C-ROB Report: How politics has hampered California Corrections

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(photos credit: Steve Gibson)

This is Part 1 of 2 of Mr. Hoffman’s reaction to the C-ROB report. Part 1 provides some historical context based on his own experiences and part 2 tomorrow will assess the current situation and look at what needs to be done going forward.

Part 2 can be read here.

I recently read the September 15, 2013 report published by the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board (C-ROB).  As noted in the preface of the report, this is the thirteenth review authored by C-ROB since this bi-annual examination of “the programming provided to inmates and parolees by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation” (CDCR/Department) since Penal Code Section 6141 mandated this process in early 2007. The report references the “Expert Panel Report” of June 2007 as the required baseline for evaluating if the programming proposed by CDCR is both appropriate and effective. 

It is important to understand this report is simply one in a long list of wonderfully crafted reviews, audits and reports submitted to the State and CDCR since 2005 or so. In the case of the Expert Panel, the authors were very simply the “who’s who” of corrections and re-entry practices and policy nationally. It is important to point out that such notable “think tanks” as the Little Hoover Commission, the Center for Evidence Based Corrections and others have also provided informative strategies for improvement to the Department. 

As is the case with the Expert Panel Report, many of these reports were authored between 2005 and 2007. It is now September 2013.

As a matter of background, I served as the Director of the CDCR, Department of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) from August 2006 to August 2009. I am familiar with many of the members of the C-ROB; I truly respect their long history of commitment and contribution to this difficult debate.  I remain actively engaged in the social and policy debate around re-entry, inmate and parolee programming and the implementation of AB 109 (Parole Realignment). 

As Director I was personally responsible for any number of parole reform initiatives, Federal litigation compliance strategies (Valdivia), implementing new laws, and budget/staffing “drills” around parole reform and re-entry. As the report points out, turn over at the “Director” level was, and remains, commonplace in CDCR/DAPO. This predictably creates instability and confusion throughout the organization,. As one example, unlike any position I held in a 34 year career in public safety in CA, I experienced the day to day reality that at the highest levels of the organization, the threat of getting “whacked” (our lingo for being fired) loomed large over anyone appointed a leadership position within CDCR. 

That being said, I have nothing but absolute respect for CDCR/DAPO. Being the Director was a professional privilege and a public safety honor of the highest order.  It takes no time walking the hallways at CDCR headquarters facility, a prison or a parole office to understand the often complicated nature of the sworn obligations faced by every employee in the Department every day. I have also realized why this huge organization has such a difficult time actually staying on point and seeing a project through from conception to becoming a street level reality. 

Seems to me, the most recent C-ROB report is another example of a legislatively mandated “board” (there are others within the State) trying to politely point out that not a great deal has actually been accomplished in the 7 plus years this specific obligation of the Department has been studied. The rest of the story is clearly missing. I believe there are many issues confronting CDCR/DAPO that can explain why this report is littered with phrases such as “intend to,” “plans to,” and “will add,” and why those same phrases infiltrate the majority of any subsequent discussions.

By its very nature, law enforcement in America is influenced by politics and the ever shifting social and economic agenda(s) of our time. From my own experience, I get the need for law enforcement leaders, and their organizations, to be politically astute. The difference while at CDCR/DAPO in particular is the level of influence around policy, procedure, budget and personnel politicians and their staff members have. They determine the day to day “most important” obligation, and how that obligation will be met by the department more than many realize. If we look at the history of CDCR since 2005/06, we can see the implications of this reality and its influence on the capacity of the Department to meet requirements identified in this most recent report.  

When I was appointed Director in August 2006, DAPO was consumed with implementing Proposition 83/“Jessica’s Law”, the now well-known sex offender supervision legislation which was projected to pass later that year (2006). While maintaining all the other obligations of supervising the largest parolee population in the world, the DAPO team (and therefore CDCR) was required to immediately begin the process bringing over 9,000 sex offenders into compliance with the law within the subsequent 12 months. 

When one considers the economic, contractual (GPS units/programming providers) and logistical implications of training agents in the containment model, creating new case loads, “strapping” this population with said GPS units, enforcing residency restrictions, dealing with communities all across the state who were now predisposed to fear sexual offenders in their midst, you can understand why/how other issues were seen as much lower on the priority list. 

In this time period, I had a standing weekly meeting, accompanied by a CDCR Undersecretary, with a very high ranking member of the Governor’s executive staff to discuss exactly where DAPO was in the process of complying with this the complicated law.  A typical question would be why last week were there 2,515 sex offenders being monitored via GPS and this week there are only 2,512? Not lost in this discussion was the fact virtually no county in the state was enforcing the law for approximately 10,000 sex offenders under county control because of cost and a lack of research to support residency restrictions or GPS monitoring as a legitimate deterrent. This is just one graphic example of how different the world can be for CDCR/DAPO because the Department is so closely linked to politics at the highest levels in the State.  When a powerful Senator authors a law in reaction to a horrific crime that created an emotionally charged public out-cry, and the Governor publically supports the legislation, the CDCR Secretary and staff must comply to the letter of the law.  And they did. 

Tom G. Hoffman is the former Director of the CDCR, Department of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) and was a longtime police officer in Southern California


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