As a prisoner, I am often reminded that the CDCR requires me to follow its rules. That’s understandable, rules and regulations ensure that operations run safely and smoothly. When an inmate can’t or won’t follow the rules, negative consequences are triggered to urge him or her to do so in the future. But what happens when the CDCR doesn’t follow its own rules? Where are the negative consequences to them? Apparently there are none. But there are negative consequences to inmates, and to the community, when the Department of Corrections can’t follow its own rules. Let me explain.
As of March 1, I will have 38 days remaining to serve until my parole date, yet I have not signed my parole conditions, nor do I know the parole office I am to report to, and most importantly, I have no idea where I will be staying once I reenter the community. This is a huge concern to me: I want as smooth a transition into the community as is possible, and I want to succeed. This should be a concern to the general public as well. The community I return to shouldn’t have to wonder if parolees re-entering their environs have a stable release plan and will be accountable.
The Department of Corrections Operations Manual’s section on Release Procedures and Conditions of Parole articulates procedures regarding imminent paroles. Among those regulations it says: CDC policy requires referrals to be forwarded to the Regional Reentry Coordinator 210 days prior to the earliest possible release date (EPRD). My release date has been the same for more than a year, so this notification – designated the Release Program Study (RPS) – should already have happened as of October of last year. After this notification, a parole agent is assigned, he or she is supposed to investigate any proposed residence program to determine if it is suitable for the parolee to live in. The parole agent is also required to investigate any employment, training or school plans to determine the validity of any job offer, whether it’s appropriate and so on and so forth. If there is not enough information available for the parole agent to make an adequate assessment he is supposed to contact the inmate to request information about alternative residence or employment plans if the proposed program is unsatisfactory. Since I gave no prospective residence or employment information when asked, the assigned parole agent, by regulation, should have contacted me by now. He or she has not. Nor have I ever heard of anyone being contacted about residential or employment plans prior to release. I’m sure I’m not the first parolee not to have a pre-arranged residence and job.
Believe me, I would like to discuss my housing options with someone BEFORE I’m dropped onto the street with $200 to my name: less the cost of a bus ticket to Los Angeles County.
I’ve done my part; I have researched transitional housing options and educational opportunities, but without any assistance or recognition from parole representatives I have no idea if these resources are available. With this deliberate indifference to my, and every other parolee’s plight, is it any wonder why the recidivism rate among California’s parolees is so high? While in prison we know we have a bed to sleep on and where our next meal is coming from. Without support and acknowledgement from parole agents and their supervisors we re-enter society unsure of our prospects and fearful of failure. But one thing we do know, if we commit another crime there will be a bed and food waiting for us. Is this any way to promote public safety? By sending the message that the Department of Corrections, by its inaction, wants its former residents to come back they are compromising public safety. Who suffers the negative consequences for that?
Richard Gilliam is incarcerated at the California Men's Colony (CMC).