SACRAMENTO, CA - California prison officials say changes in the way they manage prison gangs are showing positive results so far.
The program, instituted earlier this year, allows some inmates identified as gang members to be housed with the general population rather than being automatically placed in isolation units or, what the state calls, security housing units.
The changes were prompted by several prisoner hunger strikes earlier this year in and in 2011. Those strikes led to protests of support outside the Sacramento headquarters of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
Inmates have long complained that locking them for long periods in security housing units is cruel and can lead to mental illness.
So, prison officials instituted changes using a four-tier step-down program which allows prisoners incremental privileges as incentive to disassociate from gangs.
"Rather than through the suppression of placing an offender in a security housing unit just simply based on their identification or association with a security threat group, provide that offender the opportunity to exhibit positive behavior and to continue to be integrated with the general population, and only hold them accountable for their behaviors when there is a nexus to the gang," said Michael Stainer, a deputy director with CDCR.
Out of 133,000 inmates in the state's thirty-three prisons, about 3,000 have been identified as members of gangs.
"Through their influence, they control everything from narcotics trafficking to either being directly involved or orchestrating violence against staff or other offenders," Stainer said.
Stainer says that so far, officials have conducted reviews of about 60 inmates at five different prisons. Many have been placed at various levels of the step-down program. Some have been released to the general population.
Stainer added prisoner feedback has been positive.
(CTNS) Capitol Tellevison News Service