Q. What do you see in store for CDCR staff?
A. I see an evolving role for all CDCR staff in a fast changing criminal justice system. The expectation of staff to singularly keep an inmate, ward, or parolee behind bars is evolving to an expectation that all staff be professional role models and participate in the rehabilitation process. We have to understand the incredibly difficult environment that staff work under each day and give them the training and tools to protect public safety, emotionally survive themselves, while also changing the lives of the inmates under our charge. That is public safety at its core.
We cannot tolerate abuse or bias towards inmates just as we can’t tolerate abuse, violence, and bias from inmates against other inmates or staff. I have difficulty accepting when our critics paint us with a broad brush of being insensitive, biased, racist, and abusive. But I also challenge us to not paint the same broad brush toward inmates. I know that a vast majority of staff come to work each day and do the right thing. We have to figure out how to continue to evolve our profession and help an inmate who will ultimately be our neighbor.
Q. What challenges are there in managing inmates after all the population reduction measures?
A. The monumental shift in criminal justice practices in the last five years has greatly impacted our population demographics. We have a tougher inmate with greater supervision needs and more complex challenges that require response if we are going to protect public safely. No matter that complexity, 90 percent plus of inmates complete their sentence and are released to our communities.
Our challenge is to address the individual inmate’s criminal thinking and give them the skills to not perpetuate their criminality and create more victims. If we did that 20, 30, 90 percent of the time, think of the victims we would save, the money California taxpayers would save, and the lives we would change.
Q. How do you see CDCR’s rehabilitation efforts working – both inside and outside the walls?
A. Inside, we rebounded from significant cuts in our in-prison educational and Career Technical Education programs. We hired teachers and vocational instructors, updated curriculum, invested in learning technologies, and expanded college education programs throughout the system. Our Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) expanded cooperative agreements with the private sector and implemented a number of cutting-edge programs that are both profitable and rehabilitative.
I will see that we build on the improvements and expand these programs. The evidence clearly shows that an inmate with an education, CTE certificate, or experience in a field that is transferable to the private sector is more successful.
Outside, CDCR is taking a larger role in coordinating with federal, state and local agencies to supervise and program offenders to prepare them for transition to society. We are building on our existing collaboration with agencies and developing new partnerships. I see the partnerships addressing housing and employment needs, access to medical and mental health care, transitional services for long-term offenders, and re-entry services for offenders preparing for release.
Q. What can CDCR do to further reduce recidivism?
A. The public and private sectors are implementing promising and innovative programs that are evidence based and creating results in reducing recidivism. CDCR is tapping into these resources. I am open to innovative and creative ways to impact our inmate population positively. We will once again strive to be a national leader in the corrections industry by being open to change, listening to what works, and shaping corrections policy.
Q. You have an extensive background with the agency. How do you see that helping you do your job?
A. I spent nearly 30 years in CDCR and worked from a Correctional Officer to my current appointment as Secretary. I remember living with my mom at San Quentin as she pioneered the female role in a previously male-dominated system. She influenced my great love for corrections and all the employees that are dedicated to the department. I made plenty of mistakes in my career and learned from them all.
I am humbled to be appointed to this leadership position and strive every day to improve our organization. I’m extremely proud of the work we do and understand that we must continue to evolve and expand our strategies to improve prison operations and public safety. I am positive about the future and our contribution to the larger criminal justice system.