Prison Reform Panel

Governor appoints Deukmejian to head prison reform panel
- (Published March 5, 2004)

Former Gov. George Deukmejian will chair an independent review panel charged with finding ways to "turn around the crisis of confidence" in California's youth and adult correctional systems, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday.

Panel members said they plan a report by June, including recommendations on prison closures and the future of San Quentin, the state's oldest prison that sits on prime development land.

Critics noted "Iron Duke" Deukmejian, who held office from 1983-91, helped build the state's prison system into the nation's largest during a law-and-order administration.

That system has become Schwarzenegger's biggest unexpected policy crisis since he took office after October's recall election, diverting attention from his attempts to rein in the state's massive budget crisis.

A federal court-appointed monitor found that a prison employee "code of silence" protects wrongdoers and punishes whistleblowers, and recommended the Department of Corrections' former director be charged with contempt of court.

A series of scathing national experts' reports criticized the California Youth Authority as a cruel version of the adult prison system, unable to meet its responsibility to rehabilitate children before it's too late.

And the system's spending is out of control, routinely exceeding its budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. A lucrative labor contract with the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association was the focus of the latest in a series of state Senate oversight hearings Thursday.

Friday's announcement came the same day as a sentencing reform group, the Justice Policy Institute, released a study panning California's decade-old "three strikes" law, championed by Schwarzenegger adviser and former Gov. Pete Wilson, as ineffective and unfair to minorities and nonviolent offenders.

There are no boundaries on the panel's recommendations, including sentencing changes, said Joseph Gunn, who was named the panel's executive director. Gunn was executive director of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners and co-chaired the independent review panel that investigated the city's Rampart police corruption case.

He said Schwarzenegger is concerned the youth authority is "set up for the 1950s and not the 2000s, and maybe they have to be brought up to modern times."

When it comes to breaking the alleged "code of silence," Gunn said, "This is not something you're going to change overnight. This goes back to a whole ethics and culture issue" that may involve wholesale retraining.
Panel consultants are Robin Dezember, Deukmejian's former undersecretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency and Wilson's former chief deputy finance director; and George Camp, a former administrator in the federal, New York and Missouri prison systems, now with the Criminal Justice Institute in Middletown, Conn.
Schwarzenegger said Deukmejian's experience as a legislator, state attorney general and governor makes him the ideal chairman.

"George Deukmejian presided over one of the biggest prison-building programs in the history of the world, and that's no exaggeration. His record on prison reform is not good," countered Rose Braz of the sentencing and prison reform groups Critical Resistance and a new coalition called Californians United for A Responsible Budget.

"We know what kind of reforms are needed" after years of audits, investigations and reports by experts and blue ribbon panels, Braz said. "What we need now is the political will to do it."

Panel members said their charge is to tell Schwarzenegger quickly which of those recommendations should be accepted, and how they can be accomplished.

The panel will examine the corrections system's "ethics and culture;" organization and operations; safety practices for inmates, employees and the public; and personnel and training programs.

The panel will report directly to Schwarzenegger as part of the larger "performance review" his administration is conducting to increase efficiency and accountability in state government. In that light, the corrections panel also will look at cutting the system's costs, including shuttering prisons.

Braz' coalition of 36 prison and sentencing reform groups said Schwarzenegger should close at least three prisons and cancel plans for a new maximum security facility at Delano if he wants to see cost savings from the Corrections Department's plan to trim 15,000 inmates.

That plan relies mainly on returning fewer parole violators to prison. Department spokeswoman Margot Bach said the training academy will produce no new classes of correctional officers this year as a result, concentrating instead on training more parole officers.

-- Associated Press

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