There is so much positive momentum in our Department. The Governor, the Legislature, the public and even our critics are taking notice. In spite of this, we are reminded daily of the dangerous environment that we work in. Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) had the most serious stabbing attack of an officer in its history. At Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP), over 100 inmates attacked six officers and gunner staff shot five inmates with lethal force to quell the incident. While all survived, PBSP staff – both on the ground and in the control booths – had to make split-second decisions to overcome a massive assault. These life-changing events are clear reminders that, while we focus on historic reform, we must also continue to pay attention to our basic responsibility of maintaining security in our prisons.
The stigma of mental illness is as pervasive in our prisons as it is in our communities. In the macho prison environment, where weakness equals vulnerability, those with mental illness are among the most stereotyped by other inmates and, unfortunately, by some staff as well.
On May 1, 2017, the first phase of the historic Proposition 57 regulations will begin. On that date, all inmates, with the exception of the condemned and those serving life without parole, will begin earning good-conduct credit. Allowing inmates to earn credits towards parole suitability or earlier release gives them hope where previously they had none. The responsibility for earning credits is solidly placed on the individual inmate. The remaining phases of Proposition 57 will be implemented this summer. While there are many good reasons to make these changes, the most important to me is the enhancement to the safety of our staff and the citizens of California.
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.
I hope that you and your families all had a safe and happy holiday season. We should all be proud of the positive changes at CDCR that we created together last year. While still many challenges remain, the staff of this Department has stepped up in very many ways. I’m so appreciative of all the hard work and dedication that you all display every day.
I know there are a lot of questions and uncertainties about the November 8 election results, especially relating to Proposition 57 – The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016. This constitutional amendment was overwhelmingly approved by California voters and will have significant impacts. And while I can relate to feelings of apprehension when it comes to change, I do believe – as with so much of the change to the state’s criminal justice system in the last five years – we will work through it together and we will recognize the opportunities it creates. As a law enforcement agency, there is no place for political rhetoric or displays within our prisons or anywhere in our facilities and we must maintain our professionalism.
I received a very positive response from staff regarding my last Secretary’s message and the story about my mother. I truly hope that through these articles I can share with you what I believe are important stories that many staff members can relate to and may help as you continue to provide dedicated service to CDCR. While this story is much darker, it is intended to bring attention to the difficult environment many of us work in and how it can impact our lives.
Secretary Scott Kernan recounts a story of his mother, who was the first female captain at San Quentin, and the importance of communication and de-escalation to achieve non-violent results in the prison system and beyond.
I have described in previous articles and speeches my goal to change the culture of our prisons. I hope you have not taken my desire to professionalize our organization to mean that I fully accept (or completely deny) the inmates and critics who perceive systemic corruption, bias, insensitivity and abuse.
I read your first Secretary’s message and received some comments about your “Hug-a-thug” mentality.