I read your first Secretary’s message and received some comments about your “Hug-a-thug” mentality.  Correctional Officers get paid to keep the peace in prisons and the inmates inside the walls.  Many believe that other disciplines can do the care and treatment. Will blurring of these responsibilities actually make prisons safer?*

Thank you for sharing the comments with me but I believe that mindset is wrong.

We have a branding problem in California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).  The public perception of our profession is guided by isolated incidents of excessive force, code of silence, and indifference. Several years ago, our recidivism rate was 70 percent and stories of paroled inmates committing horrible crimes after being released from our custody drive those perceptions.  Most of the time our response to these criticisms was “it’s not our fault — it’s the criminals.”  More victims, more costs as inmates churn through the system, and violent unsafe prisons is the result.  And, by the way, this profession has a higher PTSD rate than returning combat soldiers and a very short mortality rate after we retire.  We have to evolve as a profession if we are to survive and grow.

Case in point, our Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).  Once 10,000 wards with stories of violence, indifference and abuse branded DJJ, and all of US, as an example of a failed system.  Today, the juvenile system is 700 wards, it just ended an over decade-long lawsuit, and, I believe, is a national leader in how to use incarceration to reduce victims and enhance public safety.

Just five years ago, Parole supervised 100,000 parolees and was focused on returning parole violators to prison rather than attempting to address what led to the parolee’s criminal behavior.  With about 45,000 parolees today, the emphasis is on constructive supervision, alternative sanctions, programming and addressing the parolee’s criminality.  Parole is accepting this paradigm shift in criminal justice and reducing victims and enhancing public safety.

These are real life examples of monumental shifts in the criminal justice system that endured difficult transformation.  They had to grow to survive.  Organizationally, perhaps these divisions would not have undergone this painful transformation had they recognized the shifting public sentiment and re-branded themselves to what they have become today.

In 2006, our inmate population was about 173,000 and today we stand at about 127,000. My expectation is not that we simply keep an inmate behind bars but, I, the Governor, and the public expect us to rehabilitate what’s broken. They expect all employees from the Correctional Officer to the Warden to be engaged in a positive environment that promotes rehabilitation. And, I believe a safe, busy, and productive setting translates to a safer prison, reduces victims, protects public safety and is healthier for our organization’s greatest asset — staff. Think of the victim numbers that could be reduced, the costs saved, and the lives changed if we could get 10, 20, or 50 percent of the inmates under our charge to not continue their criminality.

I encourage you not to look at it as “Hug-a-thug” but instead as part of a transforming criminal justice system that will advance our profession.  For your well-being, and the well-being of your family, look beyond just being a guard and be a professional Correctional Officer.

I recently read that we are spending over $400,000,000 for inmate programs in prison and parole.  While my child’s school struggles for resources, how do we know this money is not being wasted on criminals?*

In the last 30 or so years, the State embarked on the largest prison-building program in the nation to keep pace with the “tough on crime” inmate population explosion.  We expanded from 12 prisons to today’s 34 and went from a population of about 20,000 in the 1970s to 173,000 in 2006.  Even with this expansion, crime rates continued to increase and the portion of California’s tax dollars dedicated to CDCR continued to grow.  The prisons were violent, staff unsafe, and the inmates returned to State prison about 70 percent of the time within three years. While there are many other factors, the State and the nation are recognizing that incarceration as a punishment, in itself, does not make our citizens safer.

While there is much more work to do, we do know that providing programming can significantly reduce recidivism.  For example, an inmate who gets substance abuse programming in prison with follow-up programming in the community reduces recidivism by about 20 percent.  Sex offenders who receive treatment upon release will recidivate at a significantly lower rate than inmates who do not receive such programming.  National studies support that an inmate who receives a high school education and job skills has a better chance of succeeding.  Sending an inmate to reentry programming where he or she gets an ID card, medical or mental health services, job and housing, and connection with community services has a better chance than the inmate who receives $200 and a ride to the bus station.

CDCR is partnering with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative to use a cost-benefit analysis model that will quantify the investment in particular programs.  This tool is being used in other states and a few California counties today.  The results of this partnership will allow us to invest in evidenced-based programs that are getting results.  I do want CDCR to be evidence driven and I believe the public expects us to be good stewards of the resources that we are provided.

We do know that 90 percent of inmates will complete their sentence at some point and return to the community.  I think it’s easy for us to say that we did our job by keeping the inmate behind bars for the time specified by law.  It’s a hell of a lot harder to actually say that we will provide an environment where inmates can address their criminality and come out of their punishment with the tools to be law-abiding citizens.  While the State must prioritize limited resources, like those of your child’s school, the investment in rehabilitative programs, in my opinion, is a wise investment in public safety and the good of all Californians.

*Secretary’s Note: 

I can’t tell you enough how much I respect the difficult challenges that all CDCR employees make each day.  We tend to respond to the criticisms of the moment and forget that a vast majority of our 60,000 employees come to work each day and do their job and do it well.  High Desert State Prison (HDSP) has received considerable negative attention, and while there are certainly areas that need to be addressed, a vast majority of HDSP staff epitomize our organization.  For those HDSP staff doing the right thing, we as an organization support you.  For all CDCR employees, thank you for the hard work you do.