The Associated Press has reported that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is reforming its policies regarding the controversial Security Housing Units (SHUs), where thousands of inmates are held in solitary confinement for an average of 6.8 years. According to the AP:

Gang members would no longer have to renounce their gang membership. Instead, they could earn more privileges and get out of the isolation units in four years instead of six if they stop engaging in gang activities and participate in anger management and drug rehabilitation programs.


The old system focused on separating and suppressing gangs. The new system tries to change gang members’ behavior through rewards and punishment, she said.

Under the old policy, gang associates are automatically sent to the Security Housing Units to live alongside gang leaders. Under the proposed policy, many could continue living in the general prison population.

The reforms include the implementation of step down programs defined as follows:

Step Down Program (SDP), Step 1 and 2 Security Housing Unit (SHU): First two of five steps in the step down process with a minimum of 12 months in each step, dependent upon successful completion.  SHU housing unit/program specifically designated for housing of criminal gang affiliates determined to pose a threat to the safety of staff/offenders and security of the  prison based upon intelligence and/or confirmed behaviors. This housing designation is intended to isolate the most dangerous STG affiliates with a high degree of monitoring placed on all avenues of communications.

Step Down Program (SDP), Step 3 and 4 Security Housing Unit (SHU):  Two of five steps in the step down process with a minimum of 12 months in each step dependent upon successful completion.  ASHU housing unit/program specifically designated for housing of criminal affiliates who have completed step 1 and 2 but  have been  determined  based upon intelligence and/or confirmed criminal gang behaviors still to pose a threat to the safety of staff and security of the prisons. This housing designation is intended to begin reintegration of the STG affiliates by offering program and privilege incentives within a controlled setting and monitoring of program progress.

Step Down Program (SDP), Step 5 General Population Housing:  Upon successful completion of all four steps, as determined by  Institutional Classification Committee (ICC) and based on individual offender behavior, the offender will be referred to the Classification Staff Representative (CSR) for endorsement to a Level IV, 180 design facility (male offenders only) for a 12 month observation period, regardless of the offender’s placement score unless otherwise directed by a Department Review Board (DRB) action.  After completion of the 12 month observation period with no evidence of continued gang involvement, the offender may be placed in a facility consistent with their placement score and case factors.

There are currently over 3000 inmates in the Security Housing Units, located at Pelican Bay State Prison, California State Prison, Corcoran, and California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi. Most inmates in the SHU are there due to a controversial gang validation process, during which inmates have been sentenced to six year SHU terms for reasons ranging from explicit gang activity to inferred gang activity based on potentially erroneous grounds like tattoos, stray comments, and possession of certain books.

According to the recently released policy announcement,

This proposal incorporates the current CDCR gang identification and validation procedures per CCR, Title 15, Division 3, Section 3378 and DOM, Article 22, Section 52070.1, Gang Management, which will remain in effect with added language intended to improve application of policy. These additions will include but are not limited to: Introduction of a new STG category and a weighted point system for validation as identified in this proposal. Due process rights in accordance with CCR, Title 15, Division 3, Section 3378, will remain in place.

CDCR currently validates gang affiliates into two categories, Gang Members and Gang Associates. This proposal incorporates the STG designations as referenced and adds two additional STG affiliation categories. The new category of Suspect will not be officially validated, but tracked for intelligence purposes and decisions that impact the institution’s daily program needs. The new category of Monitored represents any offender who has successfully completed Steps 1-4 in the SDP and has been returned to a general population or SNY setting. Additionally, the introduction of these new STG management strategies will serve to reduce CDCR’s current reliance upon segregation for managing STG members, associates and suspects.

Pages 17-25 of the document cover the categories and the validation criteria. Implemented is a reformed point system for prison officials to use in determining gang activity status. In order for an inmate to be labeled a gang Associate, at least three source items with a value of at least 10 points must be identified. Examples of source items include hand signs (2 points), being named in a debriefing reports (3 points), and legal documents (7 points). According to the AP, over 2000 SHU inmates are Associates.

Regarding changes of classifications,

A validated STG Associate can have their validation status upgraded to Member with the validation of 1 additional source item, any point value, containing intelligence indicative of a Member. The status of a validated Subject will remain unless updated, changed or deleted with final approval by OCS.

After the initial validation, gang behavior of validated offenders will be addressed based on this  proposal. The current “INACTIVE” category will be revised to incorporate the term “MONITORED”. A monitored offender is one who has successfully completed Steps 1-4 in the SDP and has been returned to a general population or sensitive needs yard setting. This period of monitoring will include continuous and ongoing cell searches, mail and phone call monitoring, and periodic interviews with investigative unit staff. After the initial validation, a monitored offender’s confirmed gang behavior will be addressed through housing placement by the decision of the ICC.

The desolate conditions of the SHU, coupled with higher recidivism rates (nearly 70%)  among inmates released from them, prompted two large scale hunger strikes across California in protest of the SHU in the summer and fall of 2011.The strikes prompted the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee to hold a historic hearing on the Security Housing Units in August 2011.  The widespread use of solitary confinement in California, which totals 11,000 when the Administrative Segregation Units are included, currently costs California taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually. What effect these reforms will actually have remains to be seen. Activists urging reforms appear to be taking a cautious attitude toward the announced changes.

Solitary Watch will provide updates as information becomes available.

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