Correspondence reading guide by mail
Point Global Outreach provides a free 29-page
Resource Directory for Prisoners. This directory provides
correspondence courses for many religions and spiritual
traditions, legal support, pen pals and more. Most organizations
in the directory offer their services, books and literature free
of charge to prisoners. To request a copy, write to:
Naljor Prison Dharma PO Box 628 Mount Shasta, CA
• Let these organizations know the book restrictions in the
prison where you are incarcerated: maximum amount of books
they allow to be received at one time? Does the prison accept
used books or new only? Paperbacks only?
• List only the subjects or types of books of interest. Books
are often donated and change every week. Distributors do their
best to send something close to what you ask for. Requests by
title or author are often challenging to fulfill.
• Please write clearly — especially your name, ID number,
and address. Include all this info on both the envelope and in
- Beehive Books Behind Bars (Serves WA, OR, CA, ID,
NV, AZ, UT, MT, WY, CO, NM prisons only)
Weller Book Works
607 Trolley Square
Salt Lake City, UT 84102
• BBB matches book requests from prisoners to books that
have been donated to them.
- The Prison Library Project c/o The Claremont Forum
915-C W. Foothill Blvd, PMB 128
Claremont, CA 91711
• The Prison Library Project mails over 15,000 packages of
books each year to inmates as well as boxes of books to prison
librarians, educators and chaplains.
- Prisoners Literature Project (PLP) (Serves all of the
US except Texas prisons) c/o Bound Together Bookstore
1369 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
• Limit requests to once a year; Takes 2-4 months to respond
to requests. PLP does not have the following kinds of books:
law books and legal guides; romances; horror; Bibles and
- Bellingham Books To Prisoners (BBTP)
PO Box 1254
Bellingham, WA 98227
• BBTP are partnered with Seattle Books To Prisoners. Last
year over 7,000 books were sent to prisoners.
- DC Books to Prisons
PO Box 34190
Washington, DC 20043-4190
• Provides free books to prisoners in 35 states and supports
prison libraries. You may mail requests to us every five
months. You may request titles or authors, but since all our
books are donated, prioritized genres or areas of interest are
more likely to be filled. We don’t send legal books. Please list
prison restrictions if known. If required by your prison, please
include a pre-approval form. Please do not send requests
from more than one inmate per envelope. We do not send to
county or city jails, or to prisons in Connecticut, Florida,
Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire,
New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island,
Vermont, Washington State or Wisconsin. However, we will
send to inmates from Washington DC in any federal prison. It
can take us up to three months to respond to requests.
- LGBT Books to Prisoners (Serves LGBTQ prisoners
in all states except TX)
426 W. Gilman Street
Madison, WI 53703
• Sends books and other educational materials to LGBTQidentified
prisoners across the U.S. Each package contains
3-5 books, educational materials, and LGBTQ resources.
25,000 books have been sent to people in prison for each of
the last two years.
- NYC Books through Bars (Serves all US states except:
AL, FL, LA, MA, MI, c/o Bluestockings Bookstore MS,
NC, OH, PA with a priority to NY prisons)
172 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002
• They match requests from prisoners to the books they have
- Providence Books through Bars
42 Lenox Avenue
Providence, RI 02907-1910
• Since the number one requested book is a dictionary, PBB
tries to send out as many as they can as well as thesauruses
and reference books; provide requests for as many types of
books as possible.
- Women’s Prison Book Project (Serves all US states
except: CT, FL, IL, IN, MA, MI, MS, OH, OR, PA) c/o
2002 23rd Ave S
Minneapolis MN 55404
• Provides women and transgender persons in prison with
free reading materials covering a wide range of topics from
law and education (dictionaries, GED, etc.) to fiction, politics,
history, and women’s health.
- Bible Truth Publishers
59 Industrial Road
Addison, IL 60101
• Supplies free Bibles in English and Spanish to prisoners
- Chapel Library
2603 West Wright Street
Pensacola, Florida 32505
• Offers free Christian literature including study courses
and Bibles. Available in tracts, booklets, paperbacks and
- Prison Fellowship
44180 Riverside Parkway,
Lansdowne, VA 20176
• Publishes Inside Journal® a quarterly publication of
Prison Fellowship that is distributed inside corrections
facilities. Written specifically for incarcerated men and
women, in both English and Spanish.
- PEN PAL PROGRAMS
- Lifelines to Solitary
c/o Solitary Watch
PO Box 11374
Washington, DC 20008
• Solitary Watch provides support to people in prisons living
in isolation, through its Lifelines to Solitary project. Through
personalized letters and quarterly newsletters, they keep in
touch with more than 3,000 people in solitary confinement
across the country. Write to Solitary Watch to request a pen
pal and newsletter.
- Unitarian Universalist Association
CLF Letter Writing Prison Ministry
25 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108
• Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF), a part of the
Unitarian Universalists, provides ministry and correspondence
to those who are isolated. The CLF Letter Writing Ministry
matches prisoner members with non-incarcerated Unitarian
Universalist’s for an exchange of friendly letters on topics
of mutual interest. All letter writers (prisoners and “ freeworld”)
agree to the same guidelines, which emphasize
that our program is not intended for romantic, legal-aid or
financial/gift interactions. Contact the address above to
request a pen pal.
- FFUP (Forum for Understanding Prisons)
29631 Wild Rose Drive
Blue River, WI 53518
• Write directly to FFUP Pen Pals to request a pen pal
volunteer. Provide some information on your background and
the areas of interest for which you would like to correspond.
- National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms
P.O. Box 66301
Washington, DC 20035
• Write directly to NCPCF to request a pen pal volunteer.
- The Human Kindness Foundation / The Prison
PO Box 61619
Durham, NC 27715
• Provides free books mostly written by one of its founders,
Bo Lozoff, offering spiritual guidance and support. The most
well-known of these books are: We’re All Doing Time and
Deep and Simple. Offers a free newsletter sent three times a
year called “A Little Good News” providing spiritual support
for the incarcerated.
- Prison Mindfulness Institute
11 S. Angell St. #303
Providence, RI 02906
• Organizes a pen pal program between prisoners and
- Prison Mindfulness Institute and Prison Dharma
11 S. Angell St. #303
Providence, RI 02906
• PMI provides books and resources on Mindfulness and
Meditation through their “Books Behind Bars” program.
PDN offers a support network in the practice of contemplative
disciplines, with an emphasis on sitting meditation practice.
Offers the principles and practices of Buddhist teachings.
- Siddha Yoga Meditation Prison Project
Emeryville, CA 94622
Provides the Siddha Yoga Home Study Course to inmates
upon request. Lessons are received monthly and are available
in Spanish translation. A free newsletter, study course and
resource guide are also provided.
- Mindfulness Peace Project | Solitary Confinement
6800 N. 79th St, Ste. 200
Niwot, CO 80503
You might pass this on to a chaplain or psychologist:
• A mindfulness program broadcasted into isolation units (in
the CO DOC). Provides channels for education and spiritual
instruction as well.
SOLITARY TOP LEVEL
- Liberation Prison Project
PO Box 33036
Raleigh, NC 27636
• Offers spiritual advice and teachings through letters,
books and various materials to people in prison interested in
exploring, studying and practicing Buddhism.
- Ratna Prison Initiative
1507 Pine St.
Boulder, Co 80302
• Provides mindfulness meditation instruction through
correspondence relationships. Provides free books on
Buddhism to inmates.
- Prison Contemplative Fellowship
Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.
10 Park Place, 2nd Floor, Suite B
Butler, New Jersey 07405
• Teaches Centering Prayer, a receptive method of silent
prayer. It is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer.
Programs offer varying degrees of instruction, guided practice
and study. Christian orientation, however can used by anyone.
- NA Behind the Walls
PO Box 1605
San Diego, CA 92176
- Sponsorship Behind the Walls
1935 South Myrtle Ave
Monrovia, CA 91016
PO Box 9091
Glendale, CA 91226
- Paths include Road to Happiness, Lifeskills,
Prison Letters 4 Our Struggling Youth
603 B East University Drive, #219
Carson, CA 90746
- Fair Chance Project (Mentorship Program)
9103 SO Western Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90047
- Getting Out by Going In (GOGI)
PO Box 88969
Los Angeles, California, USA 90009
Correspondence self-help guide by mail
A nonprofit organization in Los Angeles is pioneering ways to help formerly incarcerated Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) resettle and reconnect back to their communities.
“My own parents didn’t understand the work that I was doing with API RISE, but I felt compelled by my passion to provide a platform for people coming home. So I can relate on a very personal level to the cultural shame around individuals who were incarcerated.”
The passion to provide social support for system-impacted APIs is what draws community supporters, advocates and the formerly incarcerated to the organization.
“My brother was incarcerated in the late ’90s, and his incarceration inspired me to pursue a law degree,” said Paul Jung, a lawyer and co-founder of API RISE.
“I know the power of providing a social safety net that offers returning citizens a place to feel like home … a place to reconnect, to build camaraderie and to celebrate life. My brother is a living testament to the power and success of API RISE.
“My brother paroled in 2018 after serving 21 years. He is now working as a licensed electrician and volunteering his time to give back to API RISE, so others who are following behind him can be given the same opportunities for success that he has enjoyed.”
API RISE was founded in 2015 by community members Paul Jung, Traci Isihigo and two formerly incarcerated APIs, Duc Ta and David Kupihea.
Before Covid-19, the organization held monthly meetings in a church located south of downtown Los Angeles.
“A big part of our group is to socialize, host healing circles discussing forgiveness, and things members are struggling with,” said Ta. “We also host cooking classes, guest speakers and other fun events for our members.”
Since Covid-19, API RISE continues its work by hosting bi-weekly meetings on Zoom to check in with members and come up with ideas to provide mutual aid.
“We want the API brothers and sisters who are sitting behind bars serving 5, 10, 15 years or even longer to know we are here for them. If you need support letters, jobs and other resources before paroling, write to us,” said Ta.
Are you paroling to Southern California and in need of resources, assistance, support letters and job referrals? Contact our organization, API RISE, we are a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles founded by formerly incarcerated individuals with the support of community members.
Write to us:
P.O. Box 53664, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Connect with us:
email@example.com / facebook: API RISE Los Angeles / Instagram: api_rise
Our goal is to build an actively engaged and involved Asian Pacific Islanders (API) community of API inmates, formerly incarcerated individuals, at-risk youth, families, allies, and supporters. To educate our community around issues of how the criminal, legal and prison systems impact APIs and to organize around the needs of currently and formerly incarcerated community members.
Parents, Grandparents, Godparents, Siblings, Uncles & Aunts
Whatever your relationship, we’re here to help you stay connected to your family during this time.
We’ll mail the child (any age up to 18) an age- appropriate book with a note that says it is from you.
There is no limit per person. If there is more than one child, each of them will get a book.
This program is operates while supplies are available.
There are two options to sign up:
Send a letter to us, including your name, relationship to the child, and the contact information for the guardian or caregiver of the child
(phone number and/or email address). Do NOT send us their mailing address.
We will reach out to them and facilitate mailing the book.
In your letter, let us know what kind of book you think the child will like or any other thoughts you have.
Ask the guardian or caregiver of the child send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
WALLS TO BRIDGES PROGRAM
C/O CRC OF SANTA CRUZ
614 OCEAN STREET
SANTA CRUZ, CA 95060
DON’T WANT TO OR CAN’T PARTICIPATE? SEND US A LETTER ANYWAY! LET US KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHAT FAMILY MEANS TO YOU
San Quentin’s acting warden, Ron Broomfield, recently accepted an invitation to sit in and speak directly with the incarcerated participants of Power Source, a San Quentin self-help program designed for young adults.
But more than talk, Broomfield and Chief Deputy Warden Trent Allen also came to listen to the voices of the young individuals sent to SQ as part of its Youth Offender Program (YOP).
“You learn stuff in prison. Everybody learns stuff,” said Broomfield. “But what do you do with it? What path are you going to choose?”
These are questions he had to ask himself over the years while working for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
Broomfield paralleled his own journey with the situations youth offenders face when they hit their first prison yard—particularly when deciding whether or not to follow what everybody else seems to be doing.
“Treat everyone as an individual and be your own man,” he said. “You can clique up with positive groups or negative groups. It’s absolutely critical to start thinking as individuals.
“I love the YOP program because it allows youths a chance to associate with strong individuals—positive individuals.”
One of the first things Broomfield did when he entered the Power Source meeting on Feb. 29 was ask who had been at San Quentin the least amount of time.
Mekhi Williams raised his hand. “It’ll be a year in April,” he said.
Broomfield later called on Williams to speak about his YOP experiences in the system. “What’s it done for you? What do you think?” he asked the 21-year-old.
“The only benefit I’ve seen is that I’m at a lower level prison—that’s it so far,” answered Williams. “I’m on wait lists for all the programs, but I’m not in any yet.”
A prisoner’s security level is based on a point system determined by CDCR. The more points, the higher their security level. CDCR designates its prisons from Levels I through IV.
Level IV prisons usually offer very few positive programs, yet most youth offenders enter the system with Level IV points. Being classified as YOP lets them be housed at Level II facilities like SQ.
“It’s easy to get in trouble if there’s nothing here for you to do,” Williams told Broomfield. “There ought to be a mandatory YOP group right when we get off the bus. “That way we’d have somewhere to go.”
Because SQ’s current reputation as a progressive programming facility revolves around a wide range of innovative self-help curriculums, non-YOP prisoners throughout CDCR make an effort to get here and work on their rehabilitation.
Demand to get into programs is high, and wait lists are long. It’s a problem Broomfield and Allen are all too familiar with.
Much of the interaction between Broomfield, Allen and the Power Source participants focused on the issue of getting YOPs (as they’re commonly referred to) more immediate access to programs they need now.
But Broomfield appeared to draw the line at the mention of offering YOPs preferential treatment.
“I like to treat everyone the same, give everyone the same opportunities,” said the acting warden.
Ayoola Mitchell, the volunteer facilitator who helped bring Power Source to SQ, continues to advocate for more programming aimed specifically at youth.
“It’d be really great for programs like VOEG [Victim Offender Education Group] or GRIP [Guiding Rage Into Power] to have a YOP component,” she suggested. “YOPs’ needs are different. The way I facilitate with them is different. We’ve got to meet them where they are.”
Broomfield and Allen were bombarded by positive ideas about peer-to-peer mentorship programs, a formal YOP orientation and, basically, finding more spaces to run more programs.
“We bug everybody we can about workable space,” said Allen. “If we can find a way to make it work, we’ll make it happen. This homegrown stuff is the best for us because it comes from the people here doing it.”
Bloomfield described how at one point in his career he was ready to retire. He’d had enough of walking in and out of prisons day in and day out.
“It was exhausting,” he said. But then he took a job assignment at SQ two years ago.
“San Quentin restored my hope that people can change. It put the wind back in my sails,” said Bloomfield. “It blew my mind that a prison could be so hopeful and full of opportunities.
“You know, the system’s changing. Our officers are getting better education. Before, it was all about disturbance control. Now, we’re learning de-escalation techniques; how to talk to people.
“Things are definitely changing under Ralph Diaz’s leadership, but you guys may not fully see it for a couple more years. The old ways are dying off slow.”
Bloomfield also talked a little bit about CDCR’s ongoing plans for YOPs.
“The state, as a whole, is reimagining its YOP program,” he said. “As we speak, Valley State Prison is becoming the YOP model facility. It’s a good prison, mellow.”
Brian Holliday, a Power Source participant, told Bloomfield what it meant for the acting warden to come sit in on the group session that day.
“Usually, the way we see wardens, like in a prison movie, it’s not good,” explained Holliday. “I’ve never seen no warden come down like this. For you to come and intermingle with us, it really gives us a chance to see who you are.”
“You’ll see a whole lot more of me,” Bloomfield assured the incarcerated individuals. “Being able to facilitate opportunity; that’s the part of my job I really enjoy.
“And it’s not just me. My staff, too. We want to know you, understand you and get you where you need to be. The ‘R’ in CDCR is there for a reason.”
Allen voiced his agreement. “Listening to the boss, he makes me want to stay here.” Looking around the room, he said to everyone, “This passion—it excites both of us.”
“I want to see what’s best for everyone here. The goal is to get everybody out of here and back on the streets as better men.”
Part of the agreement YOPs make to come to a lower level prison includes losing that privilege when they get a disciplinary write-up. They’re often seen as taking this for granted, as young troublemakers.
One YOP spoke up about the way he perceives some officers’ treatment of the younger prisoners.
“A lot of the time, it’s like we have a target on our back—especially from staff,” he said. “We’re picked on and messed with because it’s easier to get us out of here. “That’s not right. It doesn’t give us a fair chance.”
“I’ll give you a fair chance. I can’t speak for another man,” Bloomfield told him. “If you experience someone with a bad personality, take it upon yourself to impose the 15-foot rule.
“There’s good cops, cops that care. Just like guys at this prison, men in blue. Believe me, there’s plenty of them. I don’t paint anybody with a wide brush.
“And I ask that of you, also. Don’t paint all of us with a wide brush.”
Williams later shared how he felt when Bloomfield asked him about the YOP experience.
“He just seemed like a regular person. He didn’t seem stuck up or nothin’ like that,” said Williams. “He gave honest answers about what he was capable of—you know, a genuine person.
“Wardens, we usually look at them as a–holes—you know, cruel. He didn’t seem like that.”
Creators of a new Pelican Bay podcast look to build community and prisoner relationships—one story at a time, reported the Lost Coast Outpost. https://lostcoastoutpost.com/
“These guys just want to better themselves and create a stronger, more resilient, community,” said Paul Critz, a journalist who teaches inmate students the tools they need to record their personal stories.
Inspired by San Quentin’s Ear Hustle, https://www.earhustlesq.com/ Pelican Bay Prison’s https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/facility-locator/pbsp/ UNLOCKED became the first of its kind at a security level IV institution.
Created by Critz and about 30 incarcerated men, the podcast aims to bring together the men on the inside and to communicate with the residents of Del Norte and Crescent City.
“They’re Del Norters too, and they’re very interested in hearing from the community. They want interaction. They want to humanize themselves, “ said Critz.
Dubbed as the single most important project in his career, Critz uses a portable recorder, laptop and a hand-held microphone to show his students how to put together a narrative.
While given much room for choosing content, Pelican Bay’s Public Information officer John Silviera advised Critz not to “bash the institution.”
“There’s a lot of gray area all around that phrase,” Critz told the Outpost. “We have to figure out what that means because at what point does bashing your reality become bashing the institution that’s responsible for your reality?”
Critz credits what he calls “The Awakening” as the pivotal moment in Pelican Bay’s history that led to launching the podcast.
“The Awakening” refers to the 2015 Supreme Court decision that shut down Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Units in 2013, following a widespread series of hunger strikes that began at the prison.
Critz’ students chose “The Awakening” as the subject of their first podcast. “They wanted to talk about… the changes that have been happening at Pelican Bay and other prisons as a result.
“The real awakening is hope,” said Critz. “They’re able to think about a future, maybe getting out – certainly even with people who’ll never get out.”
Critz, experienced in freelance journalism and radio, is best known as the operator of Crescent City’s community radio station. He was tapped to head Pelican Bay’s UNLOCKED by Stephanie Wenning, former executive director of the Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness.http://dnaca.net/
Of all the reviews Critz received, “The one that stands out the most,” he told the Outpost, was from the daughter of one of his students.
“I love listening to this podcast. It makes me happy to know my dad is doing something positive with his life. I can’t wait to hear more,” she said.
The second annual San Quentin News Journalism Guild Graduation took place in the Garden Chapel on Jan. 17. Twelve graduates from November’s class combined with this current class of 11 to celebrate finishing the six-month course.
The event honored the graduates, recognized advisors and brought attention to the impact of programs like the guild on rehabilitation.
Richard “Bonaru” Richardson, SQ News’ Executive Editor and winner of the Arnulfo T. Garcia Leadership Award, spoke about the importance of the guild.
Having worked every position from print to layout to Editor-in-Chief, Richardson reflected how words began to change his life.
“At my last prison, a guy called me pessimistic, and I wanted to beat him up—even though I really didn’t know what the word meant,” said Richardson.
Inmates across the country can thank Richardson’s curiosity and intellect when he looked the word up and realized his own talent with words.
“Words mean a lot; we communicate with each other; we all have the ability to grow. Our newspaper allows people to grow—and will continue to do so,” said Richardson.
“Our graduates—know you were journalists before you picked up a pen. Remember, if no one tells your story, who will?” Richardson said. “Please use your voice; it’s the most powerful asset (weapon) you have.”
Lisa Adams, the newspaper’s development manager for two years, called her career journey from state and federal prison “empty, until I found my niche helping others.”
Adams is collaborating with Wells Fargo Bank executive Amanda Weitman to generate philanthropic donations for the news agency. “Inside and out, we give the world access to the understanding and awareness of social reform and its impact. This news agency reduces recidivism by giving hope to the incarcerated throughout the nation,” said the philanthropic executive.
Today, San Quentin News is a leading voice for incarcerated people in the country.
San Quentin News’ editor-in-chief, Marcus “Wali” Henderson, remarked upon the journalism program’s capacity to build bridges. “(SQ News and Wall City) journalists tell stories that people are afraid to tell.”
Henderson, who used to chair the Guild, then introduced keynote speaker Tracy Brumfield.
Brumfield has transformed from “a heroin addict in and out of jail and then prison” to founder of a women’s news agency called RISE.
She inspired the crowd, speaking about her addiction, “I’m beating its ass.” For the graduates she said, “The power of words—storytelling—includes talking about our journey. I found it extremely empowering to tell my journey…Write about what you know…your testimony!”
The Department of Juvenile Justice’s Ericka Mutchler celebrated the success of the incarcerated female population in California. Mutchler gave praise to Wall City’s third edition, which featured incarcerated females.
“The women featured on the back page of Wall City were my [juvenile] clients who co-wrote articles for the edition. I am pleased to announce all of them have been released with jobs,” said the counselor.
Henderson introduced former San Francisco prosecutor Marisa Rodriquez after he spoke about the social reform symposiums at San Quentin. The latest forum with the San Francisco Police Department was a “Blue on Blue forum [which] improved communication between law enforcement and incarcerated persons. It [forums] will allow us continue to build bridges that no one else can,” said Henderson.
In 2012, Rodriquez took a suggestion from her father to visit San Quentin.
“Now, I can’t shake this place,” said the former D.A. “It [the visit] was very, very moving, and I didn’t expect that. I shared the experience with my supervisor, San Francisco D.A. George Gascon.” She told Gascon there was something very special happening at San Quentin, and he needed to go in and see what was happening himself, if we are going to change justice.
Gascon’s office then collaborated with the late Arnulfo Garcia to create the first symposium. It focused on San Francisco Community Court prosecutors’ desire to investigate what drives youth to commit crimes.
The symposium was such a success, today the forums are a core of the news outlet’s brand.
Rodriquez said after Police Chief (Del Scott) brought in his team, it led to the creation of the nation’s first Formerly Incarcerated Advisory Board. The board includes San Francisco prosecutors and formerly incarcerated men and women, many of whom had life sentences before being paroled.
CDCR administrators who ensure accuracy and analysis for SQ News include), Terri Hardy, Krissi Khokhobashvili, and Ike Dodson. They received plaques of recognition and said, “No matter what happened in your past, who you are when you come out on the other side is what matters.” Henderson also praised the group of Wall City advisors in attendance. Kate McQueen, Sarah Horowitz, Doug Levy and Dan Fost represented the magazine’s advisory board of 12.
Mike Daly, the chief probation officer in Marin County, believes in restorative justice, something he’s put into practice instead of talking about it.
During an interview with SQ News in January, Daly discussed pro-social thinking and how to “rewire’ people to be the best they can be after becoming involved in the criminal justice system.
“I want people to know that restorative justice does work, and there’s data to prove it,” said Daly. “It should be part of a forward thinking criminal justice system.”
To successfully undertake restorative justice as a model, he said, there has to be input from district attorneys, victims, offenders and other stakeholders.
In Marin County, “Cases are referred to the probation department for restorative justice only after being cleared by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office and the Marin County Public Defender’s Office,” the Marin Independent Journal reported
For three years, Daly’s office has been innovative in its approach to criminal justice.
“I think I’m the first in Marin to hire someone to do restorative justice,” he said. “We offer that if the victim is okay with it. We want to be careful not to re-victimize…”
Citing some of the failures mass incarceration has produced over the last 30 years, Daly said a change in the culture of corrections needs to take place as well. He acknowledged the increase in California’s prison population didn’t happen overnight but said the legislature was asleep at the wheel for two decades.
Between 1990 and 2005, a new prison opened in the United States every 10 days,” wrote Bryan Stevenson, attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, in his book Just Mercy. “Prison growth and the resulting ‘prison-industrial complex’ – the business interests that capitalize on prison construction – made imprisonment so profitable that millions of dollars were spent lobbying state legislators…”
“We didn’t examine or make adjustments,” Daly said of the years California’s recidivism rate was at 70%.
He said it was there for a long time, and every year the state budget kept going up. Eventually a federal three-judge panel stepped in.
When that happened, the courts instructed California to reduce and maintain its state prison population at a cap of 137.5% of design capacity in order to deliver adequate medical care to all inmates.
Shortly thereafter, in 2011, California lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 109, Public Safety Realignment, and implemented it to manage the state’s unprecedented growth in its prison population.
Other significant reforms followed in California’s criminal justice landscape. Changes in the law such as Proposition 57 are changing the situation, he said, while admitting it’s not perfect, “but it’s a start.”
Daly said he’s worked with Ralph Diaz, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
They’ve established a Skype program that allows inmates headed for post-release community supervision (PRCS) to communicate with their probation officer before leaving state prison.
Daly was president of the Chief Probation Officers of California in 2014. According to the Marin County Probation Department website, “(former) Governor Brown had placed a tremendous amount of responsibility on the shoulders of probation departments across the state. You don’t do that unless you have trust and confidence in your partners.”
Daly said he felt that trust.
“We will work with Governor Newsom and hopefully create the same trusting bond that we had with Governor Brown,” the probation department website states.
“We’re not a ‘lock ‘em up county,’” said Daly. “I’m happy that Marin has adjusted to Realignment very well.”
He said all of its criminal justice leaders who voted to allocate funding feel that strong rehabilitative programs are the best for public safety.
Assembly Bill 109 provides funding for many of Marin County’s support systems such as finding shelter for those on probation.
“We will pay for that free, for the first six months,” said Daly.
Daly noted that Senate Bill 678 also provides funding for programs that offset prison.
“This bill was introduced around 2008, and it’s still active today,” he said.
The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program also funds Daly’s restorative justice service, the Independent Journal reported. Daly stressed that defendants who participate in this program are less likely to reoffend.
Daly was appointed as Chief Probation Officer in 2009 by the Board of Supervisors, but confessed he wasn’t ready to deal with the politics that came with the job. Since Realignment, the management of lower-level prisoners was shifted from the state prison and parole system to the county jail and probation system.
To promote justice, Daly said “We’re proposing that the age of jurisdiction for juveniles be 18 to 19,” citing the science behind brain development and the foundational reasoning that the brain is still in a stage of development between the ages 18 and 25.
“We all have our points of change,” said Daly. “What I’m trying to develop [in them] is intrinsic motivation. Sometimes guys don’t care about themselves so it’s hard to make those changes. When you make that move intrinsically you have a much higher likelihood of being successful.”
“I’ve seen guys who’ve turned the corner,” said Daly, adding “Extrinsic motivation doesn’t work on guys from the hood. You have much more success when you develop intrinsic motivation.”
Daly said statewide, 8% of those on PRCS violate their probation and return to prison, but in Marin County the number is 2%. “We’re considered a high performing county,” he said.
In 1990, Daly received his bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly in Social Science with a concentration in criminal justice—the same year he started his career with Marin Probation. In 1999 he earned a master’s degree in public administration from Golden Gate University.
“I’m super proud about (restorative justice) and I’m looking to expand,” said Daly. “I’d like people to know that we are the first department in California solely to conduct restorative justice for offender and victim. I’m pretty proud of the footprint we have in Marin.”
Secretary Diaz calls for a sense of urgency for prison reforms
As they covered 5,000 miles and an ocean on an international flight on Sept. 14, CDCR Secretary, Ralph Diaz and Connie Gipson had plenty of time to consider their doubts.
“It won’t work here.”
“California is too big, too violent and plagued by prison gangs.”
Those thoughts soon gave way to excited optimism, as the pair, CDCR’s Secretary and Division of Adult Institutions (DAI) Director, bonded with senior staff from the governor’s office, formerly incarcerated people, peace officer union representatives and criminal justice advocates in a life-changing environment across the globe.
Over six days, Diaz and Gipson toured Norwegian prisons, training facilities and reentry programs, witnessing famed humanistic practices that deliver wellness, safety and empowerment to everyone involved.
The trip, funded by philanthropic programs and organized by an ambitious visionary at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), made significant impact on CDCR leadership. “The world shrunk,” Diaz explained. “I saw staff and inmates engaging in a very positive way, as if the environment belonged to all of them, not just inmates or staff.
“At that moment I saw aspects of this that can be done.”
Diaz and Gipson were joined by California Men’s Colony. Warden Josie Gastelo and Salinas Valley State Prison Warden Matthew Atchley and Captain Edward Brown. Governor Newsom [sent] representatives Daniel Seeman, Deputy Cabinet Secretary, and Kelli Evans, Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary for Criminal Justice in the Office of the Governor.
Other attendees included formerly incarcerated advocates Adnan Khan (Co-Founder of Re:Store Justice) and Sam Lewis (Executive Director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition), or representatives from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
“I think it was the right people in the room, and what was so fascinating was that we all came to our discoveries throughout the week,” Gipson said. “It was really beneficial to have so many different perspectives going through the same experience.”
“We chose Norway because they have a very public health approach to corrections. They say that people go to court to get punished and go to prison to become better neighbors,” said Williams. “Every single policy/procedure and contact with a program is seen as an opportunity to bring health and well-being to people who are incarcerated, and simultaneously this gives staff and correctional officers the opportunity to change people’s lives for the better.”
To make the trip happen, Amend partnered with the community-based nonprofit organization Smart Justice to raise philanthropic funds. The biggest contributors included The Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Advocates for all
In Norway, the only human right an incarcerated person loses is liberty. The system, including architecture and habitat, is designed to mimic the community those citizens will return to. Interactions with staff are specifically structured to champion wellness and safety.
“I believe we have segments of what is happening in Norway going on in our institutions,” Diaz said. “We have to line it up, put it on paper and give employees the permission to care about the inmate population and remind them that rehabilitation has been a part of their job since the day they signed up.”
There are clear benefits to the normalcy of the environment for staff as well as inmates. Williams said initial reports from Norway show health and life expectancy metrics for correctional staff mirror the outcomes of other citizens. She pointed to research in California that has highlighted a public health crisis among correctional employees, who are more prone to depression, suicide and poor life expectancy.
Khan, whose work at Re:Store Justice brings victims and offenders together for dialogue and forgiveness, said, “My advocacy has always been about crime survivors, bringing them in to prison, and currently/formerly incarcerated people, but when Brie talked about suicides and life expectancy of staff — that bothered me. I had to reevaluate my advocacy. Am I choosing to be the leader of a specific demographic of justice reform or an advocate for public health and humanity? Human rights and public health advocacy has to include correctional officers that are suffering and in pain.”
How Norway changed
Norway’s prison model, thriving at a reported recidivism rate of 20%, wasn’t built overnight. Advocates point to demands by the Norwegian Parliament that authorized a shift to rehabilitation and humanistic practices in the late 1990s.
Over time, accompanied by changes in sentencing laws, massive changes to all aspects of the correctional system began to take hold.
Those changes go far beyond the supportive housing units with private restrooms, couches, stocked kitchen units or even small forests in recreational yards that keep offenders connected to the world around them.
Officers interact warmly and respectfully on a first-name basis with incarcerated people and are trained much longer—two years versus CDCR’s 13-week Basic Correctional Officer Academy. They are schooled on psychology, criminology, human rights and ethics. The process includes a lot of perspective shifts, like placing an officer in the role of an offender and experiencing different custodial tactics.
“I always look at experiences, trainings with an open mind, but I admit, I was pretty apprehensive about this,” Gipson said. “Early on I felt like this was too good to be true, but the more I started to listen to their concepts and principles of normality, humanity, the more I bought in. Everything clicked, and I was just blown away. I came back excited because I feel there are a lot of possibilities for us.”
The California way
A theme understood by trip-goers and emphasized by Norwegian officials is the practicality of change.
Norway didn’t evolve into a better form of correctional care immediately, and uprooting the same system and dropping it into a vastly different population is not the solution for California.
“We are not trying to make it the Norway way or the European way but the California way,” Diaz said. “We are a unique, diverse populace with cultures within cultures, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make necessary changes.”
“We just have to make it the California way. That doesn’t mean saying no to security but yes to a different way of doing business that improves the workplace and makes a better life for people returning to our communities,” he added.
Diaz said he looks forward to collaborating with other states that strive for similar innovation and emphasized the importance of supporting an environment that both acknowledges the suffering of crime victims and delivers on a promise to create fewer victims in the future.
He joined Gipson in a presentation to CDCR wardens across the state on Nov. 6, highlighting the most impactful concepts and practices that simultaneously promote wellness, safety and rehabilitation.
“We have to look at our historic policies and ask ourselves about each one: Why? Is it humane?” Diaz said. “As policy makers it is our job to change policies and explain why, because in the end we have to create a more humane prison system.”
The insight inspires action.
“My first step is getting a workgroup together to look at what policies and procedures we have in play that escalate vs. de-escalate,” Gipson said. “I also want to look at our training and talk about giving staff the comfort to manage situations within their authority without fear of making a mistake.”
“My big takeaway is a sense of urgency to make these necessary reforms because we have witnessed positive impact for all those involved in a correctional setting and for those returned to communities,” Diaz said. “I know what can be done. I know the department’s abilities and the ability of staff to get things done.”
That’s the California way.