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Other Budget Issues

Last Updated: 3/28/2012
Budget Issue: Small management yards
Program: Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
Finding or Recommendation: Reject Governor's January request for $60,000 in general obligation bond funds for the development of preliminary plans and working drawings for 50 small managment yards at California Correctional Institution. The project will have significant General Fund costs for construction without clear offsetting benefits, and new gang management policies may reduce the long-term need for these facilities.
Further Detail


Small Management Yards. When inmates commit disciplinary offenses, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) often places the offending inmates in specialized housing units designed to remove offenders from the general inmate population and limit their ability to commit further offenses. One such housing unit is the Security Housing Unit (SHU) which is used to house the inmates the department considers to be the greatest threat to the safety and security of its institutions. These "supermax" units are the most restrictive and secure in the state. Inmates who committed serious offenses in prison, such as assault or possession of a weapon and inmates CDCR identifies as being in prison gangs may be sent to a SHU.

Regulations require that inmates committed to a SHU be provided with 10 hours of out-of-cell exercise time. Frequently, this exercise time has been provided in what are termed Small Management Yards (SMYs). An SMY is an outdoor, barred enclosure equipped with a toilet and sink and measuring about 150 square feet in size. The SMYs are designed to increase safety and security by reducing the amount of contact SHU inmates have with each other and staff while receiving their exercise time.

In January 2011, CDCR converted 248 general population cells at the California Correctional Institution (CCI) in Tehachapi to SHUs. Since then, inmates in these SHUs have received their exercise time under armed supervision in a yard not equipped with SMYs. According to CDCR, this has resulted in an average of one inmate fight per month.

Gang Management Policies. The department is currently in the process of revising its prison gang management policies. It has developed new policies that it states are based on best practices in other states. The new policies would, among other changes, (1) provide stricter criteria about which inmates are eligible for placement in SHU based on their gang affiliation and participation, (2) reduce the minimum time period a gang member would be required to spend in a SHU, and (3) provide a staged “step-down” program to transition gang-affiliated SHU inmates back to the general population.

Governor’s Proposal

The administration is proposing $60,000 in unused general obligation bond funds from the 1988 Prison Construction Fund to pay for the development of preliminary plans and working drawings for 50 SMYs at CCI. If approved, the construction phase of the SMY project would cost an additional $2.9 million from the General Fund.

LAO Concerns

General Fund Cost With Limited Benefits. While the administration’s interest in promoting safety and security in its institutions is reasonable, it has not sufficiently justified the benefits to warrant the full General Fund costs of the proposal—$2.9 million in 2013-14—particularly in light of the state's General Fund condition. The department indicates there is currently only one fight per month on the CCI SHU exercise yards. Moreover, the department reports that use of SMYs will not allow them to reduce CCI’s security staffing levels despite the projected increase in security that would result from the construction of additional SMYs. So, there will be no offsetting budget savings from the construction of the SMYs.

Gang Management Policy Changes Could Affect Long Term Need for SMYs. While the most recent CDCR population projections indicate that the department will likely have an ongoing need for SHU capacity, those projections do not integrate the potential impact of the proposed changes in CDCR’s gang management policies. As discussed above, the policy changes could reduce the number of inmates placed in SHUs and could reduce the amount of time inmates spend in SHU placements. Moreover, the new policies would also allow qualifying inmates to spend their exercise time with other inmates beginning in the last six months of their fourth year of a SHU term. All of these factors could reduce the number of SMYs needed for SHU inmates. While the precise effects of any new policies that are adopted are unclear, it would be premature for the Legislature to authorize additional construction of SMYs that may prove to be unnecessary in the future.    

Analyst Recommendation

We recommend that the Legislature reject the request for funding for the development of preliminary plans and working drawings for 50 SMYs at CCI because of (1) future General Fund costs of $2.9 million without having identified significant offsetting benefits and (2) new gang management policies that may reduce the need for these facilities in the future.