by John E. Dannenberg
California's Inspector General (IG), Matthew Cate, who has oversight responsibility over the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), issued an exhaustive 363 page Accountability Audit reporting the degree of compliance with 22 earlier separate IG audits with recommendations to CDCR made between 2000 and 2004. Cate reported that of 394 recommendations in the 22 audits, 241 (61 percent) had been fully implemented, 53 (14 percent) had been substantially implemented, and 39 (10 percent) had not been implemented. [The balance of 16 (4 percent) were no longer applicable.] But the numbers don't tell the whole story. To address the remaining deficiencies, the IG had to issue 91 new recommendations.
The report separately scored two "respondents," individual prison staff/management and departmental-level (Sacramento) personnel. It found that the former were "highly responsive," while the latter failed to correct three of the most troubling and long-standing problems: overhaul of CDCR's antiquated Information Technology (IT) system, substandard medical care and inadequate preparation of prisoners for release. [Since this audit was published in April 2006, CDCR's health care system was seized by the federal courts mooting that audit concern.] Recognizing that much of the problem is exacerbated by 200% overcrowding, the IG noted that sustainable solutions will require CDCR to meaningfully address the following options: increase prison capacity; reexamine sentencing/parole policies; and/or invest to reduce recidivism. [Note: On October 4, 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger declared a "state of emergency" as to prison overcrowding, announcing the transfer of thousands of CDCR prisoners to out-of-state private prisons.]
The IG observed that recommendations directed to prison wardens were 84 percent implemented, albeit some only after five years. But departmental recommendations were only 48 percent implemented, with the worst performance being medical (32 percent). IT improvements were noted in the monitoring of internal affairs investigations (only 2 percent of those cases now exceeded the one-year statutory limitation), but the rest of CDCR was still burdened by antiquated mainframes and stand-alone, non-integrable data bases, which "impede processes at every level." For example, it was estimated that IT improvements in pharmaceutical expenditures alone would reap $26 million in annual savings. Likewise, prisoner grievance appeals are not automated so as to be able to determine systemic problems within CDCR.
Moving to rehabilitation needs, the report noted that CDCR's population increased by 8,245 prisoners between 2000 and 2006, exactly tracking California's population growth. Yet, 21 percent of the 169,000 prisoners were serving time for drug offenses, whose one-year recidivism rate was 39 percent. Clearly, previously legislated substance abuse treatment programs needed to be properly implemented [notwithstanding prison guard union (CCPOA) public objections which had quashed these programs].
Education levels at Level IV (maximum security) prisons were deficient with only 21 percent participation, in spite of a state law requiring ninth grade literacy for all prisoners. Lockdowns (60 percent of the time) at Level IV prisons were proving incompatible with education goals, a problem that had not been addressed.
Finally, even if CDCR had implemented many of the IG's recommendations, they wouldn't know if they were working or not, because CDCR failed to implement internal auditing tools.
Absent measurement, CDCR would remain incapable of knowing if it ever "corrected" or "rehabilitated" anyone or anything.
Indeed, this writer notes that CDCR's regulations don't even define "correction" or "rehabilitation," let alone state goals or measurement tools for progress. The sad truth is that there is no incentive for any CDCR employee to "correct" or "rehabilitate" so much as one prisoner, ever. Indeed, bureaucracies (e.g., CDCR) have evolved as the antithesis of achievement, focused instead on eschewing blame and protecting jobs.
While the IG's audits identify recommendations within the existing system, they fall short of reaching CDCR's fatal flaw -- the absence of any incentive to achieve the crucial goals of attacking the causes of incarceration and of reversing recidivism. If CDCR employees were put on an elementary business model, financially rewarded for success (i.e., actual reduction of the prison population), rather than being paid for failure (i.e., increased population), the prisoners needs, the public's safety and the quality of community life would all automatically trend in the desired direction.
This writer recently addressed these concerns in person with Inspector General Cate. Cate thoughtfully responded, however, that his lawful responsibility to the Governor is limited to informing the current system, as arguably impossible as that might be; meaningful change of that system can only come from the Legislature or the executive branch, or from the federal courts. See: Accountability Audit; Review of Audits of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Adult Operations and Adult Programs, Office of the Inspector General, April 2006.
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