Transcript: Testimony by Renee Hansen on CDCR’s proposed Secure Housing Unit reforms before the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013

Transcript of testimony by Renee Hansen, Executive Director of the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board, on CDCR’s proposed Secure Housing Unit reforms before the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety on Feb. 25, 2013:

…The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation currently houses 5,000 inmates in Security Housing Units in 5 institutions. Those are Corcoran State Prison, Pelican Bay State Prison, California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, California State Prison Sacramento, and California Institution. Well over 2,400 of those inmates are serving indeterminate SHU terms.

So I’m going to describe the current criteria for a SHU placement and…the department’s pilot program relating to indeterminate SHU terms.

So currently, California regulations Title 15, which covers Secure Housing Units…for inmates whose conduct is dangerous to the safety of others or the security of the institution…

Inmates may be placed in a Secure Housing Unit by either a determinate or indeterminate term.

Inmates sentenced to a determinate term in the SHU are those who have been found guilty through a formal disciplinary process to have committed one or more serious offense, ranging from murder, which has a 5-year term, to threatening institution security, which has a 6-month term.

Indeterminate Security Housing Unit terms are given to validated prison gang members and associates who are deemed severe threat to the safety of others…Validated prison gang member or associate shall be considered for release from SHU after the inmate is verified as a gang drop-out through a debriefing process. Inmates categorized as inactive or validated as a drop-out who are placed in the general population may be returned to segregation based upon one reliable source either identifying the inmate as a currently active gang member or associate of a prison gang…

So in 2011, September of 2011, as a result of a pending re-initiation of inmate hunger strikes, the OIG was authorized by the Senate to review and inspect CDCR’s response to the inmate hunger strike occurring between July 1 and July 20, 2011. It was requested that we put out an expedited report as there was another expected hunger strike to be initiated on September of 2011.

During the event, inmates at the Pelican Bay State Prison led other inmates from across the state in a mass hunger strike to protest the conditions of the Security Housing Unit confinement.

On July 1, 2011, approximately 5,300 inmates at 9 institutions began refusing meals and the number of inmates peaked to more than 6,500 a few days later. The number of inmates participate [sic] gradually decreased until the strike concluded on July 20th.

On Sept. 26, 2011, PBSP inmates re-initiated the hunger strike but it ended right around the time we released our report, which was in October of 2011.

There were 5 major issues that inmate leaders published that they wanted addressed.

They wanted individual accountability rather than group punishment, indefinite SHU terms and restricted privileges.

They wanted to abolish the debriefing policy and modify active-inactive gang status criteria.

And they wanted the department to comply with the U.S. Commission’s 2006 recommendations regarding the end to long-term solitary confinement, warm adequate food, and they wanted…constructive program and privileges for indefinite SHU status inmates.

So the department and the Office of the Inspector General connected…and it was clear from the interviews we conducted that the inmates may have based upon their concerns that CDCR’s review – CDCR’s review…for the gang validation process.

…We found that the department’s working group was indeed an encouraging start in the effort to address the inmates’ primary concerns regarding SHU policies and validation processes.

We found that the department had made good faith efforts to provide privileges promised at the July hunger strike.

We found that the CDCR’s ombudsman’s office and ourselves reviewed food services and found that it was in compliance with food service requirements.

While there’s no specific instance of retaliation that we can substantiate, there was limited statistical evidence to suggest that there was an increase in the enforcement of rules violation report disciplinary by Pelican Bay State Prison after the July hunger strike for gang violations. The post-hunger strike rules violations were examined and it apparently legitimately justify the increase in enforcement immediately after the first hunger strike indicated that inmates were being treated differently.

Fifth, we found that the hunger strike policies prior to July 2011 were inconsistent at best throughout CDCR, and as a result of the July 2011 hunger strike the department has made progress in establishing policies for medical services and other procedures to be followed statewide relative to hunger strikes.

We made several recommendations. One was that the department should continue to develop and implement consistent policies for dealing with statewide hunger strikes.

The department should continue good faith efforts to work towards new step-down processes for SHU inmates, which they already have, and a system that better defines in ways necessary reforms in the validation process.

We recommended that the department continue their working group to review validation and debriefing policies, which they did, and to review SHU inmate programming, criteria for SHU placement, retention of inmates in the SHU and improvement in inmate’s due process protections in relations to gang validation and SHU process.

There were a couple of other findings one of which was that the Office of the Inspector General itself should continue to monitor the implementation and review of these policies. So what the Office of the Inspector General did was we embedded one of our own inspectors-general into the process to monitor real-time at the department, reviewed one year process, gang validation and other procedures.

So as I started out saying, the department implemented a two-year pilot project in October of 2012.

Last year in July when the legislature approved the blueprint – CDCR’s blueprint which included language related to Security Housing and prison-based gang members – they added language to the penal code regarding the Office of the Inspector General. What they did was they directed us to – the legislature directed the Office of the Inspector General to peer review the delivery of the reforms identified in the blueprint, including the department’s establishment of and adherence to their prison gang management system, including changes to the department’s current policies for identifying prison gang members and associates and the use…associated with the department’s Security Housing Units. That’s in penal code section 1626.

So in December and January, the Office of the Inspector General began his point in time review of the department’s process for implementing all 5 phases of the blueprint. The blueprint includes not only the Security Housing Unit language but also standardized staffing, rehabilitation, reforms, housing criteria, and a couple of other items.

We sent our monitors out into the institutions and as part of our review, we met with department staff. We visited each of the Secure Housing Units, and we reviewed the central files of validated affiliates.

Question: [incomprehensible audio]

Renee Hansen:
Yes, there was heads-up given to the warden that we would be going and doing our reviews but we did not tell them which inmate files we would be pulling and we did not tell them the exact date, just a date range. We didn’t tell them exactly what we were looking for either. But it’s laid out in the penal code what the legislature expects us to review and monitor.

…As I said, the pilot project just began in October so we don’t have a lot right now to review or report on other than the implementation and the origination and publication of the policies, which are in pilot form. So we’re just now getting that information back and we should have a draft report in the next couple of weeks that I’ll be glad to brief the committee on.

Question: With the rule violations, are there any new ones in the changes that are adopted?

Renee Hansen:
We did not hear any…issues or complaints related specifically to retaliatory RBR so we did not do a follow-up to those statistics.

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