CDCR officials outline rehabilitation efforts
By Dana Simas, CDCR Public Information Officer
Millicent Tidwell was appointed director of CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs in November 2013 where she had served as acting director since early 2013. Tidwell held multiple positions at the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs from 2005 to 2013, including acting deputy director of the Licensing and Certification Division and deputy director of the Office of Criminal Justice Collaboration. She served as chief of the California Department of Corrections Mentally Ill Offender Services from 2000 to 2005 and was a public safety policy analyst in the Office of Governor Gray Davis from 1999 to 2000. Tidwell was an attorney in private practice from 1997 to 1999. She earned a Juris Doctor degree from the Lincoln Law School of Sacramento.
Question: When you took the Director of the Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP) position what was your top priority?
Tidwell: Well there were many, but my top priority was to finish implementation of the Blueprint*. We were ramping up rehabilitative programs all over the state when I took this position, but it is now my job to make sure we see them through.
(*The Blueprint is the 2012 plan created by CDCR to cut billions in spending, meet constitutional standards ordered by various courts for inmate medical, mental health and dental care, and improve prison and parole operations. You may view the plan here: https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/2012plan/)
Question: So far, what’s your biggest accomplishment as Director?
Tidwell: I would have to say bringing together a really good team of people to work on these programs and being able to fill key management leadership positions here in DRP. Rodger Meier and I have, as a management team, brought on some strong team members. We were able to bring in a new superintendent and a deputy superintendent to really build up our correctional education component. It’s something that has been lacking focus for a very long time and so I am really proud of the work they are doing to pull our schools together.
Tidwell: I would ask how much money is too much money to increase public safety and reduce victimization? Compared to how much we spend on incarceration, are we really spending too much? I would answer no.
Question: In turn, what would you say to those who think we don’t spend enough?
Tidwell: I would say that building programs from the ground up requires pace and some patience because building effective and meaningful programs takes time and effort. You can’t just throw money at a problem to make it go away. You really have to have a concerted effort and thoughtfulness to what you put in place.
Question: Thus far, how has DRP been able to meet program capacity and enrollment goals?
Tidwell: We have been working tirelessly with the Office of Business Services. They should really take some of the credit for the successes because that group of people has worked really hard under unrealistic time frames and high expectations and the sheer volume of work. We have had a great team of people to make it happen and we are just getting started. We haven’t met all of our programming goals but we have met the ones we have set so far and we are looking forward to continued success as we build bridges between our different areas.
Question: What is the biggest long-term challenge?
Tidwell: We have big cultural changes to make as a community. People need to realize that today’s inmate is tomorrow’s neighbor and it benefits society as a whole when we provide opportunities to offenders.
Question: Any anecdotes of success?
Tidwell: We come into contact with people routinely who have benefited in some way through an inspiring change that’s taking place on a daily basis. We have ex-offenders who come and speak with our stakeholder groups, all-staff meetings, etc., so the public can be informed of people who are making true changes, not just those who are committing new crimes. A lot of them have very touching stories about how they’ve made changes to their lives in prison.
I’ve also received several emails from officers in the field who have said “thank you” for these programs because the yard is quieter, more peaceful and a better place to work without the stress levels they’ve had in the past. I’ve found these stories equally as inspiring.
Rodger Meier is the deputy director of CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs, where he has served as acting deputy director since 2013. Deputy Director Meier was special assistant to the executive officer at the California Board of Parole Hearings from 2009 to 2013 and a classification and parole representative at CDCR’s California Out-of-State Correctional Facilities from 2006 to 2009. He served as a correctional counselor at the CDCR Classification Services Unit from 2002 to 2006 and at the High Desert State Prison from 1998 to 2002. Deputy Director Meier also served as a correctional officer at California State Prison, Sacramento from 1986 to 1998 and a staff sergeant in the California Army National Guard, 270th Military Police Company from 1981 to 1993.
Question: In your perspective, how far has CDCR come in rehabilitating offenders?
Rodger Meier: Not close enough. CDCR as a department has changed its focus to rehabilitation, lawmakers have changed their focus to rehabilitation, but when you get down to the actual folks on the line you have many pockets of excellence and you have places that are still resistant. The “cuff em and feed em” mentality has to change.
Question: What do you think is the biggest challenge in making that shift happen?
Meier: Time! It is hard to change something that has been engrained for decades, if not centuries, to get them to look at this differently. If all we do is lock inmates up every day and don’t let them out to do anything, they will have the same thoughts over and over again. You’ve got to get them to do something different if we want to expect them to act differently when they leave.
Question: I’ve heard DRP and the Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) have been engaging with each other at an unprecedented level to bring in programs. What’s changed?
Meier: Yes, we have. Since Millicent has taken over we have made it a priority to develop those relationships not only with DAPO, but with the Division of Adult Institutions (DAI). The connection to those two divisions is what makes the programs successful. We can put up programs all day long, but if nobody goes to them, what’s the use in having them? Building these partnerships is making these programs more successful. Due to increased partnerships between DRP and DAPO, our parolee programs went from a 40 percent enrollment rate to a 93 percent enrollment rate. Both directors are developing that partnership and providing tools to the parole agents so they know what programs are available for their parolees.
Question: How do you motivate inmates to respond to rehabilitation goals?
Meier: Some inmates are resistant, but once they are in the program, they realize how much they actually needed it. One female inmate felt she didn’t need to be in the substance abuse treatment program. She was kicking and screaming. She had a long history of drug abuse but she didn’t feel like she was addicted. After being in the program for about two weeks she said, “this is the best thing for me.” Many of the other inmates have been waiting for these programs to come and are just happy they are here now because they really wanted to make a change.
Learn more about rehabilitation at https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/rehabilitation/index.html.