This interview was conducted with John Kern on the dynamics of correctional education policy in California from his perspective as a career CDCR landscape horticulture instructor and union activist.
What is your role with the union?
I work as the elected Chair of the Service Employees International Union Bargaining Unit 3 for state educators and librarians. Union activists advocate for more effective policies and try to influence decision-makers in the Administration and the Legislature.
“I have the responsibility to represent
the rank and file educators and librarians…”
What is CROB and what is your role there?
The California Rehabilitation Oversight Board (CROB) was created by AB 900 in 2007 to monitor CDCR rehabilitation programs and to advise the Legislature regarding their design and effectiveness.
It is chaired by the CDCR Inspector General and includes representatives from key academic, educational, mental health, substance abuse treatment, probation and law enforcement organizations. CROB’s purpose is to help make rehabilitation programs evidence-based and effective for offenders and citizens of California.
At a time when CDCR is seen as a very expensive, large failure, CROB has a role to play in advising the Legislature what kinds of programs to expand, what kinds of programs to abandon and what kinds of solutions can be implemented to reduce the chronic cycle of incarceration that has kept California’s recidivism rate the highest in the nation.
I have the responsibility to represent the rank and file educators and librarians.
Who can testify at these meetings?
CROB primarily receives reports from CDCR but also hears from rehabilitation experts and stakeholders such as prison educators represented by SEIU Local 1000. Ex-offenders have spoken to the board and I think more of this should happen.
Give us an example of how CROB affects rehab operations.
Recent changes in the academic education delivery models were a direct result of presentations made to CROB. In the wake of extreme budget cuts in 2010.
CDCR implemented education models that showed an outrageous lack of awareness of the needs of a typical inmate student. Forty percent of academic teachers were given 120 students each and were expected to produce academic progress with three hours or less contact time per week. We called it “drive-by education.”
The union produced a simple survey for teachers that asked if the new models were working and what could be done to improve them. The survey results were summarized in a presentation to CROB and, after less than a year, the [“drive-by”] models were abandoned and replaced.
What issues are you bringing to the CROB table?
Education programs are still grossly understaffed. Vocational programs abandoned in 2010 need to be re-opened. Issues with assigning the right inmate to the right program are still too common. Radical changes in legislation began dramatically shrinking the Division of Juvenile Justice in 1996, raising concerns that education and mental health services. CROB will have to take up these issues.
Letters to CROB can be sent to: California Rehabilitation Oversight Board, P.O. Box 348780, Sacramento, CA 95834-8780
Tom Bolema is a Literacy Coordinator in the San Quentin Education Department