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that culminated earlier this year in the back-to-back resignations of its top administrators.

That led Democrats to react swiftly to the governor's announcement, some calling the special session an election-year ploy to take attention away from last week's critical report.

"The call for a special session is a little bit gimmicky," said Assembly Budget Chair John Laird, D-Santa Cruz. "It was designed to convey a sense of urgency, when many of us have felt that urgency all along. He hasn't really delivered in two years, when he really started off on a good foot."

Laird said bills addressing prison crowding and housing of female inmates already are active in the Democrat-controlled Legislature and could be considered nearly as quickly during the regular legislative session.

The special session will address problems with crowding due to a soaring prison population and a poor rehabilitation system, which has led to a majority of ex-convicts quickly heading back to prison after their release.

In a speech to the California District Attorneys Association in Orange County, Schwarzenegger called for lawmakers to approve several of his previous proposals, saying the prison system is "dangerously overcrowded." A system designed for 100,000 inmates had nearly 172,000 as of last week, he said.

"Our prisons are at a crisis point right now because the state of California has not planned adequately for our future," Schwarzenegger said. "We are at an all-time high right now, and we are rapidly running out of space. Our prisons are dangerously overcrowded right now."

He said just one prison has been built in the last decade and warned that if action isn't taken soon, "The courts may very well take over the entire prison system and order the early release of tens of thousands of inmates."

Among the proposals Schwarzenegger wants the Legislature to consider are some issues lawmakers previously rejected.

He wants to free up more state prison space for male inmates by housing 4,500 nonviolent female inmates in private prisons, a plan that was rejected by legislative budget negotiators in recent weeks. About 40 percent of women should be moved to prisons closer to home, then given counseling and help to re-enter their communities before they are released, the governor said.

Schwarzenegger also proposed funding new prisons as part of a sweeping public works bond package earlier this year, but the plan was dropped from the ballot package that will go to voters in November. Voters instead will decide on bonds for roads, levees, schools and affordable housing.

In calling for the special session, the governor asked lawmakers to take a second look at those proposals this summer.

Democratic lawmakers, however, remained skeptical. Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, said building two 5,000-bed prisons would have little effect on crowding while significantly boosting state debt.

"We cannot build our way out of the crisis," Romero said.

California's last major prison opened a year ago near the Central Valley farm town of Delano. It cost $716 million by the time the bonds are paid off in 2028.

Romero, who has held numerous hearings on prison reform, proposed improving rehabilitation programs to cut the number of inmates who get sent back shortly after their release. About 70 percent of California inmates eventually are sent back to prison after their release.

Eliminating that would be the equivalent of building 12 new prisons, she said.

Schwarzenegger said he wants legislators to act before they adjourn at the end of August, meaning the special session would run at the same time as the current legislative session. The Legislature will convene the special session on Tuesday.

The session is just one part of a vast effort to reform California's troubled prison system, which has been plagued by violence, overcrowding, a high rate of return for released prisoners and a health care system so poor that it has been blamed for an average of one inmate death a week.

Schwarzenegger's proposal comes as John Hagar, the special master appointed by a federal court judge, plans a July 12 hearing on the report he issued last week.

The report said Schwarzenegger took significant steps toward reform his first few years in office, including breaking the "code of silence" surrounding wrongdoing by prison guards and improving internal investigations and discipline. He also streamlined the adult and youth prison systems into a single agency.

But Hagar's report said Schwarzenegger's administration has backed off on reform efforts as he has tried to repair his relations with public employee groups following last fall's disastrous special election. The governor's backsliding on reform can be attributed to his attempt to curry favor with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, a powerful force in California politics, according to the report.

The warming relationship between the governor's office and the prison guards union has led to turnover at the top of the corrections system. Former Corrections Secretary Roderick Hickman quit in February, saying he was frustrated with a lack of support in the administration. His replacement, prison veteran Jeanne Woodford, abruptly announced her retirement in April.

Unless the prison system improves, Hagar said the judge, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, might have to step in with more federal oversight.

Henderson earlier this year seized control of the state's inmate health care system. The administration has pledged to work with Henderson to improve health care, but those issues are not included in Schwarzenegger's call for a special session.

Among the other initiatives Schwarzenegger is proposing is a program that would offer soon-to-be-released inmates help with job placement, counseling and finding housing.

Schwarzenegger last called a special session in January 2005 to try to get lawmakers to approve a number of proposals. They would have given him broad control over state spending, taken away the Legislature's power to draw legislative and congressional districts, based teacher pay on merit instead of longevity, and substituted 401(k) plans for guaranteed public employee pensions.

Those proposals never made it out of the Legislature and led to a special election last November in which voters rejected the four initiatives backed by Schwarzenegger.

Neal Peirce / Syndicated columnist
Jailbreak: our failing prison system 

"What happens inside jails and prisons does not stay inside jails and prisons."

That's the disturbing lead sentence of "Confronting Confinement," the newly released report of the Vera Institute of Justice's Commission on Safety and Abuse in American Prisons.

Many of us are sure to despise the finding. Isn't the overriding reason for jails and prisons to lock up the bad guys and protect the rest of us? Aren't we the country that decided, beginning 30 years ago, to substitute punishment for rehabilitation? Haven't we demonstrated our toughness by imprisoning 2.2 million people — the most of any nation on Earth? And pumping up our prison and jail expenditures to a stunning $60 billion a year?

So now you're telling us that bad stuff is seeping out of jails and prisons and back into our neighborhoods, cities, towns?

Well, yes.

Overcrowding is so rampant in the burgeoning California prison system that a high-ranking corrections official is warning: "We believe that an imminent and substantial threat to the public safety exists, requiring immediate action."

The New York City-based Vera Institute's panel, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, with former judges, corrections officials and prisoner rights advocates, cites many more perils.

First and foremost, there's violence — widespread patterns of individual assaults, including gang violence, rape and beatings by guards. Can we expect inmates subjected to that culture to abstain from it when they're released?

Indeed, if prison guards spend their days in that kind of culture, the potential for acting the same to their families, or in other outside-the-bars incidents, is real. "When people live and work in facilities that are unsafe, unhealthy, unproductive, or inhumane, they carry the effects home with them," warns the commission.

The perils are compounded by the decision to segregate difficult or mentally ill prisoners — a practice growing fast in the past decade. Segregation is usually counterproductive, the Vera commission reports — it triggers violence inside prison walls and recidivism among segregated convicts when they're freed.

Then there's medical care. High rates of disease and illness among prisoners, coupled with inadequate funding for correctional health care, endanger all parties — prisoners, staff and the public. Every year, about 1.5 million people are released from jail or prison carrying such life-threatening diseases as tuberculosis, hepatitis C and AIDS. Correctional systems, obliged to operate on shoestring budgets for medical care, "are set up to fail" — in some instances there are just two or three doctors for 4,000 to 5,000 inmates.

The "cures" for all these conditions are clear. Reduced crowding — indeed, limits on prisoner numbers in any institution — leads the list. Second, a return to rehabilitation — basic literacy and skills training — on the sure knowledge that high numbers of prisoners (currently about 60 percent) will commit offenses and be reincarcerated if they're not prepared for civilian life.

Third, use force and non-lethal weaponry far more sparingly — constant and excessive force only begets violence. And fourth, upgrade medical care radically, including much better screening for infectious diseases, partnering with community health-care providers, providing treatment for mentally ill prisoners, and persuading Congress to extend Medicaid and Medicare benefits to prisoners.

Why would federal and state legislators approve such changes? The answer: Unless they do, violence to family members and others, plus illness and desperation, will keep rippling out each time an inmate heads home, as 95 percent do.

Even in the absence of the sweeping reforms the criminal justice system cries out for — especially terminating our horrendously failed and harmful "war on drugs," plus scrapping mandatory minimum sentences in favor of radically expanded sentencing discretion by judges — the ideas of the Vera Institute's panel represent a worthwhile start.

Congress is at least considering a "Second Chance Act" for easing prisoner re-entry into society, including modest proposals to encourage job openings, housing, substance-abuse and mental-health treatment. It enjoys sponsors ranging from conservative to liberal lawmakers and backers from the National Council of La Raza to the Christian Coalition.

Could we be ready for an outbreak of corrections sanity? With our 2.2 million men and women behind bars and the explosive conditions in many of our prisons, the old "pay me now or pay me later" adage has never been more compelling.

Neal Peirce's column appears alternate Mondays on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is

Report: Prison reform derailed
Governor's top aide, union blamed for loss of leadership.
By Andy Furillo -- Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 12:01 am PDT Thursday, June 22, 2006

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's promise of "fantastic prison reform" has been undermined by his chief of staff reopening lines of communication earlier with the state's powerful correctional officers' union, a court-appointed special master states in a report made public Wednesday.

By conducting meetings with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, Schwarzenegger's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, prompted the resignations of two Cabinet-level prison secretaries, "confused" the correctional agency's top leadership about who was in charge and sent signals that the "zero tolerance" policy of barring wrongdoing among officers was a thing of the past, Special Master John Hagar wrote in his report.

"Integrity and remedial plan efforts must begin at the top, and then percolate down," Hagar wrote in his 36-page report, dated Tuesday. "Beginning January 2006, however, it appears that the requisite leadership has been absent from the governor's office. Evidence before the special master indicates that the governor's office may have given the code of silence in California's prisons a new lease on life."

Hagar said he is planning to conduct public hearings in San Francisco federal court on July 12 as a result of "these disturbing developments."

Kennedy did not respond to a request for comment on the Hagar report. The Governor's Office issued a statement by spokeswoman Margita Thompson saying that the state's prisons are in a "crisis," and quoting from a recent inspector general's report that says the administration has undertaken "a sustained good-faith effort" to comply with the assorted federal court orders governing prison operations ranging from health care to use of force, internal discipline and its mental health system.

"Much remains to be done," Thompson's statement says, "but only by having open lines of communication can we see the reforms through to completion."

A spokesman for the CCPOA, however, fired back that the special master's report borders on "lunacy," especially in blaming the union for the February resignation of former Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Rod Hickman.

"We are not running the show," union spokesman Lance Corcoran said. "This is something of a gut-punch. I find it amazing that Mr. Hagar would have written this."

State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, co-chairwoman of the Legislature's joint legislative oversight committee on corrections, said Hagar made "a fundamental mistake" by blaming Hickman's departure or any of the system's troubles on Kennedy. Romero said Hickman, who resigned of his own volition, quit "because he failed as a leader."

"When Susan Kennedy came in, one of the smartest things she did was open the door and say, 'Yes, you've got to talk to the union,' " Romero said.

Steve Fama, attorney with the Prison Law Office, which brought the original lawsuit that led to the appointment of Hagar as special master in 1995 by U.S. District Court Judge Thelton E. Henderson, said the state prison system has become a national "pariah" as a result of the union's "undue influence."

"It's extremely concerning that the prisons appear to be returning to the unfortunately long-standing practice of letting the workers run the system," he said.

Hagar has been paid $125 an hour up to $140,000 a year in the special master's job, according to corrections spokeswoman Elaine Jennings. Initially appointed to oversee internal discipline and use of force at Pelican Bay State Prison, Hagar two years ago sought and obtained an order from Henderson to expand his reach on those issues over the entire prison system. He also obtained authority from Henderson to oversee provisions of the CCPOA's 2002 labor contract.

His report was prompted by the resignations this year of Hickman and his successor as corrections secretary, Jeanne Woodford. Hickman, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, cited CCPOA's influence with the Schwarzenegger administration as a reason for his quitting. Woodford listed personal reasons.

The special master says in his report that the administration's opening to the union came at the same time the CCPOA was getting ready to begin talks on a new contract to replace the one that expires next month. Hagar says he "has learned" that Kennedy and Schwarzenegger Cabinet Secretary Fred Aguiar took steps to "purge" top negotiation managers in the Department of Personnel Administration at the outset of contract talks by forcing their resignations from state service.

DPA spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley denied those assertions. She said that the two officials cited in the report -- Director Mike Navarro and Deputy Director Bill Avritt -- had both intended to retire next month on their own. Hagar, in his report, mistakenly referred to Avritt as Bill Avery. Jolley said there is no Bill Avery who works for DPA, and that Avritt has nothing to do with contract negotiations. "They were not purged," Jolley said.

Hagar states in his report that he "obtained information" that Woodford quit as corrections secretary because the CCPOA torpedoed her pick to help run the labor relations department. CCPOA officials strenuously denied trying to thwart the appointment of Tim Virga as acting assistant labor relations secretary.

The special master also infuriated union leaders by saying in his report that the CCPOA is trying "to intimidate staff and enforce the code of silence," a practice where law enforcement employees refuse to report wrongdoing by fellow employees.

Union officials have long maintained that the code is not a widespread problem in the state's prisons because correctional officials have the authority to compel officers to testify in internal investigations or face termination.

"Do the investigations correctly," Corcoran said. "If you can't find dirty cops with the ability to compel them to testify against themselves, I'm sorry, that's something that's wrong with you, not with the fact that we're still in the room."

About the writer:
The Bee's Andy Furillo can be reached at (916) 321-1141 or .

From the Los Angeles Times

Judge Steps Up Pressure on State Prison System
He threatens further intervention if officials weaken investigations of guard misconduct.
By Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writer

March 15, 2006

SACRAMENTO—A federal judge who has been a relentless critic of California's prison system Tuesday threatened more court intervention if managers retreat from aggressive investigations of misconduct by guards.

In a letter to Acting Corrections Secretary Jeanne S. Woodford, U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson said he was "deeply disappointed" with a memo Woodford sent employees after the sudden resignation of her predecessor, Roderick Q. Hickman, last month.

In the memo, Woodford listed priorities facing the troubled Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation but failed to mention its inmate healthcare crisis or the goal of abolishing the "code of silence," an unwritten canon that has prevented some officers from reporting misconduct by colleagues. 

Henderson called those omissions "disturbing."

In response, he said he was canceling a regularly scheduled meeting at Woodford's Sacramento office next week, in effect withdrawing from talks on managers' efforts to police prison staff.

Henderson said he was considering other measures to ensure the state's continued progress on employee discipline.

The judge also ordered a court monitor to step up scrutiny of the department's investigations of abuses by staff behind prison walls and to report any "deterioration" of quality.

Copies of the judge's letter, dated Tuesday, were sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the governor's appointed watchdog over prisons, Inspector General Matthew Cate.

Schwarzenegger appointed Woodford acting secretary on Feb. 26 after Hickman abruptly resigned, saying that he believed that the commitment to improving the prison system was flagging in the Legislature and governor's office.

Henderson's letter suggests that he may share that view. Lawyers who know him characterized it as a warning from someone who has been a relentless critic of the prison system for more than a decade.

"I see it like a yellow card [in soccer]," said Donald Specter of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, which represents inmates in a lawsuit over healthcare. "It's intended to let Ms. Woodford and the governor know that they'd better be diligent and vigilant on these issues, because he's watching."

A spokesman for Woodford said neither she nor other top managers have wavered from their determination to improve inmate medical care and to ensure that the code of silence does not disrupt disciplinary investigations.

Spokesman J.P. Tremblay said the memo to employees was meant to be "general in tone" and omitted many priorities and reforms that are important to Woodford.

He added that over the last two years, the department has overhauled its employee disciplinary system and institutionalized many changes. Those include ethics training and the creation of a team of independent watchdogs to ensure that punishment is meted out free of the cronyism and improper influence that had tainted the process in the past.

"Those things are in place and will not change because of the departure of one person," Tremblay said.

The letter marks the latest of many volleys fired at the beleaguered corrections department by Henderson, who sits on the bench in San Francisco.

Last month, he seized control of the prison system's $2-billion healthcare operation and handed it to a federal receiver, concluding that the state was incapable of fixing the crisis. 

When he starts work in April, receiver Robert Sillen will have extraordinary powers to hire and fire, set budgets, suspend laws and regulations, and do whatever else he deems necessary to mend a healthcare system that kills one inmate in an average week through incompetence or neglect. He will report to Henderson.

In 2004, the judge slammed the system on another front, accusing the Schwarzenegger administration of ceding too much management power to the prison guards' union. At the time, Henderson warned that he might place the entire prison system into receivership. 

The corrections department also took heat from another source Tuesday, as the inspector general reported that violent convicts who should be isolated in maximum-security cells are instead often mixed with the general prison population upon arrival in the system, creating dangers for staff and other inmates.

Despite new policies designed to improve screening, dangerous felons continue to be improperly housed at five prison "reception centers" that process the majority of California's convicts, Cate said.

The findings come about one year after the fatal stabbing of Correctional Officer Manuel A. Gonzalez at the state prison in Chino. The death of Gonzalez, a father of six from Whittier, marked the first time in 20 years that an on-duty guard had been killed in one of California's 33 adult prisons.

A review of the slaying by the inspector general found that the alleged killer had a psychological disorder and a history of in-prison violence — and should have been housed in a segregation cell. Instead, he was placed in the general population, where security is not nearly so tight.

After the killing, the Chino prison's warden and two deputy wardens were replaced. The department also altered its rules to ensure that inmates who had been paroled from segregated housing would be automatically returned there if they were re-arrested.

But last fall, the inspector general found 66 erroneously housed inmates during a one-day snapshot of the system. In four cases, those inmates later attacked staff or other prisoners.

Cate said that number points to a problem of "serious magnitude" because thousands of inmates pass through the system each year. In 2004, the reception centers processed 173,437 inmates.

Informed of Cate's findings, department officials reviewed the 66 cases and immediately transferred eight inmates to segregation.

The remaining 58 inmates no longer needed to be separated from the general population, the officials decided. 

Department spokeswoman Elaine Jennings said immediate steps are being taken to correct remaining problems highlighted in the report, including problems with a computer database. 

The full text of the inspector general's report can be found at  .

Governor has chance to fix prison system 
Experts say he must import an outsider with political clout 
- James Sterngold, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, March 6, 2006 

With the surprise resignation of the state's corrections secretary last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a chance to repair what some experts say is one of his worst failures, the growing problems of the desperately overburdened prison system. 

But corrections experts have some sobering news for the governor -- the job, most agree, may be impossible to perform without drastic changes. 

In interviews, a number of experts generally agreed that the new secretary ought to be a high-profile personality from outside the department with great political clout and that the governor must make a far stronger, personal commitment to see parole reforms through. They also said that sentencing laws should be changed and that the state must pour more money into drug rehabilitation. 

But even if those changes were made, few of the experts were optimistic. Most said the atmosphere in the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is so poisoned by infighting and paralysis that few would want the job. 

Joan Petersilia, a visiting law professor at Stanford University who worked two years as a special adviser to the outgoing secretary, Roderick Hickman, said one of her assignments was trying to recruit experts for high-level jobs. She always failed, she said, not because of the depth of the problems, but because the candidates complained that the department was too politicized. 

"What I kept hearing was they always questioned the sincerity of the people at the top," said Petersilia. "They just didn't feel this was a very professionally run organization. They said it was too political, and you were too much at risk of being replaced if you upset anybody." 

The Schwarzenegger administration inherited a prison system suffering an array of problems that, most agree, the governor has largely failed to correct or has made worse. 

Franklin Zimring, a professor at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law and a student of prison issues for 30 years, said he would prefer to see the position of corrections secretary not just filled but, in essence, blown up. 

Instead of finding a capable bureaucrat with years of experience inside the corrections system -- Hickman had worked his way up from prison guard -- the problems are so huge, and the need for a tough new voice so great that, Zimring said, an outsider with enormous prestige and the political heft to break down barriers to reform is needed. 

"We need somebody who's obviously too good for the job," said Zimring. "And we need a troublemaker." 

By that, he said, he meant an elder statesman with nothing to lose, and who is not used to being told "no." The reason is that the real problems, Zimring insisted, are political more than managerial. 

Zimring also insisted that the new secretary needs a more consistent commitment from Schwarzenegger to support changes. 

"There has been more than a little attention deficit disorder at the top, and that has to change," he said. 

Officials in the governor's office have denied the accusation. 

At a news conference Thursday, acting corrections Secretary Jeanne Woodford said Schwarzenegger had called for major changes in a way no other governor has, and he remains committed to the issue. 

"On behalf of the governor, I am telling you that we are not backing away from our efforts to reform the state's correctional system,'' Woodford said. 

In practical terms, Zimring said, change in sentencing procedure is desperately needed, with an end to determinate sentencing, and better coordination between the state and its 58 counties. As it is now, all sentencing decisions are made at the county level by prosecutors and local judges, but it is the state that incarcerates convicts and must pay for their upkeep. 

Petersilia said one of the most conspicuous problems was the department's focus on the minutiae of prison operations rather than on preparing inmates for their release, the time they have more impact on public safety. 

The parole system, she said, is a failure and a direct cause of one of the highest recidivism rates in the country. 

"One of the things that has been missing is that the secretary and the undersecretaries and on down have no experience in parole and community corrections," said Petersilia. "When we've gotten into trouble is when people get out of prison." 

When Schwarzenegger came into office, the department promised changes that would, in many instances, divert parole violators into rehabilitation programs or use home detention rather than reincarceration. 

But Schwarzenegger failed to implement those changes. 

She too would choose an outsider, perhaps a retired leader like former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell or another retired military person. 

Although little known outside the corrections department, lawyer Donald Specter, who directs the Prison Law Office, has become one of the most powerful people in the system. His inmate rights group has sued California numerous times in a campaign to correct problems from health care to parole, and he has won almost every time. 

Through his efforts, various federal courts now exert great control over the administration of health care, mental health care and other areas of prison life. 

Specter said a dense bureaucracy contributes to the problems, but that overcrowding is even more significant. The prisons are filled to about twice their capacity. He too thinks an outsider will be required to do the job, and he would double or triple the current $131,500 salary of the secretary. 

One of the saddest points of agreement among the experts was that most other states embraced reforms years ago with positive results. California has become a prison backwater, they said. 

"We missed out, but now we have a lot of models to look at," said Petersilia. 

E-mail James Sterngold at

State Prison Reform Hopes in Jeopardy
The recent resignation of the corrections chief raises doubts about the governor's commitment to overhaul the system.
By Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writer

March 7, 2006

SACRAMENTO — When California's chief of corrections quit in frustration a week ago, a provocative question was left hovering in the air: Can anyone fix the state's dysfunctional prisons? 

Will anyone be allowed to?

Reformers were giddy when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed shortly after his 2003 election that he would demand "action, action, action" until the mess in his Department of Corrections was cleaned up. Overcrowding had packed penitentiaries to twice their intended capacity, increasing violence, straining staff and sending costs spiraling out of control. 

Inmate medical care had become so poor that a federal receiver was eventually put in charge. And more than half of all convicts released were back in prison within two years.

To champion his agenda, Schwarzenegger picked Roderick Q. Hickman, a former prison guard and warden, as corrections secretary. Though Hickman described himself as a "hook 'em and book 'em guy," he said he believed true public safety was impossible if the state did not do a better job preparing inmates for success on the outside. 

For the first time in decades, advocates of reform felt real change was within reach. A popular governor — a Republican! — was singing their tune. 

But that optimism has dimmed, and inside the department — now called Corrections and Rehabilitation — employees exhausted by long hours devoted to charting a new course wonder if their efforts will amount to naught.

Explaining his resignation in an interview with The Times, Hickman said he faced dwindling support in the Legislature and governor's office for the changes he had launched. California's "political environment and the power of special interests," he said, "work against efforts to bring about lasting reform."

Day to day, Hickman was handcuffed by the power of the correctional officers union, whose labor contract gives its leaders a say in virtually every change that affects the workplace. The union, whose leaders lambasted Hickman from the start, also is a powerful player in the Legislature, capable of killing reform bills.

Some say Hickman threw in the towel because legislators seemed inclined to oppose him in a confirmation hearing this spring. Though he was confirmed once, legislation that restructured the department last year required a new hearing, and a few lawmakers said they were disappointed by the pace of improvements on his watch. Others said Hickman's mutually hostile relationship with the guards union had become a liability.

Hickman said he believed he could have found the votes to win confirmation. But he said it was unclear whether newcomers to the governor's inner circle — including Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy, once a top advisor to former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis — backed him or his ideas for change.

Kennedy, who began her job Jan. 1, had not yet met with Hickman, though representatives of the guards union had been spotted inside the governor's office.

Whatever the secretary's motivation, his departure has prompted some corrections insiders to worry that Schwarzenegger has lost his enthusiasm for turning around the prisons. Among them is Joan Petersilia, a UC Irvine criminologist brought in by Hickman for advice on parole reform and other topics.

She calls the last two years maddening, likening the experience to "that game of red light, green light you play with your kids."

"You get the green light, and we all forge ahead full steam on a program or idea," she said. "Then you get the red light from the governor's office, and we all come to a crashing halt until the next signal is sent."

One example, she said, was an effort to end supervision of some low-risk parolees after six months instead of the typical two or three years. Petersilia and a team of corrections officials spent months working on the plan, conducting a pilot study in San Diego.

The goal was to identify 15,000 parolees who were doing well in society and appeared to present a low risk of committing new crimes. By releasing them early from parole supervision, the department could reduce caseloads for overworked parole officers and save a substantial amount of money, considering that the state spends $4,500 a year on every parolee.

"Everybody was behind it, and then one day it was over," Petersilia said. "We were told to stop, because it would be interpreted as letting people off early and it might be 'messaged' wrong, in the political sense. We all wasted a lot of time, and I was angry."

Early last year, officials were directed to create a youth correctional system that would become a national model, one based on therapy and small housing units. Then the governor's popularity ratings began to fall, and his aides told corrections officials to slow down, recalled one person who had worked on the plan.

The governor's office "started out very aggressive and then, when his poll numbers began to erode, they kept backing away and backing away," said the source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the plan.

Petersilia said such micromanagement would doom any progress in corrections. Unless Schwarzenegger heeded the abrupt Hickman resignation — and his reasons — as a "wake-up call," she said, talented people dedicated to building a better system would find something else to do.

"The governor's office has to realize that instead of running the show, they need to be supportive of the show, and supportive of whoever they put at the top," she said.

Last week, the newly appointed acting secretary, Jeanne Woodford, insisted that the governor remained committed to making California "a national leader in corrections and rehabilitation."

"The departure of one person," she said at a media briefing, "will not derail the progress we have made."

Woodford, a former warden of San Quentin who had been the department's No. 2 person, is considered the leading candidate for the job.

Reggie Wilkinson, chief of corrections in Ohio and a nationally recognized leader in the field, said Schwarzenegger couldn't pay him enough to take the post, and noted that a "PhD in diplomacy and very broad shoulders" would be minimum requirements for whoever is picked.

Petersilia said that of the handful of highly respected corrections directors nationally, she could not think of one who would come to California.

"Nobody believes you can do your craft here," she said. "Nobody is going to come to a place where the environment just makes it impossible to do the business of corrections."

Schwarzenegger said in a statement a week ago that he would continue down "the path toward change." But with a tough reelection fight before him, he could veer off that route, fearing that political opponents might portray him as soft on crime.

"It feels that way," said Donald Specter of the Bay Area nonprofit Prison Law Office, which has sued the state over inmate healthcare and other issues. "It feels like he showed up at a few press conferences and said a lot of great things, and then we never heard from him again."

The governor could have insulated himself from political attack by exploiting a powerful ally he had enlisted to help him push prison reform: former Gov. George Deukmejian. In 2004, Schwarzenegger asked Deukmejian to figure out what plagued Corrections and how best to mend it. 

A law-and-order Republican who led a prison building boom during his tenure, Deukmejian concluded that fixing the system would require a new approach, one anchored in better preparing inmates for release.

"This is not about coddling criminals…." Deukmejian said at the time. "This is about protecting the public by ensuring that offenders do not commit a second crime."

His ideas received a burst of attention. Then they were forgotten.

Editorial: AWOL: Prison reform
Governor gives in to legislative gridlock

Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Prison reform in California is in its death throes, a casualty of election-year politics and powerful interests in Sacramento.

Monday's resignation of Rod Hickman, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, is the latest evidence that reform remains out of political reach. Hickman diagnosed the problem in a Sunday interview with the Los Angeles Times: "The special interests we're up against are just too powerful to get much done in the current environment."

Californians had good reason to hope for progress. Unlike Democratic and Republican governors before him, Arnold Schwarzenegger did not accept campaign contributions from the prison guards union. And soon after taking office, he appointed a 40-member prisons task force headed by former Gov. George Deukmejian.

That task force panel stated the obvious: Management does not control the prison system. The 2001-'06 contract with the prison guards, the panel observed, negotiated away traditional management functions and "clearly has resulted in an unfair and unworkable tilt toward union influence." The contract also gave above-inflation salary increases and a plum new retirement benefit. Guards can retire at age 50, receiving 3 percent of their highest annual pay for each year worked. Those who work 30 years can retire with 90 percent of their highest pay.

To his credit, Schwarzenegger attempted to reopen that contract for renegotiation, but the Legislature - despite some interest in the Senate - did not support him. Formal negotiations on a new contract for the prison guards open in the next few weeks. Will Schwarzenegger bargain hard to win back management authority over the prison system?

The governor's panel also denounced California's sentencing laws that overpopulate our prisons with aging and nonviolent prisoners. They condemned the state's recidivism rate, which far exceeds that of any other state.

Schwarzenegger could have supported modification of the state's "Three Strikes and You're Out" law to target violent crimes for the third strike. Instead, in the waning days of the 2004 campaign, he resorted to last-minute attack ads bankrolled with the help of the prison guards union. Proposition 66 was defeated. Will Schwarzenegger support the new effort by Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley to amend the three-strikes law?

Schwarzenegger supported his panel's recommendations to reform parole - for a while. But when faced with a TV and radio campaign funded by the union and conducted by their affiliate, Crime Victims United of California, Schwarzenegger abruptly scuttled it.

The corrections budget took 4.3 percent of the state's general fund in 1985-1986. Last fiscal year it consumed 8.8 percent. That means less spending on other state priorities. The state is heading toward corrections spending of 10 percent of the budget long-term. During the Schwarzenegger administration, prison population numbers have reached an all-time high and continue to climb.

It appears that only something dramatic can change things. Federal receivership is looking more likely - and more desirable - by the day.

Reforming California's Prisons: An Interview With Jackie Speier 
The state senator is working to hold California's powerful corrections department to account. 

Lisa Katayama 
July 07 , 2005 

Chowchilla is a small town three hours southeast of San Francisco, home to vast acres of almond tree farms and two of the largest women's prisons in the world. A combined 8,000 women live in the Valley State Prison for Women and the Central California Women's Facility. 80 percent of these women are mothers; 71 percent are former victims of ongoing physical abuse; and more than half are incarcerated for non-violent crimes. The prisoners are routinely denied the access to basic necessities such as sanitary supplies, visits with their children, and medication. Meanwhile, California is one of the only places in the world where male guards oversee women's housing units, and complaints of sexual harassment abound. Yet very little attention has been paid to the rights of prisoners, and conditions within the system have long gone unmonitored. 

There is, however, one thing that most Californians would agree on: too much money is spent on the prison industrial complex. The California Department of Corrections (CDC) costs taxpayers $5.3 billion per year to keep 163,000 men and women in prison—$31,000 per prisoner. Budgetary pressures finally came to a head when, after the CDC exceeded spending projections for the sixth straight year, State Senator Jackie Speier (D-CA) did what nobody else dared to do: she launched a series of investigations, through the Senate Select Committee on Government Oversight, on conditions in the prisons and how the CDC spends its money. Then, in February of 2005, Speier introduced seven bills related to prison reform, dealing with issues such as health care, education, drug treatment, housing, and gender sensitivity in women's prisons. These initiatives have pitted Speier against California's politically powerful prison guards' union, which has long benefited directly from the unfettered expansion of the prison system. 

In April of this year, Jackie Speier spent the night at Valley State Prison for Women to find out for herself what the living conditions in a California women's prison were like. Having recently visited Valley State myself as an attorney representative for California Prison Focus, I was curious to hear about her experience, and to find out more about the reforms she was pursuing. 

Mother Jones: What sparked your interest in prison reform? 

Jackie Speier: It came out of scrutinizing the Department of Corrections (CDC), in the course of my work on the Senate Select Committee on Government Oversight, where we had whistleblowers complaining to us about problems within CDC. That in turn led us into a series of hearings that uncovered abuses, wasteful programs, and a lack of accountability within the system. For instance, health care in prisons, which sucks up more than a billion dollars worth of taxpayer money, even though the quality of healthcare within prisons still remains marginal. Many prison contracts, meanwhile, are not put up for competitive bidding. And there is a requirement that two guards guard cover a patient—even a brain-dead patient—which has cost millions of dollars to the state. Then last year I attempted to get the contract with the CCPOA [the correctional officers' union] renegotiated. The contract was renegotiated, but it also contained an unprecedented provision that now prevents the legislature from renegotiating it this year, even though we're in a very bad fiscal situation. Over a five year period, the correctional guards will have a salary increase of more than 37 percent.

In a recent overnight visit at [Valley State Prison for Women] and Central California Women's Facility, both of which are in Chowchilla, I went with a number of groups from the women's caucus to assess the conditions at the women's prisons. We found conditions that I believe are unacceptable for pregnant inmates, in terms of the quality of attention they receive and the lack of programming in their facilities. Many women had not had a pap smear or a mammogram in a number of years. Female offenders receive very little preventative care, which had resulted in 12,000 tooth extractions and only 39 root canals in the years 2002 through 2004. The cost of health care in state prisons for women is 60 percent more expensive than it is for men, and I have a hard time understanding why. 

We found many issues that would, frankly, place the state in a very difficult position should a lawsuit be filed. I think the lack of education and substance abuse treatment programs is a serious flaw in the system. While 95 percent of these women are released from prison at some point, 68 percent of them return within three years. Over 60 percent of the women who are serving time in state prison in California are serving time for non-violent crimes. Many of the women are serving time for being enablers to crimes their husbands or their significant others committed. 

MJ: Who did you meet on your prison visit? How were the conditions there? 

JS: I was expecting to meet women that were violent, abusive, and angry, but to my surprise, they were very respectful, polite, supportive of each other, and almost like teenage girls in their behavior and what appears to be naïveté. Many of them wanted to better their lives; many of them wanted to see their children, but, because the prison in Chowchilla is so remote, haven't seen their children in years and years. There's very little programming to help these women, even though many of them are motivated to do college work. One woman I encountered is taking college units through an Ohio college at $500 a unit, so it's clear they're not helping these women to improve their lives. 

I think we stayed in the C-block—we were in the reception center. Many of the women stay in the reception center for 3-4 months before they're moved into the general population. Sleeping on the metal bed was enough of a deterrent for me never to want to commit a crime. The pillows were like cement blocks. It was not at all comfortable. 

MJ: So what are your main objectives now in terms of women's human rights in the prisons? 

JS: A number of us are going to visit another facility, and after we've completed our visits we'll probably make a proposal to the legislature to change the model on how women in state prison are held accountable for their conduct, and making it into a more cost-effective operation. 

MJ: What are the main goals of the Gender Specific Standards for Women in Prison Task Force? 

JS: Its main goals are to evaluate the current conditions of women's prisons and make recommendations for changes. Most of these women—I think about 80 percent of them—have children, and are separated from their children, and we're paying not just for the cost associated with their imprisonment but oftentimes for the foster care that their kids are in. There needs to be a better model. 

MJ: Are you getting a lot of support for your efforts? Have you encountered or do you anticipate any major obstacles? 

JS: I think the electorate is beginning to appreciate that the "tough on crime" campaign that has been underway in this state for some time is a very costly enterprise. While the incidence of crime in California has gone down, the number of prisoners in our state prisons is ballooning, and if you look at our recidivism rate compared to other states, California is off the charts. I think there is growing recognition that the model that has been operating at CDC isn't working, doesn't work, and that the ability for the department to reform itself, on its own, is questionable. 

MJ: Do you face a big challenge with the prison guards' union? 

JS: They are certainly unhappy with the focus of my work. They're a very persuasive special interest in the capital. They're accustomed to getting what they want, and have historically gotten everything they wanted. Putting a spotlight on their contract is forcing people to look at what it means when you have absolute power. It has a corrupting influence, and certainly has had that effect in some respects. There's a reason why District Court Judge Thelton Henderson has put Pelican Bay under [federal] receivership; there was corrupt conduct going on, both by the prison union and some of the guards. The special master [John Hagar—appointed by Judge Henderson] came back with a blistering report on the nature of CCPOA's antics and the negative effect it had on the operation of Pelican Bay.

The guards' union is a very a powerful union. They gave $2 million to [Former Governor] Gray Davis over a period of years, they gave a million dollars to [Former Governor] Pete Wilson and when they were first starting out, over $400,000 to [Former Governor] George Deukmejian. They have been involved in many campaigns for the legislature over decades, making sure people got elected who they felt would be helpful to their interests. And when anyone crosses them, they attempt to take them out, like they have with a district attorney, and prevented another legislator from being elected to the Senate who had supported private prisons. 

MJ: Why is it important for residents of California to care about prisoner's rights? 

JS: If for no other reason than this: if prisoners aren't being treated appropriately, they can file lawsuits and the state will have to pay extraordinary sums of money to reform the system. They have to be treated humanely, and, for the most part, most people who are in state prisons today are there for committing non-violent crimes. There are those who would like us to believe that everyone in state prison is a murderer or a rapist, and that is not the case. 

MJ: You're running for Lieutenant Governor. Do you think it will hurt your campaign to be so strong on this issue? 

JS: I think that the correctional guards' union will come after me. I'm not naïve; I recognize that that was going to be a downside of taking the action that I did, but frankly, I thought that if I didn't do it, no-one would ever do it, because I've been in the legislature for 17 years, and most of the legislature won't serve more than six or eight years. 

MJ: So you're adamant about maintaining your position on prisons? 

JS: Yes.

It is time to overhaul Corrections system

By George Deukmejian - (Published September 19, 2004)

The Legislature and the media have been reporting on California's $6 billion correctional system. Their message has been the same: out-of-control costs; a high recidivism rate; abuse of inmates and juvenile wards by correctional staff; a disciplinary system that fails to punish wrongdoers; and the failure to deliver mandated health care to inmates and juvenile wards by correctional staff.

In reality, the majority of correctional officers are hard-working individuals engaged in a very difficult job. But they are working in a defective organizational structure which has no accountability, no uniformity and no transparency.

Recognizing that immediate improvements must be made, Gov. Schwarzenegger appointed an independent panel to look at the entire Corrections system and to recommend changes. His instructions were very clear, "Don't just move boxes ... blow them up!"

I was honored to chair this panel. I must admit that I did not expect the problems to be so widespread and firmly entrenched.

The governor and his staff assembled almost 40 panel members who were loaned to us from the Department of Corrections, the Office of the Inspector General and other state departments. We divided the research into eight teams: organization, ethics and culture, discipline, use of forces, personnel and training, risk management, population control and prison closures. The teams spent four months reviewing approximately 400 reports on the subject matter, including over 40 inspector general reports that had never been made public.

We interviewed approximately 470 individuals including experts in the field, legislators and interested parties. We sponsored all-day seminar where we brought in successful administrators in adult and juvenile corrections from around the country. As a result, we have developed a series of 239 recommendations that will allow Corrections to re-establish itself as the best system in America.

Some of these recommendations may cost money ... many will save taxpayers money ... and some will require legislative action. Most important, most require a change in the ethics and culture of the organization ... but it must happen.

The logical first step was to look at the organizational structure of Corrections. It is totally ineffective. The secretary has no line control over operations. Over 30 wards are basically operating their prisons and juvenile facilities, independently, with no uniformity. To compound the problem, each warden must be confirmed by the Senate, and the confirmation usually is not approved if there is an objection from the California Correctional Officers Association, the employees union. No one is held accountable for his actions ... one hell of a way to run an organization.

We are proposing a Civilian Corrections Commission to head the Department of Corrections. The commissioners will be appointees of the governor and be responsible for all policy within the organization. We like to think of them as the board of directors while the secretary serves as the chief executive officer. The civilian commission will hold public meetings that will ensure transparency. The inspector general will be able to submit his reports to a public forum for discussion. No longer can inappropriate actions be covered up.

We have also recommended that the secretary be given real operational authority to guide the organization. We have developed a structure that "flattens" the organization by removing unnecessary levels of management, focusing management and resources at the lowest responsible level of operations. Most importantly, we are recommending the end of legislative confirmation for operational personnel. Wardens must owe their allegiance to the organization ... not to the union or the Legislature.

The new organization structure will also establish central control over budget, internal affairs, risk management, technology, health care, labor relations, personnel and training, and research and planning. The entire department will be able to operate according to the same policies and guidelines.

Within the framework of the new organization the next big task is to change the ethics and culture, including the "code of silence." This has been compared to turning an aircraft carrier around in a lake.

The "code of silence" is common to many professions, but it becomes more insidious when practiced by an organization whose goal is to protect public safety. It seriously erodes public trust. Employees must be loyal to a set of principles, to the organization and not to an individual.

It starts with the hiring. Corrections must ensure that applicants possess the highest standards of integrity. A thorough and detailed background investigation must be conducted. Once hired, the employee should be required to sign a code of conduct that clearly defines what is expected of him or her, and what will occur if he or she does not comply. Those who fail to report misconduct must be immediately disciplined and those who do must be praised and protected from retribution.

Ethics training must be instilled into every training course and management must always set the example. Supervisors should be selected on their ability to display the leadership and courage necessary to reinforce the ethical principles of the department. When an employee becomes convinced that the department is fair and ethical, the "code of silence" will diminish.

Training within Corrections is almost non-existent. There are no job descriptions. We invited six wardens to talk to our panel and not one of them had received special training before assuming their duties. Suddenly, they were thrust into problems with budget, health care, deployment, discipline and labor relations. They all learned while doing the job. Some are successful. ... Some are not.

Our recommendations establish a centralized training command and establishes schools for supervisors, mid-management and executive employees. No employee would be able to assume his or her duties until he or she has successfully completed training for the new position. We want to mentor and guide employees throughout their career so that the organization can develop a succession plan with qualified, experienced professionals.

Discipline is not uniform. Each warden handles disciplinary problems with no guidelines or uniformity. We seek to establish a centralized internal affairs unit that will operate uniformly throughout the organization. We are recommending that a matrix be developed that clearly outlines for employees what punishment they can expect to receive if misconduct occurs.

It is also important that an adequate investigation be conducted anytime force is used on an inmate or juvenile ward. We are recommending specialized, well-trained teams to conduct these investigations. We must rebuild the public's confidence in the integrity of Corrections' investigations.

Almost all successful lawsuits against Corrections have involved the way health care is administered to inmates and juvenile wards. It is not only difficult but it is also not cost-effective for correctional officers to engage in health-care matters. We are proposing that the department enter into an agreement for a pilot program with the University of California to manage the health care system for the department. If successful, the goal will be to establish the program for the entire health care system for Corrections. We are confident that the service will be better and the costs will be less.

Instead of waiting for a lawsuit to develop, the department must have an active, engaged risk management unit to anticipate potential problems and to quickly make the necessary training or policy decisions to alleviate the problem. We have recommended such a unit.

We are also recommending the establishment of an office of fiscal affairs. Someone must be held accountable for the severe budget overruns that continually occur in Corrections. Any business would be bankrupt if it ran its business the way Corrections operates. It's not just the state's money that is being wasted; it is taxpayers' money. A strong fiscal team should ensure that Corrections can do the job while emphasizing cost-effective practices.

Finally, and most important, we have to change the way we treat inmates and juvenile wards. A 70 percent recidivism rate, one of the highest in the nation, is unacceptable. Public safety is not served if we are just recycling the same offenders. We have to provide education and rehabilitation services to inmates and juvenile wards while they are in our custody in order to ensure that they don't return. We have to change our attitude toward non-violent offenders so they can receive community-based assistance as an alternative to recommitment to prison. This is not about coddling criminals ... this is about protecting the public by ensuring that offenders do not commit a second crime.

We have provided the administration and the Legislature with an exceptional blueprint to remodel our correctional systems. Restoring the Corrections system is a huge job ... it will require an unmatched commitment to changes in policy and law and a dramatic change in the culture of the organization. In the long run, it will prove to be cost-effective. In the long run, it will increase public safety and establish California's correctional system as the undisputed, most highly regarded model system in the nation. It will become the national leader in keeping with California's status as the leadership state.

I respectfully urge your honorable commission to recommend that the governor and Legislature adopt our recommendations and implement the blueprint we have submitted, as quickly as possible.

About the Writer

George Deukmejian was governor of California from 1983 to 1991. The prison-building boom began during his term. He made these remarks before the California Performance Review Commission on Sept. 10. 

Editor and Publisher

It's Put-Up-Or-Shut-Up Time For Governor Ah-nold on Prison Access 
Will Schwarznegger keep his promises of open government by restoring the reporter's right to interview prisoners? The bill's on his desk. 

By Mark Fitzgerald 

(September 16, 2004) -- During the unlikely whirlwind campaign that landed him in the governor's office of America's most populous state, Arnold Schwarznegger repeatedly promised to increase Californians' access to public institutions and information.

The number-one action point in what he called "The People's Reform Plan" was "Open the Government Up to Sunshine." He not only endorsed SCA1, the referendum proposal on this November's ballot to explicitly guarantee a right to open government in the California constitution, he said he would expand it. 

"I have one change to SCA1," he wrote in his platform. "I would eliminate the special protection from public scrutiny of proceedings, records, and deliberations of 'the Legislature, the Members of the Legislature, and its employees, committees, and caucuses.' There is no reason why the Legislature should be shielded from the antiseptic of sunshine."

But now Schwarznegger faces the first real test of his commitment to transparency: Is he willing to extend "the antiseptic of sunshine" to California's scandal-ridden prison system? 

For the third time in more than a decade, California's legislature has passed a bill that would restore the right of reporters to arrange one-on-one interviews with inmates in state prisons -- and to bring their notebooks, cameras and tape recorders to the sessions.

Astonishingly, that right was taken away from journalists in 1996 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson after more than 20 years of routine access to prisons. "It came in as an 'emergency measure,' though there was never any occasion of an emergency cited," says Peter Sussman, the freelance writer who has long been the point man on prison access for the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

Now, reporters must jump through a maze of bureaucratic hoops to get access to prisoners. First they must arrange to join the prisoner's official visitors list, a process that can take months. And once they are face to face with an inmate, the regulations say, reporters cannot take any of the "tools of their trade." That means not only no cameras or tape recorders, but no note pads -- not even their own pens and pencils.

"If you do get in," Sussman says, "you're lucky if you can find a pencil or a piece of paper in the room."

Opponents of lifting this system of de facto censorship say they are trying to spare the feelings of victims and their families by stopping the media from glamorizing criminals. In a state with perhaps more celebrity serial killer -- from Charles Manson to the Night Slayer -- this argument has some appeal.

But as the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) pointed out repeatedly, skeptical journalists hardly glamorize creeps like Manson -- and actually want access to better report on conditions in the prison. 

It's probably no coincidence that the "emergency" press blackout in the prison system followed, as CNPA notes, a series of revelations of cruelty to prisoners that included guards conducting "gladiator contests" between inmates at the Corcoran state prison. In these eight years of limited access, other scandals have emerged to the point that the very real possibility exists that the Department of Corrections will be put under a form of federal receivership.

It's no exaggeration to say that most Californians know more about what happened at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Iraq than they know about what's going on in the 32 prisons in their own state. 

Schwarznegger's corrections secretary, Roderick Hickman, believes the governor should veto the access bill. An article by Mark Gladstone of the Contra Costa Times' Sacramento bureau noted that on a recent tour of Mule Creek State Prison with Schwarznegger in tow, Hickman said, "I don't think that the media glamorization of some of the crimes that the inmates have played upon society need to be reported upon," he said. 

But press advocates say Schwarznegger has good reason not to follow that advice. "If Schwarznegger is smart," Sussman says, "he will separate himself from (the corrections department) because he's not responsible for the scandals that have happened. But if he keeps the secrecy going, and keeps the lid on interviews, then he will be linked to the scandals."

SPJ, CNPA and the other proponents of the bill ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to prison reform groups know that they face a tough precedent. Similar legislation was vetoed twice by the Republican Wilson and later by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

Schwarznegger has three weeks left to make up his mind about enacting or vetoing the legislation. Access advocates are hoping he keeps his campaign promises by signing. "He ran specifically on a platform of open government," Sussman says, "and of open access."

Mark Fitzgerald ( ) is editor at large for E&P.

State's correctional boss vows prison system reform 

By Steve Schmidt
September 5, 2004 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came into office late last year promising "action, action, action, action." It's Roderick Q. Hickman's job to help deliver. 

As secretary of California's troubled Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, Hickman has one of the most daunting to-do lists in Sacramento. 

Reform the parole system. Root out rogue prison guards. House some 168,000 youth and adult offenders. Restore confidence in an agency that has lurched from crisis to scandal to crisis again. 

"What we have," Hickman concludes, "is an integrity deficiency. . . . People don't believe us. We don't have credibility."

Often spotted wearing suspenders and a fedora hat, the 48-year-old Hickman cuts a unique figure in the state Capitol. He's the first secretary in agency history to come up through the correctional ranks. 

The agency oversees the California Youth Authority, which houses young offenders, and the mammoth Department of Corrections. Both are under intense scrutiny from lawmakers and others after a string of reports about problems with inmate treatment, medical care, financial management and other issues. 

With 32 lockups stretching from the Oregon to Mexico borders, California operates the largest state prison system in the nation. 

Displaying Schwarzenegger-like self-confidence, Hickman vows to help bring reform and managerial discipline to a corrections system that used to be a national model. 

"I'm the right person at the right time," said Hickman, who took office Nov. 17, the same day Schwarzenegger became governor. The secretary earns $131,400 a year. 

Critics of the agency say Hickman's sincerity and ambition are refreshing after the stonewalling and half-hearted measures common among some of his predecessors. 

Don Specter of the Prison Law Office, a San Francisco Bay Area-based watchdog group, says many other secretaries "were just not home." 

"They just weren't responsive. . . . (Hickman's) intentions are good and his personal skills are excellent. The real question is whether he gets the job done," Specter said. 

Clearly, Hickman won't have it easy. 

During a recent tour of Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa, Hickman heard complaints about staffing shortages and other problems. 

Later, he spoke in downtown San Diego at a conference of city council members and other municipal officials from small California communities that have prisons nearby. 

Several at the conference complained state corrections officials have treated them with indifference and arrogance in recent years. 

Hickman appeared taken aback. He later acknowledged his job has a steep learning curve. "There are all kinds of things going on I didn't know," he said. 

A lot rides on his getting things right. 

U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson in San Francisco, upset about a pattern of scandal and mismanagement, has threatened to put the Department of Corrections in federal hands. 

Schwarzenegger and other state officials believe they can stave off such a drastic move by making concrete progress toward reform. "The judge now knows we're committed to doing it," Hickman said. 

High on his priority list: an overhaul of parole. 

The state prison system has one of the highest recidivism rates in the nation. Roughly 56 percent of paroled felons, many illiterate and unemployed, return to prison within two years. 

The result is overcrowded prisons, which strain the agency's tight budget. 

Hickman is pushing for major changes in the parole system, working with the new director of the Department of Corrections, Jeanne Woodford. 

They are phasing in a strategy that allows parole agents to send some offenders to drug-treatment and job-training programs rather than back to prison. State prisons are expanding goal-setting programs for inmates to better prepare them for life after incarceration. 

Corrections officials say the initiatives mark a sea change for the state, which for years emphasized housing inmates over rehabilitating them. "It's a different era," Hickman argues. "Much different." 

Meanwhile, Hickman has launched a campaign to end the so-called "guard code of silence" found in some prisons. 

Stung by concerns about inmate mistreatment, he wants to persuade more correctional officers to speak up when they see illegal or unethical behavior among guards. 

Guards are being required to watch a videotaped message from Hickman calling for an end to the code. Prison officials are also strengthening internal discipline procedures. 

Hickman believes "99.9 percent" of the prison staff does a good job. It's the bad apples he wants out. 

He began his corrections career in 1979, working as a prison guard in Chino. In 1992, he helped open Calipatria State Prison in Imperial County and later served as warden at Mule Creek State Prison in Northern California's Amador County. 

"I'm pleased he's our agency secretary because we have someone who really knows prisons, and we haven't had that before," said Donovan Warden Robert J. Hernandez. 

Hickman is a former member of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the powerful union that represents the state's 31,000 prison guards. 

Questions about Hickman's allegiance appeared to have been erased over the summer. 

After Hickman suggested not enough prison staff had challenged the "code of silence," union President Mike Jimenez labeled him "an embarrassment to his position, his profession and this administration." 

On another front, Hickman and other corrections officials promise improvements in inmate medical care. Recent studies continue to point out gross deficiencies in the availability and quality of medical and psychiatric care. 

The agency is talking to University of California medical experts and others about possible reforms, which are complicated by the high rates of illness behind bars. 

State Sen. Gloria Romero, chairwoman of an oversight committee on prisons, believes Hickman has a rare opportunity to reform the prison system. 

But he can't do it alone, she said. State lawmakers also need to push for an overhaul, she said. The governor needs to continue to make reform a priority. 

A special state panel headed by former Gov. George Deukmejian recently recommended a series of improvements, including more education and job-training programs to reduce recidivism. 

Hickman says that whenever he talks to the governor, Schwarzenegger tells him: "I don't expect you to be asleep at the switch, Mr. Hickman. If something's going wrong, I expect you to fix it." 

"I remember that every day," Hickman said.,89499,

Thursday, September 2, 2004

ANOTHER VIEW: Prison reform

Despite a year of scandals revolving around California's prison system, including beatings of inmates caught on videotape, dramatic hearings by two state senators, apparent acknowledgment of serious problems by the new governor and a federal judge threatening federal receivership of the entire state system, the state Legislature could bring itself only to tinker around the edges of the problem.

The evidence suggests that the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the prison guards' union, despite some setbacks, remains one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Sacramento.

The good news first. SB 1342, by Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, beefs up penalties for prison officials who retaliate against whistle-blowers. SB 1352 gives the prison inspector general a bit more authority and makes his reports on corrections available to the public. SB 1431 creates a statewide code of conduct for prison officials (previously standards varied from prison to prison) and establishes standard penalties for offenses such as use of excessive force and being drunk on duty. The latter two bills also are from state Sen. Speier.

Another Speier bill, SB 1400, regularizes procedures for a bureau of review, a panel created in response to warnings from the federal court, whose purpose is to oversee internal investigations. AB 2742, introduced by conservative Republican Dennis Mountjoy of Monrovia, after learning of a case where a prisoner died of breast cancer after being denied a mammogram for several years, provides that prisoners who are seen by community doctors (those outside the prison system) will receive the treatment the doctors prescribe.

Proposals for major reform, however, failed to win approval. Democratic state Sen. Speier, for example, introduced a bill to prevent the building of new prisons until officials reduce the recidivism rate. It was not passed.

A commission headed by former Gov. George Deukmejian recommended major reforms. The key recommendation to create a five-member public commission to oversee the prison system went nowhere. As Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco put it to us, "that report was collecting dust before the ink was even dry."

Emblematic of the power of the CCPOA was SB 1731, proposed by Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Gloria Romero. It sought to remove what is considered a major barrier to investigations of guard misconduct, a clause in the labor contract that requires investigators to turn over information about a probe, including the accuser's name, to the guards' union before internal affairs interviews are conducted, which practically invites intimidation. Matthew Cate, Gov. Schwarzenegger's prison "watchdog" supported the bill. But the guards' union opposed it and it failed.

"I'm afraid the corruption is so deeply entrenched," Dan Macallair said, "that neither the governor nor the legislature can fix the prison system. The biggest problem is the union."

The corruption of which Mr. Macallair speaks is not secret under-the-table money, but the simple self-interest of the prison guards' union in having more inmates and less oversight. The union keeps growing and contributes large amounts to political campaigns. Few politicians will buck it.

The Orange County Register,1,5889113.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Major Prison Reform Eludes Lawmakers
A few measures pass, but significant changes opposed by guards union are voted down.
By Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writer

August 31, 2004

SACRAMENTO — It has been a year of top-to-bottom scandal in California's sprawling prison system. 

Officer beatings of two young inmates were caught on videotape and broadcast nationwide. A convict bled to death in his cell after howling for hours. Whistle-blowers testified about corruption and coverups — while wearing bulletproof vests. And severe crowding forced some lockups to house inmates in the TV lounge.

Last month, a federal judge in San Francisco weighed in on the mess, threatening an unprecedented takeover of the prisons. But the Legislature has been cool to calls for a shake-up of the $6-billion-a-year system.

Despite a series of dramatic hearings by two state senators investigating corrections, lawmakers declined to adopt many substantial prison reforms before closing their legislative session last week.

"A year ago, I believed we had a real window of opportunity to reform the prison system in a drastic way," said Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. "But all we've really had is empty rhetoric. No one has the political courage to take on this system and demand real change."

A handful of prison bills — addressing such things as inmate health care and smoking behind bars — found the votes needed for passage. One measure took aim at the so-called code of silence that protects rogue guards from punishment. Another — considered a long shot for a governor's signature — would force the state to beef up inmate rehabilitation.

But most of the bills will result in mere tinkering with a 164,000-inmate system that needs an overhaul, critics say. Even state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), who joined fellow Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) in spending much of the year on prison troubles, declared herself unsatisfied.

Although several of her bills won approval, Speier's most ambitious measure — which sought to ban officials from building new prisons until they reduced the state's sky-high recidivism rate — failed.

"The gravity of the problems in the Department of Corrections has not sunk in for some members of the Legislature," Speier said. "They commend Sen. Romero and I for taking it on, and tell us to keep it up. But when it comes to putting up votes to remedy problems, they simply won't do it if the prison guards' union is opposed."

Speier's point about the union's influence was underscored in the final days of the session, when Assembly members faced a Romero bill seeking to remove a major barrier to investigations of guard misconduct. Breakdowns in such investigations have been a key complaint of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who has threatened to place the prison system into receivership.

Killing the bill was a top priority of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., which represents the guards. Winning approval was a top priority of Romero, chairwoman of an oversight committee on corrections.

After a bitter lobbying fight spanning two weeks, the senator lost. The defeat, an angry Romero said after Thursday's final vote, "was about raw power and privilege."

"Today, power and privilege were ceded to the CCPOA," she said. "I'm extremely disappointed…. Justice took a walk."

Romero's measure, SB 1731, centered on a clause in the labor contract that critics say allows the guards union to interfere with disciplinary investigations. It requires investigators to turn over information about a probe — including the accuser's name — before internal affairs interviews are conducted. Investigators say that practice deters inmates and whistle-blowers from reporting misconduct for fear of retaliation.

Among those urging passage of the bill was Inspector General Matthew Cate, the governor's new watchdog over prisons. By providing the suspect with the victim's name and statement prior to the investigation, the state is "practically inviting the suspect to collude with potential witnesses, invent an alibi or intimidate the alleged victim into recanting," Cate said in a letter to Assembly members.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley also wrote in support, saying the disclosure clause grants prison guards a privilege enjoyed by no other branch of law enforcement. And in a June report, the federal court monitor working for Judge Henderson said the contract provision "renders fair investigations into the abuse of force almost impossible."

The bill sailed through the state Senate. On Aug. 17, it landed in the Assembly and received only 31 votes — 10 shy of the number needed for passage. Furious, Romero spent several days lobbying members, then brought the measure back Thursday for a second try.

Union lobbyists worked the Assembly as well. In meetings and a printed "floor alert," they warned lawmakers that a "yes" vote was fraught with peril. Passage, they said, would amount to improper tampering with a labor contract outside of the state's collective bargaining process. They also argued that guards need information about inmate complaints against them so they can protect themselves.

Don Novey, the union's former president and a legendary figure in Sacramento, was on hand the day of the vote, mingling in the Capitol's corridors. Although Novey is not a registered lobbyist, his presence did not go unnoticed by legislators or their aides.

In the end, the bill went down again, a defeat one critic of the prison system called "shameful."

"After all the scandal, all the hearings, all the warnings from the federal court, the Legislature was incapable of taking corrective action," said Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit firm that frequently sues over prison conditions.

Despite that view, a few bills adding teeth to investigations of wrongdoing won approval. One stiffens penalties for prison officials who retaliate against whistle-blowers, while another expands the powers of the inspector general and makes public his reports on corrections.

A third bill, SB 1431, creates a code of conduct for prison employees and establishes a standardized list of penalties for misdeeds, including excessive force and being drunk on duty. Previously, penalties varied from prison to prison.

A fourth measure clarifies something the Schwarzenegger administration created in response to warnings from the federal court — a "bureau of review" that will oversee internal investigations to ensure they are thorough and fair.

After a string of disclosures about the soaring costs and shoddy quality of inmate healthcare, lawmakers also passed a bill ensuring that prisoners who are seen by community doctors receive the treatment those physicians prescribe. 

Conservative Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia) said he introduced the bill after prison doctors refused for several years to provide a mammogram to an inmate who later died of complications from breast cancer.

"The state wound up paying a $350,000 settlement to [the inmate] before her death," Mountjoy said. "All of this — the loss of life and the cost to the taxpayers — could have been avoided if the prison system had simply provided adequate medical treatment."

Notably absent was any significant legislation on the California Youth Authority. Earlier this year, the youth authority was hammered in a series of reports by state-hired experts as a place of extreme violence providing substandard education, medical care and mental health treatment to its 4,000 inmates.

Romero introduced legislation targeting the youth authority, but it failed in the Assembly. Prison officials say they expect to make major improvements once the state settles a class-action lawsuit filed over conditions in the youth authority.

"The people in power are saying all the right things," said Sue Burrell of the Youth Law Center, which aids juvenile offenders. "But it's frustrating to have nothing tangible accomplished after everything that happened this year."

With the Legislature's work concluded for now, prison watchdog groups hope Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger makes good on his vow to "clean up the prison mess" he said was left by former Gov. Gray Davis.

Schwarzenegger has appointed a new leadership team in corrections and toured Mule Creek State Prison, east of Sacramento.

While pledging to run a system "where violent and dangerous criminals are kept behind bars," Schwarzenegger said he also wants penitentiaries that are "committed to rehabilitate our prisoners, to give them education, vocational training, to teach them skills so when they get out, they are successful."

Los Angeles Daily Journal:

The following appeared on:  (8-3-04)


By Robert L. Bastian Jr.

Former Governor George Deukmejian's Corrections Independent Review Panel proposes 239 specific reforms to improve California's $6 billion corrections system, a system he concedes suffers from insufficient accountability, uniformity and transparency.  The mere prolixity of recommendations, however, suggests a failure to correctly analyze correction's problems, let alone propose realistic reform.

Essentially, the Panel identified 239 holes in a big bucket without once identifying how the bucket came to be so thoroughly shot through.

By now, California should be familiar with the limitations of public inquiry commission reports.  For example, the 1993 Christopher Commission was created to address the  loss of confidence related to the graphic beating after a police pursuit of a black motorist, Rodney King, by LAPD officers.

So what is the latest image to appear on Southland television screens?  It is the graphic beating after a police pursuit of a black motorist by LAPD officers.

Day to day, the public comfortably takes it on faith that law enforcement are the good people and that they follow the law.  The complementary assumption is that the police and corrections are able to police and manage themselves free from independent oversight.

Public inquiry commissions only become necessary to restore that quiescent bubble of public opinion after cognitively dissonant images or other scandal pointedly deflate public faith, something which -- with the advent of, among other technological innovations, video and digital cameras -- occurs with increasing regularity.

But recommendations made in ensuing reports have become so predictable and insipid that, perhaps, there should be an inquiry on public inquiry commissions.

In the future, instead of appointing yet more panels, the day's embattled department could simply download the usual recommendations and save public expense.

For example, how much effort really needs to be expended to advance vapid recommendations such as: provide better training, eliminate the code of silence, ensure wrongdoers are disciplined and prosecuted, or hire employees of higher moral caliber?  Isn't that much, by now, obvious?  Isn't it equally obvious that the problems run much deeper?

Dead on arrival is the key proposal put forward by Deukmejian's panel -- to reorganize corrections under a civilian corrections commission.  Acting Governor Schwarzenegger rejected that proposal on the day the report was released, because, he asserted, it would reduce his "accountability."  Read, instead, that it would reduce the Governor's control and, therefore, power to negotiate an
entente with the correctional officers' union, such as the amended contract negotiated this past month.

Not that permanent civilian commissions proposed by such panels typically live up to the promise of lasting reform: For example, this month the Los Angeles Police Commission was publicly rebuked by one of its own members for doing a poor job of responding to the latest videotaped LAPD beating.  Likewise,during the past five years, the appointed civilian monitor of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department per the Kolts Commission has been missing in action as violence, overcrowding and poor sanitation in the Department's jail have festered beyond control.

In any event, the guards' union likely would have qacquired influence over such a commission, even if it had been created.  The union already has proved adept during the past decade at buying influence through extravagant donations to legislators, television ad campaigns targeted towards jury pools in areas about to deliberate on the criminal misconduct of its member guards, and financing the opponents of district attorneys who vainly attempt to prosecute its members.  In this case, however, it appears the union already preempted the need to dominate the proposed commission by dominating, instead, the governor.

It can't reasonably be predicted that the Commission Report's recommendations will have no beneficial effect on the California corrections complex.  The Hawthorne effect is the increase in productivity researchers note regardless of what changes are instituted in the workplace.  What ever supervisors chose to do -- say, increase or decrease lighting or temperature, paint the walls green or blue, etc. -- matters little.  Workers really respond, instead, to the attention generated by people in white coats, carrying clipboards, paying attention to their problems and work habits, both encouraging enthusiasm and inspiring fear by their mere attentive presence.

When attention fades, however, so do the reforms.  The next crisis returns with the relative regularity of a business cycle.

The faulty assumption underlying Deukmejian's, as most panel's reports is that, if only the executive branch tried harder, the executive branch working on its own could solve these problems.

Our framers, by contrast, assumed otherwise -- that those wielding executive governmental power could not, over time, be so trusted.  They put theirlimited faith, instead, in structured competition among three jealous branches of government.

Indeed, that portion of the California legislature not enthralled to correctional officers union money has -- through its power to conduct hearings and its limited control of the corrections budget, albeit under the voter-imposed constraint of term limits and, now, a gubernatorially inspired threat to limit legislative sessions -- almost heroically, but, ultimately, ineffectually engaged in the Sisyphean task of reform.

But the one branch that, by design, is encouraged to enforce the otherwise unpopular baseline rights of prisoners to reasonably safe and healthful conditions of confinement, the courts -- particularly, the federal courts -- have retrenched from this obligation throughout the past forty years of "war on crime."

Regrettably, typically conservative judges, more attuned to majority interests and trends, have in this overly politicized area of law actively created and interpreted doctrines, and decided cases with an ideological eye towards rolling back prisoner's already limited rights and remedies.  At the beginning of this century, many, if not most federal courts are, in spirit, where they were at the beginning of the last, when the "hands off" doctrine was the rule.

Still, federal courts are – when they do their job -- better positioned to monitor prisons.  This is because the last persons to succumb to denial, indifference, boredom or hostility with the notion that prisoners are subjected to abuse are the abused prisoners themselves filing complaints in federal courts.

In fact, the primary reason Schwarzenegger appointed Deukmejian to review corrections is the pressure generated by a federal judge who became so offended with the excessive force and perjury of prison officials who had come before his court that he threatened to place Pelican Bay's operations under a federal receiver.

Similarly, in Atlanta, Georgia, this past month, the Fulton County Sheriff,frustrated by her own inability to manage the County's jail to the minimum standards mandated by federal aw, even acquiesced in a federal judge's suggestion that the court appoint a receiver.

Many on the federal courts are hostile to the notion that courts should do more in this area, particularly when Congress' funding has not kept pace with increases in filings.  Nor do the judge's law clerks, on their way from law review to high paying partnership-track jobs, particularly enjoy doing the work associated with prisoners' complaints of abuse.  Still, jails and prisons, particularly in California, have become so scandalously abusive and substandard that it is difficult to argue with the simple proposition that courts must take greater responsibility and, commensurately, assert greater authority.  Public inquiry commissions, no matter how earnest, simply do not get the job done.

Thus, there is a real, practical and relatively lasting solution to this reoccurring problem, founded upon a realistic assumption about human and institutional nature: The President must appoint a predominance of federal judges willing to enforce minimum legally mandated standards in prisons.

As for this editorial, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for the cause of prison reform who nominates the federal judges.  Anyone who contends that there aren't meaningful differences between the Republican and Democratic contenders or that this next election is not that important is in for an earful.

Rob Bastian

Real reform begins in November.

Robert L. Bastian Jr. is  partner in the
Law Offices of Bastian & Dini in Los
Angeles.  The firm's practice emphasizes 
plaintiffs' civil rights.

New York Times

Taking Back the Prisons

August 2, 2004

The nation can no longer tolerate prisons operated as the fiefdoms of wardens who do what they wish with little oversight from state authorities. The states will need more direct control - and clear reform plans - if they intend to address recidivism, the AIDS and hepatitis epidemics, and court orders mandating humane treatment for inmates, especially the mentally ill. Courts in several states have tired of waiting for compliance and appointed special masters who push prisons toward reform. California, which has a special master at its Pelican Bay prison, could see its whole system come under court control unless Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger makes swifter progress toward reforms ordered by the courts starting nearly a decade ago. 

The takeover threat came last month from Judge Thelton Henderson, who made his reputation on prison issues by putting a stop to the abuse of prisoners that prevailed in the 1990's at Pelican Bay in Northern California. Judge Henderson installed the special master there, and mentally ill patients who once were abused and placed in solitary confinement are now referred to a mental health unit.

Shootings and acts of official violence are handled promptly by an investigatory panel. Brutality by guards has

The court believes that reform at the prison level has gone as far as it can go and that the state's notoriously weak prison authority must be remade. A recent report by a panel led by George Deukmejian, former governor of California, described that authority as sprawling, out of touch and powerless. It argued for replacing it with a simpler agency responsible to a secretary of corrections and overseen by a civilian review board. The judge also said, in essence, that the prison guards' union had seized control of the disciplinary process and had too much influence in corrections department operations. 

The union, however, did not seize power at gunpoint. It bought it the old-fashioned way - with hefty contributions to politicians. It then expanded into the administrative vacuum left by a prison authority tangled up in its own bureaucracy. In addition to keeping the union in check, the governor and Legislature should restructure the state prison authority, perhaps along the lines suggested by the Deukmejian panel, so that the state can reform the prisons statewide, not one at a time. That's what Judge Henderson was saying by threatening to take over. It is advice that other states should follow. 


The drive to reform California's prisons

Troubled state correctional system gets a hard look
By Steve Schmidt
May 21, 2004

Drastic cut in prison trade program 'not a good sign'

Thirty-two prisons, 162,515 inmates, 32,539 guards, about 17,000 prison and parole staff, a $5.7 billion budget . . .
California runs the largest state prison system in the nation – and perhaps the most troubled.

Two decades after the state went on a prison-building binge, billions of tax dollars each year flood the network of lockups studding California from tip to tip.

But a recent series of damning reports and disclosures about corruption and gross mismanagement have led some state lawmakers to press for sweeping reforms.

"I've been stunned. . . . . It's just been one thing after another," said state Sen. Gloria Romero, chairwoman of an oversight committee on prisons. The Los Angeles Democrat believes that for all the money spent on the state Department of Corrections, "it doesn't seem to correct anything."

Prison facts 
Among the concerns:
Financial mismanagement. An analysis by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration concludes that the prison system has been plagued by slipshod accounting and chronic overspending.

Treatment of inmates. Federal and state officials say corrections officers are reluctant to speak out when they see other guards engage in illegal or unethical behavior. State officials are also checking into fresh allegations of inmate mistreatment, including at facilities operated by the state youth authority.

Bigger paychecks. Prison guards are scheduled under a long-standing contract to receive sizable pay raises in July, despite the state's budget problems. Key lawmakers have vowed to block the raises.
Until recently, the mammoth prison system operated largely unchallenged by politicians in Sacramento. "I think we have sort of looked away, averted our eyes, from the way it has grown," Romero said.

Schwarzenegger and the state's top prison administrators – relatively new to their posts – favor major fixes.

"It's action, action, action, like the governor says," said Roderick Hickman, secretary of youth and adult corrections. "We're going to get some things done."

They have no choice. A U.S. District Court judge, concerned about reports of guard misconduct, has threatened to place the state Department of Corrections under federal control.

The San Francisco-based judge has scheduled a July hearing on the issue.
Schwarzenegger recently created a special panel to address the prison system's main problems and propose reforms. The group, chaired by former Gov. George Deukmejian, expects to issue recommendations next month.

"We're looking at virtually everything, and hopefully we'll be able to offer some solid, positive proposals to the governor," Deukmejian said.

Meanwhile, there is a drive in Sacramento to eliminate or defer the 11.3 percent raise for guards scheduled to begin July 1. The pay increase is included in a 2002 contract between state lawmakers and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union representing prison guards.

After years of cooperation with the union, a majority of Senate Democrats this week promised to block the pending raises because of the state budget crunch.

Too big, too fast

Some experts believe California allowed the prison system to get too big, too fast, leaving it ripe for abuse and mismanagement.

The state has opened 21 prisons in 20 years, a dizzying and costly enterprise that has outpaced even Texas and other states with tough-on-crime reputations.

In California's rural reaches, from Corcoran in the Central Valley to Susanville in the state's far northeast, concrete monoliths ringed with barbed wire have replaced barns and alfalfa fields. In 1987, Donovan Correctional Facility opened in Otay Mesa.

Since 1984, the budget for the state Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, which includes the Department of Corrections, has grown nearly five times faster than the state budget for higher education.

 The passage of California's "three strikes" law a decade ago helped fuel prison growth, putting many hardcore felons behind bars for life. There are 7,372 three-strikers in the prison population.
In the 1970s, when Ronald Reagan was governor, the inmate count dropped 19 percent due to loosened parole guidelines.

It ballooned under the next four governors – Jerry Brown, Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis – as public concerns grew over crime and punishment.

During that period, stretching from 1975 to last year, the prison system was often treated as politically untouchable. "You had both Democratic and Republican governors who took the position that anything that could be construed as soft on crime wasn't on their agenda," recalled Marc Mauer, author of "Race to Incarcerate." The book examines the explosive growth in the prison population nationwide.

The result, he said, is that California rushed to build prisons without fully addressing the social and financial consequences.

"Now you're paying the price for it," said Wayne Daniels, 46, an inmate at Donovan. "Now you've got all these problems."

For example, prisons are required by law to provide adequate medical and psychiatric care to inmates. But keeping inmates healthy isn't cheap. Hepatitis C, a liver disease often contracted through the sharing of dirty drug needles, and other diseases are common.

The number of elderly inmates is on the rise, further complicating the work of prison doctors and adding to health costs.

The state spends about $900 million a year on prison medical care.

And still, according to many inmates and inmate rights groups, it's not enough. Complaints of inadequate medical treatment or outright neglect are common.

Meanwhile, the power of the prison guards union in Sacramento appears to be waning.

Envied for its moxie and huge political war chest, the labor association has long had a reputation as one of the most influential special-interest groups in Sacramento. It had a fierce ally in former Gov. Davis.

Schwarzenegger, however, has not only called for a shake-up of the prison system, he is pressuring guards to forgo their pending raise in light of the budget crisis.

The governor says the move could save the state as much as $300 million. He is also proposing other money-saving measures, including eliminating the sack lunches served to inmates on weekends.

As part of the scheduled raise, a veteran guard could earn as much as $73,000 a year by 2006 working what the union calls "the toughest beat in the state."

In a recent letter to state officials, guard union President Mike Jimenez said his association is willing to consider pay concessions if the state gives it more say on job security and other issues.

But on Tuesday, after state Senate Democrats pledged to block the raises, union officials adopted a more confrontational tone. "I do believe public safety is jeopardized when you've got a work force that is demoralized by the fact that the legislators they look to for support are basically telling them they're not worth what they're paid," union spokesman Lance Corcoran said.

The union hasn't been as influential as it is often portrayed, he said, adding that his group has pushed for reforms for years, only to be ignored by state corrections officials. "We certainly are not resistant to any forward-thinking, fresh ideas," Corcoran said.

Call for reform

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, agrees that reforms are critical. "Taxpayers should be very concerned. You want a system that's efficient, that has integrity, that does not abuse prisoners," he said. "There's got to be improvement on all fronts."
On the money front, an analyst with the Schwarzenegger administration recently said the Department of Corrections in recent years had operated with no checks and balances.

Cost overruns were common, along with lax accounting controls, the official told lawmakers.

To save millions of dollars, wardens statewide are freezing costs and reducing inmate programs. At Donovan, inmates complain about recent cuts in job-training programs designed to prepare them for life on the outside.

"The system is not rehabilitating people anymore," said Daniels, who committed armed robbery in 1993. "These are just human warehouses out here."

Many experts say the state can save money by releasing some nonviolent, geriatric inmates early or by easing parole standards to lower the prison population.

That population had been expected to drop this year, but corrections officials say an influx of parole violators recently caused it to jump to 162,515, just 18 shy of the system's record.

Meanwhile, Hickman, the youth and adult corrections chief, promises to tackle the so-called code of silence among many guards.

Hickman, who began his career working as a corrections officer 25 years ago, says many guards are reluctant or unwilling to speak up when they see rogue officers behave illegally or unethically.

The state won't tolerate such behavior, he insists. A guard caught breaking the law or engaged in a cover-up will be disciplined or fired. State lawmakers are also moving to overhaul internal discipline procedures.

Hickman says guards will receive more training on proper behavior, explaining that learning about ethics is as important as learning how to put on handcuffs.

Hickman's get-tough policy comes as state officials investigate reports of inmate mistreatment at facilities in central California, including a recent incident at a youth prison in Stockton. During the videotaped incident, a guard apparently allowed a police dog to attack an inmate who was not resisting.

The guards union agrees that the state must root out bad seeds, but emphasizes the majority of correctional officers are highly trained professionals.

The union says an average of nine officers are assaulted by state inmates daily. It's not uncommon for inmates to fling urine and feces at guards.

Hickman knows it's tough work, and now he faces an even bigger challenge – remaking youth and adult corrections.

"Look for real reforms," he said, "not cosmetic changes."

Steve Schmidt: (619) 293-1380;

Find this article at:,1674,125%257E1511%257E2133543,00.html

Alameda Times-Star

Corrupt California prison system needs real reform

Friday, May 07, 2004 - IS the wall of political indifference to California's very troubled prison system -- a barrier erected by the very powerful union that represents those who guard inmates -- finally crumbling? 

Two events late last week indicate that finally, those we elect to manage the state's affairs are giving long-overdue attention to a system beset by skyrocketing labor costs, poisonous labor-management relations, and an evident code of silence about prisoner abuse and other wrongdoing. 

A legislative committee opened hearings Thursday on the sweetheart labor contract that the administration of former Gov. Gray Davis negotiated with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) -- a union that spent millions of dollars to elect Davis governor in 1998. One salient fact that emerged is that the contract is much more lucrative than the administration estimated at the time because of semi-secret provisions. It could cost four times as much as the half-billion-dollars estimate. 

The man who ousted Davis in last fall's recall election, Arnold Schwarzenegger, appointed a blue-ribbon commission Friday headed by former Gov. George Deukmejian to do a top-to-bottom review of the state's youth and adult corrections systems and recommend changes to improve their efficiency and culture. 

Deukmejian was elected governor on a law-and-order platform in 1982 and began the expansion of the prison system -- a background that raises questions in some critics -- but he probably has the most unsullied reputation for personal integrity of any major California political figure, which should be reassuring that the review won't be a whitewash. 

Tellingly, both Schwarzenegger and commission members said they would delve into the code of silence that is the most galling feature of the current system. As the commission was being announced Friday, The Los Angeles Times was reporting that officers at Corcoran State Prison, one of the most troubled institutions, were refusing to cooperate with an investigation of an inmate death. 

"We have no restrictions," panel member Joseph Gunn, a former Los Angeles policeman and director of that city's police commission, said. "There are no boundaries." 

Journalistic and official accounts of prison problems have been accumulating for years, but they were given short shrift by the Davis administration and legislators, clearly due to the influence of the CCPOA, which had become arguably the state's most powerful single political interest during the 1980s and 1990s as the system expanded rapidly. 

CCPOA and its leader, Don Novey, pumped millions of dollars into political campaigns, both to elect politicians deemed to be pro-union and defeat those considered to be hostile. The union built a massive headquarters building, from which it dispatched lobbyists, dispersed political money and conducted advertising campaigns about walking "the toughest beat in the state." 

It also underwrote several "victims' rights" groups that provided the public pressure for ever-tougher sentencing laws and provided seed money for the "three strikes and you're out" ballot measure that increased the prison population by many thousands. 

CCPOA has never been shy about its goals. It wanted tougher sentencing laws to send more felons to prison, which then would increase pressures to build more institutions and hire more union members to guard the inmates. Over the last quarter-century, the inmate population has expanded from about 20,000 to about 160,000, with commensurate increases in financing and Department of Corrections employees. 

At the same time, through contract negotiations and direct legislation, CCPOA sought and got ever-fatter contracts and protections for its members from those who might investigate wrongdoing. It's only a slight stretch to conclude that those who guarded inmates ---- in a kind of reverse Stockholm Syndrome ---- often adopted the prison culture itself. The code of silence and heavy pressure on CDC administrators to overlook wrongdoing have been documented repeatedly. 

Schwarzenegger, in a statement, said he wants the new commission to show how the state can improve prison culture and ethics.

Dan Walters writes for the Sacramento Bee.

We'll hold him to that. It's time for the cover-ups to end.

Dan Walters writes for the Sacramento Bee.

Changes looming for state's troubled prisons 
Lawmakers, governor focus on budget cuts, reform 
Mark Martin, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Sunday, May 2, 2004 
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle


Sacramento -- California's prison system, after months of headline-grabbing scandals, faces a wide array of reform efforts aimed at changing everything from who prosecutes rogue guards to who can serve as a warden. 

Lawmakers, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration, activists and a federal judge who has threatened to take over part of the corrections system are all pushing to fix financial, legal and ethical troubles. Under the microscope is a state agency whose budget has ballooned by more than 200 percent in the past 15 years. 

No agency has had more bad news spill into public view in the past six months, spanning the announcement in the fall that corrections officials had blown their budget by more than $500 million to an uproar this month over the beating of two wards at the California Youth Authority. 

The revelations have presented an unforeseen challenge to Schwarzenegger, who is expected to propose substantial new funding for a prison watchdog agency he suggested closing in January. The new governor also will tackle a major challenge this year as he tries to persuade the state's prison guards union to forego an 11 percent raise its members are due to receive in July. 

Among the prison reform ideas being discussed in Sacramento and in a federal courtroom in San Francisco are:

-- Efforts to tame the state's prison budget, ranging from Schwarzenegger's promise to cut $400 million from corrections spending to legislation by Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, that would require more consistent scrutiny of financially troubled departments such as corrections. 

-- A substantially larger role for the Office of the Inspector General, the corrections watchdog. A bill by state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, would give the inspector general authority to prosecute cases of guard misconduct. That responsibility is currently in the hands of local district attorneys. 

-- Several legislative proposals to address California's high recidivism rate among both youth and adult criminals. 

"This is no less an effort than turning an entire culture around,'' said Speier, who, along with Romero, is leading the calls for change. 

Whether calls for change will lead to action remains to be seen, and some signs indicate rhetoric hasn't yet produced results. 

New Secretary of Corrections Rod Hickman issued a memo declaring a zero- tolerance policy for the so-called code of silence, in which employees refuse to report wrongdoing by colleagues. Despite the memo, the district attorney in Kings County reported that few guards were willing to cooperate with his investigation into the death of an inmate at Corcoran State Prison who bled to death in February.

And despite promises to enact major changes to the way parole is handled in an attempt to shrink the state's inmate population, corrections officials acknowledged last week that the system's head count had risen to such a level that they have declared an emergency and are placing three inmates in cells meant for two to deal with overcrowding.

"Change will not happen overnight,'' Speier said. 

Schwarzenegger is to unveil a new state budget proposal this month. 

A broad list of potential cuts the administration is considering has been circulated to some in the Legislature. Major cuts include freezing raises for prison guards and curbing health care costs. Another corrections item proposes the elimination of one meal for inmates on weekends and holidays by having brunch instead of breakfast and lunch, according to two sources who have seen the list. 

Lawmakers also are proposing ways to pare the corrections budget.

Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is preparing legislation requiring financial training for wardens. Steinberg, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, believes many wardens are not properly prepared to oversee multimillion-dollar budgets. According to resumes released to lawmakers for 25 of approximately 30 wardens statewide, nine have no college degree. 

"We can't afford the way they're doing business now,'' Steinberg said. "We need to ensure that wardens know how to tell a debit from a credit.'' 

Aside from repairing a leaking budget, no reform is more pressing for corrections officials than pleasing Thelton Henderson. 

Henderson, a U.S. District judge in San Francisco, is overseeing a push to clean up Pelican Bay State Prison in Del Norte County, a role he took in 1995 when he ruled conditions there were unconstitutional. A special master he appointed issued a report in January blasting the state for failing to pursue a case against three Pelican Bay guards suspected of perjury, prompting Henderson to suggest in a public hearing that he would consider having federal courts run internal affairs investigations in prisons. 

Since then, the department has worked with Henderson to develop a new plan to police its employees. A central part of the plan includes developing a new branch of the inspector general's office that would review internal affairs probes conducted by prison investigators. The office is likely to hire 30 new employees, most of them lawyers or criminal investigators. 

"We want investigations done well, completely and thoroughly,'' said J.P. Tremblay, a corrections spokesman. "And we'll do what the court directs us to do.'' 

E-mail Mark Martin at

Posted on Tue, Apr. 27, 2004 

Reform groups propose cutting prison system by $1 billion yearly

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - A group of prison reform advocates proposed cutting $1 billion a year from California's sprawling correctional system Tuesday with changes that include shorter sentences, paroling nonviolent elderly inmates and dropping state prison sentences for many crimes.

The group of attorneys, prison rights advocates, unions and churches also suggested a hiring freeze for new correctional officers, abolishing the state's "three-strikes" sentencing law and delaying the opening of a Delano prison.

These changes could together cut 20 percent from the $5.7 billion annual corrections budget, group members say, and help ease the cuts to other parts of the budget.

The Coalition for Effective Public Safety released its report in the wake of prison hearings and media accounts revealing the corrections department has overspent its budgets by $1.4 billion in the last five years and cycles 75,000 parolees back to prison yearly, even as it releases 125,000 inmates a year. Legislative hearings have also focused on a "code of silence" within the state Department of Corrections that critics say discourages whistleblowers and stifles reforms.

In response to scrutiny by the Legislature and a federal court monitor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in February appointed Jeanne Woodford, former warden at San Quentin State Prison, to head the department and its nearly 50,000 employees.

The 32-prison system, the nation's largest, houses approximately 161,000 inmates at an annual cost of more than $31,000 each.

Reform advocates maintain the state would save $300 million yearly by lowering the average return stay of parolees from 140 days to 100 days, and $99 million with a hiring freeze. Increasing the threshold for grand theft from $400 to $1,000 could save $34 million, while removing state prison as a sentencing option for driving under the influence, possession of hashish and drugs, receiving stolen property and vehicle theft could save $100 million a year.


California Department of Corrections:
Posted on Tue, Apr. 06, 2004 

Reformers' objectivity called into question
By Mark Gladstone
Mercury News Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO - To fix California's strife-ridden prisons, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has turned to some longtime correctional officials who helped create the very system he has vowed to change.

The would-be reformers include two advisers who have been criticized for their handling of violent prison incidents, one who relies on prison officials to pay him for consulting work and a fourth who has strong ties to the politically powerful correctional officers union.

``The people who built the system up are part and parcel of the problem,'' said James Esten, a consultant and former Department of Corrections administrator. If change is what the governor wants, he added, ``You need new, outside blood.''

Schwarzenegger hailed his prison advisers as experts on the state's prisons. ``The team that I have around me,'' he said recently, ``are really the best and the brightest in the field.''

The governor's advisers include:

• Roderick Q. Hickman, Cabinet secretary for the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. Hickman, a former deputy director of the Department of Corrections, was faulted by a Folsom Prison administrator for failing to quickly investigate a 2002 riot.

• James Gomez, a Schwarzenegger transition team adviser on prisons. He was director of corrections in the 1990s when shootings of unarmed inmates escalated to unprecedented levels and was accused of hampering probes of the incidents.

• Robin Dezember, a consultant to Schwarzenegger's prison-reform commission. A former deputy director of the Department of Corrections, Dezember since 2001 has received almost $600,000 in no-bid contracts from the department he is now charged with overhauling.

• Tim Virga, Schwarzenegger's chief negotiator with the prison guard union. Virga, a former correctional counselor, was president of the Folsom chapter of the politically powerful union, bargained on its behalf in the mid-1990s and has said he might return to the corrections department, where he could receive the benefits he negotiates.

Peter Siggins, Schwarzenegger's legal affairs secretary, said the governor's loose-knit team includes corrections veterans who worked in the 1990s to make the prisons better, but later watched with dismay as the system's reputation was tarnished.

``There's a sense of frustration and a feeling they need to restore a little of the luster to the badge,'' said Siggins, who also has ties to the prisons as a former deputy attorney general who defended them against lawsuits in the 1990s. ``The governor has found and selected people with experience in what is a very complicated endeavor.''

To oversee the state's adult prisons, Schwarzenegger also turned to a corrections veteran, Jeanne Woodford, a former warden at San Quentin. But he tapped Walter Allen, a onetime undercover narcotics officer, to run the state's juvenile detention facilities, making him the most notable outsider among Schwarzenegger's corrections team.

Critics say Schwarzenegger should recruit more impartial voices. ``They are recycling people born and raised in the system,'' said John Scott, a San Francisco attorney who sued the department on behalf of whistle-blowers.

In the 4 1/2 months since Schwarzenegger took office, the California Youth Authority and the Department of Corrections have been engulfed in crises.

State-commissioned reports disclosed that California subjects young inmates to the harshest punishments of any juvenile system in the nation, including incarcerating offenders in cages. A video released Thursday showed a guard battering an inmate who had been subdued.

A federal monitor determined the adult prisons shelter brutal guards with a nearly unbreakable code of silence, enforced by the prison guard union with the tacit support of department leaders.


The prisons also chronically fail to control their spending, with prison guard overtime costing $388 million in the past four years, 72 percent over budget. With the state facing a $12 billion budget hole, the corrections department is politically vulnerable.

Schwarzenegger's initial approach to the state's prisons, which came before the monitor's report was released, was to greatly reduce oversight of the system, not expand it. In his first major action, the governor said he would cut back on the independent Inspector General's Office, a key prison watchdog agency, and place it under the control of the very agency it was supposed to oversee.

Four weeks later, embarrassed by unflattering publicity, the governor reversed course, and in March he named Matthew Cate, a deputy attorney general known for handling corruption cases, as the new inspector general.

The incident left prison critics doubting Schwarzenegger's interest in reform. Steve White, Cate's predecessor, also questioned Hickman's credibility because the Cabinet secretary went along with the initial plan.

``If you're committed to fixing the problem, you don't cut deals like that,'' White told a legislative hearing in January.

Hickman has become the most high-profile secretary since the job was created nearly 25 years ago. His allies describe him as a refreshing choice because he's been in the trenches. He's the first former guard to ascend to the No. 1 spot.

Dealing with the guard union will be a major test for Hickman. With the number of inmates growing from 33,000 in 1983 to about 160,000 now, the union's membership and power increased as well. Through lavish campaign donations, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association gained access to Sacramento's power brokers and the ability to influence the selection of wardens.

In his new job, Hickman, who only recently resigned from the guard union, will be required to crack down on correctional officers. A federal court monitor recently declared the department has ``lost control'' of its ability to investigate and discipline guards.

Max Lemon, a former Folsom Prison associate warden, questions whether Hickman is the right person for that challenge. He contends that in 2002 Hickman, then a top executive at the Department of Corrections, was among those who played a pivotal role in delaying and narrowing the scope of an investigation into the role guards played in a riot at the prison.

``They talk like he's new to the system, but he is the system,'' said Lemon, now assigned to corrections headquarters. Lemon's complaints prompted an inspector general's probe of the melee that found shortcomings in the way the riot was handled. Lemon himself was accused of using excessive force in the riot when he kicked an inmate but a review determined his action was appropriate.

Hickman denies foot-dragging over the Folsom riot probe he authorized and says his role was limited. If investigators had found issues that required a broadened inquiry, he said, they could have sought it.

Schwarzenegger dismissed the criticism of Hickman. ``He's very knowledgeable,'' the governor said. ``I wanted to go and get somebody that has worked his way up the prison system, knows what's going on inside better than a typical politician.''

It was Gomez who approached Hickman about a job with Schwarzenegger.

Gomez's tenure

Gomez is considered the state's most influential modern-day prison decision-maker, after former Gov. George Deukmejian, who presided over a massive expansion of the prison system. Gomez was Deukmejian's chief deputy director. Later, under Gov. Pete Wilson, he was director of corrections. His allies -- some of whom are now back in corrections -- describe Gomez as a tough, professional manager who was without peer when he was in state service.

But, during his tenure, a federal judge ordered the state in 1995 to end what he called a pattern of brutality and neglect at maximum security Pelican Bay State Prison.

Later, Gomez was criticized by lawmakers for an out-of-control department that tolerated officers shooting and, in some cases, killing unarmed inmates during fights. And he was accused by internal investigators of hampering examinations of the shootings.

At the time, Gomez said he was unaware of many of the allegations of brutality and denied that the prisons were out of control.

Gomez volunteered to help Schwarzenegger's transition team. As Schwarzenegger came to office, Gomez ran names of potential appointees past legislative aides and was among those who suggested Hickman as corrections secretary. Administration officials say his role ended when Schwarzenegger was sworn in.

He declined to comment on his work.

Consulting fees

Dezember, an attorney, was also a top corrections agency official as the prison build-up began and has been in and out of government service ever since. He worked for a firm that provided advice on the prison expansion and later returned to the department as deputy director for health services before opening his own Sacramento consulting firm.

Since 2001, Dezember has been awarded about $598,000 in Department of Corrections consulting contracts. The department confirmed that Dezember had been awarded contracts without a competitive bidding process, primarily to help carry out court decrees aimed at improving health care for inmates.

``I haven't used any connections to win anything,'' Dezember said. ``They thought the expertise I had was necessary.''

Department officials said Dezember was well-qualified to help the state, a view echoed by a court master in 2002.

In February, Schwarzenegger named Dezember as a consultant to help the reform panel headed by Deukmejian. Dezember, who is still being paid for an ongoing state contract, will earn $170 an hour to advise Deukmejian.

Robert Stern, president of the non-profit Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, questioned whether someone with financial ties to the department can also be impartial when examining its shortcomings.

``When you are receiving substantial money and continuation of that depends on goodwill,'' he asked, ``can you be fair and unbiased when you are evaluating what's going on there?''

A similar issue came up last month when Virga, Schwarzenegger's prison labor negotiator, acknowledged that he had served as a bargainer for the prison guard union.

``There's an ethical problem, and if he was an attorney he couldn't do it,'' Stern said.

It will be Virga's job to cut labor deals with the guard union, which has used its political power to win lucrative contracts for its 31,000 members. But Virga has said that he might also return to work for the corrections department, which could make him eligible for the benefits he negotiates with the union.

Schwarzenegger's aides say they were aware of Virga's and Dezember's histories and consider their seasoning an asset.

But consultant Esten wonders why the governor's advisers didn't do more to fix the system ``when they were part of it.''

Contact Mark Gladstone at m or (916) 325-4314.

Posted on Mon, Mar. 22, 2004 

Reform prison system

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER has been on a pretty good roll since ousting Gray Davis as the state's chief executive last year, but now the tough work begins. The actor who rode into town as a reformer must begin to get his hands dirty with the sometimes unpleasant business of reform.

The crisis in the state's prison system offers Schwarzenegger the perfect opportunity to demonstrate whether he really means to "shake things up in Sacramento."

Most political observers know that the state prison system has long operated more as a separate fiefdom than as a state agency. The true ruling body in this fiefdom is the state prison guards' union, which has often been referred to as one of the most powerful lobbying forces in Sacramento. Known for its liberal use of campaign contributions, it nearly always gets what it wants.

But now comes testimony during Assembly hearings that the California prison system has run amok in spending, especially in the last few years and that its mismanagement has contributed greatly to the state's financial crisis.

Although the prison system is the largest in America and operates on a $6 billion budget, testimony indicated that the system routinely operated with cost overruns amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

The testimony told us that prison wardens routinely ignored the budget figures and simply spent what they felt they needed to spend. That has created cost overruns that may run as high $1.6 billion since 1999, much of it going for sick leave and overtime for prison guards.

Previous testimony had already revealed that this attitude of profligate spending had resulted in the hiring of more than 1,000 prison system employees who were never authorized in the budget.

The true spending imbalances began in earnest about four years ago and each year the hole has gotten deeper and deeper.

It is difficult to fancy a situation more ripe for a reformer. It is exactly the kind of situation Schwarzenegger promised he would fix if we elected him governor.

He told us that the problems in state government were rooted in excess spending and that he would put a stop to it. He also told us he would not be cowed by powerful unions. He also said he would open up the books so everyone could see what he was doing.

Well, here we have the poster child of spending problems, the presence of a powerful union and a financial mess that the public deserves to see.

Schwarzenegger may have taken a good first step in the appointment of Rod Hickman as secretary of youth and adult corrections. Hickman came up through the ranks of the prison system and knows the problems.

Although he is the first secretary to have actually worked in a prison, Hickman does not defend the system. In fact, he has publicly characterized the California penal system as a dysfunctional system ripe for reform.

It is refreshing to hear such comments from the new guy in charge, but both he and Schwarzenegger must follow through and reform the California prison system. It will not be easy and it will not be pleasant, but it simply must happen if this administration is truly serious about reforming state government.


Rein In the Guards' Raises

March 10, 2004

Californians across the board will suffer from the $15-billion debt bond that voters dutifully approved this month, along with future deep budget cuts designed to prevent a rerun of deficit spending. Except, that is, for the state's prison guards. As early as Thursday, legislators are expected to approve a $300-million "corrections [department] deficiency bill" that includes $174 million for pay raises for the guards. 

That measure is sure to pass, in part because the guards union keeps lawmakers intimidated. One legislator, Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), is trying to do something about the guards' future raises. She could use some evidence of voter outrage in her effort to cut back a second 11.4% raise worth $234 million a year that guards otherwise will get this summer. She also has said she wants shorter union contracts in the future to help the state cope with fluctuating economic conditions.

Speier isn't getting much help. Insisting that "a contract is a contract," Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) opposes forcing the guards to renegotiate raises or other perks, including a costly expansion of sick leave. Like many lawmakers, Burton sees renegotiation as a threat to other unions that support him.

The guards union says legislators need not bother acting because it has agreed to meet with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's deputies to consider delaying full phase-in of the raises, from 2006 to perhaps 2008. That is not enough. The Legislature's active involvement in opposing the next set of raises is crucial. 

The state's prison and parole system is in the mess it is in today because every attempt to "reform" it in the last two decades has taken place at bargaining tables where state negotiators were outgunned and outfoxed by the prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. Even legislative hearings on prison reform showcase its lobbying prowess, its aggressive support of compliant legislators and its opposition to reformers. 

No other California union's success for its members has been so disastrous to public safety. The state's youth correctional system risks federal takeover. The adult system has perhaps the nation's worst recidivism rate.

Unless Californians demand that their elected leaders make good on their recent promises of prison reform, there will be no force in the state to counteract the guards' influence. Business as usual will reign again.

•  To Take Action: Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, (916) 445-1412; Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, (916) 319-2046.

Schwarzenegger takes on Corrections 


SACRAMENTO -- Stung by a recent barrage of bad news concerning the state's prison system, Gov. Schwarzenegger took two steps Friday he hopes will begin to stem the flow of negative developments.

In a step administration officials called "unprecedented," Schwarzenegger asked the U.S. attorney in Sacramento to investigate a 2002 riot and administrative cover-up at Folsom State Prison.

And Schwarzenegger backed off his earlier plan to diminish the independence and budget of the inspector general's office, charged with investigating prison mismanagement and corruption.

The revived agency would continue to report directly to the governor and would undergo a "needs assessment" about how it could be strengthened.

'Gravely concerned' 

Earlier in the week, Schwarzenegger said he soon will appoint a commission of experts to study the state's prison system and recommend ways to reform it.

"I am gravely concerned with what I have recently learned about internal operations within the California prison system," Schwarzenegger said in a statement about his request to U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott.

"Prison employees who engage in misconduct bring disgrace and dishonor to the many hard-working professionals who daily go to work and do their best to serve the public and effectively manage this state's criminal population. 

"It is a priority of my administration to reform the California prison system and bring to justice those individuals who do it dishonor by their misconduct." 

In his own prepared statement, Scott said his office "will review this matter and consult with all necessary agencies to determine the appropriateness of an investigation."

Administration officials said Schwarzenegger asked the U.S. attorney to investigate the riot, rather than the attorney general or Sacramento district attorney's office, because the federal office has broader investigative authority and can pursue criminal charges regarding civil rights violations.

Schwarzenegger, who is trying to focus almost exclusively on his so-called Fiscal Recovery Plan on the March primary ballot, has been hit the last few weeks with a series of highly critical state reports, hearings and news accounts that have placed California's prison problems in stark terms.

A Senate committee held hearings last month on the Folsom riot, which began when supervising officers released rival gangs into a prison yard en masse. Diana Butler, the warden, was fired and nine employees have been reassigned.

A few weeks before that, a Senate committee held hearings on the state's much-criticized parole system, called "a billion-dollar failure" in one recent analysis.

In mid-January, a federal court monitor issued a report that recommended perjury charges against the state's former prisons chief and said the system's discipline system is so corrupt that whistle-blowers are punished and guards live by a "code of silence" that fosters cover-ups.

And the administration was rocked again this week when a new report on the California Youth Authority said young offenders often are locked up 23 hours a day, with some kept in small cages during school sessions.

Schwarzenegger found use of the cages "offensive," an aide said Friday, and the practice has been stopped.

There also was a report in the Los Angeles Times this week that an inmate at Corcoran State Prison near Fresno bled to death in his cell, after howling much of the afternoon. Guards reportedly were watching the Super Bowl on television and failed to check on him.

Schwarzenegger himself took considerable heat during some of the Senate hearings over a provision in his 2004-05 budget to cut funding for the inspector general. He also proposed putting it under the Youth and Adult Corrections Agency that oversees all state prison-related programs. 

But Friday, Peter Siggins, Schwarzenegger's legal secretary, called a Capitol news conference to announce that Schwarzenegger had reversed course and would preserve the inspector general's independence and beef up the office. 

Posted on 02/08/04 08:05:17

Feb. 06, 2004 

In a reversal, governor adds money for prison watchdog amid shake-up in corrections system
By Mark Gladstone
Mercury News Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO - Ten days after calling it a waste, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday agreed to add at least $700,000 to the budget of the state's prison watchdog agency as one step in a shake-up of the corrections system.

Among other actions, he called for a federal probe into the handling of a 2002 riot at Folsom Prison; announced that the California Youth Authority would stop using phone-booth-size cages for youthful offenders, and reassigned wardens at two prisons.`

`I am gravely concerned with what I have recently learned about internal operations within the California prison system,'' Schwarzenegger said in a statement announcing his request that the U.S. attorney's office review the riot.``Prison employees who engage in misconduct bring disgrace and dishonor to the many hard working professionals who daily go to work and do their best to serve the public and effectively manage this state's criminal population,'' he said. 

``It is a priority of my administration to reform the California prison system.''The changes come as the troubled $6 billion-a-year corrections system faces renewed criticism for being unable to police wrongdoing in its own ranks. In the past three weeks, a federal court monitor declared the Department of Corrections had ``lost control'' of its ability to investigate and discipline guards for abusing inmates and legislative investigators scrutinized a cover-up following the 2002 gang riot at Folsom after the inspector general's office raised questions. 

Last week, court-appointed experts reported that juveniles are regularly locked in cages, over-medicated and denied essential psychiatric treatment.In the wake of shooting deaths of inmates, the Office of Inspector General in 1998 was expanded as an independent entity to scrutinize allegations of brutality, waste and corruption in the nation's largest prison system.

Among other things, the office last year found that the Department of Corrections had failed to control health care costs and that contracts had jumped 82 percent to $168 million between 1998 and 2002. Last July, the office also determined that cost of medicines had skyrocketed 111 percent to $133 million between 2000 and 2003.Contact Mark Gladstone at or (916) 325-4314.,1413,204~21479~1933092,00.html

Long Beach Press Telegram

Fixing the prison system

Tuesday, February 03, 2004 - It's time for less talk, more action. 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had some tough words for the state's prison system Monday in his first public response to the corruption scandal engulfing the California Department of Corrections. Though they were nice to hear, it is going to take a lot more than tough words to fix the catastrophe that the prison system has become. 

It was encouraging, at least as a start, to hear Schwarzenegger declare his readiness to challenge the culture of corruption and cover-up at state prisons.

In a radio interview Monday, Schwarzenegger said he would appoint a special panel to investigate corruption and massive overspending. He vowed to "bring order" to a system that "can't continue on" as is. 

More details on the plan are expected in coming weeks. If the governor's emphasis is on fixing problems rather than just studying them, he may have a chance at some success. 

The prison system doesn't need much more study. Its troubles have been well documented and publicly exposed, with the recent federal investigator's report and two days of recent hearings in the Capitol. The report and hearings focused on the gang-like "code of silence" subculture among prison guards, guard-arranged inmate beatings and stabbings, riots that were allowed to explode, administrators who whitewashed corruption investigations, and the pervasive and dangerous influence of the prison guard's union. 

The real challenge is not to better understand the system, it's how to fight it and change it for the better. 

That's why another of Schwarzenegger's moves was disconcerting. His proposed budget calls for massive cuts to the inspector general's office, the state's only independent watchdog for the prison system, and he hasn't proposed a viable alternative. 

Schwarzenegger has called the office wasteful and ineffective, which may be correct. But the state must have a strong, independent watchdog, in some form, armed with the staffing and resources to get the job done right. 

Taking on the deeply entrenched culture of corruption and union influence at the state prisons must be a high priority in the governor's office. Schwarzenegger should be aware, though, that the usual governmental response to crisis committee and commission meetings followed by a shelved report and, perhaps, modest personnel changes will be unacceptable. 

The cancer infecting California's prisons cannot just be examined and evaluated. It must also be cut out and removed.,1413,200~20951~1914463,00.html#

Los Angeles Daily News

Corrections needed
State prison system is in dire need of reform

Sunday, January 25, 2004 - 

Only the state of California could find a way to pay laborers a dismal 40 cents an hour, and still manufacture products at above-market prices.

But such is the state of California's Prison Industry Authority, which pays inmates wages that would make sweatshop overlords jealous, but still can't seem to give other state agencies a good price on basic purchases. 

Buy a notebook at Staples; it's a buck. Buy it from the PIA, and it's $2.35. Ditto for the $770 desk, which goes for $462 online.

And all state agencies are, of course, legally required to buy most goods from the overpriced and marked-up PIA commissary.

In fact, the PIA is a pretty good representative of the entire state prison system: It costs too much, and delivers too little.

Efficiency is a rather rare commodity in state government, but nowhere more so than in the Department of Corrections, where costs are always on the rise, even though the inmate population is in decline.

The union representing prison guards, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, is one of the most powerful special interests in Sacramento. It was one of former Gov. Gray Davis' most generous contributors, and it enjoyed free reign during the pay-to-play days of his administration.

Two years ago, Davis agreed to close five of the state's private, minimum-security prisons. The facilities, which used nonunionized labor, were regarded as cheap competition by the union, and so they went, regardless of the savings they offered the state.

But the biggest giveaway came when Davis signed off on a contract that gave CCPOA members an average pay increase of 30.2 percent over four years. Thanks to that deal, the typical prison guard will be paid $65,000 a year by the end of 2006 -- and that's not including overtime and other incentives.

Davis' deals with CCPOA continue to mount their toll.

Among the steep expenses is the state's ongoing plan to build a new Death Row facility at San Quentin for an astronomical $220 million. With 622 people living on Death Row, that comes to a price tag of more than $350,000 an inmate -- hardly a shining example of government cost-efficiency.

Yet for all the money the state's taxpayers heap onto the prison industry, the results have been less than spectacular, as has the oversight.

A dangerous code of silence continues among prison guards and management, and last year the state held hearings on corruption among the investigators who serve as the Department of Corrections' equivalent of internal affairs officers.

The ultimate result is that Californians are spending more than ever on prisons, while getting ever less in return in terms of services and accountability. If there were any single state agency screaming for a comprehensive audit and reform, the Department of Corrections would be it.

The pocket change state agencies waste on their mandated PIA purchases is just the beginning. California needs a comprehensive review of how its prisons are run, how its prison guards are compensated and how the state can stop bleeding money in this area. It's also worth investigating why there is such a high recidivism rate among ex-convicts.

California's Department of Corrections needs correction -- and fast.

Promises to fix state prisons have been heard before 
Inaction blamed on union and a leadership vacuum 
Pamela J. Podger, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, January 24, 2004 
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle


Sacramento -- Riveting testimony before state senators revealed a prison world enshrouded in fear and a pervasive code of silence -- a penal system in which investigations of staff misconduct were stymied, and ostracized whistle- blowers awaited reprisals by rogue guards. 

That was in 1998. 

The testimony was eerily similar this week at legislative hearings -- with whistle-blowers wearing bulletproof vests testifying about ingrained abuse, a death threat against a lawmaker and promises by top corrections officials to clean house. 

Progress in changing the culture entrenched within the state prison system has been lurching and incremental, say prison critics and former administrators, as California prisons trudge through a history of scandal and reform. 

Over the years, a powerful state prison guard union has blunted the impacts of those promised reforms, spreading influence along with more than $5 million in political contributions to former Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis and to key lawmakers. 

The union seized opportunities created by the rapid growth in prison construction -- 21 prisons were built in 13 years starting in the mid-1980s. The prison system went on a hiring binge, and fresh recruits learned the ropes at 33 far-flung prisons. 

And there has been little continuity at the top echelons of state corrections: There have been seven directors under Wilson, Davis and the nascent administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Decrying the vacuum of leadership, a former watchdog of the state's correctional system this week told lawmakers they needed unrelenting scrutiny by the independent Office of Inspector General. 

"Heads will roll, butts will be kicked, and three months later, when you're not looking, it will go back to the way it was," said former Inspector General Steve White, now a Superior Court judge in Sacramento. "I have seen this so many times I could write the script." 

The 1998 hearings -- which focused on problems at Corcoran State Prison -- spawned legislation that increased prison guard training from six weeks to 16 weeks, expanded the prison ombudsman program from two to seven positions and funded the Office of Inspector General with a confidential hotline for staff and inmates. 

Protections for whistle-blowers were enacted into law. The number of fatal shootings of inmates by guards was curbed with clearer use-of-force policies and shooting protocols. 

Former Corrections Director Cal Terhune is credited with fostering an environment that encouraged positive changes in how the $5 billion prison system operated. 

Corcoran a turning point 

In 1998, in the wake of the legislative hearings, Terhune declared, "The California correctional system is never going to be the same after Corcoran. Our business is a dirty business. But there are no more secrets and, frankly, it is way, way overdue." 

The Corcoran prison hearings were a turning point, Terhune said recently, but there is still room for improvement on how the state penal system polices itself and breaks the code of silence. 

"If you are working with somebody all of the time in a hostile environment, you have to know that you can depend on them and that they will back you up -- that is how the code of silence started," Terhune said. "What I tried to do is let folks know that the administration is concerned about use of force, the professional behavior ... and, in a sense, fear accountability from the administration more than the folks they are working with. If they do something out of line, the administration will pick it up, and their professional life is in jeopardy." 

At Capitol hearings this week, Mike Jimenez, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, said that the union strongly supported reporting of any misconduct at prisons and that any allegations otherwise "unfairly tarnishes the rights of prison guards." 

State prison ombudsman Ken Hurdle said initially he had been met with hostility by managers at the Corcoran prison. At the time, the prison was the nation's most violent with seven inmates fatally shot by guards since it opened in 1988, and it followed a controversial practice of mixing gang members on small exercise yards. 

One of the inmates killed in 1994 was former rapist Preston Tate, who was hit by a bullet meant for his rival as guards tried to quell a yard fight. Corcoran prison administrators bristled as five separate investigations unfolded, examining the alleged gladiator-style fights arranged by guards and subsequent cover-ups by supervisors. 

Over the years, Hurdle said, the ombudsman office has made strides in encouraging whistle-blowers to report wrongdoing free of the fear of reprisals. His office has handled dozens of racial, sexual and other discrimination complaints, helping forge new policies. 

"This culture has been around for years and years and years," Hurdle said. "It didn't develop overnight. This culture will not go away overnight. There have been little baby steps all along the way. Lee Iacocca could come in as director of CDC, and it would take him five to six years to get down to the gut of the business. He couldn't change it around in one year." 

Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, who ran the 1998 hearings along with former Sens. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, and Ruben Ayala, D-Chino, said he was heartened by the recent prison hearings and by Schwarzenegger's promises to clean up the prison system. 

Although Schwarzenegger, in the budget plan he released earlier this month, recommended eliminating the inspector general's office, administration officials this week said they would be willing to reconsider that. 

"Talk about blowing up boxes, this correctional system is the most important box to blow up,'' Vasconcellos said, referring to the explosive terminology Schwarzenegger used in his State of the State address while discussing the need to reorganize state government. "Building so many prisons hasn't made California any more safe. It is hard to control each fiefdom when it grows so fast." 

Calls this week by Sens. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, and Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, for prison investigators to refer more cases to the attorney general's office for possible criminal prosecution also echo back to 1998. 

Legislation 'worth revisiting' 

Legislation carried by former Sen. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, cleared the state Senate the following year but was defeated in the Assembly's public safety committee. 

"This was an idea that was floated four years ago. If the Legislature has changed its mind, maybe it is worth revisiting it,'' said Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer. 

Fresno lawyer Catherine Campbell, who represented the Tate family in an $825,000 settlement with the state of a wrongful death lawsuit, said changes were coming gradually into the prison system. 

"People who engage in abuse and corruption need to be disciplined, while those who report the abuse need to be promoted," Campbell said. "There need to be incentives to dismantle the old values and replace them with rules that support and encourage reporting." 

Still, skepticism remained as former whistle-blowers listened to the most recent calls for accountability by the top administrators. Lawmakers recently pledged to infuse the inspector general's office with about $5 million after the state's budget woes stripped the OIG budget from $11 million to $2 million. Whether Rod Hickman, secretary of the agency that oversees corrections, will have the resources and investigators to police the system remains to be seen. 

Lt. Steve Rigg, one of the whistle-blowers at the Corcoran prison, listened carefully to the recent hearings. He said he had considerable respect for Hickman and would be happy to work as an investigator for him. 

"This time I want to see the promises kept before I believe it," Rigg said. "The allegations that they will protect justice -- I want to see it before I believe it. 

"'I was a whistle-blower, and I destroyed my frigging career and almost my family, and it wasn't worth it. The only thing that makes it worthwhile is stopping the shootings. 

"The senators and the legislators that I spoke to made several promises in 1998," Rigg added. "Very few of those promises were met." 

E-mail Pamela J. Podger at

Keep the heat on the state's prison system


The Legislature should provide a state watchdog agency overseeing the prison system with bigger teeth to clean it up. 

A federal investigation into a variety of abuses in California's prison system leads to many doors. One of them is the Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad. 

There, a former correctional officer testified to a state Senate panel that he witnessed inmates being abused by prison guards while a code of silence protected them from discovery and punishment.

The ex-officer is suing the state for failing to protect him from reprisals after blowing the whistle on the abusers, known as the "Green Wall." 

The reported abuse and attempted coverup is not only an indictment of the state prison system, but it also hits home. The uncovering of the Green Wall, though it may only involve a few guards, also is a reflection on the Salinas Valley prison community. Given the mess caused by this scandal, the state should brace for paying a high price for prison reform. Lawsuits may be part of the cost, but reforms that truly clean house will be expensive. 

There's a lot to do. The prison system scandal involves perjury and a coverup that goes to the top levels of the state Department of Corrections. 

The good news is that by shining the spotlight on this abhorrent picture, the state can begin to change it. Keep the heat on the prison system until the reforms are in place. 

For years the Department of Corrections has looked the other way while inmate abuse and other illegal behavior was taking place. Investigators say the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association shares the blame for the failure to bring abusive guards to justice. The union applied pressure on administrators when complaints were brought to light. The institutionalized code of silence kicked in. 

It's clear by the investigation that the asylum is being run, not by the inmates, but by roguish guards and wardens who may think they are above the law. That's about to change. 

The code of silence must not only be broken but shattered. The Department of Corrections is unable to police itself. Immediately, the state must strip the department of any oversight powers it has over the prisons and shift them to an independent agency. Then it must give that agency the big teeth it needs to, with support from the Legislature and the governor, clean up the prison system. 


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Originally published Friday, January 23, 2004

Calif. lawmakers plan hearings to spur Corrections Dept. reforms

 Associated Press - (Published January 17, 2004)

SACRAMENTO (AP) - State lawmakers, saying California's Department of Corrections has lost its moral and ethical compass, plan two days of hearings to begin reforming a prison system battered by accusations that it can't police its own employees.
The CDC, the nation's largest prison system, has become rife with abuse and "bungled investigations of that abuse," said Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Prisons.

Hearings scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday in the Capitol will feature whistleblowers at Folsom State Prison who received demotions and reassignments and were themselves placed under scrutiny for raising concerns about internal investigations. Many alleged an administrative coverup of staff decisions leading to a 2002 inmate riot, which a state inspector general's report later called botched and counter to normal procedures.

One officer in that case, Capt. Douglas Pieper, committed suicide after he questioned the warden's investigation of those events and was reassigned to a job he didn't like.

The hearings come in the wake of a scathing federal report that alleges perjury by prison guards in inmate-abuse cases and an administration that fails to "investigate and discipline serious abuses of force by correctional officers."

A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the governor is "very concerned" about the findings. Schwarzenegger has appointed a new prisons chief, Roderick Q. Hickman, to restore public and employee confidence in the system's disciplinary process, officials said.

Hickman will testify Wednesday when the two committees examine proposals to reform the system's process for investigating dishonest and corrupt officers.

Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, said the "state has to bring that system under control" or face possibilities of a temporary federal takeover. Speier, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Government Oversight, said, "We have to restore strong leadership so that correctional officers who want to do the right thing will not fear for their lives.",1,6544477.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Officials Feel Heat Over Prison Report
A Schwarzenegger aide says the governor is 'very concerned' about a federal master's scathing study of the Corrections Department.

By Jeffrey L. Rabin and Dan Morain
Times Staff Writers

January 17, 2004

A scathing report about California's troubled prison system increased pressure Friday on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to press ahead with sweeping changes in the $5.3-billion program.

Schwarzenegger's chief spokesman Rob Stutzman said in Los Angeles that the governor is "very concerned by what the federal master has reported."

In a 78-page draft document prepared for a federal judge in San Francisco, Special Master John Hagar found that top officials in the Department of Corrections, under pressure from the powerful prison guards union, have been unwilling to discipline officers involved in attacks on inmates or other misconduct.

Stutzman said Schwarzenegger has "the utmost confidence" that Roderick Q. Hickman, his new secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, will "restore order to the department and that agency."

Tip Kindel, the agency's assistant secretary, said the new administration is "developing a comprehensive program so that we have an investigations process … that will have integrity and will be credible, thorough and fair."

Kindel said Hickman has met with the special master and made a "personal commitment" that investigations will be free of inappropriate outside influences.

"The secretary is committed to restoring public and employee confidence in the discipline process," Kindel said.

But it will take more than statements of confidence to satisfy key Democrats who are planning two days of hearings starting Tuesday on investigations of misconduct in California's prisons.

State Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Government Oversight, said she has "never read such a hard-hitting indictment of a department in all my years in public service."

Speier said the state has "to bring that system under control" or risk seeing a federal judge take over supervision. "We have to restore strong leadership so that correctional officers who want to do the right thing will not fear for their lives."

The lawmaker said she received a call Wednesday from "a big, burly man" — Max Lemon, the associate warden of Folsom Prison — asking for protection because he had "broken the code of silence" about a riot at the prison in April 2002. Lemon is to testify before the Senate committee Tuesday in Sacramento.

Speier said the special master's report should set off an alarm in the Capitol about the need to change the prison system. "This culture has to be turned around," she said.

Both Speier and Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), chairwoman of a Senate select committee on California's prison system. said the Schwarzenegger administration's recent proposal to eliminate the Office of Inspector General and transfer its oversight duties to the agency secretary is the wrong way to go.

"The worst message to send is: 'Let's get rid of an independent inspector general,' " Romero said.

She said the idea should be "dead on arrival" in the Legislature.

Speier said she and Romero hope their hearings will help "develop a blueprint to restore integrity to the Department of Corrections."

Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., said Hagar's report came like a "sucker punch."

"What the special master has done is take bits and pieces of ongoing cases and tried to issue a report regarding alleged abuses in California prisons," Corcoran said.

He suggested that Hagar has been unduly influenced by the Prison Law Office, a group of lawyers who have challenged the operation of Pelican Bay.

"We fully support good investigations. We're thankful for them. Good investigators follow the rules," Corcoran said.

But too often, he said, internal affairs officers fail to follow proper rules. 

What's more, he said, the union prevails in its defense of officers because some internal affairs officers are lazy.

"They are too arrogant to admit they are wrong, so it had to be the big bad correctional peace officers union that stopped them," Corcoran said.

Republican Sen. Bruce McPherson of Santa Cruz, a member of the committee that will hold the hearings, said the special master's findings were "particularly troublesome," especially after legislative hearings several years ago into some of the same Department of Corrections and Pelican Bay issues.

Asked if the Legislature could be expected to enact substantial reforms if the politically influential prison guards union were found to be at least partly to blame, McPherson avoided a direct answer.

But he said, "I know the [union] is a powerful organization in state government, but we've just got to look at what is right and wrong and make our decisions accordingly."


Times staff writers Carl Ingram and Joe Mathews contributed to this report.
Monday • March 3, 2003 

Reforming prison reform

Time to look at the effectiveness of determinate sentencingWhen Capitol hearings aimed the spotlight at California's fixed-term sentencing law for criminals, one of the loudest voices for change was that of a former governor who supported signed the legislation that created it.Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown was in the statehouse 25 years ago when he signed the bill passed by the Legislature to overhaul the way criminals are punished for their crimes. 

At the time it was touted as a historic reform.The former governor, and a growing nucleus of lawmakers and scholars, now call it an "abysmal failure" leading to high rates of recidivism.The old model is not one to resurrect as it once operated, but there is good reason to give new scrutiny to the effectiveness of the so-called determinate sentencing system. Why not adopt again the tenet that an inmate should earn his or her freedom by proving that they were rehabilitated and can function as a law-abiding citizen once released? 

Mayor Brown ridiculed the state penal institutions as "postgraduate schools of crime," noting 80 percent of those paroled to his city wind up back behind bars within three years. Half of all violent crimes in Oakland, he contends, are committed by those on parole or probation."(Mayor) Brown's testimony was a rarity in the world of politics. It is not often that a former governor - even an iconoclast such as Brown - declares that he shares responsibility for a mistake that resulted in a radical shift in public policy," the Los Angeles Times noted. 

Perhaps as mayor he sees things more realistically, while as governor he suffered from being distant from the day-to-day realities of the street.Fixed-term sentences were embraced by liberals and conservatives alike in 1977 when there was a campaign for uniform sentencing.In this rare instance, we agree with the mayor. He sees our system as one that liberates 126,000 parolees annually who, for the most part, have "no skills to get a job in the market economy" and no incentive while in prison to develop them.There must be a clear path to rehabilitation. And as the mayor remarked, "You've got the key to your jailhouse door. If you don't want to use it, you should sit there forever." 

 Clean Up Prison Mess

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