By Scott Kernan, CDCR Secretary

Last month, I briefed you on the significant changes coming with the approval by voters of Proposition 57. I’d like to thank staff – both at Headquarters and in the field − for their hard work in developing regulations, modifying our IT systems, developing complex training programs, and helping set and meet an aggressive schedule to roll out this landmark reform. All this work will materialize in the coming months and will positively impact everybody at CDCR, both staff and inmates.

A fundamental element of Proposition 57 is the realization that we are in the best position to know how individual inmates are programming and whether they are showing sustained positive behavior. Proposition 57 is a common sense reform that brings us closer to the days of indeterminate sentencing by placing the responsibility on the inmate to remain disciplinary free and to be actively programming. In the indeterminate sentencing days, an inmate’s behavior determined when he or she would be released and that made for a safer environment for both staff and inmates, and produced greater public safety for Californians.

I also think that enabling an inmate who works hard to earn a high school diploma or a college degree, or who addresses his or her substance use disorder, to earn an earlier release to society is a more prudent measure  than the fixed-date release of an inmate who may be involved in destructive behavior in prison.  I believe that our staff’s work in offering programs and encouraging positive behavior and rehabilitation will result in reduced recidivism, lower prison costs, and fewer crime victims.

The Governor has made an investment in our department’s collective judgment and so that has in turn led us to also re-evaluate a number of our long-standing classification polices.

Placement of inmates in lower security level facilities, as well as reduction in their custody level, is a critical step for our management efforts, and will give staff the tools to make decisions, backed by policy, to recognize the individual inmate’s efforts and behavior. Below is a summary of those changes.

Classification Changes

CDCR has implemented a number of changes to the classification process to recognize sustained positive behavior by individuals. Thousands of inmates have received classification overrides to lower-security level prisons as a result of their positive behavior. CDCR will continue this process, and has developed additional regulations, effective this month, to expand this opportunity to inmates previously excluded from lower-level placement because of their commitment offense.

  • Inmates serving life-without-parole (LWOP’s) have been excluded from placement in Level II institutions due to a mandatory minimum score keeping them in Level III and IV prisons. These regulations will allow LWOP’s, with sustained positive behavior, to be placed in Level II prisons with lethal electrified perimeters.
  • Life-term inmates who meet specific criteria will be authorized to be housed in Secure Level I facilities. These facilities will increase their access to programs and better prepare them for subsequent parole hearings.
  • Close Custody regulations have been modified to change Close A and B custody designations into one Close Custody designation.  The time that an inmate must remain on close custody, based upon his or her individual behavior, has been reduced.  This will expand an inmate’s ability to access rehabilitative programs and evening programming.
  • Regulations have been completed that permit the prison staff to evaluate an inmate’s sustained positive behavior and remove a Violent “VIO” determinant up to seven years before an inmate’s Earliest Possible Release Date.  This will allow access to lower-level placement and more access to programming.
  • Inmates who receive disciplinary action for a positive urinalysis test are assessed sanctions and increased points in their classification score. This results in inmates being placed in higher-level prisons. Regulations have been developed to discontinue applying classification points for positive UA tests. All other sanctions from the disciplinary process will remain in place.
  • Current regulations motivate inmates to refuse urinalysis testing rather than be tested positive and be referred to programs that have proven results in helping inmates kick drugs.  The new regulations are increasing the penalty for refusing drug testing.
  • Inmates validated as Security Threat Group 1 members or associates will be considered for minimum-custody placement if the Institutional Classification Committee determines the inmate does not pose a threat to the safety and security of the institution, inmates, staff, and the public.

In addition, more discretion is being given to the Warden and prison staff to make the decision when an inmate has proven that he or she is motivated to change.

Family Visiting for Lifers/LWOP

Another reform that I am sure will further incentivize positive behavior among inmates is a change to the Family Visiting Program (FVP). A policy memorandum authorizing Lifer/LWOP inmates to participate is now effective. CDCR is developing new FVP regulations that emphasize the importance of family unification during a person’s incarceration, and restricts an inmate’s access to the program for disciplinary infractions. Use of drugs or possession of a cell phone will restrict an individual’s participation in the program.

Our utmost goal will always be public safety, and we believe that by placing continued emphasis on rehabilitation efforts and an inmate’s behavior, we can change the conversation about how we incarcerate people in this country. These historic changes will allow staff to be more engaged in the rehabilitation of our population  by recognizing a person’s desire to seek necessary change in their lives. I could not be more proud of our staff for your continuing professional evolution.  I understand the hard work of implementation is still ahead, but I also know that our staff can meet any challenge.  Thanks to all of you.

Scott Kernan, Secretary

(Editor’s note: While comments are not published for the Secretary’s Corner, those wishing to express opinions or thoughts are welcome to email the editor at don.chaddock@cdcr.ca.gov and they will be forwarded to the appropriate party.)