Is Calif.about to engage in a massive shift into less secure housing for life prisoners?

A group of academics recently put together a report which has just been released by CDCR


A group of academics recently put together a report which has just been released by CDCR. This report is entitled "Expert Panel Study of the Inmate Classification Score System." It has been widely reported in the media that the department is seriously considering implementing the recommendations of this panel.

This report concludes that many of these Level IV prisoners could safely be housed in Level III or Level II housing, saving the state a ton of money compared to building new high security cells. In addition the report opines that a significant amount of the bad behavior of Level IV prisoners is caused by the fact that they are in Level IV housing and that if they are housed in less secure housing they will become better behaved.

I think it would be helpful to examine the “expert panel” in order to evaluate this report more fully. All five are professional academics, all have PhD degrees. Only one of them has actually worked within the system. That was for less than two years as a headquarters person in charge of research

Ryken Grattet is a Professor of Sociology at UC Davis. His primary focus has been on the development and enforcement of hate crime legislation. He served as the Assistant Secretary of Research within CDCR in 2005 and 2006. 

David Farabee is a Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science at UCLA. His principle areas are substance abuse programs and HIV/AIDS. One of his books is Rethinking Rehabilitation: Why Can’t We Reform Our Criminals.

Richard McCleary is a Professor of Social Ecology at UC Irvine. His primary area is evaluation of corrections and supervision programs. He has worked as a consultant for the feds and several state prison systems.

Susan Turner is a Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at UC Irvine. She is the director of the Center for Evidence-Based Corrections and a member of the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board. Her primary expertise is in developing randomized field experiments and in private sector alternatives for serious juvenile offenders. She has also done research into drug treatment.

Steven Raphael is a Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. His background is economics. His primary field has been relationships between racial segregation in housing markets and employment prospects of African-Americans. He has also written extensively on the economics of discrimination.

Their panel study points out (accurately) that CDCR uses an overlapping system to determine inmate housing. The inmate’s Custody Designation and the Inmate Classification Score System. There are four levels of housing for non-condemned prisoners, Level I, II, III and IV. 

The Custody Designation attempts to address and inmate’s escape risk and threat to the community if they in fact do escape.

Mandatory Minimum housing restricts the housing to which high-security inmates can be housed; for instance a condemned prisoner can’t be housed in a dormitory setting.  (The report does not look at either condemned prisoners nor female prisoners as far as I can tell.)

The panel concludes that Mandatory Minimum scores seem to trap well-behaving prisoners in higher security housing levels than they might otherwise need. They further conclude that actual placement classification scores are not nearly as good a predictor of problems than the age of the inmate and lower average preliminary scores. 

The panel also asserts that there is “little evidence” that housing inmates at higher housing levels than necessary suppressed institutional misconduct. Furthermore they assert that there is a criminogenic effect produced by placing inmates with housing scores just above the Level III cut-off in level IV housing. (In other words housing them in Level IV housing makes them act out whereas if they were housed in Level III housing they would not act out.)

The panel also pointed out (correctly) that there are few inside escapes, especially from institutions with “hot” (electrified lethal) fences.

The panel recommends that estimates of inmate risk should be based more on preliminary classification scores and that these scores should not be overridden by Mandatory Minimum housing restrictions.

The panel recommends that inmates with scores just above the cutoff threshold be placed at the lower security housing in the “expectation that it will not lead to increases in individual or overall rates of serious misconduct.”

The panel recommends the department discard Custody Designations as they are no longer justified as a mechanism to reduce the likelihood of escape.

I respectfully suggest that there are in fact a significant number of inmates doing life sentences who could safely be housed in level II or Level III housing. Most of these are otherwise straight citizens locked up for family homicide, such as the husband who murdered his wife, wife’s boyfriend, wife’s divorce lawyer, or combination thereof. I further suggest that many lifer inmates are heavily gang involved and that, no matter what their age or apparent institutional adjustment, they remain an escape risk and a danger to the community at large if they do escape.

I expect the Department will implement at least a portion of this panel’s report because the movers and shakers within the department want it to be true. I am not sanguine about its prospects for working well. 

Here is a link to a full copy of the 160 page report.

What are your thoughts? 

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