John Curzon takes his 26 years of experience with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to greater heights as San Quentin’s new Acting Chief Deputy Warden.
Curzon did not follow the usual professional track by coming in as a correctional officer when he began his career working in a state prison. He began in food services.
“I started out as a supervising cook in food services,” he said. “I came up in the business services side of the house.”
Curzon said he worked for approximately 13 years in that position and those years, along with the work experience he gained, has helped him with his current position.
“It’s about so much, especially listening and being in the moment because in my position I deal with so many different people,” he said.
It was his brother Joe who encouraged Curzon to relocate to California and get a job with the state.
“My brother recently retired after putting in 30 years. Joe was working in corrections when it was just called the California Department of Corrections,” Curzon explained.
With different duties, Curzon said his new position calls for him to work closely with San Quentin’s Warden Kevin Chappell.
“My role really is to support the warden’s goals and the vision he holds as the warden of San Quentin,” said Curzon.
“Part of that role is to ensure San Quentin is prepared for the new challenges heading its way,” Curzon said. He believes the challenges come from the number of new inmates coming to the prison and issues surrounding the reduction of California’s overcrowded prison population.
“For those inmates coming here it’s a great opportunity to see how institutions that have programs operate,” Curzon said. “And our staff and everyone is handling it fine. We’ve seen San Quentin at an inmate count of 6,000. It’s not posted any challenges at this point.”
On Sept.16, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris filed a defendant’s request for an extension of the Dec. 31 deadline and status report. This report is in response to the order by three Federal Judges, Thelton Henderson, Lawrence K. Karlton, and Stephen Reinheart.
The Judges orders require the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce the prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity by Jan. 27, 2014.
“As to any political grumbling about the Governor, I think his office has a good handle on the direction that we’re going,” the Acting Chief Deputy Warden said.
Known for being the prison by the bay, San Quentin is also home to more than 700 inmates housed on Death Row. He said in his position one of his responsibilities is to carry out and uphold the law.
“I believe the voters have spoken on the death penalty in California,” he explained.
One point the Acting Chief Deputy Warden made was that the department has a responsibility to ensure public safety continues once inmates are released from prison.
“Education is the key to that,” Curzon explained. “From the moment inmates come in, until the moment they leave, we must make sure they are better educated because inmates have a higher probability of being successful if they have a higher education.”
As for California’s recidivism issues, Curzon said he thinks it is a combination of things.
“I think it’s also education, but we also have to focus on what originally brought them here,” he said.
Inmates have to have the education and skills when they leave, said Curzon. He thinks the department is doing well addressing the issue.
“The department, under the leadership of Dr. Jeffery Beard, is doing a good job of addressing rehabilitative programs,” Curzon said.
Moreover, San Quentin has educational programs where the inmates can get GEDs, high school diplomas, or AA degrees from the Prison University Project, Curzon explained.
“I think San Quentin is so fortunate to have the generosity and resources of our volunteers,” said Curzon. “We are the blueprint for other institutions.”
Curzon’s co-workers enjoy working with him.
According to Chaplain Mardi Jackson, “He’s a man of few words but a man of integrity.”
Vice Principal of Robert E. Burton’s Adult School of Education Marci Ficarra says, “He’s always been a great listener and kind; I feel heard when I’ve had discussions with him. I think he’s got a very calm demeanor, which is necessary in this environment.”
As for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation discontinuing the prison building boon.
In the 1990s, early in his career, Curzon said he watched the building of prisons slow down.
“I don’t think the lack of building prisons will create a perpetual prison crisis in California,” said Curzon. “I think Governor Brown, the Secretary and the legislature have a good plan and vision for CDCR,” Curzon said.