Correctional Secretary Jeffrey Beard has the toughest job in California, according to a KQED report. Beard has faced crisis after crisis since joining the Brown Administration last year.
“At the time, a $60 million rebuilding effort
wouldn’t work unless the state scaled
back mandatory prison sentences”
From a widespread hunger strike to a never ending battle with federal judges over control of health care in California’s prison, there is no question that these are steep challenges, the report cites.
“The past year he and Governor Brown spent most of the time losing a series of legal challenges over federal control of the California prison’s health care. The two of them share the same goal, ending federal control of California’s prison as soon as possible, KQED reports.”
When asked whether he had second thoughts about his new job, Beard told KQED viewers, “You know, I think they make this job just very interesting. Working with Governor Brown has been a unique experience. He is different much more hands on. He is interested in what I do.”
Beard is no stranger to the California prison system. In 2010, he worked as a consultant for the department after several years working in the Pennsylvania prison system. “It’s hard to figure out a new state after 38 years somewhere else. A lot of times when something comes up about a policy or something, I have to ask somebody or I have to go and look it up,” he said in the KQED report.
In 2008, Beard played a major role in sentencing reform in Pennsylvania. The state’s prison population jumped from 8,000 to 50,000 caused by tough on crime legislation, according to the report. In the KQED interview Beard was quoted as saying, he “spent his time as corrections secretary lobbying lawmakers to undue them.”
Pennsylvania shares many of the same problems as California, the report cites. Both prison systems are overcrowded. However, three years after rebuilding prison facilities in Pennsylvania, its prisons were still above designed capacity.
In the KQED report, Beard was quoted saying, “at the time, a $60 million rebuilding effort wouldn’t work unless the state scaled back mandatory prison sentences. We can’t afford to keep locking everybody up.”
In the KQED interview, reporter David Gilliland said, “Prisons are like a bucket of water, where you have a couple of hoses feeding water into the top; you have a variety of spigots letting water out.”
“The problem is the people who control the water coming in are a completely different bureaucracy than those who control the spigot coming out. And the secretary of corrections has no control over either bureaucracy,” said Gilliland.
Critics of the prison system attacked Beard’s “approach to corrections as schizophrenic at best. His reforms went nowhere, so he has taken a hard line approach to please politicians, unable to stick with what he knows works, versus what will win the approval of the governor and legislature. He has fallen into the same mold as every past secretary of corrections, a yes man to the governor,” it was reported.
“Beard left a horror trail in Pennsylvania and expanded their prison system to the moon. They went so far as to call him the godfather of prison expansion,” his critics say.
Beard defends his experience in handling mentally ill inmates. However, Bob Meek, an attorney with Disability Network, “alleged the state (Pennsylvania) simply locked many of them up in segregated housing, rather than treat them.”
In spite of his critics, Beard pointed in the interview to programs he launched aimed at treating mentally ill inmates.
When ask about the similarities of the two states in the KQED interview, he said he understands why segregated confinement stirs up so much anger. He defended the practice as necessary, to protect other inmates and to control gangs.
In spite of his critics, “While running Pennsylvania’s prisons, he was the first correctional secretary to say the state needed less mandatory sentencing and more treatment options,” KQED reported.