Transcript: Sen. Loni Hancock’s Q&A w/ CDCR administrators George Giurbino & Suzan Hubbard on CDCR’s proposed new policies on solitary confinement – Feb. 11, 2014

Partial transcript of Sen. Loni Hancock’s Q&A with CDCR Chief Deputy Administrators George Giurbino and Suzan Hubbard on CDCR’s proposed new policies on solitary confinement and prison gang or “security threat group” management. The joint informational hearing was held on Feb. 11, 2014:

Senator Loni Hancock:
…First of all, I want to thank you for your very hard work. I know you guys have been doing this for many, many months. I think that it’s very good that we’re giving people an opportunity to be removed completely from the validated list.

I am concerned about a number of things because I had some of the same questions as Assemblyman Ammiano.

I think we need to define “serious behavior” so that it does not include things like photos and drawings and other things that are not in fact behavior…

I was interested in my reading of this about the point system. I noticed that there are 14 criteria for designating people as being validated or in opposition to the step-down program. Some of them have as many as six points attached to them, and it only takes 12 points to set you back in the process. That seems to me to be a very difficult hurdle for individuals who have been in isolation for a long time and may have trouble planning ahead or other things. Was that taken into account?

It seemed actually almost impossible to me given some of the things –

George Giurbino, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team at CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
I think – and I apologize. I think what the policy has done is in prior policy all it took was one activity. If an individual’s name was found underneath an inmate’s pillow 200 miles away, that would bring him back to a security housing unit. What the new policy does is that it creates serious behavior definitions where it would take two due process hearings where an individual was found guilty of an administrative behavior or one serious one. But the more important component is they have to be related to gang activities – gang behaviors. And if they don’t have that, if they receive a rules violation report and there’s not a gang nexus, then that individual stays out in the general population.

In the validation component that you mentioned about six points for those validation source items, in checking across the country, we found states that used one item worth 10 points and they were putting them into their segregation units based upon just one item alone.

Senator Loni Hancock:
Yeah, I think it’s good that we’re not using one-item alone. I think what we’re looking at today is – I am sure it is better. Is it enough better? Okay, I mean, we could say Mississippi did away with solitary confinement so why aren’t we doing that. You know? [Applause] I mean, we’re trying to – no, no, no, actually we don’t allow that and we’re going to have to clear the chamber if it happens, so please don’t do that.

So what I really feel the need for a conversation about how this does not become an impossible hurdle…because some of these things are fairly technical – the 12, the 14 different ways a person could be sent back.

Now, if they are, let’s say, on step four, and they achieved 12 points or something, do they get sent back to step one? Do they stay in step four longer? What happens?

Suzan Hubbard, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
Perhaps on the point issue, we refer to those as source items that have a different point value. And we’re looking at those items more at offenders’ initial – when they’re first validated. So the way we gave different point value was such as probation officer’s report, that there would be information within a probation officer’s report, the time of sentencing that may have to do with gangs. And if we use that, then we felt that the inmate out in community court – in superior court – had an attorney and had been able to contest that information in the probation officer’s report. So we felt that if information was in that probation officer’s report, we gave it a higher value. So there were different point items given towards initial validation. Once an inmate is initially validated, as an associate or a member, he or she may change their level within the gang but they’re validated other than the new process that we’ve developed.

Separate is inmates if they are in a step-down program and some new offense comes up, it’s not so much that we’re going to give new points or new source items towards validation, because they’re already validated. We’re going to look at what that behavior is and is it gang-related or not or STG-related, and we have that disciplinary matrix which defines what is gang-related behavior. So an inmate might receive a 115 and if it were a gang-related behavior, that is where going through his or her hearing with a lot of due process, the conclusion of – if he were found guilty, then a classification committee within the secure housing unit would determine based upon the serious – would he move from step four, would he move to the beginning of step four. He might not move at all. Or depending upon the seriousness of the offense, such as we have – if it were a stabbing assault or something at that extreme of seriousness, yes the inmate could be moved from step four all the way back to step one, again, if that were a gang-related offense.

Senator Loni Hancock:
I think that we all understand that if somebody assaults somebody, we’re dealing with a different thing.

Suzan Hubbard, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
Yes.

Senator Loni Hancock:
You know, because here I notice that informants and other things are given points in the initial valuation. So it seems like we haven’t stopped the business of indicating that people need to name other people in order to be considered –

Suzan Hubbard, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
We continue to use confidential information within our new policy.

Senator Loni Hancock:
Do you see personally any problem with using informant information when it could so easily be a trade-off for getting out yourself to name other people? I mean, that seems to me to be having been documented in a variety of studies that informant information is intrinsically untrustworthy.

Suzan Hubbard, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
George and I before we began this project, we had done a number of classification reviews over the years. But in focused on this project for the past 18 months, Senator, we have learned a tremendous amount. So, of course, at one hand there may always be a concern about the reliability of that information. But in conducting our reviews that we have done more than 600 cases, we’re looking at information for the past four years, and we are sharing in great detail that confidential information with the inmates we are seeing. Greater detail than they have ever been given before. And in many, many cases, the inmates, our attorney are agreeing that yes they were taking part in that information – “That letter that you have, Ms. Hubbard. Yes, that is my handwriting.”

At the other end of the scale, we during our reviews have proven that information was inaccurate. We may have had a wrong nickname or a wrong street gang that an inmate had grown up in, and we are moving to correct that information either through deleting the validation we have been part of totally doing away of validations of offenders because of errors that we have found or considering the information and moving the inmate to the general population because the information was so old and so dated.

George Giurbino, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team at CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
But I think it’s also important to realize, Senator, that you do not have to debrief, you do not have to give confidential information to move through the step-down program. This is a whole new process.

The debrief process is there because there are some inmates that want to exercise it. The step-down program doesn’t require anybody to provide any information at all.

Senator Loni Hancock:
Okay. Let me say I appreciate very much the fact that the last time I looked the number of reviews you have conducted sent 62% of the people back to the general population, indicating that perhaps they did not need to be in SHU in the first place.

Suzan Hubbard, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
With the new criteria, they no longer met the criteria to be in the SHU.

Senator Loni Hancock:
And I’m wondering is there any re-socialization programming that goes on? Because if a person under the new criteria doesn’t fit but if they’ve been in isolation for a couple of years –

Suzan Hubbard, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
Yes, that’s a concern of ours too and also talking to inmates that we’ve done reviews on. So first thing that we’ve done – and it’s just a beginning – is that we ensure that mental health staff at the new facility or the facility that they’re being released at are meeting with the inmate.

We also in part of our reviews we have gone and met – we have gone to institutions where inmates have been released and met with a group of inmates to see what we could have done to better prepare them to return from a segregation setting to a general population, and they’ve given us a number of very, very good ideas as to how they could help integrate better within that general population. So that’s part of the development of our program right now. Very important.

Senator Loni Hancock:
Good. Thank you. And I look forward to following that…

There are some information I’m going to ask you for and I just want to tell you why. I would like to know the education level and the training of the correctional officers in the SHU and in the investigative units. And also the number of times – the number of third level director reviews that have been requested and what the outcome of those reviews was?

Suzan Hubbard, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
Reviews of validations or what?

Senator Loni Hancock:
Well, you said that, you know, if the committee reviews and you get validated, and then in the end it can go to the third level director. I’m not actually sure who that might be – if that’s the secretary, if it’s the warden, if it’s somebody else. But who it is and how many times the decision has changed as a result of that?

I will tell you I’m very concerned about the lack of outside personnel involved at all and especially in terms of someone outside the institution to be an advocate or a helper for the inmate.

And also, my reading of the policy was that people are still only allowed things like one photograph or one phone call during the step-down period? Okay, well, I’m glad to be wrong and I’m going to ask you to point that out to me or think about ways it could change if I’m accurate about that. It’s a, as you know, a fairly long and complicated document.

Finally, what I’m really am interested in is this great emphasis on gang affiliation and membership. We’ve been doing this in California for many years. I’m still told that gangs are the reason that nothing can change in CDCR. Do you think that our SHU policy has been effective?

George Giurbino, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team at CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
Are you referring to the pre-existing SHU policy for gang affiliates or are you talking about the submitted policy?

Senator Loni Hancock:
Okay. Let’s say the pre-existing policy. Because I have to tell you what we’ve set up here is something that’s more complicated than the existing policy. It changes some names. Security threat group and street gangs and prison gangs. It’s gotten more subdivisions. I am not sure it changes the general thrust of what’s happening, and I don’t know if we might not need something stronger. That’s why I asked if you thought that this general approach have been useful in stopping or containing gang activity.

Suzan Hubbard, Chief Deputy Administrator of the Special Project Team CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
It served its purpose at the time. I consider that while I was in adult as I joined the Department of Corrections, I spent my first 10 years at San Quentin, which was a very violent time, and I worked within what was known then as the management control unit, and that is how in 1980s that we managed our gang population. With new design of prisons, we came to have a new policy. So it served its purpose at the time.

But we, through these changes and recommendations, we think that there’s farther to go and consideration to be given to for credit-earning status. That would be a penal code change. For us, our recommendation would be within those steps three and four, as those inmates are really beginning to interact with others, that there should be some consideration for credit-earning status. Many, many people think that it’s only lifers that are within our secure housing units, but that is not accurate, and many, many inmates – that was one of the first questions of a young man I saw at Pelican Bay when we began our reviews was the credit earning status. So we would seek your support in credit earning status penal code change and our recommendation would be within steps three and four for our step-down program. So there’s many opportunities for furtherance…

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