Transcript: Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s Q&A with CDCR Directors Michael Stainer & Kelly Harrington at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

Partial transcript of Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s (D-Berkeley) Q&A with Michael Stainer, Director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions, Kelly Harrington, Deputy Director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions, and Inspector General Robert A. Barton at the joint legislative hearing on “Segregation Policies in California Prisons: Current Conditions and Implications on Prison Management and Human Rights” on Oct. 9, 2013:

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley):
I think what we’d be interested to know is not only the suicide rate and what its – I think it would be important to see it over time but also attempted.

On the fact sheet that’s in our packet on the SHU, on the first paragraph it states “the SHU is not designed nor intended as punishment for misbehavior.” But yet, it states that the SHU…it says that it’s designed to isolate people who would [threaten] the security of the prison and it’s not designed nor intended as punishment for misbehavior.

So I can imagine that there would be some appreciation that very violent – folks who are very violent while in prison might need to be segregated.

But then further, it says that you could be put in the SHU for drug trafficking, and I’m not defending that offense but it’s not described here as a violent offense. So I’m not sure why drug trafficking would, if it’s not designed or intended as punishment for misbehavior, why it then puts a person in SHU.

Or the issue on gangs. And if the gang member has committed a violent act in prison, under your guidelines it would seem to fit. But just being in the gang, which is as you’ve read this stats…there’s what 60% of the population is there due to being a gang member. And unless we see some data, they may not have committed any violence while they were in prison. [Audience applause]

So I’d like to see those numbers delineated and how the notion that it’s not used for punishment for misbehavior – how that correlates then to the use of putting known to be in gangs in SHU…

Michael Stainer, Director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
Well, real quick, with regard to the drug trafficking and… drugs are probably one of the biggest issues that we have within the prison and there’s quite a link to violence and assaults and debts and inmates that have to lock up due to acquiring drug debts, that are assaulted due to drug debts or struggles for power within the prison system that’s based upon drugs. You know, that’s why that linkage is there.

With regards to the gangs and the membership…I think to answer – Yesterday’s policy: Put a man in SHU based simply upon his association or affiliation with a gang. Recognizing the fact that we needed to make some changes within our policies, specifically with regard to that, the new policy addresses individual behavior and individual accountability. So while a man could be validated, doesn’t necessarily mean that he would go to SHU based solely upon that validation and being identified as an affiliate of a gang.

Again, we are reviewing inmates every week and some are being retained based upon behaviors; some are being released based upon lack of those behaviors.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley):
…That’s a good change, but I wonder if there’s been any look at whether you had any reduction in gang membership as result of putting so many people in SHU?

Michael Stainer, Director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
I don’t know that that’s the case at all. However, I was just having a conversation with one of our special project team member today and we were talking about just that – what is going to be the effect of this new policy. Are we going to have more or less validations? Are we going to have more or less people being sent to SHU based upon behaviors?

Quite honestly, we don’t have the database to do that. We’ve put in special request for funding for that. We need this informational gathering system to judge whether or not these policies are effect, to measure the effectiveness of these policies. And that would lead us into the next phase of adjustments to the policies and are we doing the right thing.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley):
…And that’s why I raised it. Because it’s like many things in life. If we’re doing something ostensibly for one purpose but it’s not having – you know, we have a lot of people in SHU but if we’re not having any reduction in gang membership then we have to evaluate whether that’s even a useful purpose at all. [Audience applause]

And it would be helpful to see some data…

The other piece of data that I would like to see is the growth in numbers of inmates in SHU over, I think probably the last…whether it’s over the last 20 years. But that would be useful to know. And why? We may have to extrapolate on why but definitely seeing the numbers because it seems to me it’s clearly grown and has it made our prisons – it certainly caused the state to bear a larger cost because it’s quite expensive but is there any associated benefits to us?

The thing I’d say about the gang membership – again, not to defend gang membership – but certainly because you’re a prison inmate, because of the dynamics – all humans form groups. That’s what we do. No matter what circumstance we’re in. [Audience applause] And if you’re in that kind of setting, you’re forming a group for lots of reasons whether it’s for protection, it’s for – who knows. But it’s a very natural human tendency.

And to have as a policy – and I know you’ve just described some change to it – but to have as a policy being put in the SHU for that reason alone just seems very, very difficult to justify…

The women – 74. What was it 5 years ago? I would like to see what was it 5 years ago, what was it 10 years ago.

I have a much harder time imagining – I’m not trying to be naive that there’s no violent women – but I’m having a much harder time figuring out why there’s 74 women in SHU. And if some portion of them are really people that have mental health issues and need mental health treatment, then it doesn’t seem to be the appropriate use of our resources to have them in SHU. And I’d like to understand better what causes a woman to be put in SHU.

…The statement around it being mostly to try to segregate violent people and that it seems to be opposite given how many are in there for other reasons. But the 2006 bipartisan committee – this was a federal committee – on safety and abuse in prisons report and the U.S. judicial hearing indicated…that SHU should only be used as a last resort…

It seems to me we need to refine our criteria because it doesn’t seem now to being used as a last resort.

And I raise this not only because of a concern I have around the impacts of prisoners who are in SHU but also the cost to us. And as chair of the budget, when we’re finally in a situation where California is not in a deficit yet we only have temporary taxes, we have to do everything we can to get our costs of incarceration down and increasing numbers of people in SHU is not getting our costs down.

So I would like to see some more data around who’s in there and why and whether we can refine it so that we really are using it as a last resort.

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
I was just going to address the statistical information. One of the things our office just started doing was the adherence to blueprint. One of those is the gang validation part of it. So we just established the baseline. The report that’s about to come out will indicate that of 528 inmates endorsed to SHU terms that have been evaluated thus far in the new process, 343 will be released back to general population. To me, that is a very hopeful trend that as we continue, the department is saying they can get through all of them in two years. If those numbers hold true, hopefully another 30%, 40% will be released out of SHU. So I think that’s at least hope and we will continue to monitor the progress and give you those reports.


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One Comment on “Transcript: Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s Q&A with CDCR Directors Michael Stainer & Kelly Harrington at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

  1. Pingback: Analysis: California taxpayers foot high costs of long-term solitary confinement | What The Folly?!

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