SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s corrections department has rejected a recommendation that its inspector general says could help reduce an extraordinarily high homicide rate in state prisons, officials said Thursday.
The department will not reinstate a policy dropped 15 years ago that required potential sensitive needs cellmates to fill out a compatibility form before they are housed together, Ralph Diaz, acting deputy director for adult institutions, told a Senate budget subcommittee.
Sex offenders, former gang members and other vulnerable inmates are placed in special sensitive needs housing for their protection.
However, the inspector general and an analysis by The Associated Press published in February found that a disproportionate number of homicide victims were sensitive needs inmates.
The compatibility forms help officials assess whether inmates can live peacefully together. They are required for inmates housed together in other segregated living units, and Sen. Loni Hancock said they should be required for sensitive needs inmates as well.
“We do look for inmates who we feel should not be celling with others,” Diaz testified. However, he said using the forms for sensitive needs and general population inmates would be too cumbersome and the department’s current process can appropriately address housing concerns.
“Obviously it isn’t, because we’re having homicides and a lot of them are in sensitive needs yards,” responded Hancock, D-Berkeley, the committee chairwoman.
She asked that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation either reconsider its decision or “explain to the committee why it is too cumbersome and difficult to do, or too expensive,” as a condition of having its $10 billion budget approved for next year.
California state prison inmates are killed at a rate that is double the national average, the AP reported. The analysis of prison homicides also found that while male sex offenders made up about 15 percent of the prison population, they accounted for nearly 30 percent of homicide victims since 2007.
Sensitive needs housing areas have also spawned their own prison gangs, the AP found. The inspector general reported last fall that the housing units were becoming increasingly violent and the department could no longer assume that inmates there could peacefully co-exist.
The department created an advisory group made up of prison wardens to review the inspector general’s recommendations. That group is continuing to look for better ways to identify predatory inmates and those who are vulnerable, and to review the department’s housing screening process, said department spokeswoman Terry Thornton. It also is reviewing how other states house and protect sex offenders.
Barton said through a spokesman that while the department can accept or reject any of his recommendations, his office will continue monitoring the issue and report its findings in future reports.