Despite its claims of improvement on rehabilitation, the prison reform bill passed by the state legislature April 26 fails to address key issues that have been highlighted by AFSCME Local 2620, which represents the majority of the state’s behavioral and psychological experts. The budget in the new bill tells the story: $7.4 billion for new prisons, compared to just $50 million for rehabilitation.
“Once again, it looks like the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has forgotten about the last R in its name,” said Nancy Swindell, president of AFSCME 2620. “Not only does the new bill do little to change the dynamics that cause criminal behavior, it actually promotes an environment where criminally minded people can learn new and better techniques from each other to unleash on our communities when they are released.”
In January, AFSCME Local 2620 released its “Proposal for Prison Reform in the CDCR.” While the bill that was passed April 26 adopted some of the language used in the proposal, it failed to provide the recommended actions, each of which would have eased overcrowding in the prison system:
–sentencing reform–comprehensive rehabilitation programs that address social and behavioral issues as well as substance abuse–a revamp of the parole system to include services at the parole outpatient clinics
“The issue here is recidivism,” Swindell said. “The CDCR had a choice: they could rehabilitate the people in the prison system so they’re not a threat to the community when they’re released and don’t wind up right back in the system; or they could build more prisons. Unfortunately, the CDCR chose to focus on the latter, which can only lead to an exponentially greater problem in the long run-and a larger threat to the community.”
The CDCR has spoken at length about increasing educational opportunities in the prison system, but Eliana Jannell, Ph.D., a psychologist at California State Prison-Solano, explained that education alone cannot solve the problem of recidivism. “You can give all the education in the world to an inmate, but if he or she does not have the psychological and behavioral tools to function in society, in the long-term they will come up against something that will lead them back to their previous criminal ways.”
There is still hope that the legislature will implement meaningful reform strategies. Senate Bill 263, sponsored by Senator Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), calls for a broad range of effective measures, and has been making progress leading up to a hearing on May 7. In the meantime, the lack of adequate rehabilitation services continues to put communities across the state at risk.
Local 2620 represents 1,400 Social Workers, Psychologists, Pharmacists, Rehabilitation Therapists, Chaplains, Dieticians and other mental health and social service professionals employed at California State Prisons, and another 1,100 at the Department of Mental Health.
AFSCME is the nation’s largest public service employees and health care workers union with more than 1.4 million members.