RESIDENTS SHARE VISIONS,
Residents of San Quentin packed the prison’s chapel on June 9 to hear what administrators had to say about the governor’s plans to transform California’s oldest prison into an innovative rehabilitation center.
As part of the town-hall-style meeting, Warden Broomfield and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alison Pachynski also answered questions and listened to feedback from residents.
“The institution is attempting to create a positive outlook for the inmates and to get us onboard with their thinking and direction. It is a reachable goal, and I am grateful to be part of the experiment,” said resident Rudy Camozzi.
Gov. Gavin Newsom came to San Quentin in March to announce the launch of the “California Model” of incarceration, as well as his intention to transform The Q into the “the preeminent restorative justice facility in the world.”
Broomfield explained that the California Model is a statewide effort by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, while transforming San Quentin is an initiative by the governor. They will inform each other, but are independent endeavors.
“Today is about the reimagining of San Quentin,” Broomfield said. “The San Quentin Rehabilitation Center can be the model of what’s possible under the California Model. If we are successful, we can be the bellwether.”
Dr. Pachynski shared that they are excited to hear ideas from residents and staff.
In addition to explaining the SQRC concept and seeking ideas, Broomfield said the purpose of the town hall was to share some of the best practices from European prisons with the SQ population.
Broomfield and Dr. Pachynski had recently toured Norway’s progressive prisons along with CDCR Secretary Jeffrey Macomber and other correctional staff to learn about such practices firsthand.
“Just to see the interactions — and how relaxed the staff were and how relaxed the inmates were — it gave me hope,” said Rhonda Litt, the chief executive officer at SQ, who attended the tour and was at the town hall.
During her presentation, Dr. Pachynski explained the four “pillars” of the California Model are dynamic security, normalization, peer support, and trauma-informed care. She said the goal is to improve the environment inside prisons, improve the health and well-being of people who work and live in them, and reduce recidivism upon reentry.
To protect the health of residents as well as staff, the parties must address the toxic environment of prisons, she said.
“Humanity is our most powerful tool,” she said.
Broomfield told residents, “The north star of this project is reentry. We want you to be the best neighbor you can be. We have to release better citizens back into society.”
He said Norway had successfully broken down the “us-versus-them mentality” in their prisons, in part through sharing meals and playing sports together. “Things that we might be able to replicate here at San Quentin,” he said.
“What values and best practices can we adopt?” he asked. This is a key question in his opinion, even though he acknowledged that comparing Norway to California is like apples to oranges.
“Dr. P and the warden presented good ideas,” said resident Mark Cadiz. “There is the staff aspect — a demilitarization of staff’s perspectives of incarceration is critical. I can empathize, being a veteran, that the mentality must change.”
Since Newsom’s announcement, the governor has formed a 16-member “San Quentin Transformation Advisory Council,” comprised of “distinguished criminal justice, public safety, and rehabilitation professionals, along with justice-impacted individuals, representatives of crime victims, and survivors,” according to media reports.
Broomfield said the Council’s task is to write a white paper that contains the details needed to implement the governor’s vision. A rough draft of the plan is due in September, the final version in December.
As part of the plan, the warden said he envisions “several construction projects, a clear path to rehabilitation for residents, and an excellent training program for staff” among other elements.
“It will be a paradigm shift, so there will be lots of hearts and minds that will have to be won over and changed on both sides,” he said. “We already have some incredible programs, some incredible staff — and we want to make it better.”
When asked about the legislature’s initial rejection of the $380 million in revenue bond authority Newsom has requested to fund the transformation, Broomfield said lawmakers did not want to sign a blank check.
However, it appears the Council and the governor’s office has already provided enough assurances as the legislature approved the roughly $380 million in requested funding during the June 28 approval of the state budget, according the media reports.
During the Q&A period, several residents asked how officials will fix the long waitlists to get into the limited number of programs.
“One of things weʼre doing in this paper is to figure out exactly what is the right level of population to give opportunities to participate in programs,” Broomfield answered. “There are space issues and hopefully the construction projects will address some of that.”
He also noted that the prison is still recovering from COVID in terms of programs and volunteers, but said the door was wide open for volunteers to enter once again.
Resident Tam Nguyen was encouraged by the town-hall meeting. “He’s serious about fulfilling the San Quentin rehab model,” Nguyen said about the warden.
Before the town-hall, Broomfield spoke about starting his career on Level 4 yards as a correctional officer.
“I never felt like I fit in because of the lack of humanity. But you make decisions and you have to live with your decisions,” Broomfield said. He explained that when he transferred to San Quentin, just like many of the men in blue, he found hope — hope that he could finally interact with incarcerated residents like normal people.
“I think the governor picked the right prison to start his initiative with,” Broomfield said. “We all live or work in here day in and day out. We all need hope. This is an incredible opportunity.