Transcript: Senator Loni Hancock’s Q&A with CDCR Undersecretary Martin Hoshino & Director Michael Stainer on CDCR’s proposed new policies on solitary confinement – Feb. 11, 2014

Partial transcript of Senator Loni Hancock’s Q&A with CDCR Undersecretary Martin Hoshino and Director Michael Stainer 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:
I have a couple of questions and some comments as well. Thank you both very much for being here.

I would like to see us work together to strengthen this program in some of the ways that have been suggested today.

And I think that it’s great that you went up to see Washington. It is really a good thing because we’ve got to get more flexibility in turning around a very big ship and I know you guys know that.

But you’re in the process of codifying this or implementing a new series of regulations. How do members of the legislature impact that process to get the changes we want to see? Who in state government is going to finally say to you “Yes, these are now the new regulations?” Can we come with a series of things to write in there? Do we have to do legislation? What do you suggest?

Martin Hoshino, CDCR’s Undersecretary of Operations:
Well, my recommendation, because you know, we’re in the public commenting period, this is a period where we will take everything under consideration. And I don’t want to reduce the stature of a third branch government, but there is a way for us to get your comments to us. It doesn’t have to be through that process, which will be lengthy…There’s no reason why we can’t continue to do the things that we’re doing, which is either appearing at this particular hearing to take it in but also to work with you and the members of your staff as we –

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano:
Will you put me on your speed dial? [Laughter]

Martin Hoshino, CDCR’s Undersecretary of Operations:
You know, along the way. I mean, the regulatory process is obviously subservient to the legislative process. But again it is how we’re trying to make a demonstration in a forceful way that it is just not by memo; it’s just not by a training curriculum; it’s not just by this. That there actually is something that codifies what we’re doing and that’s why you see us moving aggressively into the regulation piece. It’s not enough to have the concept and the blueprint to have, again, memos and policies and things that we’re doing. We’re trying to find that sweet spot between all of the things so that there is an affirmative record and demonstration. And to the extent that we can provide more clarity by people who are actually impacted by that, that’s one of the objectives behind the regulations.

Senator Loni Hancock:
I do think it does seem, when you look at the flow charts and everything, that it’s extremely difficult. The addition of new terms and different definitions. It’s difficult.

And you know, I had the opportunity over the weekend to listen to some of the hearings that were conducted in 2004. You were there then too Martin. The Romero-Speier hearings. And statements were made at that time about the problem is CDCR changes the names, rearranges the pieces in the process but the fundamental thing doesn’t change. And I think I don’t want to be in the position 10 years from now to have somebody having these same hearings again. I really don’t.

And I’m wondering if anybody has given any thought to what would happen if we tried to re-purpose Pelican Bay in some way. I believe it opened in 1990 or 1989. So it’s been around for about 25 years. It was part of a historic rush to solitary confinement. It’s the answer to security problems in the country. And unfortunately, it was placed in an area of high unemployment, which makes the two-year transferring out that I think was mentioned for Virginia a difficult thing to do although I can see why that would be necessary. I’ve heard a lot actually anecdotally and from other people about the toll on people doing this work in the culture that has existed there in terms of narrowing their humanity, their stress, how it impacts their families and their sense of who they are.

And I think Mr. Haney’s original experiment – the Stanford University experiment where the students that were selected to be prison guards acted in a way that caused them to end the experiment early – shows what can happen to people just like it dehumanizes prisoners. I don’t think it’s healthy for the people that do the work.

So I’ve been struck recently in some of the other issues that have arisen around CDCR with a statement that I read in the press that CDCR estimates there are 30,000 seriously mentally ill inmates in the institution. Now, would it be possible to re-purpose, if we decided to do that, Pelican Bay and put in a few more mentally healthy amenities for that population? Or is there something like that that we can do? It would require a great deal more training and education on the part of the people working there. But have any thought be given to that by CDCR?

Martin Hoshino, CDCR’s Undersecretary of Operations:
I would say only in a general sense. The specificity that you’re bringing – I’ll give you thoughts right here and now. It’d be very difficult for Pelican Bay for much of the reasons that you’ve all catalogued, and I know you and many of the members have actually visited that particular institution. And you’ve noted some of the difficulties operating there in terms of being able to recruit and retain staff at all levels. So I think it would be a pretty high bar to get over to try and convert Pelican Bay into a more mental health institution and try and recruit folks. In fact, that’s why I think a lot of that population is housed in places like CSP Sacramento and other locations in the state where we’re able to provide the treatments, services, and the like, not that there aren’t any going on at Pelican Bay but it does pose its unique challenges.

I think the challenge for Pelican Bay is converting it – not converting it but moving it more towards a more conducive programming type of institution given what its particular mission is and that will always be the challenge. Some of its limitations are just by design, where it doesn’t lend itself structurally and physically to the kind of environment. But that doesn’t mean that that challenge can’t be taken on in some respects.

And I know that Pelican Bay has come a ways. Judge Henderson knows that institution very, very well. He essentially supervised of that through Madrid for many, many years before finding that it had met constitutional minimal standards and dismissing his case.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s where the discussion ends. And certainly Pelican Bay and every institution should be undergoing some discussion. In fact, that’s what we’ve been doing as I keep calling it the “post-realigned world” where you’ve got 44,000, 45,000, 50,000 less inmates. Certainly, there are mission changes within that, and Pelican Bay enters that discussion.

Senator Loni Hancock:
Thank you. I will note that Judge Henderson says it presses against the limits of what is humanly tolerable in his ruling. So it was not, you know, in any way saying that this was a good thing to do.

And I wondered if – I was very interested in the agreement to end hostilities that came out of the hunger strike last August, which basically was some of the leaders of the hunger strike talking about the need to end racial hostilities in prisons because it was really just a way of perpetuating the old culture and trying to change it. And I wondered if the department was taking them up on that in any way. And the reasons I asked is that if it could happen in Northern Ireland where they have had a tenuous but lasting peace for about 12 years, it seems to me that it would be worth a try here and perhaps could lead to a more interactive process with designing a step-down program that would actually work and not humiliate people and some other things. But has the department had any reaction to that agreement to end hostilities?

Michael Stainer, CDCR’s Director of the Division of Adult Institutions:
I think I can say simply we definitely endorse and support an end of hostilities amongst inmate population and an end to the violence – inmate on inmate or inmate on staff violence. Absolutely.

[Comments from audience off-camera]

Senator Loni Hancock:
Please everybody. Just trying to figure out what we can do…Okay because I think we need to look at some fixes that go beyond rearranging the boxes on the flow chart and, in fact, adding to the boxes, which is what in a way makes people nervous I think that the net is going to get cast higher.

So I think we’re going to be working on actual benchmarks and goals and specific things. And we can submit those as comments, but I think we may have to go beyond that. We need to really be looking at some new ways.

Because I just want to see if we’re all on the same page here and ask you the same question that I asked somebody else – I can’t remember – during this hearing. If this was to make safer prisons and to deal with a gang problem in prisons – and we’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I still get told all the time that prison gangs are the reason why other improvements can’t happen – do you think that the SHU is productive thing to do? Did it work?

Martin Hoshino, CDCR’s Undersecretary of Operations:
So I know many have tried to answer that. I can tell you my answer is if you look at the beginning of SHUs and gang management policy and what happened in California’s experiences as well as the nation’s, certainly in California the level of inmate-on-inmate assaults – I’m talking about not numbers but also the degree of assaults – the actual murders and deaths that were occurring in the 1970s, early ’80s that gave rise to SHU as well as deaths of staff members, then yes. If that’s the standard, it worked.

But over the course of time – and again, in California’s experience, a crowded system – was that then an over-reaction that then morphed into a regular practice that now needs to be re-examined? I think the answer to that question is yes and we’re looking at that and doing that.

The truth is we won’t know some of the answers until we complete the reforms. And I talked earlier about us being the – everybody has their role in the system – and we on the cautious side. The reason we tend to go slow on this stuff is because of not only the experience and the information that we have but we also worry about moving too quick and having an over-reaction where we go back the other direction because suddenly there are high notoriety events or things that occur. It goes back to Chair Ammiano’s comments about political will and being able to maintain that, sustain that. And so that’s what we try to manage.

As we are doing these reforms today, there is a voice out there in the inmate population that is saying to us, “Whoa, why is that individual back in the general population with us? I’m little bit worried. Can I go back into more protective housing?” So there’s both sides to this particular story and equation to that, Senator.

And so to some extent…it did work for that particular standard that you look at. But then overall what is the utility of SHU and the practices that we’re deploying today in our battle to prevent, contain or sustain gang management, which gets us back to a point that it can no longer just be suppression; it’s also got to be programming, intervention, and prevention rather than just suppression.

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