Visiting Work Group Minutes

SIFC Visiting Work Group Minutes – January 2022

JANUARY 28, 2022 10:00 A.M.

The Visiting Work Group was moderated by Daniel Ross. 

SIFC members in attendance were Beth Hall, Allison Walters, Carol Hinds and Clara Garcia.

FOPS Associate Director (A) Dan Cueva joined the meeting to introduce himself and express that he expects to work closely with SIFC to clarify policies and get information out to the families. He has been with CDCR for almost twenty-five years, primarily at CMF. He has established good communication with his local IFC and will work to establish a similar relationship with SIFC to keep us up to date.

There was a change made to the SIFC minutes before they were posted on the CDCR site because of the memo regarding the additional quarterly package for 2022. The memo contradicted the information from the meeting. This was updated in the minutes. The memo stated that there would be no additional quarterly package in 2022.

Additional staff training for visiting will take place in the spring. The date has not been set yet but should be late March or early April. It will be on a visiting day which may impact visiting at facilities. The training will also be made available on computers for staff who transfers into visiting so there is more consistency. 

Visitor clothing remains to be a big issue. There is no color that may not be worn (exceptions are Blue Chambray Shirts and Blue Denim are not allowed); only combinations of colors which resemble inmate or staff attire. 

The wearing of leggings will also be addressed. A series of posters is expected to be made showing unacceptable clothing. These will be distributed statewide and posted in the Visitor Processing area.

Individual facilities have a local Operational Procedure/ DOM Supplement. These will be requested from the facilities to make sure they are in line with the current procedures. It was suggested the clothing rules and any other individual requirements that affect visiting be included in the Facility Status page on the CDCR site. Families are referred to this portion of the site for the most current and accurate information. 

Clarification of bringing in documents to visiting will also be addressed. Ten pages of documents have been allowed of anything that would be allowed through the mail. It has been the responsibility of Visitor Processing to note the number of pages being taken in and verify that they come back out with the visitor.

The Visitor Handbook had been updated before the shutdowns for Covid. It will be reviewed again considering changes to visitor programs when the facilities reopen. 

The importance of communication between staff and local IFCs was stressed again. IFCs act to provide current and accurate information to families and visitors but can not do this if they do not receive the information. Some IFCs have had delays in getting their minutes approved after submission. There is no specified turnaround on these, but it should be in a timely manner.

The Directors and Deputy Directors have regular phone calls (weekly or bi-weekly) with Wardens to talk about current issues and give them updated info. SIFC will be able to submit issues to be addressed on these calls so items can be resolved or discussed between quarterly meetings. Suggested items were prompt updating of the Facility Status entries for each facility and information on procedures for Visiting Applications and Updates.

Visitor applications are supposed to be updated every two years. During the COVID restrictions, updates were waived but facilities began requiring them again when visiting began to increase and got closer to opening up before the Omicron shutdown. It has gone smoothly for the facilities that reached out through their IFCs to make people aware of the requirements and prepare them for the paperwork. Problems at other facilities where it has not gone so smoothly have now been resolved. There have been some revocations of visiting privileges due to the updated information. Denials may be appealed. As the opening of visiting approaches again updates will be required. 

New visiting applications have continued to be processed. Applications and updates should be sent directly to Visiting, but many institutions remove them in the mailroom and send them to Visiting for processing. This will be suggested in the Wardens’ call as an acceptable way to send the form in since some facilities do not have a separate address for Visiting.

It had been discussed in a previous SIFC meeting that visiting applications would no longer be denied if a law enforcement contact was left off the application as long as it was not something that would preclude approval, but the approval would be based on the records pulled by CDCR. Some applications are still being returned because of these missed items. This will be covered in the upcoming statewide visitor training.

No-shows at in-person visiting are still an issue. With appointments very limited, this impacts visiting. Many visitors have reported it is often the same people not showing up. Some facilities have up to 50% no-shows. Because visiting processes are supposed to be non-punitive, we were asked to bring this up at the main SIFC meeting.

Individual facilities have a certain amount of autonomy to determine visiting schedules. Wardens are asked to consult with their IACs and IFCs to determine preferences. There are seven facilities that have video visiting on Saturdays. Over the holidays, they were asked to switch these to in-person visits. Many visitors that travel long distances have requested that the in-person days be adjacent so there is not a gap that extends hotel stays.

Only Pelican Bay has been running both in-person and video visiting at the same time which is because of the extremely low number of in-person visitors there. Other facilities would not be able to accommodate both types of visiting without reducing the number of in-person visits. 

The third day of visiting, Fridays, was created as an in-person day due to the inability of the available bandwidth to sustain the necessary needs of the prison and visiting at the same time. Two institutions (CSP-Sacramento & CSP-Corcoran) had initially opted to have both weekend days of visiting to be in-person. Both have recently switched to the hybrid visiting and now have a day of video visiting.

Another local decision is the availability of visiting outside. In some cases, this is a staffing or security issue. During normal visiting, visitors who travel more than 250 miles and have not visited in thirty days are not terminated due to overcapacity in the visiting rooms. This will again be in effect when visiting opens with fuller capacity.

The staggering of VSA login time for appointments has eased the some of the server problems and many visitors have stated that they are more successful in booking appointments. There remains the reported issue of the same visitors getting appointments every week and what affects the ability to do this. It was previously said that internet or Wi-Fi speed did not affect this but apparently it does. Further questions will be asked of the IT specialists to determine if there is a way to make it more equitable as was discussed in our last meeting.

The SIFC does not presently have full membership. The members of local IFCs change frequently for a number of reasons. A request will be made of all facilities for updated IFC Chair/member list and contact info as well as a quarterly update two to three weeks before the SIFC meeting so that SIFC has better outreach to the locals IFCs.

The changes to the application process for SIFC will be considered to provide better information for selection of new members. It could be expanded (from a one-page application without enough room) for candidates to express their experience and abilities to include additional information. 

There are four missions within CDCR, and HQ would like to have candidates from all of them for wider representation.

Time frames and means of dissemination to the IFCs were discussed. Ideally the application would be sent and returned by email to facilitate timeliness. A dedicated email address will be created for the responses. The security of responses was discussed to make sure personal information is not shared. There will still be a mail-in alternative for returning applications.

Applications will be reviewed by SIFC members and vetted through HQ and the local facilities, with a conference before the final selection.

Because SIFC specific agenda items were discussed in this meeting and there is a substantial number of issues to be discussed, these items will not be discussed again in the main meeting. 

The meeting was adjourned at 12:00 P.M.