SIFC Quarterly Meeting Minutes – October 2018
Statewide Inmate Family Council / CDCR Meeting Minutes Friday, October 26, 2018
The SIFC meeting was brought to order by Connie Gipson, Director (A); at 1:00 p.m. Introductions were made of CDCR staff and SIFC members.
A brief welcome was given by Director Gipson stating that she hopes the new SIFC will help address systemic issues at the state level with open conversations between members and administration and resolve problems by the most humane and just means possible. She introduced Ralph Diaz, Secretary (A).
I. Welcome, Opening Remarks by Ralph M. Diaz, Secretary (A), California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Secretary Diaz welcomed and thanked the new council members saying that CDCR is not taking over or hoping to control the SIFC but would like to bring consistency to the process by sharing the best info in both directions and working together to find solutions. He requested to address agenda item F, the transition to Non-Designated Programming Facilities (NDPF).
He gave a brief synopsis of Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY). They were brought into prominence in the 1990s and now comprise slightly more than 40% of the inmate population. With the growth of the SNY facilities came increased gang and drug activity and violence in the SNY facilities.
In 2016, CDCR held a summit to address how to mitigate those issues. The passing of Prop 57 increased incentives for inmates to program positively with the ability to earn credits that could ultimately reduce the length of incarceration. SNY inmates do not have access to all programs. In addition, running dual types of facilities/yards also means that certain other services such as medical and education must be duplicated at a higher cost.
Inmates can decide whether or not to take advantage and participate in the programs. More than 6,000 inmates with life sentences have been given dates and 18,000 inmates are currently programming on NDPF yards.
There is a classification process to send inmates to the NDPF. Inmates are able to address enemy concerns during that process. If, after being sent to an NDPF facility, they fail to program and are returned to a GP/SNY facility, they will have the opportunity to opt for another chance to try it again later.
Secretary Diaz emphasized that it is a change in culture that must be made. SIFC Member M. Jammal asked about LWOPs being excluded from NDPF since many LWOPs are now level II or III. Director Gipson said they are currently not being sent to NDPF facilities.
SIFC Member C. Velasco asked if there was any way the move to NDPF yards could be more incremental and not such large numbers (75+) at a time; that this was too much, too soon to expect an easy adjustment. Secretary Diaz said that CDCR has explored other options, but this must be accomplished as quickly as feasible to make it work. Slowing it defeats the purpose of the changeover. Currently all incoming Level I and Level II inmates are being sent to NDPFs.
A. Drug Interdiction
1. SATF – Passive Canine Searches
Associate Director F. Vasquez said all vehicles (staff and visitor) will be subject to random passive canine searches at the facility entrance in an increased attempt to interdict drugs and contraband. The driver will give written consent if selected. Refusal to consent will require the vehicle be removed from state property, but will not prevent the visitor from visiting. The visit may be non-contact.
SIFC Member M. Mitchell raised the concern that VPASS appointments are cancelled if the visitor is not there on time for the appointment. Director Gipson stated they will review this issue.
SIFC Member A. De La Torre asked about the randomization and the percent being selected for the searches. Director Gipson said all drivers will push a button at the entry gate and that 10% are expected to be searched.
SIFC Member B. Hall asked how many dogs will be used. Associate Director Vasquez replied there will be a total of eight dogs. Two dogs are in service now, five dogs have just completed training, but have not yet been deployed and one dog still must complete training.
B. JPAY tablet – pilot program
1. When will it be completed?
2. Are there plans to implement to other prisons?
Associate Director Vasquez stated that the current pilot program (currently in five facilities, although not on all yards) ends May 2019. They expect to continue the program until June 2022 possibly expanding it into other facilities.
Dr. Brant Choate, Director, Division of Rehabilitative Programs, explained that the tablets will allow education programs for Milestone credits to be available to those who are unable to attend the classes due to work assignments. There will also be additional free content available.
SIFC Member M. Mitchell said she felt the tablets were positive and would help to eliminate cell phones and expedite communication between family members by reducing the competition for phone time. Was the tablet program going to be in all facilities? Director Gipson said this must be taken up with the next Governor’s administration, but there are many benefits to tablet use.
C. Family Visiting (Overnight)
2. Request for more uniformity statewide
3. What is the plan for institutions that do not have facilities for such visits?
4. Family Visiting Application Process/Eligibility
Associate Director A. Miller stated that since the change in regulations two years ago there has been a large increase in the number of family visits; 800-900 per month statewide. On average (statewide) an inmate is able to get a family visit approximately every ninety days.
New family visiting regulations are pending. CDCR expects to have the regulations in effect by end of January 2019. There will still be instances where approval for family visiting will be made on a case by case basis. If inmates are denied after a case by case review, they will be able to appeal the decision.
SIFC Member B. Hall said there are no Family Visiting units at some of the institutions. Associate Director Miller said that the only facility that does not have FV units is California City. CIM does have FV units, but they are in an area that requires a gate pass. Inmates may ask for a review on a case by case basis to see if they could qualify for a gate pass. If an inmate does not qualify for a gate pass, they may ask for a transfer to an institution where they would have access to family visiting. There is currently no funding for fencing that would allow all inmates at CIM access to the FV units.
SIFC Member A. De La Torre asked if it was possible to fund the fencing from outside sources.
Associate Director Miller said that was not allowed.
SIFC Member A. De La Torre asked about some facilities allowing visitors to bring their own linens and some not allowing that. Associate Director Miller responded that this was something that the individual prison was allowed to approve. With that said, linens are always required to be provided by all institutions.
Associate Director Miller said that there are 600-1,000 passes issued per facility each visiting day with fifty to eighty available for each time slot. SIFC Member A. Walters asked if it was possible to change the login process (using a DL# instead of an email address) to prevent individuals from making multiple pass reservations and then selling them which has become an issue. Associate Director Miller said they are aware of the problem and have evidence that these types of transactions take place. However, VPASS is not connected to SOMS and as a separate system; CDCR wants to limit the amount of personal identifying information that is entered. Director Gipson said she will be forming a work group to address the problem.
Albert Rivas, Chief, External Communications, said there might be additional scheduling alternatives such as a phone app. This might increase access to the reservation process for visitors without computer or internet access. It would also allow visitors to receive more timely alerts of lockdowns or cancellation/changes to visiting.
a. Elizabeth Gransee, Public Information Officer, will continue to attend SIFC meetings on behalf of CCHCS.
Liz Gransee, Chief of Communications, CCHCS, said there will be a link to the new Substance Use Disorder Treatment program on the website. SIFC Member M. Jammal asked about resuming the SIFC medical workgroup. L. Gransee replied that she would have contact info available for those interested in participating.
a. Status of Cashless Vending; will the pilot be continued or extended?
b. Allowance has been $50 dollars for many years; possibility of increase?
c. Can a cap be placed on the amount the vendors can charge for the items in vending machines? Don’t necessarily believe increasing the monies the visitor can bring in will solve the problem.
Associate Director Miller said the cashless vending has been a pilot program at three facilities and they hope to expand it statewide. CDCR is aware that the $50.00 limit per adult needs to be changed and an issue paper recommending an increase was routed for review. This will require a change to the DOM. Because so many complaints have been made concerning the prices vendors are charging a survey of prices was done at the institutions and at other public sectors such as airports. The prices were found to be comparable. Vendor contracts are through the Department of Rehabilitation. The contracts do not set the prices or the individual items offered in the machines.
SIFC Member B. Hall asked how the facilities will be notified if/when the amount of funds allowed increases. Associate Director Miller said it will be in a memorandum sent to the facilities as well as being provided to the Inmate Advisory Councils and the Inmate Family Councils.
SIFC Member J. Muller asked about having food trucks or “take out” orders at more facilities. Associate Director Miller says this is a vendor decision. Sometimes it is not practical for the vendor to provide such additional services. It is dependent on the availability of the resources, such as a food truck or a staff kitchen. It is a vendor option though and can be addressed locally with the Warden.
E. Proposition 57 – Credit Earning Updates
1. Programming hours – What’s been earned?
Dr. Choate said the new revision to the Milestone matrix was completed May 2018. In the past it has been updated annually, it will now be updated twice a year. The next revision will be February 2019. A video on credits will be going out to all the institutions. Nine hundred years of Milestone credits have already been earned. Thirty thousand weeks of RAC (Rehabilitation Achievement Credits) have been awarded.
SIFC Member C. Mendoza requested information on the credits accrued by LWOP inmates and if they will be retroactive if there is a change to their sentence later down the road. NOTE: After the meeting, Associate Director Miller was able to confirm that LWOP inmates who have their sentence changed will get those credits they are currently earning.
SIFC Member M. Mitchell stated that many inmates cannot attend classes to receive these credits due to work schedules. SIFC Member M. Jammal said that inmates were no longer allowed to use their lunch break to attend. J. Macomber, Deputy Director, Facility Support, stated the number of participants has increased from 11,000 to 25,000. Timekeeping does not have a way to separate out time in a self-help group that occurs during an inmate’s regularly scheduled work hours and they can’t have “double-dipping” in the time records. The exception to this is annual events. Inmates can request a modification to their work schedule, including a part-time work schedule, if they want to participate in a class or activity group that conflicts with their current work assignment.
F. Programming Facilities
1. What has the experience been so far? Successful?
2. Any issues in other facilities?
3. Timeline for further implementation?
Previously addressed and discussed with Secretary Diaz.
G. SB 542 Funds – Appropriate Expenditures and collaboration among stakeholders (Inmate Councils and IFC)
1. Holiday Decoration Donations
Associate Director Miller said the most recent update to allowed items was provided in July 2018. Copies were furnished to members. The expenditure of these funds is a collaborative effort between the Warden, IFC and Inmate Advisory Groups (MAC, WAC, etc.). Purchases should be maximized to use all available funds.
H. GTL Inmate Telephone System
1. Any possibility of limiting phone interruptions?
K. Graham, EIS, addressed the request to reduce the number of announcements (advising those on the call that it is from a state prison and it is being recorded) during calls. They may be able to reduce it to just one warning. The announcements are intentionally at random intervals to ensure anyone on the line is aware of the call origin and recording. Associate Director Miller will work with EIS to limit the “end of call” warning to a sixty second warning only.
Inquiry was made regarding Unlimited calling plans advertised by GTL which require a membership and have monthly, quarterly or annual fees. K. Graham will look for more info on this and pass it on.
I. Allowable items in the Visiting Room
1. Are strollers allowed in the visiting rooms? If so, are visitors allowed to push the stroller while visiting?
SIFC Member W. Astronomo said that recently visitors had been prohibited from bringing in strollers. Previously they had been allowed. Staff had stated that only “baby carriers” were allowed per the Title 15. Language did not define what is considered a “baby carrier”. SIFC Member C. Mendoza asked if it was possible for facilities to have acceptable strollers available for visitor use. No one wants to put their infant on the floor. Associate Director Miller asked that members come up with a proposal for CDCR to consider. This is an item that SB542 funds could be used for. She suggested the possibility of the use of reversible baby chairs in the visiting rooms. They will work on defining “baby carrier.”
J. Allowable Items sent through the Mail
1. Many family members use an app, Photo Books, which transfers pictures, prints them and places them in a soft cover booklet. The vendor then mails the booklet to the inmate. Some facilities allow these and some do not. Are these allowed, per policy?
M. Tillotson, Captain, Office of Policy Standardization, stated the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, 3134.1 (a), requires all photo albums be purchased through canteen. He didn’t think photo books sent through third party vendors met that requirement. SIFC Member C. Mendoza says that SVSP (and several other institutions) has been allowing the books provided by Shutterfly through the mailroom. The books are ordered through an app or website and sent directly from the vendor to the inmate. The covers are a thicker paper; they are not hardbound.
Captain Tillotson will look into the vendors providing this service. Associate Director Miller requested a sample book so they could see the actual product. Director Gipson and Associate Director Miller said that facilities currently accepting the albums (SVSP, Soledad, CIM, CIW and CCI) could continue to do so until a ruling is made.
K. Modified Programs
1. Any flexibility in staff training; inmate programs are often interrupted?
SIFC Member M. Jammal said the new warden at SCC had consolidated most staff IST to one day per month meaning there was far less disruption to inmate programs and classes. She would like all facilities to be directed to follow a similar training schedule. Director Gipson says most facilities do try to group required IST to prevent disruption. It may not be just a single day, but they do try to consolidate it.
SIFC Member W. Astronomo said that feeding at MCSP is often shortened because there is not enough available staff to cover the dining hall due to training. Associate Director Vasquez will check the training schedule and staffing at MCSP.
L. SIFC Communication
1. Informing IFC’s/Families of meeting minutes and other information helpful to families (example: how to send a package or make phone calls).
SIFC Member M. Jammal brought up the duties of the SIFC Vice Chairman which include making sure that information is made available to other IFCs and visitors. How can the council best communicate this information, including minutes, seminars, etc. if they cannot maintain an independent website? R. Jackson, Associate Warden (A), said CDCR has an excellent webmaster, Thomas Gonzalez. He would be able to create a landing page for SIFC that would refer back to the SIFC link on the main CDCR page. This could be organized to include meeting minutes, CDCR memos, etc. Associate Director Miller said CDCR can also include links to the local IFCs. User friendly changes would make the information easier to find and keep it up to date.
M. Ventura Training Center
T. Snyder, Captain, gave information on the new program being rolled out for parolees. This is a joint effort by Cal Fire, the California Conservation Corps (CCC) and CDCR with a maximum of eighty participants. It consists of six months classroom training followed by twelve months of OJT. Participants live on site and receive meals and a stipend ($1905.00), plus additional pay when responding to emergencies. Education credits will also be available through the John Muir Charter School.
A recruitment video was watched. This video has gone out to all 42 Fire Camps. Inmates may apply for the program within six months of their release date.
The request to expand visiting days/times was addressed as a means to eliminate overcrowding and terminations. This is a funding issue that must be approved by the Department of Finance. At this time, expansion does not look likely.