CDCR cultivates an environment of rehabilitation

By Dana Simas, CDCR Public Information Officer

Kelly Harrington, acting Director of the Division of Adult Institutions, discusses challenges, rehabilitation, previous overcrowding and collaborative efforts within CDCR. He started his long career as a Correctional Counselor and Officer at the California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi in 1987.

Background: Kelly Harrington has served as Director (A) of the Division of Adult Institutions since January 2015.  He previously served as the Deputy Director of Facility Operations from 2013 through 2014 and, prior to that, as Associate Director of High Security and Transitional Housing from 2010 to 2013. He held multiple positions at Kern Valley State Prison from 2008 to 2010, including Warden and acting Warden, and multiple positions at Wasco State Prison from 2003 to 2008, including Chief Deputy Administrator and Correctional Administrator. He was a Facility Captain at the CDCR, Community Correctional Facilities Unit from 2000 to 2003. He also served in multiple positions at Wasco State Prison from 1997 to 2000, including facility captain and correctional counselor. He was a correctional counselor at North Kern State Prison from 1995 to 1997 and a correctional counselor and officer at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi from 1987 to 1995.

Kelly Harrington

Kelly Harrington

Question: Throughout your long career on the custody side, how far has CDCR come in shifting its focus to rehabilitating offenders?

Kelly Harrington: It was always one of our focuses, but previously we had an inability to really follow through because of overpopulation. When you’re worried about basic needs such as housing and security, you’re more focused on “where’s the next bed?” Now we have the ability to increase our efforts in rehabilitative goals because we have more programming space, more funding and an overall better correctional environment to meet those goals. A programming inmate is much less likely to get into trouble, so getting inmates into program seats is just as important as getting them to medical appointments.

Question: Do you think there is still much work to be done to achieve this culture shift?

Harrington: Culture shifts are improving. More staff are understanding that getting inmates to programs is beneficial, but there are still issues with moving inmates. So many inmates can’t go to certain prisons — and thus certain programs — because of medical reasons, enemy concerns, housing security levels, etc. If we continue to increase the availability of programs in all of the prisons the movement process will also iron out.

Question: What are some of the biggest changes Division of Adult Institutions has made to cultivate a more rehabilitative environment?

Harrington: Increased collaboration and outreach from the Secretary down to officers and prison administrative staff. Our Wardens meetings have been great opportunities to make sure all of the prisons are realizing the department’s rehabilitation goals as a whole. It all happens down at the prisons, so we have increased outreach and collaboration efforts to make it work at the ground level.

Question: What are the biggest challenges in balancing safety and security with rehabilitative efforts?

Harrington: All inmate movement is a challenge, and not just to rehabilitative programs. Medical, dental, mental health, rehabilitation all have their priorities that sometimes don’t coincide with security priorities. If you don’t have safety, none of the programs work.

Question: Has there been a big increase in inmate movement since the department has increased rehabilitation programs?

Harrington: Yes, however it’s a benefit because inmates aren’t lounging around on the yard or their cells causing trouble. Fewer programs means more downtime and that’s when inmates start getting into trouble. I’d rather have one hour of what looks like chaos with a bunch of inmates going to their programs than a bunch of inmates with nothing to do for hours. Once they are in their assigned program, it’s usually calm and quiet.

Question: How do/did you overcome those challenges?

Harrington: Reduction in the inmate population was the number one way to overcome safety challenges. When you’re overcrowded you tighten up more, you do more searches, you tend to have more violence so you have increased lockdowns and modified programs. After the population reduction, overcoming the challenges is just about collaborating and communication between all of the areas from the top, down. We collaborate great up here at headquarters and we work hard to make sure those goals make their way down to the prisons. DAI and the Division of Rehabilitative Programs work together to make sure wardens and principals are also working together down at the prisons, all to achieve our goal of keeping people from coming back to prison.