Briefing memo From Tom Hayden

Another cycle of “reform” of California’s prisons and youth facilities is expected this year. It is important, this time, to get it right. Too many young lives are at stake for yet another failure. I served in the Senate, and the investigating committees, when “reform” was tackled five years ago. But it all turned out to be an exercise in illusion. As a Dec. 28, 2003 article by two veteran Times prison reporters, headlined “Despite State Promises, Reform Eludes Prisons”, recounts the failure [1]

“Five years ago, after prison scandals gripped California with tales of guards setting Up inmates in human cockfights and then shooting them dead, the state Department of Corrections vowed to change its ways.

“Whistle-blowers would be protected, not punished. Internal investigators would be encouraged to pursue abusive guards. And the correctional officers union no longerwould have a hand in dictating policy.

“That day never came, interviews and documents show.” On the other hand, public opinion is on the side of reform like never before. A statewide multilingual poll reveals these encouraging public attitudes[2]

Question: Which is better: spending money to send young people who commit a crime to prison or spending money on rehabilitation and crime prevention programs for young people?

Rehabilitation/prevention prison

Whites 74% 13%
Latinos 86% 9%
African Americans 82% 11%
Asian/Middle Eastern 82% 12%
Native American 77% 12%

This report is intended as a window on the Sacramento decision-making process for grass-roots advocates of prison reform in their effort to turn this favorable public opinion into effective pressure. It is the first in a series. This initial analysis consists of (1) a brief summary of the reports of the Special Master on the Department of Corrections, with emphasis on reforms at stake, and (2) the new budget analysis by the Legislative Analyst’s Office to the California legislature’s budget subcommittees, again with emphasis on specific reforms and recommendations.

The Special Master’s Report on the Code of Silence

The root cause of the prison crisis lies in the organizational culture of the prison system that is able to resist oversight and reforms from above. The Special Master’s draft of Jan. 15, 2004, concludes as follows:

“Rather than CDC staff correcting the prisoners, some correctional officers acquire
a prisoner’s mentality: they form gangs, align with gangs, and spread the code of
silence. The code of silence is taught to new recruits because of a longstanding CDC
culture; thereafter, good officers turn bad.”[3] <#_ftn3>

Despite a “miserable compliance record”[4] <#_ftn4> , the Special Master proposes giving the state one “final opportunity” to address these failures with an “adequate and comprehensive program”. A “master plan”, otherwise referred to as a “remedial plan” is proposed, including the following:

1) Official acknowledgement of the scope and severity of the problem, including the code of silence.
2) Clarification of mission.
3) Consideration of combining, eliminating and contracting out certain functions, with timelines.
4) A formal structure to enhance credibility in terms of outside evaluation of the investigation/review process. “In essence, public confidence must be restored that the State of California, and not special interests, are in clear control of CDC investigations and employee discipline.”[5]
5) Establish a “specific and rigorous firewall between the CCPOA and the CDC’s investigation and discipline process at both the institution and Central Office level”, with sanctions.
6) Mandatory training re the code of silence.


These proposals should be codified by the Legislature, and future funding made contingent on their implementation. Otherwise, these compliance issues are scheduled to be taken up in March, 2004 in the federal courtroom of Thelton E. Henderson.

“Cages as Classrooms”: Dec. 2003 Review of Education Failures in the California Youth Authority (report by Dr. Thomas O”Rourke and Dr. Robert Gordon.

Prepared by two Georgia experts for the Attorney General, this report has been highlighted in the media because of the widespread use of cages to contain CYA wards receiving educational classes and services. Prison authorities subsequently have taken steps to reduce the use of such cages. But the report’s full findings have received little attention otherwise.

Starting with the cages (answer #11, p. 44), the report cautiously finds that “it is doubtful that [the cage’s] widespread use is the only appropriate behavior intervention available.” At Chaderjian and Egan, wards were observed being instructed only with work sheets. “Textbooks are not allowed in the cage. Academic instruction was observed to be unrelated to the core curriculum content…At sites where cages are located in open areas near the cells of locked-down wards…the high noise level of other wards was distracting and disruptive of the educational program.” The experts’ recommendations regarding the cages was that

“more emphasis should be placed on prevention, early and accurate identification of
behavioral problems and effective interventions, using research-based behavior
management models.” [further that] if the CYA continues use of the cages,
differentiated staffing and/or the construction of more cages will be required to meet
the requirement of 240 minutes per day of educational programming per ward.”(p. 45)


Elimination of cages-as-classrooms as cruel and unusual punishment contrary to the educational requirements of state law and purposes of the Youth Authority.Among the report’s other recommendations, the most important is the answer to Inquiry #10: “Is the CYA providing adequate education to wards in restricted programs?”. The report concludes that the CYA consistently fails to provide a 240-minute instructional day as require by law:

“CYA policies require that in situations such as extended lockdowns, wards are to be
provided one hour of formal academic instruction and three hours of ‘independent
study’ materials…Since general education and special education wards in lockdown
at these facilities have limited access to books and writing instruments, they fail to
meet this standard.” (p. 36)

The experts discovered that wards sentenced as parole violators at one facility were not allowed to attend school at all. At another, wards were not allowed to have books or pencils in their cells. In response to such widespread abuses, the report recommends:

A) Individualized instruction based on the core curriculum for wards on lockdown.
B) Quality instructional materials for those on lockdown to guarantee access to a curriculum comparable to wards enrolled in the regular high school program.
C) Recruiting of more teachers with a competitive salary scale, plus consideration of filling vacancies with emergency-credentialed teachers. Adjust funding formulas to provide enough teachers and classes for all school-eligible wards.
D) Reverse present emphasis on placement of wards in most restrictive environments as incompatible with learning.


Full implementation of reforms to ensure maximum educational offerings to all wards in least-restrictive learning environments, adjustment of budget formulas to assure qualified teachers and materials. Strict guidelines for compliance.

Official Overdose and the Mental Health Crisis: Report of Findings of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Services to Youth in California Youth Authority Facilities, Dec. 2003, by Eric. W. Trupin, PhD., and Raymond Patterson, M.D.

Also a response to inquiries from the Attorney General’s office, this report makes less specific findings but describes a system of negligence towards deteriorating mental health problems, including the rampant over-prescribing of drugs for purposes of control and punishment. It concludes that “the over use of chemical restraints continues to be a major concern, particularly when administered to youth who are not presenting a threat to staff or other youth and are being non-compliant.” (p. 7) Citing other experts, the report finds that most facilities feel like correctional facilities with some limited mental health backup, instead of environments that are “secure by more therapeutic than correctional in structure.” (p. 11) The “punishment model” is strongly indicted in passages such as this:

“Very little emphasis was placed on a youth’s skill enhancement or their incorporation
of self-regulation or distress tolerance strategies. These punitive techniques occurred
despite there being clear evidence, in several instances, of a youth in considerable
emotional distress, with a history of similar patterns of behavior, and no evidence
that this punitive strategy brought about a desired change in a youth’s behavior.” (p. 11)

“The use of the SPAS and OC spray appear to be excessive and ineffective…The
frequent use of the SMP, SPAs and OC spray as punishment exacerbates symptoms
of mental illness. This is especially true among the approximately 65% of CYA
youths who have serious symptoms of mental illness.” (p. 12)

The report recommends a virtual overhaul of the philosophy and resources focused on the mental health needs of wards, including:

1) The need for proper prescription and administering of psychotropic medications.
2) A lack of psychiatrists with specialized training prevails.
3) An inadequate supply of substance abuse beds through the system.
4) A lack of rehabilitative programs even for youths ordered to participate in them by the parole board.


Legislative policy and budget committees must prohibit harsh or punitive policies and practices which exacerbate the mental health problems of a majority of wards, and ensure that professional counseling and treatment services are available. Decisions on the use of psychotropic medications must be placed in the hands of professionals under strict health criteria. If necessary, certain counseling and treatment services should be contracted out to independent professionals with a proven record of addressing the mental health needs of at-risk youth.

The Legislative Analyst’s 2004-2005 report on California’s Judiciary and Criminal Justice Systems:

Overview. The report identifies $400 million in unspecified cuts to the correctional system in the Governor’s January budget, and warns that looming deadlines will make it difficult for the legislature and public to follow the final budget compromises which will be necessary after the May Revise (the Governor’s revised budget after updated analysis of budget trends). In general, the Governor’s budget proposes that ten percent of all General Fund spending, or $7.6 billion, go to judiciary and criminal justice programs. Those numbers have increased at a seven percent annual rate since 1997-98. (pp. D-7,8) Nevertheless, major reductions are proposed for the Youth Authority and Department of Corrections, with facilities being closed while others are opened, and there continues to be an absence of any new programs for the 10,000 nonviolent inmates expected to be released. (p. D-10)

The Times notes the conflict-of-interest involved in allowing prison authorities to control these projections. The Department (CDC), for example, has “reclassified thousands of low-risk inmates as high risk, a shift that is the basis for insisting that California taxpayers spend $700 million to build Delano II, a maximum security prison in the Central Valley that will cost more than $110 million to operate.” [6]


The policy and budget committees should demand an explanation for the redefinitions from “low” to “high” risk inmates, and consider an independent party to review such criteria. Until such questions are resolved, consideration of Delano II should be put on hold.

Treating more juveniles as adults. The Governor’s plan seeks to use the budget process to suggest policy changes in the age jurisdiction of the CDC and the transfer of juveniles to the adult prison system. Specifically, he proposes to achieve reductions by (1) lowering the age jurisdiction of the CYA from 25 years to 22 years, and (2) transferring more wards to the adult prison system. (p. D-76)


Any such policy changes should be debated in policy committees, not smuggled through the budget process.

The Youth Authority (CYA) is projected for $378.1 million, a 13 percent reduction from current year expenditures. (p. D-73). Under current state law, four CYA facilities will be closed by 2007 (Nellis, Ventura, the Northern California Reception Center, Mt. Bullion, and eight “accelerated living” units.) The ward population will decline from 10,000 in June 1996 to less than 5,000 currently.

Eighty percent of the CYA wards are youth of color (Latinos 49%, African Americans 30%, whites 16%, Asians and “others” 5%). (p. D-74).

Under the pretext of budget needs, the proposed changes continue a huge shift in emphasis away from rehabilitation at the CYA to the punishment of younger offenders by mingling them in the adult inmate population, despite the fact that youth-related violent offences are continuing to decline.


The State, through the legislature’s budget and policy committees, should begin to reverse the counter-productive policies which treat juveniles as adults for purposes of spending hard-time in the adult prison system. The CYA should be thoroughly reformed and restored as a center for rehabilitation, rather than transferring its toxic conditions to the equally-challenged adult prison system in the name of budgetary savings.

C. The Inspector General (IG) Controversy.

After significant adverse publicity, the Governor has withdrawn his original proposal to eliminate funding for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and weaken it further by placing it under the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency (YACA), which it is supposed to oversee. But the danger to the OIG, created as a result of the prison scandals five years ago, is bipartisan and long-term. From 2002-2004 to the present budget cycle, the Legislature and Davis administration slashed the OIG budget from $11 million to $2.8 at present. (p. D-19).

The Analyst’s report suggests strengthening the OIG in the following ways:

Making the OIG’s findings and recommendations stick. “There is no recommendation in state law for routinely holding the correctional system accountable for [even] addressing OIG’s findings.” (p. D-21) make summaries of investigative reports available to the public, using the framework of the California Whistleblower Protection Act. require annual or biennial reports to the legislature.
give the Inspector General a ten-year term.
create northern and southern offices.


The legislature should increase funding for the OIG, expand its independence and make it more accessible and accountable to the public. The alternative, which might be preferable, is a strengthened monitoring and inspection sytem imposed by the federal courts upon recommendation of the Special Master. The Analyst’s recommendations should be adopted as a whole. In addition, more secure whistleblower protections for CDC employees and an anonymous complaint/grievance system should be instituted for inmates.

Slashing federal TANF funds could reduce local probation services for youth. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program funds juvenile probation programs through the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA), administered by the prison authorities (CDC) at a $100 million current level. These programs sunset in October 2004, leaving a total $134 million hole in 2004-2005 funding for youth detained in juvenile halls, camps and ranches, and for probation services such as anger management counseling, family mentoring, and mental health assessments. (p. D-24) Los Angeles County would lose $68 million, including funds to contract with community-based organizations. Loss of the TANF block grants would result in public safety risks and increased General Fund costs from incarcerating youthful offenders.

The Analyst proposes instead to cut or suspend the Governor’s $100 million Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act Grant Program (JJCPA) and the $100 million funding of the Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS) program. The JJCPA program evaluation is expected this spring. The COPS program, according to the Analyst, “lacks a specific measurable statewide objective”, and represents less than one percent of local law enforcement expenditures statewide. (p.D-26). According to 2001-2002 data, 63 percent of COPS funds went to salaries and benefits, 19 percent to services and overhead, and 18 percent to equipment. In effect, California taxpayers are providing a hidden subsidy to local police expenditures, which are the third highest per capita in the nation. Elimination of COPS in its entirety, according to the Analyst, would have “a minimal effect, if any, on public safety.”(p. D-27).


Support the Analyst’s call for at least a delay in renewing the JJCPA and terminating the COPS funding, in order to continue the core probation services needed for juvenile offenders.

Eliminating the Office of Criminal Justice Planning. The 2003-2004 Budget Act required an interim plan to transfer and reorganize the OCCJP by March 2004. The interim plan proposed to transfer OCJP’s juvenile justice programs to the Board of Corrections (BOC), public safety and gang suppression programs to the Office of Emergency Services (OES), and victims’ services to OES as well.

The OCJP has long been considered an independent fiefdom of the Governor’s office for the promotion of crime-fighting programs. Nearly all the funding is federal, spread across 80-plus programs with little oversight. Much of it – for 21 of 86 programs - is expended for aggressive suppression measures. The most well-known OCJP programs promote crime victims rights and Neighborhood Watch. The Analyst notes that many of them have never been evaluated.

Transferring these programs to other agencies fails to address the issues of performance monitoring, oversight and whether their purposes are valid at all.

Why should “gang suppression” be transferred to the OES? Is its traditional role in managing catastrophes like earthquakes being replaced by a largely invisible role as lead state agency in the war on terrorism?

Although the Governor is required to report on OCJP reorganization by March 2004, his plan has been delayed until at least May 2004, which the Analyst notes “will not provide the Legislature with an adequate time for review.” (p. D-31).


The budget committee should withhold approval of funding for these programs until a thorough and public review of the Governor’s reorganization plan is made available. At the very least, strict criteria and performance review should apply to all expenditures. Where possible, the emphasis should be on violence prevention and intervention programs, not on federally-funded suppression programs that lack accountability. The juvenile justice programs should be restructured as independent, not placed under the control of the Board of Corrections.


There is a glaring disconnect between these programs and expenditures and the public’s overwhelming desire for more funding of rehabilitation and crime prevention programs for young people instead of sending them to prison.

As the Special Master emphasizes, compliance with past reforms has been “miserable.”

If the current scandals had not erupted into headlines, the Governor and legislature might have gone forward to erase the previous cycle of reform, which resulted in the Office of Inspector General, under the pretext of budget problems and administrative efficiency.

Similarly, the educational and mental health abuses in CYA have been documented and addressed by the Legislature before.

This is a crisis of governance, of democracy.

There can be no law and order when law enforcement, correctional officers, and prison authorities at the highest levels routinely circumvent the legislatively-established instruments of reform and accountability.

The threat of being taken into receivership by the federal courts, the continuing media exposure of scandal, and the rise of a public majority in favor of prevention strategies combine to make this another moment when real reform is possible.

It will take courageous legislative leadership, persistent editorials and investigative reporting, and an aroused grass-roots network to force a new beginning. Grassroots advocates need to make their opinions known at every point in the deliberative process this year.

Study this guide to the issues. Circulate it widely on the web. Use it to prepare leaflets, letters to the editor, public presentations and testimony. Hold your elected representatives accountable for answers and alternatives.



Action Committee for Women in Prison