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CA is integrating ‘vulnerable’ inmates with the general prison population – will they be safer?




A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer opens the gate for an inmate leaving the exercise yard at San Quentin State Prison on August 15, 2016 in San Quentin, California.
A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) officer opens the gate for an inmate leaving the exercise yard at San Quentin State Prison on August 15, 2016 in San Quentin, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is starting to integrate prisoners who were separately housed in protective custody, or “sensitive needs yards,” with the general inmate population.

These separate prison units were created to house inmates who would’ve been in physical danger in the general prison population – former cops, sex offenders and gang informants, for example.  

But these separate units had become almost as, if not more, dangerous than the conditions of the less secure facilities. Currently, lower-security inmates are being integrated into the general population. The main hospital and mental health units are already integrated.

Here’s a statement from CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Vicky Waters:

California has made many criminal justice reforms in recent years, including an evolution in the way we run the state’s prison. Our department continues to expand rehabilitative opportunities for inmates, in order to help prepare them for greater personal success as they return to their communities. We offer education, job training, work experience, self-help programs and other opportunities that reward positive behavior. We also safely incarcerate individuals in the least-restrictive housing possible and in locations – known as non-designated programming facilities - where they have the opportunity and requirement to interact positively with a range of other inmates. A committee rigorously reviews inmates on a case-by-case basis to determine if they should be assigned to such a facility. We have transitioned some of our lower security level yards to non-designated programming facilities, and the safety and security of both our staff and our inmates are our first priority. We also continue to operate sensitive needs yards.

Some advocates hope that this will lead to safer overall conditions, while others fear that the integration process will lead to issues.

Guests:

Sharon Dolovich, professor of law at UCLA and director of the UCLA Prison Law and Policy Program

Joshua Mason, street and prison gang expert and former inmate within the California’s prison system; owner of JMasonConsulting, which evaluates and produces reports and testimonies for federal and state cases involving gangs

Don Specter, executive director of the Prison Law Office, non-profit public interest law firm that provides legal services to prisoners, based out of Berkeley