By Terry Thornton, Deputy Press Secretary
CDCR Office of Public and Employee Communications
Photos by Lorie Shelley, Senate Rules Photography
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Scott Kernan was commended for his 35 years of dedicated service by the California Legislature on Thursday.
California Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins and Senators Jim Nielsen and Richard Pan presented Kernan, who is retiring as Secretary of CDCR on Aug. 31, with a resolution praising his career accomplishments and unparalleled leadership.
“Working with the women and men of this department to accomplish something special and unique throughout the corrections profession makes me proud,” Kernan said. “I enjoyed working with the dedicated people of this organization and taking on challenges. It’s what has driven me these last 35 years.”
During his 11 years in executive management, Kernan visited every state prison and juvenile correctional facility, nearly all of the state’s conservation camps, and numerous parole and community programs.
As Secretary, Kernan led a department of 65,000 employees with a $12 billion annual budget that oversaw an average of 130,000 inmates and 45,000 parolees. Since his Dec. 28, 2015, appointment as secretary, CDCR, under Kernan’s leadership, has restructured how people are incarcerated in order to reduce recidivism and avoid court-ordered releases, invested in its employees through training and wellness programs, and improved staff, prison and community safety.
“We have worked together to make a real difference to staff, the individuals in our care and public safety,” Kernan said.
The 2016 voter-approved initiative Proposition 57 was implemented during Kernan’s tenure. Kernan worked with legislators, law enforcement agencies and associations, members of the public, victim rights advocates, and other stakeholders. Proposition 57 increases programming opportunities for inmates, incentivizes their positive behavior and enables them to earn credit off their sentences by meaningfully participating in academic and career education and rehabilitation.
“Our intent was to help incarcerated people become better people,” Kernan said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
People who are serving life without parole and those who are no longer determined to be violent offenders have increased programming opportunities as well. And CDCR has also created non-designated programming facilities that allow inmates who are not disruptive to engage in positive programming, and expanded reentry facilities that prepare incarcerated people to return home.
During Secretary Kernan’s tenure, CDCR has increased funding for rehabilitation, piloted the use of technology to deliver educational programs more cost effectively, developed new regulations for overnight family visiting and shaped a new process that allows CDCR to refer inmates to the court for potential resentencing based on their exceptional conduct and to correct their sentence discrepancies.
His drive to give inmates tools to prepare them to live law-abiding productive lives extended to offenders on parole supervision as well. His leadership influenced all facets of the Division of Adult Parole Operation’s (DAPO) community supervision, not only operationally, but also from a place of care and compassion. Under his leadership, DAPO refined its supervision models, provided staff with mobile casework management devices to more efficiently provide effective rehabilitative serves and introduced a multi-phased case management program to transition mentally-ill parolees to community-based services for assistance after parole.
Throughout his career, Kernan supported the people who work for CDCR. Under his leadership as secretary, CDCR implemented the Executive Leadership Institute, a training program to prepare executives to be decisive, effective, visionary leaders. Through its partnership with California State University, Chico, 180 executives from all CDCR and California Correctional Health Care Services divisions have completed the four-week course designed to strengthen their leadership skills and apply the principles of planning, research and evaluation to foster organizational transformation. Another 125 executives will attend during this fiscal year.
Kernan guided the development of CDCR’s succession planning, something that had never been done before he became secretary. Since the Succession Management Program’s inception in February 2017, hundreds of executives are being prepared to steer the department into the future and ensure organizational leadership continuity.
CDCR also partnered with California State University, Sacramento (CSUS), to implement Leadership 101, training that focuses on developing and enhancing the skills and leadership proficiencies of supervisors. More than 400 first- and second-line supervisors have taken the two-week course; another 300 will be attending this fiscal year. DAPO also partnered with CSUS to create a new nationally recognized curriculum for parole agents and the parole agent academy was redesigned into a social services model that focuses on case management, cultural competencies, motivational interviewing, family systems approaches, chemical dependency referrals and correctional fatigue.
Under Kernan’s influence, other leadership training programs were developed and provided. Kernan made it a point to visit almost every class, including ELI, Leadership 101, the Lieutenants Academy, and other training programs.
And a variety of employee wellness services have been expanded to include law enforcement chaplaincy services, wellness training and peer support services.
Under Kernan’s leadership, CDCR has improved safety by reforming the way gangs are managed and housed, increased funding to expand drug interdiction efforts, expanded the K-9 program, and piloted a video surveillance program to improve staff safety.
“One of the aspects of this job I am most proud of is our tenacity to take on the challenging problems inherent in incarceration – gangs, culture, population, courts, drugs, suicide, staff training and wellness, and the provision of hope to inmates in an entrenched and politically polarizing system,” Kernan said.
Years of work reforming the state’s juvenile justice system culminated in the termination of a lawsuit against CDCR’s Division of Juvenile Justice during Kernan’s tenure as secretary.
“DJJ transformed itself into a national leader run by employees and administrators who believe in rehabilitation,” Kernan said.
Under Kernan’s leadership, DJJ has built on those reforms and continues to provide youth the education and treatment vital to their rehabilitation.
CDCR also received funds to improve prison infrastructure, drug interdiction programs, staffing and medical and mental health treatment for offenders.
Kernan gained improvements with how CDCR collaborates with its stakeholders that has resulted in safer communities. There is now a court-order process for detecting and shutting off contraband cell phones. Judges have video arraignment capability to conduct hearings remotely instead of transporting inmates to hearings. This cuts costs and improves safety. And probation officials can interview inmates before they are released from state prison to be supervised by counties allowing for better communication and planning. As Chair of the Council on Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health, Kernan also increased collaboration with county mental and behavioral health organizations.
Kernan worked with his management team to continue to reform correctional health care. CDCR now controls health care operations in 18 institutions and continues to work toward having all of prison health care transitioned from the federal receiver back to the state.
“I have leaned heavily on our management team to improve our system and leave a very capable and dedicated leadership team to continue our progress,” Kernan said.
Kernan began his career at CDCR in 1983 as a correctional officer at San Quentin State Prison and promoted to correctional sergeant in 1985, associated budget analyst in 1986, correctional lieutenant in 1987 and correctional captain in 1991. He served as a correctional administrator from 2000 to 2001 and chief deputy warden from 2001 to 2003. He became warden at Mule Creek State Prison in 2003 and warden of California State Prison-Sacramento in 2004.
Kernan became deputy director of adult institutions in 2006, chief deputy secretary of adult operations in 2007 and undersecretary for operations from 2008 to 2011.
He served in the U.S. Navy from 1979 to 1982.