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California Legislature Reorganizes DOC To Add Rehabilitation

California Legislature Reorganizes DOC To Add Rehabilitation

by Marvin Mentor

Via legislative enactment (SB 737) effective July 1, 2005, the California DOC (formerly CDC) was renamed the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the Board of Prison Terms (BPT) was replaced with the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH), and numerous previous correctional boards and organizations were reorganized and placed under the direct supervision of the governors Secretary of Corrections.

The advertised effect of this reorganization was to accommodate the glaring deficiencies in CDC that were roundly criticized in former Governor Deukmejians 359 page June 2004 report to Governor Schwarzenegger, Reforming Corrections. (See: PLN, Mar. 2005, p.1, California Corrections System Officially Declared Dysfunctional - Redemption Doubtful.) The somber forewarning of the Deukmejian report was that without a civilian oversight board, any reformulation of CDC would fail.

Nonetheless, in enacting SB 737, the California Legislature omitted such oversight and instead left the reorganized prior bureaucracy to continue to run itself. On the hopeful side, the new name reincorporates the word rehabilitation, a term tabooed in the Legislatures last sweeping tough-on-crime reform in 1977 (Senate Bill 42).

Prior to SB 737, the Secretary of Corrections was largely a titular position, with the true operating power of CDC vested in the Director of Corrections. Similarly, the BPT was autonomous, as were the Youth Authority, the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (now, the Corrections Standards Authority), the Board of Corrections and the Narcotic Addict Evaluation Authority. CDCR replaces the heads of many of these organizations with new titles (undersecretaries) and calls the organizations divisions. For example, the Division of Adult Institutions consists of Adult Operations (i.e., the prison system) and Adult Parole Operations (the BPH). Similar division levels include Community Partnerships; Correctional Health Care Services; and Education, Vocations and Offender Programs. The latter gives recognition to models of such programs at San Quentin State Prison (where former CDCR Undersecretary Jeanne Woodford was formerly Warden) which benefited from highly successful college programs, victim-offender groups, youth-at risk intervention programs and outside-facilitator sponsored prisoner activity groups. Finally, Youth Operations is a separate directorate that is assigned its own five BPH commissioners.

Importantly for Californias 27,000 life prisoners, the BPH enlarged the number of parole commissioners from nine to twelve, accommodating the vastly increased number of hearings due, and increased the efficiency of hearing management so harshly criticized by the California State Auditor. While much of the backlog in parole hearings was due to the Governors failure to keep more than six of the prior nine positions filled, recent data shows that about nine of the twelve available positions are currently staffed. In arrears by over 4,000 lifer parole hearings, and with the In re Rutherford court order to catch up staffing the newly enlarged BPH could double the BPTs performance.

But visibly lacking in the new CDCR (other than civilian oversight) is the absence of any measurable goals in actually achieving correction or rehabilitation of prisoners.

Indeed, SB 737 does not even announce a legislative intent for such a result. As this writer has opined (PLN, Mar. 2005, supra), the financial incentive for all CDC (and now CDCR) staff is to increase the prison population. Not one employee of CDCR gets rewarded for the (otherwise unlikely) event of prisoners actually being corrected or rehabilitated. There isnt even a definition of correction or rehabilitation to be found in either SB 737 or in CDCRs mission statement. Indeed, correction, under the newly formulated CDCR, remains the same cynical oxymoron of yore, literally for want of any measurable goals or incentives. Somewhere, somehow, society needs to take the proactive steps to reduce prison populations. Sadly, CDCR is thus no closer to such a return on the taxpayers investment in social renewal than was its predecessor CDC. Nonetheless, Harriet Solarno, leader of Crime Victims United, a prison guards union (CCPOA) sponsored political action group shill, condemned SB 737, saying the governor is letting us down after promising to stand with victims.

An admittedly strong statement was made by making health care a separate directorate. It is long understood that doctors, not custody staff, must make health care decisions. But when custody intersects with health care, custody normally wins based upon a safety and security of the institution mantra. With CDCRs health care now under federal court receivership (see PLN, March, 2006, p. ), the necessary teeth to give health care priority may finally be forced upon the entrenched doctrine of unilateral custody control.

A little recognized procedure in SB 737 is that key appointments within CDCR shall be reviewed by the State Inspector General, who is charged with weeding out candidates who might not pass the smell test for integrity and reputation, but whose jobs might be insulated from challenge once they are hired

One of the ultimate measures of success of CDCR will be whether it can change its ways from the old cronyism that the Deukmejian report recognized was the signature of CDC. Since CDCR was announced, the corrections budget has grown from $6 billion to a proposed $8 billion for fiscal year 2006-2007. In addition, the Governors January 2006 State of the State address proposed $223 billion in new state bonds (over ten years) for infrastructure, including the construction of two new prisons in the first wave. Thus, the Deukmejian reports complaint of out of control costs (determined 18 months ago with just a $6 billion corrections budget) seems to have fallen on deaf ears already.

As state Senator Gloria Romero commented, SB 737 is truly reorganization, not reform. Indeed, with a present population of 168,000 prisoners (plus 120,000 parolees) and growing, of whom 20% are lifers (only rarely getting out), with health care costs growing from the aging population and from federal court oversight, reorganizing with no objective to either correct or rehabilitate its gargantuan prison population leaves the new CDCR in grave doubt of bringing about needed systemic change. To use the old metaphor, this is rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic.

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