Transcript: Sen. Loni Hancock’s Q&A with Professor Hope Metcalf & Dr. Craig Haney on CDCR’s proposed new policies on solitary confinement – Feb. 11, 2014

Partial transcript of Sen. Loni Hancock’s Q&A with Professor Hope Metcalf and Dr. Craig Haney 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:
…Do you have any examples of what outside – either outside independent conducting of these investigations looks like in some states? Or you know how it might be done?

Hope Metcalf, Associate Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School:
So, when you say investigations, do you mean that case-by-case –

Senator Loni Hancock:
For validating, the case-by-case reviews.

Hope Metcalf, Associate Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School:
Sure. So, Professor Haney may be able to answer this as well.

So as an initial matter, I think these reviews often undertaken by outside experts such as James Austin, who was mentioned earlier during the hearing. And that’s where it’s a one-time review to see who’s there and who should be leaving or staying.

And I think on a prospective basis though, you also want to consider what the process looks like. And that’s where my comments about the unit level review were directed.

Senator Loni Hancock:
I’d be more interested in knowing more about what Washington state does too, because we understand that they do focus cost-benefit analyses of many of their public policies but definitely in regard to public safety and have really found out some pretty remarkable things. So, you know, if you have any information on exactly what they do, now is the time for us to have that focused information because we’re going into budget time and we’re also, as the Assemblyman said, looking at what might need to be placed in statute that could change the parameters of this…

Dr. Craig Haney, Professor at UC Santa Cruz:
Well, just to say Senator that James Austin and Angela Browne and others at the Vera Institute have a protocol that they use and that they’ve used in states around the country, where they have successfully reduced the SHU or isolation unit housing numbers and also helped states to devise policies to keep those numbers at those reduced levels. So that would be a good place to look, and I’m sure we can provide you with references and information about what they do and how they do it.

Hope Metcalf, Associate Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School:
One thing I can say about – on Washington state, if it’s not too late, I’d be happy to provide some additional information that’s publicly available on Washington state if it would be helpful to this committee that would kind of – for example, there’s a chart that maps out the various programs and what they look like.

Senator Loni Hancock:
Yes, I’ve seen that, and it’s amazing that there are some programs that don’t save you any money at all. There are other programs even if they may be require upfront investments that pay back significantly, and most of those are the kinds of policies you’ve been talking about that make a more humane situation as opposed to a more punitive situation.

Hope Metcalf, Associate Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School:
…Just two quick points about Washington without getting into too much detail. One is that they really undertook an effort with the help of the Vera Institute and in collaboration with Disability Rights Washington to come up with very targeted programs, and so they did not take a one-size fits all. So people with cognitive disabilities are different than people with personality disorders, are different than probably than gang members, although gang members may or may not have mental health or other issues as well. So I think that that focus is really important, and that’s something that Colorado is also doing.

The other thing that they did, as I mentioned, is that they…do have a step-down phase program but no longer are you just simply left to your own devices and just getting a workbook for the first one or two phases of that step-down program. And they have figured out ways to deliver effective programming safely and I think that that’s worth looking at.

Senator Loni Hancock:
I’m also wondering if either of you know any instances where there’s specific training for prison personnel – prison guards – in how to defuse violence, recognize mental health problems or – you know, in California, you can have a GED and be a prison guard. And it troubles me that we may not be giving the in-service education to them, so that they know something other than what has seemed to be a rather punitive culture.

Hope Metcalf, Associate Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School:
So, I think staff culture is absolutely essential to this working, because you can have terrific things written on paper, you can have wonderful sounding procedures, but what really matters is once the person is at the facility.

So, Virginia, to answer your question, Virginia has invested very heavily in completely re-tooling its training for corrections officers who are serving at their super max. And they are also doing a rotation of staff so that staff are no longer at a super max facility there…for longer than, I believe, two years at a time.

Senator Loni Hancock:
Oh, that’s interesting.

Hope Metcalf, Associate Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School:
And they’ve also mixed the population. Connecticut is also doing this as well. So Connecticut was able to so drastically reduce their population in administrative segregation that there was space – they actually converted some of the units to house high-bond pre-trial detainees. And the idea is that staff then are able – even if they’re at the super max, they are not just working with the people who some describe as the worst of the worst. Rather, they are in an environment where they are going in and out of the unit, and I think it’s probably a healthier environment. They see more family members coming to visit the inmates. I just think it disrupts the super max culture that can be very corrosive for staff and inmates alike.

Senator Loni Hancock:
Thank you. Thank you. That’s very helpful.

At some point, I think one of you – someone had mentioned transferring gang members out of state? Does that have to do with when they leave prison and return if they don’t want to go back to the neighborhood?

Hope Metcalf, Associate Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School:
No, I mean, that’s a solution that many states will do. So if they have a person who they believe they’re going to be dangerous so long as he is in connection with fellow gang members, perhaps he’s in a position of authority, based on my conversations with other corrections officials, I understand that it can be a very effective tool to negotiate a transfer of that person to where that person no longer has a power base. It costs nothing. It usually means…obviously taking a prisoner in exchange. But I think that’s a very common tool.

Something else I would mention that might be worth looking at is that Washington state is now looking at front end solutions for violence control. And they have, I believe it’s called Operation Safety, if I’m not mistaken, but it’s modeled on the Chicago cease fire project, and they’re starting to implement that at the front end to try to decrease incidents of violent gang activity.

Dr. Craig Haney, Professor at UC Santa Cruz:
…Just to quickly add to that, Washington state has come up a number of times, and I would endorse our referencing it. Because one of the things they do, as Sen. Hancock mentioned earlier, is they premise many of their practices and procedures on evidence-based approaches, and I think we do well to emulate that.

We’ve heard a lot about validation procedures. We’ve heard a lot about a step-down program, but not a whole lot about whether those validation procedures themselves have been validated and whether or not that step-down procedure itself is based on sound psychological science.

Washington has really led the way in making sure that they do things that are based on evidence.

Senator Loni Hancock:
…We did pass out of the state Senate and it will be coming to a committee near you, Assemblyman Ammiano, to develop something like the Washington Institute for Public Policy here in California. And because we also find that policymakers like ourselves really need data that will inform the decisions we know we have to make, and sometimes that isn’t always data that gets collected in other places or analyzed in a way that’s helpful to us. So I hope we can pick up on some of the good things that have been done there.

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