© 2023 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Crosscurrents logo 2021

Dispatches from the Inside: Rehabilitation needs are not being met for California prisoners

Credit Credit California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation

Richard Gilliam is incarcerated at the California Men's Colony (CMC).

August 27, 2012

I'm always interested in reports dealing with the state of corrections in California. So I sat on my bunk  with headphones over my ears in anticipation as the weekly morning radio program, The California Report, aired a three-part series they called "Prison Break". The third installment of the series dealt with the CDCR's aspirations for rehabilitating those prisoners not affected by Realignment. I'm talking about people such as myself, labeled serious or violent offenders, serving lengthier prison terms. 

The report feature CDCR Secretary Mathew Cate, who stated "We need to provide rehabilitation programs" for these inmates. Well, that's a no-brainer. It also interviewed Joan Petersilia, a professor of Law at Stanford University, and an acknowledged expert on California penal policy. She agreed with Cate's assessment, but stated, "I'm not confident" about the outcome of current efforts at rehabilitation. 

The report noted that at Solano prison alone budget cuts reduced the educational workforce from 135 teachers to 32. Prisoners there lamented that there were long waiting lists for programs and jobs, and that only 10-20% of prisoners were having their rehabilitational needs met. Professor Petersilia went on to label the delivery and efficacy of efforts to rehabilitate prisoners as "an experiment". 

We all know that sometime "experiments" fail. Prisoners are not lab animals to be poked and prodded and experimented upon. We are human beings that suffer from diverse disabilities. These disabilities must be comprehensively addressed and energetically overcome if incarcerated men and women are to function normally when reintroduced into society. What happens if your "Experiment" doesn't live up to expectations? Do you simply give up? That's simply not an option. And given CDCR's minimalist approach to rehabilitation, I've no doubt that any pilot programs implemented will fail for lack of enthusiasm. 

Just last year, Mathew Cate stated his intention that community volunteers would be tapped to help fill the void left in program staffing created in the wake of Realignment. But to date there are no more volunteers coming into CMC than when I first arrived. I can count the number of non-custody volunteers that oversee programs such as AA and NA on one hand. An evening literacy program operating when I first arrived, no longer exists because correctional staff are no longer available. This, while San Quentin relies on scores of educators and facilitators to run the dozens of programs in place there. With institutions of higher learning such as Cal-Poly and Questa College literally right outside the prison's gates, it is not due to a lack of willing personnel that we are starved for programs here. It is due to the administration's opposition to rehabilitation programming that discourages community involvement. 

Several weeks ago I read an article in the Los Angeles Times, concerning the evolving issues in the race for L.A.'s District Attorney. In the article, which spotlighted the ideological shift most of the candidates have made away from "Lock-em' all up" crime prevention, to a more moderate stance. The article quoted one candidate as saying he would now advocate for substance abuse, anger management, job training and other programs for non-violent offenders. That's a start. What I'd like to know is, how these candidates plan to help violent offenders once they're released from prison? It's issues such as drug abuse, lack of education and job-training and mental health concerns that caused them to offend in the first place. As has been the policy of lawmakers and the CDCR, do we ignore their needs only to be shocked when they commit another serious or violent crime and are imprisoned for even longer next time?

The men and women still in prison need intervention and rehabilitation as much or more than those that commit less serious offenses. The implementation or rehabilitative treatments in all prisons should not be viewed as an "experiment", it should be the Number One goal and priority of corrections officials. Because in truth it's not the pot-smoking, hackey-sack playing recalcitrant you need to worry about. It's the former armed robber coming out of prison without the education, job-skills or psychological treatment he needs to succeed after prison.