Despite that “R” for Rehabilitation in CDCR’s name, budget pressures have meant cutbacks in vocational, educational, self-help and similar programs often recognized as the most efficacious dollars spent in the California corrections budget. Political reality can, and frequently does, result in bad public policy. In such instances, we can only make the best of a bad situation. Faith and spiritual activities may become another case in point. In these programs the budget shoe has not yet dropped, but certainly could. Are we prepared for this?
GROUP INMATE APPEAL
As of early December (a full eight months later), no replacement priest had been hired despite repeated discussions with CSP Solano’s Community Partnership Manager through the Religious Affairs Council. Nor had any volunteers been allowed into the institution. At that time a group inmate appeal—containing over 100 signatures from Facility IV alone—was prepared for submission in hopes that some form of relief might be forthcoming by Christmas. The stalemate was seen as particular grievous because in Catholic practice critical sacraments, such as consecration of the host and reconciliation, can only be administered by a priest. Placement of ordained ministers must be approved by the local diocese.
SLOWED TO A CRAWL
Communicating outside a prison is always difficult for inmates, but communicating with volunteers and the local diocese were only two of the problems faced by the Solano group. CDCR hiring processes can be slowed to a crawl when institutional will is lacking, and security procedures can be used to preclude volunteers from entering an institution if careful preparations are not made (although dispensation from security shift commanders is possible). Merely finding volunteers can be a problem. In the case of the Solano inmates, at least two potential candidates were forced to withdraw due to delays.
Clearly, when religious programs and budget realities collide, program value may not be the driving criteria. It is cold comfort that this is consistent with the treatment of other programs that have been shown to reduce violence and recidivism, and thereby CDCR’s direct costs.
RAISE THE ISSUE
Inmates at San Quentin and throughout CDCR must raise this issue with their chaplaincy staff representative and actively participate in the creation of contingency plans. Likewise, they should enlist family members and outside participants to provide both grass roots political pressure and organizational help for alternatives, as these take time to implement.
In short, take action, as this is the best way to ensure the continuity of worship activities. And all, in the manner of each faith, should pray for strength and guidance in the face of these adversities. To paraphrase one Christian saint, “Pray as if everything depended on God, but work as if everything depended on you.” Your rehabilitation is much too important to be left solely in the hands of the rehabilitation “experts.”