Transcript: Q&A with Sen. Darrell Steinberg on the confirmation of CDCR Secretary Jeffery Beard

Partial transcript of Q&A with Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) on the confirmation of Jeffrey Beard for Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations. The hearing was held before the state Senate Rules Committee on June 19, 2013:

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
…Let’s talk about a couple of areas that kind of stand out to me, that are troubling to me. One in particular and that is the whole issue of rehabilitation. As you know – and I think you agree and you’ve said it in various public statement that, you know, the only way to really permanently deal with the overcrowding issue is to keep people out of the system in the first place. And we also recognize that the vast majority of inmates end up leaving because their sentences end, and they either become recidivists or they stay out and regain some form of productive life. And so a couple of years ago, the legislature – I think even before you got here – the legislature had a major concern about the fact that the department would take money that was designated for rehabilitation and suck it up as part of a deficiency to fund the custodial side of your operation, which we know is expensive but frankly – my view – was out of control. So we did the right thing as a legislature and we drew very strict lines around that rehabilitation money and said what needs to be spent on rehabilitation, job training, substance abuse, and other rehabilitation so that when these people leave, they’re less likely to be recidivists. So then we find this year that there is a $25 million surplus – surplus in rehabilitation program funding. And why is that? Did we over-budget this? Because we’re constantly arguing – sometimes with the administration – but certainly fighting for more money for rehabilitation. Is there a management problem here? I assume not every inmate is getting the programming around rehabilitation that they should. But this really stands out to me.

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
And Senator, I can give you several reasons for that and hope as we move forward, we don’t have those continuing problems. But this was the first year of the blueprint. We had some $355 million in federal and state money and some augmentations to spend. And we were starting programs up and when you start programs up, you run into a lot of complications. First of all, you have hiring issues. Sometimes you can’t find the right employees for the right institution. Sometimes just the hiring process itself –

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
Hiring who?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Hiring people – the teachers, the vocational instructors, the people that are going to provide the various programs in the institution. So the hiring process caused us some issues.

Sometimes you have to re-purpose space. So you have to do some construction in space to change it so it’s appropriate for the programming. That takes time and that can delay you.

And then a lot of the programming is also done under contracts and the contracting process can be rather lengthy and rather long at times. And I know, for instance, six of the contracts that we put out, we didn’t have anybody bid on the contracts. So those six right there we had to re-do. We had a couple of contracts that we had out there that we found that the vendors were not performing the service they should perform so we had to terminate those contracts appropriately so. We shouldn’t be paying money if we’re not getting what we’re paying for.

So there was a lot of reasons, and I don’t really mean to make excuses but there was a lot of reasons why when you’re starting something up in the first year, it’s very difficult to do everything that you would like to do.

I will say, however, on the other side, we have added some 8,500 treatment slots for education in the past year, and we have some 40 new vocational training programs – sorry, 41 new training programs in place. We also put in place 17 day reporting contracts for parolees, and we are very close to putting a bunch of contracts in place for our 13 re-entry centers. Those should be starting up by this fall and should be pretty close to full operation by this fall. We’re right now evaluating, I think, 70 proposals.

So I think what you’ll see is as we get into the second year of the blueprint, now that we’ve gone through a lot of that initial hardship of getting things started, I think you’ll see us doing a better job of expending the funds. And you can be assured that I’m going to be watching it every single month to make sure we don’t fall behind and we do expend those funds for that program.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
I appreciate that commitment, but what about specific benchmarks? What about specific numbers? You mentioned 8,500 slots – did you say for substance abuse?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
No, they were for education.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
…And so are you confident – and if so, why – those 8,500 slots are actually going to be filled? That the problem that the department or the agency had with hiring teachers, for example, has been remedied?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Well, I think it has. Last July, we had a 20% vacancy rate in our teachers and as of last month, we had a 4% vacancy rate. So it’s been substantially reduced. So the teachers are out there. They’re in place. The slots are out there. And now our challenge is to get the inmates into those programs and make sure those programs are full on a regular basis.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
…And of the 41 new programs, do you have benchmarks or timetables for when you hope to see them up and running and how many inmates will be enrolled in those programs?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
I can’t give you an answer of when all of those programs will be up and running. Some of them are already running today. But I can say at the end of the day, we will have a total of 6,500 slots for vocational training and the education – those additional 8,500 – takes us to almost 38,000 total slots in education.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
Including vocational education?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
No, just the 38,000 and the vocational it’s 6,500.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
That’s still less than half your inmate population, correct?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Well, that’s true. But what we want to do is try to get inmates that are getting closer to leaving to make sure they have the programming before they leave. You can’t do everybody, you know, at once, and it wouldn’t make sense to do that. And the second thing is we are focusing on those inmate who are at moderate or high-risk to re-offend because the research tells us that low-risk individuals are probably going to succeed no matter what we do with them. So if we have limited resources, we should focus on the moderate to high-risk individuals.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
That makes sense to me. But I want to be just clear in terms of your position here and I think this is to your benefit actually. As you communicate with your management team and as you go forward, the 8,500 slots, it’ll get you to 38,000 – should be filled by January of 2014. Correct?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Correct.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
The 41 programs which are vocational ed programs, that will get you to a total of 6,500 vocational ed slots. You can’t say here today when those will be up and running, correct?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
No, I can’t because sometimes we have difficulty hiring certain instructors at certain institution. So I would say the vast majority should be up and running by January but there may be some that wouldn’t be. And I’d be happy to come back in January and we can talk about that.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
…And these issues about untrained or inappropriate or not ready to participate vendors, that problem has been remedied?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Well, that has been remedied for those vendors that were problematic and, of course, we will continue to monitor our vendors and if somebody becomes problematic, we’ll deal with it as would be appropriate.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
But do you think you’ve weeded out the ones who shouldn’t have been awarded the contracts in the first place?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
I think so, from what the staff has told me, yes.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
And what about this re-purposing of space, which I know is an issue when you’re trying to provide vocational education, for example, and maybe need classroom space. Are those challenges – have they been remedied?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
I think most of them have. But again, I can’t say that every single one has. I would say again the majority probably have…

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
…When you testified in 2009, had California passed its Realignment law?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
No.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
And when you became Director of this agency, had the legislature pass the Realignment law?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Yes.

[On CDCR’s plan to lift the federal oversight of California’s prisons]

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
The answer is we have a plan.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
They have a plan that they’re presenting to the legislature that they are, let’s just say, ambivalent or neutral on whether or not we actually pass it or not. Because the Governor – rightfully in my view – is appealing the three-judge panel order to the United States Supreme Court. But the administration is complying as they must with the current order by suggesting a series of statutes to us that we’re not going to pass. And that’s just between all of us. [Laughter] That’s the answer to the question.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
…The blueprint which you referenced earlier with regard to rehabilitation also establish minimum staffing levels for correctional officers in the prisons. And as I understand it, those minimum staffing levels are not being met in a number of the prisons. Is that true, and if so, what are you doing to remedy that?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
…I guess we’re having two challenges. Number one, despite the fact that we just recently downsized, we have some shortages and part of the reason for that is number one, some of the parole officers who were going to lose their parole officer jobs that we thought would come over and be correctional officers didn’t come over. So we didn’t get as many as we thought. The second thing is we’re facing a higher attrition rate, and we’re up to about 160 a month that we’d lose. And part of the reason for that is about 20 some years ago is when a bunch of prisons were built and people came on and so now they’re coming to the end of their careers. So those things have created some challenges statewide, and we’re ramping up our academy to get more people trained. And more specifically, we have some institutions – like up in High Desert, CCC, and up in Pelican Bay – where we do have some recruitment difficulties at those institutions. We do have a difficult time getting enough staff to work there.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
So do you have in your mind a comfortable, effective plan to address these recruitment and retention problems that you just described?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
I think we do. I think we do because we’re going to be hiring more people and we’re looking at doing what we can to help those institutions I mentioned. So it’s still something we’re working on. I think we’re heading in the right direction there.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
How many, just for the record, total vacancies when it comes to correctional officers do you have?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
I would have to get back to you on that.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
And like the rehabilitation benchmarks that you described earlier, can we expect with whatever you’re trying to do – I know it’s a difficult challenge – can we expect by Jan. 1, 2014 that there’s going to be a significant reduction in the number of vacancies?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
I can’t say that with as much assurance because it does take time to ramp up the academy. So what I’ll have to do is find out exactly what the shortages are and again we’ll get back to you with some benchmarks that we feel we can meet.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
…There’s a lot of talk about mental health in the prisons. And you are a psychologist as you said and spoke to Sen. Fuller’s question about the pride in the improvement in the mental health system. But there’s something I don’t understand. You talk about corrections and you talk about mental health – it’s about suicides – it’s a very serious problem – and the other thing is the number of beds for those who are the most seriously mentally ill who cannot be in the main line prison population. I get that. But what is corrections doing to try to adopt the very successful approaches that are used outside the prison for those who may not be the most seriously mentally ill but have mental health problems that are going to affect their ability to succeed on the outside. Full-service partnerships, wraparound services, therapy for inmates who need it. That whole approach to not just mental illness but mental health itself. Is there anything that maybe just doesn’t get reported or that we don’t know about that is engaging the mental health issue in a way other than beds for the most seriously mentally ill or watching those in isolation more so that they’re not committing suicide?

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
Yes. We’re doing a lot more than just that. I mean, I think the beds issue and the suicide issue come up because they’ve been an issue for so long because the suicide rate’s been higher than what we would like, because we’ve had waiting lists to go to some of those higher level beds so I think those come up as issues. But we have other inmates who don’t rise to that level – who are like the Enhanced Outpatient people, the triple-CMS people – and we are offering programming to them. And in fact the EOP – the Enhanced Outpatient people – they have their own areas, their own programs that they go to. They’re required to have so many hours a week and we monitor that they’re getting those hours. So we are doing other things within the prison system. I think from what I can see California is doing more than many of the other states are for the mentally ill.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento):
More than Nevada? I’m just saying…

CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Beard:
We’re not putting them on buses. But we are doing a better job there. One of the areas that we need to continue to work on is re-entry as they get out…to get the wraparound services that you talk about. And I was glad to see in this budget that there’s additional money for mental health in the community because I believe [overlapping audio]…because that’s going to stop them from coming to prison in the first place.

Darrell Steinberg:
I feel the same way about Secretary Beard in the way as I feel about Secretary Cate. If I were judging the nomination strictly on whether or not corrections is doing everything we wanted it do, I’d probably vote no because it’s a complicated, difficult assignment. But I am voting on who is the best person to lead the agency that is now subject to this parallel governance with the receiver and the administration, and I think this Secretary is more than qualified. I understand the issues that Sen. Fuller raised – fair issues about the juxtaposition between 2009 and 2013. I do think in fairness, as I pointed out with the Secretary, that that was prior to Realignment and Realignment, of course, resulted in a huge reduction in the prison population.

And it makes me want to make one editorial comment…it just seems to us as policymakers that we have to distinguish between the policy and the person. Because on the policy, I understand the criticism about Realignment, and I disagree with it but it’s a fair criticism. I just think that as policymakers we have to decide what we want and make some choices. Because in my view, we either must embrace Realignment or crowd the prisons in violation of the court order or severely reduce sentences, which I don’t think many people want to do, or fourth build more prisons.

That’s not Secretary Beard’s policy call; that’s our policy call. And it seems to me that we have made the decision to realign. It hasn’t negated the receiver or the pressures from the courts but it at least is progress. And it’s up to us to give direction to this gentlemen here as to which of these four options we choose.

I choose to continue the imperfect path of Realignment because I don’t want to spend taxpayer money to build more prisons; I don’t want to severely reduce sentences; and I don’t think we constitutionally can, with the existing facilities that we have, re-crowd the prisons. I think this man’s qualified to do the job and we ought to confirm him.

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