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California Halted from Re-Integrating “Sensitive Needs” Prisoners Into General Population

by David M. Reutter

California’s Superior Court for Sacramento County issued a Writ of Mandate on September 30, 2022, ordering the state Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to “immediately cease” transferring prisoners under a controversial new housing policy.

This case was brought by state prisoner Israel Villarreal. His petition challenged a CDCR policy that restructured housing facilities and integrated previously segregated prison populations. Arguing the policy was not adopted in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), Villarreal sought to stop prison officials from further implementing it.

CDCR has historically separated general population (GP) prisoners from those in “sensitive needs yards” (SNY) for safety and security. “Traditionally, those convicted of high notoriety crimes,” or who suffered “past victimization,” or who were “former informants or former security threat group affiliates,” were housed on SNY, according to a CDCR official named Pulley. But over time, the SNY population increased to the point of overcrowding. SNY facilities became increasingly violent. The “sensitive needs” designation became stigmatized.

To address this, CDCR developed Non-Designated Program Facilities (NDPFs), an inclusive housing model to mitigate stigma and advance rehabilitative objectives. “By restructuring housing facilities and integrating populations, CDCR made more programming opportunities available to prisoners regardless of designations,” the Court observed.

Villarreal had not yet been transferred to a NDPF facility but alleged that he would “soon” meet the security classification triggering his transfer. His petition alleged the NDPF policy was an uncodified and unlawful underground regulation. He further alleged that placement in a NDPF is involuntary and that the integration of GP and SNY prisoners resulted in violence and the potential for additional violence.

CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison conceded the policy was uncodified. Moreover, the “forced integration” had resulted in “riots, stabbings, and violent assaults,” prisoner advocacy Silicon Valley DeBug reported. “Not only are those inside suffering the physical effects, but many are going to administrative segregation, which is solitary confinement.”

Worse, they often “end up receiving write-ups that result in additional time, and transfer to higher security levels hundreds of miles from their families, even if they are the victims.”

The Court focused on the legality of the Policy’s implementation, finding Villarreal presented an actual controversy as to whether Allison could continue to implement the NDPF policy before the regulations take effect under the APA. It also found Villarreal would derive a benefit if granted relief.

So Allison owes a non-discretionary duty to refrain from implementing the uncodified NDPF policy, the Court said. APA mandates that “the rulemaking agency must comply” with the law’s provisions “or the rule is void.” Allison is specifically required to examine and study prisoners before classifying them, the Court said, but the NDPF policy is analogous to the classification scheme in Stoneham v. Rushen, (1982) 137 Cal. App. 3d 729, where prisoners successfully challenged an uncodified classification system as an invalid underground regulation.

Thus the Court found Allison’s enforcement of the NDPF Policy violates the APA. The policy, therefore, is an underground regulation that is void, entitling Villarreal to relief. The Court granted his requested writ and prohibited Allison and CDCR from further implementing the Policy until properly adopted under the APA. See: Villarreal v. Allison, Cal. Super. (Cty. of Sacramento), Case No. 34-2021-80003779.

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