CDCR official couldn’t provide data to back up claim of SHU efficacy in reducing prison gang violence

For years, California prison officials have claimed that indefinite solitary confinement of gang members and associates is necessary to combat gang violence in the state’s 33 prisons.

However, at a recent hearing before the joint Assembly and Senate public safety committee, a high-ranking prison official acknowledged the lack of data to support the claim that indefinite security housing units (SHU) terms have been effective in improving safety or reducing prison gang membership.

Below is an excerpt of the Q&A exchange between Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Michael Stainer, Director of Adult Institutions for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Oct. 9th:

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley):
…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 effective, 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.

In October of last year, CDCR launched the Security Threat Group pilot program to try out some reforms on the department’s prison gang management policies. One of the reforms undertaken by CDCR is to review the case files of “validated” gang associates in the SHU and determine whether they should remain in the SHU or return to the general population.

Read more: 50% of solitary confinement inmates reviewed under CDCR’s pilot program are recommended for release to general population 

According to Inspector General Robert Barton, of the 528 SHU inmates evaluated under the revised STG standards, 343 (or about 65%) are being released back to the general population.

Stainer also wasn’t able to provide lawmakers with evidence that prison violence has increased following the release of hundreds of “validated” gang associates to the general population.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
So the rationale for housing inmates in the SHU is safety. Recently, CDCR…released from the SHU inmates who have been considered gang associates. Has there been any increase in the level of violence due to the release of former SHU inmates into the general population?

Michael Stainer, Director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
I think at this point, you know, we are monitoring that. We’re trying to collect that data. We’ve recently just begun collecting that data. So I cannot say that there has or has not at this point with any type of assurance that it’s correct.

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One Comment on “CDCR official couldn’t provide data to back up claim of SHU efficacy in reducing prison gang violence

  1. Pingback: Alternatives to long-term solitary confinement in California | What The Folly?!

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