Prison officials revealed new rules Friday that they say will make California the first state to recognize that inmates can quit prison gangs and put that lifestyle behind them, allowing them to escape the tough restrictions that gang members are subject to.
However, gang associates would have to steer clear of gang activities for about a decade to qualify, while gang leaders would have to behave for a minimum of 14 years.
The draft regulations made public Friday are the latest changes to rules that keep some gang members locked in special isolation units for years and have led to widespread inmate hunger strikes. A spokesman for a coalition of reform groups that backed the hunger strikers called the changes “woefully inadequate.”
The new regulations are an extension of a 15-month-old pilot program that has allowed gang members to get out of isolation units at Pelican Bay in far Northern California and other prisons without renouncing their gang membership.
Since the start of the pilot, the department has reviewed 632 gang members who were in isolation units. Of those, 408 have been cleared to be released into the general prison population and 185 were given more privileges but remain in isolation.
Those 2012 policies, which are being updated in Friday’s filing with the Office of Administrative Law, let the gang members and associates gain more privileges and leave the isolation units in as little as three years if they stop engaging in gang activities, and participate in anger management and drug rehabilitation programs.
Officials said that change was based on programs in seven other states. California is now the first to go a step farther by removing the gang designation entirely if the inmate continues to behave, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or CDCR.
Despite the successes the CDCR has had in removing violent and disruptive STG affiliates from the general population settings of the institutions, the Department has recognized a need to evaluate current strategies and implement new approaches to address evolving STG trends consistent with security, fiscal, and offender population management needs. Fortunately, the inmate population reductions associated with Public Safety Realignment is affording CDCR the opportunity to reconstruct aspects of its STG policy that are consistent with successful models used in other large correctional agencies. The Public Safety Realignment will result in easing overcrowding and providing CDCR with more housing options to support this effort.
And here are the actual regulations, which define the step-down processes that are to be taken. The multi-step process of being cleared of gang affiliation (referred to in the regulations as STG – security threat group) is lengthy and features various monitoring options.