After we read the content of the document [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy,” released in March], we had a tier discussion of it, which gave rise to a wide range of sentiments. One particular sentiment carried the general tone and content of what was said: To a man, we believe that document is nothing more than an attempt by CDCR to regain public support.
It can best be defined as a public relations [stunt] to wrestle away the initiative of the prisoners and get it back in favor of CDCR. This is clear particularly in relation to [not] meeting the five core demands set forth by the representatives of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike. At best CDCR makes a vague and ambiguous approach to address those demands, but in reality it leaves in place the very processes that generated the hunger strike.
In the preface of the document, CDCR claims the public safety realignment is their opportunity to reconstruct aspects of its gang management policies consistent with successful models used in other correctional agencies. On the surface it sounds good, but what will it mean in practice?
We have to be guarded when we hear CDCR make these kinds of claims. We have learned via our experiences CDCR’s rhetoric is not its practice.
The preface also states CDCR’s current policy for identifying prison-based gang members and associates and isolating them from the general population will be replaced with a more effective model that identifies, targets and manages “security threat groups” (STG). It utilizes a behavior-based step-down program (SDP).
To us the catch is in the sentence, “This program will afford the offender the opportunity to work their way from a restricted program back to a general population setting by demonstrating a willingness and commitment to discontinue gang activity while in CDCR facility.”
“Demonstrating a willingness and commitment to discontinue gang activity” to us means a perpetuation of the debriefing policy that CDCR has said it would reform. What is the need for a continuance of the debriefing policy if the SDP affords us a transition to the general population? Is the SDP a genuine process? We think not. We base this conclusion on the details in the body of the document.
What is the need for a continuance of the debriefing policy if the step-down program affords us a transition to the general population? Is the SDP a genuine process? We think not.
Before we can approach the SDP’s seriously flawed policy, it is necessary to examine what is required just to get to SDP. There is an insurmountable hurdle: A prisoner’s participation in the SDP is totally voluntary, but a prisoner wishing to participate must sign a contract. Yet CDCR has failed to mention, even very tentatively, the terms of such a contract.
We suspect the terms of the contract are what CDCR has had in operation, that a prisoner admits to being a gang member. Prisoners universally condemned this practice, which amounted to locking a chain around your own neck. Such a provision would curtail prisoners’ participation in the SDP.
The principle aspect of the SDP that renders it ineffective as an opportunity for prisoners to successfully transition through it to the general population is that it is the same process that has kept people in the SHU for the past 20-plus years. CDCR claims that advancement through the SDP will be determined on the basis of how far the prisoner has distanced himself from the gang and its alleged activities.
It means being discipline free, yet the guards issue 128s or 1030 forms for many non-gang activities, against which prisoners cannot defend themselves. This amounts to no substantive change in the policy now in place, which is an ineffective avenue for being released from the SHU.
We in the SHU are not afforded our full due process rights to contest the “information” used against us in the current policy’s “active/inactive review.” CDCR claims full disclosure of the information would jeopardize the prison’s security.
Since we cannot see the “information,” we cannot know if this is any new information or the recycled old “information,” much of it proven to be untrue. The active/inactive review process is supposed to be based on your criminal activity furthering the goals of a gang.
Instead of adhering to this standard to determine a prisoner’s gang participation, CDCR has opted to use mere validation as the determinant. We would not be in the SHU in the first place if we have not been “validated” previously.
Every six years we are “re-validated” based on the same “information.” This is in spite of the fact that the majority of us have over 15 years of clean time.
Just being re-validated, CDC claims, constitutes gang activity, enough to retain us in the SHU, because we have shown an unwillingness to distance ourselves from gang activity. In short, the prisoner has not demonstrated the willingness to debrief.
In addition, the document details a more enhanced role for Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI), giving it even more control. Participating in life-skills programs, where one is expected to write a journal, IGI makes the determination if one is being forthright enough.
IGI is the very entity which ensures we prisoners stay in the SHU. Now we are to be further subjected to their influence, in effect telling us we ain’t got nothing coming unless we debrief.
Now we are to be further subjected to the influence of Institutional Gang Investigations, in effect telling us we ain’t got nothing coming unless we debrief.
There is much more in the document that we find totally reprehensible and reject outright. But we leave the thorough rebuke of the document to the representatives of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Human Rights Initiative. Hopefully these notes will provide you with what is the most critical opposition to CDCR’s proposal.
This letter was received and shared by an activist on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity email list.