When you, as a San Quentin resident, go before the Board of Parole, there will be expectations made of you. A psychologist who visited San Quentin said that the main expectation is that you understand why you committed your crime and why you won’t reoffend.
Chief Psychologist of CDCR, Dr. Cliff Kusaj, visited the GRIP (Guiding Rage into Power) self-help program at San Quentin and spoke about that expectation.
In attendance were 25-30 incarcerated participants of the GRIP program; the Founding Director, Jacques Verduin; and the current Executive Director of GRIP’S Training Institute, Kim Moore.
GRIP is a yearlong self-help group guided by four principles: Stopping My Violence, Emotional Intelligence, Cultivating Mindfulness, and Victim’s Impact.
The Training Institute’s mission is to serve incarcerated people in the State of California, creating a personal and systemic change to turn violence and suffering into opportunities for learning and healing, according to the Peacemaker magazine.
“Honesty and transparency is important. Your life is on the line. Don’t get caught in half-truths,” said Dr. Kusaj.
FAD (a division of CDCR) psychologists want to make sense out of what happened in the past and understand the broader issues.
There are four Senior Psychologist Supervisors and 30 Clinical Psychologists, according to the California Law Review Vol. 105: 1223.
“[The FAD] functions solely to administer risk assessment of indeterminate sentenced inmates for consideration at parole determination hearings,” said Kusaj.
An assessment determines whether there has been transformation in your emotional experience and how you now handle conflict, including insight and remorse.
“If you were transformed by the way the program works, then there’s nothing to hide. Don’t distance yourself from your darker side,” said the doctor.
Dr. Kusaj advised the residents to “think about people you’ve lost, meditate on it, hear their voice, don’t lose that.”
The preparation for risk assessment should be the same approach made for a parole hearing: the clinician’s objective is to get a better understanding of you, according to Dr. Kusaj.
The preparation of relapse prevention is a plan on how not to make mistakes, a process that should be constantly revised as you develop new insights.
In the Q&A part of Dr. Kusaj’s visit, the GRIP participants had concerns regarding the Board of Parole Hearings.
GRIP: “People are afraid to talk to psychologists because what they say can used against them,” said Dre.
Dr. Kusaj: “There’s a natural tendency to be cautious and skeptical, but don’t let those feelings keep you from being yourself,” Kusaj said.
GRIP: “ I h ave b een i n prison since 1981, [had] nine hearings, getting a degree in behavioral science. What about the political pressure on BPH? How much political influence is there?” said a GRIP participant.
DrK: “I don’t get political pressure. My goal has always been that people get released safely. The Governor can reverse findings — only 3 per cent has been reversed, [it’s] historically low.”
GRIP: “I’ve been to the parole board three times, and a risk assessment twice. I was once found suitable, then not. What about the inconsistency?” said Raul Higgins.
DrK: “Try to look at what their concerns were. Approach it objectively, like someone is seeing something you don’t.”
GRIP: “ What a bout C ommissioners who look at certain crimes [rather] than what’s being done to prepare for board?” said Larry.
DrK: “I haven’t seen any difference in parole grants.”
Risk assessment took on a new-found importance in 2006, according to the California Law Review. Inquiries about the procedures surrounding risk assessments prompted a dramatic change. After 2006, each parole evaluation gave the incarcerated person a numerical score; a high score indicated a high likelihood of reoffending; a low score indicated a low likelihood of reoffending.
The hope was that the new risk assessment guidelines would ensure that FAD psychologists performed their examinations with overall objectivity and reliability.
A 2011 study looked at risk assessment scores and determined that “inmates” who received an average or high score never received a parole date, reported the Review.