CDCR is integrating all inmate populations and phasing out ‘sensitive needs’ yards for inmates such as rapists, informants and former gang members. Prison loved ones say integration will increase violence.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) plans on phasing out sensitive needs yards and programs to place greater focus on co-existing rehabilitation. Many are concerned this attempt at shifting resources will result in violence against their incarcerated loved ones.
What Are Sensitive Needs Programs?
Sensitive needs refers to the services provided to prisoners seen as targets by fellow inmates. In many cases, this is due to the crimes they were sentenced for, such as molestation.
There are also the prison inmates who have denounced their prison gangs or gang affiliations on the outside. Because gang membership is for life, these inmates are also in danger when placed in general population.
For this reason, inmates with sensitive needs are given their own yards and rehabilitation programs, apart from standard non-designated programs and inmates.
CDCR to Replace Sensitive Needs with New Programs
Ralph Diaz, the Undersecretary of Operations for CDCR, explains that providing sensitive needs isn’t lowering the rate of violence in prisons. In fact, there are gangs currently being formed within sensitive needs yards.
For this reason, Diaz reassured the public that the decision to replace sensitive needs with a new system is an improvement. Diaz stated:
“We are going to do behavior-based programs and holding people based on their own behavior.”
He added the inmates involved in this transition will return home safely after their sentences are served.
In spite of the reassurance of Diaz that this change will not result in fatalities of violence, CDCR has faced criticisms. One came from Californian gang expert (and former CDCR inmate), Joshua Mason.
Mason explains how the transition into the new system isn’t going to be as easy in practice as it is on paper. Certain inmates in sensitive needs often earn that status for acting as informants against criminals.
Not all sensitive needs inmates are rapists and snitches. These yards also include ex-gang members seen as traitors by their old gangs.
“I would be concerned for my loved ones in prison, whether they were in a sensitive needs yard or general population, that they may find themselves, frankly, in an unavoidable situation…To radically throw everything on its head now is pretty crazy.”
Sensitive Needs Programs Keeps Prison Loved Ones at Ease
Family members of inmates of CDCR are just as concerned for this upcoming change. Specifically, families of inmates at Folsom State Prison, a low-level security prison. CDCR hopes to convert Folsom State into a non-designated facility (according to Diaz). Some prisoners are already on edge with this decision.
Mary Frances Orduño son’s father is imprisoned at Folsom State Prison. He reported the fear he witnessed in fellow inmates.
Orduño saw 30 inmates in protective custody moved to a general population. They walked out without hesitation, asking to be cuffed so they don’t look like protective custody inmates.
The facility’s COs refused their request.
“If you’re in protective custody, you’re there for a reason, and [the other inmates] know it.”
He added the fact that inmates have a feeling things can go awry with these two groups integrated as one:
- General population
- Sensitive needs yards
Orduño mentioned an incident occurred at Mule Creek State Prison regarding inmates in protective custody. Although CDCR spokeswoman Vicky Waters gave a counterstatement.
Waters explained a dozen inmates were involved in a fight at the facility. No inmates or staff members were injured. Waters would not elaborate further, according to her, as the incident was still under investigation.
The similar situations between sensitive needs and protective custody inmates leave loved ones concerned. They are powerless to protect inmates trying their best to rehabilitate without the danger of confrontation.
Banishing Sensitive Needs Yards: What This Means for CDCR’s Future
Despite CDCR’s assurance, this change means a lot for loved ones, inmates and former inmates alike. The fact a threat of violence and fatalities exist in the transitional phases of a new system makes it difficult for people to ignore the smoke near the potential fire.
Diaz assured the public the decision isn’t being made out of nowhere. CDCR has spent roughly two years discussing the potential decision with former inmates and reentry groups.
Waters points out the move is necessary to increase the amount of rehabilitative and vocational programs available to inmates. There won’t be the need for separate committees to review special needs inmates sent to a non-designated program facility.
Regardless of public opinion and that of prison loved ones, only time will tell if the attempt at efficient resource pooling will actually improve the conditions and safety of inmates who are perceived as lesser by their general population neighbors.