2019 CDCR Year in Review, part 1

Back, back to Cali, Cali: CDCR’s exit from out-of-state prisons highlighted first half of 2019

When Governor Gavin Newsom introduced his new vision for corrections in California and encouraged coding students at OH Close Youth Correctional Facility to “learn from, don’t follow others,” he set the stage for a significant year of change at CDCR.

By mid-July, the department had already celebrated major achievements in rehabilitation and systemic change to an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Californians through a successful return of incarcerated people to the communities they live in.

CDCR championed vital voices in the victim and survivor communities, celebrated milestone triumphs with incarcerated mentors, facilitated successful dog programs and saw the first-ever school inside a CDCR facility earn heralded “Distinguished School” recognition.

Perhaps the most significant event of 2019 was the fulfillment of another Governor Newsom vision, to reduce the state’s reliance on private and out-of-state prisons by bringing all of California’s incarcerated people back to the Golden State.

Below is a summary of these significant events, the first of a two-part series highlighting the big CDCR storylines of 2019:

(Editor’s note: Some website links embedded in this story may not be accessible from a CDCR computer.)

California Governor Gavin News poses with a youth offender who is enrolled in a job-training program.
Governor Gavin Newsom pauses for a photo during his appearance at the grand opening of both Code.7370 and the CALPIA Pre-Apprentice Construction Labor Programs at OH Close.

Governor Newsom joins CDCR for grand opening of coding program at youth facility

Jan. 22 – CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz, California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) and the Division of Juvenile Justice hosted Governor Gavin Newsom at the grand opening of both Code.7370 and the CALPIA Pre-Apprentice Construction Labor Programs at OH Close. Newsom toured the programs and spoke with the youth, sharing his vision for overhauling the juvenile justice system in California. The Last Mile is a tech organization committed to training people impacted by the criminal justice system to enable their successful reentry and stop the cycle of incarceration. Code.7370 is teaching coding at OH Close, San Quentin, Pelican Bay State Prison, California Institution for Women and Ventura Youth Correctional Facility. TLM has also expanded beyond California to institutions in Kansas and Indiana. The 18-month technology-based training program operates under the supervision of CALPIA instructors, technology business professionals and TLM volunteers. Incarcerated people learn basic computer skills, coding instruction, and website and application design in a simulated live coding environment without internet access. The event was covered by The Stockton Record and ABC 10, among others. CDCR also featured the event live on Facebook.

Two women embrace with a flag behind them.
Crime survivor and Executive Director of A Community for Peace, Elaine Whitefeather, embraces CDCR’s Office of Victim & Survivor Rights & Services Chief Nolice Edwards during a special event at Fremont Park during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week on April 10.

Agencies and advocates rally for victims and survivors

April 10 – Agencies dedicated to providing services to the victim and survivor community rallied together alongside advocacy groups at Fremont Park in Sacramento April 10 for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The ceremony and resource fair included 12 vendor booths and inspirational words from leaders and champions of the national movement to give victims and survivors of crime a voice and hope for a greater future. The event was hosted by CDCR’s Office of Victim & Survivor Rights & Services (OVSRS). CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz attended and thanked OVSRS Chief Nolice Edwards and her staff and for being dedicated, passionate ambassadors to the victim and survivor community. Justice Martin Jenkins, Judicial Appointments Secretary with the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, also delivered an earnest and commanding speech to the audience gathered at Fremont Park. Guest speaker Elaine Whitefeather, Executive Director of A Community for Peace, provided a rousing testimony, confronting the sexual and physical violence that she suffered and the greater purpose she found in the power of her pain. OVSRS also recognized individuals who empower victims and survivors. The Fremont Park gathering was one of several NCVRW events that empowered victims and survivors in California during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. CDCR also participated in breakout sessions for Survivors Speak 2019.

Older dog wrapped in blankets resting on the floor.
Older shelter dogs are being saved from euthanasia in the new Grand-PAWS program at two of our prisons. Photo from the organization’s Facebook page.

Dog programs flourish in state prisons

May 30 – Los Angeles television crews The Antelope Valley Press newspaper and documentary filmmakers were watching as dogs in the Paws For Life K-9 Rescue program graduated alongside 40 trainers at California State Prison, Los Angeles County. The event, covered by ABC7 LA, KTLA 5 LA, CBS 2 LA and NBC 4 donated service dogs trained by incarcerated people to veterans suffering from PTSD. It was one of several events throughout the year that highlighted innovative efforts to use dog programs to help rehabilitate incarcerated people while providing a valuable service to the community and local dog shelters. Paws For Life K-9 Rescue also implemented two new programs at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, including a Grand Paws For Life program that hosts senior dogs. CDCR also saw the flourishing success of programs like Marley’s Mutts Pawsitive Change Prison Program, the Little Angels Prison Program, the Prisoners Overcoming Obstacles and Creating Hope (or POOCH) program (which graduated dogs and trainers in July) and other programs.

Twin brothers hug.
Mentors Twin brothers Luis and George Berumen embrace after nine years apart during the graduation ceremony of the Offender Mentor Certification Program at California State Prison-Solano on May 31.

Solano prison celebrates 10 years of successful Offender Mentor Certification Program

May 31 – Graduates of the Offender Mentor Certification Program at California State Prison, Solano were joined by more than 90 family members to accept their diplomas and celebrate the tenth year of one of CDCR’s most successful programs. Graduates who gain entrance to the competitive program and successfully complete a year of education and a 4,000-hour internship in prison are eligible to obtain sustainable jobs in our communities as state-certified alcohol and other drug counselors upon release. The program also allows the students to give back while in prison as they work alongside contract staff, honing skills and co-facilitating substance abuse and cognitive behavior therapy classes. The program was featured in an ABC10 Original Documentary episode divided into part 1 and part 2 and was also featured in an Inside CDCR Video also delivered in part 1 and part 2, highlighting the reunion between a graduate and his twin brother, who met for the first time in nine years.

Correctional officer and a K-9 at a prison.
A K-9 tugs on toy with his handler during the final expansion academy for CDCR’s state-wide K-9 program in June.

CDCR completes expansion to statewide drug interdiction K-9 program

June 4 – CDCR’s statewide K-9 program provided the department with seven more K-9 teams, featuring several rescue dogs, after a 280-hour academy at the Northern California Women’s Facility, an inactive prison in Stockton used for training. That cohort completed an expansion that tasked CDCR with providing two K-9 teams at each of the 35 adult institutions in California. The effort was initiated by an approved budget change proposal by The Drug Interdiction Program. The proposal came after an independent report by the University of California, Berkeley, found that the K-9 program was one of the most effective tools for discovering both narcotics and contraband within state institutions. As officers retire or promote, future academies will be held to keep the program staffed, but the recent academy was a culminating moment for CDCR and the Division of Adult Institutions. The CDCR team also welcomed strategic international partners from Australia during the final expansion academy.

Inmates line up to get on a prison bus.
Incarcerated men line up to board a bus and leave the last out-of-state facility in June.

CDCR exits last out-of-state prison

June 25 – In a major step toward fulfilling a promise made by Governor Newsom in his inaugural address to reduce the state’s reliance on out-of-state and private prisons, the last group of incarcerated men housed out of state exited the remaining facility in Eloy, Arizona on June 25. Incarcerated people at the La Palma Correctional Center in Arizona were returned to California and the contract with operator CoreCivic was not renewed. CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said the exit represented a historic day for CDCR, as the department has ended its reliance on out-of-state facilities, thus ending an era that began 13 years ago at the height of California’s prison overcrowding crisis. The exit was covered by The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times, among others.

Prison leaders accept a certification plaque at the school at San Quentin.
Michael Wheeless, Principal, Robert E. Burton Adult School, is presented the Distinguished School award by Shannon Swain. Also congratulated by Secretary Ralph Diaz and Director of Rehabilitative Programs, Brant Choate.

San Quentin Adult School named first ‘distinguished school’

July 18 – San Quentin State Prison’s Robert E. Burton Adult School was recognized as the first recipient of the department’s “Distinguished School” award during a special ceremony that included remarks by CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz, Brant Choate, Director, CDCR Division of Rehabilitative Programs, Shannon Swain, Superintendent, CDCR Office of Correctional Education and San Quentin Warden Ron Davis. The award was developed to recognize and promote continued excellence and innovation in prison adult schools. The Robert E. Burton Adult School provides a wide range of educational opportunities for students, including basic literacy instruction, high school diplomas and high school equivalency, access to community college courses and five state-of-the-art Career Technical Education programs. The school developed an innovative program to keep basic learners progressing through elementary- and secondary-level courses, with the eventual goal of earning a high school equivalency credential or high school diploma. Teachers collaborate to identify individual student needs, focus critical instruction, and track progress. The honor was recognized in the Marin Independent Journal and The San Francisco Chronicle. The Division of Rehabilitative Programs also produced a video recognizing the effort.