Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sara Jane Olson Brought Back into CDCR Custody

Returned to the California Institution for Women after Sentence Recalculation

SACRAMENTO - Officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced today that Sara Jane Olson, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army also known as Kathleen Soliah, has been returned to custody at the California Institution for Women. Olson was released to parole on March 17, 2008, for crimes committed in the mid-1970s. Legal questions about Olson's sentence were raised upon notice of her parole. CDCR conducted an analysis of Olson's case records and sentencing transcripts to ensure that all appropriate time was served for a crime she committed in Sacramento County.

"Sara Jane Olson's case is extremely complicated, given the amount of changes to the sentencing laws that have occurred over the last 30 years," said Scott Kernan, CDCR Chief Deputy Secretary of Adult Operations. "Upon request for review, CDCR case records staff immediately reevaluated this sentence calculation, and in coordination with our legal affairs unit and the Board of Parole Hearings has revised the sentence accordingly to ensure that all appropriate time is served."

"After careful review, we have determined that questions raised about Olson's release date have merit," said Alberto Roldan, CDCR Chief Deputy General Counsel. "Upon review Olson is required to serve two additional years on a consecutive sentence for the Sacramento conviction."

"We understand how sensitive the impact of such an error has on all involved in this case and sincerely regret the mistake," said Kernan. "To ensure we do everything possible to prevent this from occurring in the future, we have launched a full investigation into this matter."


Olson, a member of the infamous Symbionese Liberation Army associated with the kidnap of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst in the 1970s, was paroled Monday, March 17, 2008 from the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. Olson was sentenced to prison after being returned to California following 20 plus years of living in Minnesota under an assumed name.

Olson was convicted of two crimes. Her first was for a 1975 terrorist act of planting pipe bombs under two Los Angeles Police Department cars. Those pipe bombs were discovered before they detonated. It was presumed that the bombs were intended as revenge for SLA members who died in a fiery shootout with the LAPD months before.

Her subsequent conviction was for second degree murder in Sacramento County in 1975, for the death of a bank customer, Myrna Ophsal. Ophsal was shot to death as the SLA attempted to rob the bank.

Because she was convicted subsequent to 1977, when California's indeterminate sentencing structure was transformed, the Board of Prison Terms (now known as the Board of Parole Hearings) conducted a Serious Offender Hearing to establish a determinate sentence for her crimes. This hearing was similar to hearings conducted for most California inmates prior to the transformation of its sentencing structure.

The Board set her total term at 13 years including a one year enhancement. In October 2007, the one year enhancement was dismissed by the Court. She was paroled after serving six years, after receiving credit for good behavior and her work assignments while in prison.

Olson was initially paroled to the Antelope Valley region of Los Angeles County, her last legal residence in California. Late Friday night, Olson was prevented from traveling to Minnesota, where she had requested to be transferred, in order to investigate her sentence release date. Olson's approval to travel out of state was revoked.

On Saturday, Olson was taken into custody and returned to the California Institution for Women in Corona after a determination that she was due to serve an additional two years. This sentence could be reduced to one full year if she receives all of the good-time credits for which she may be eligible.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Council on Mentally Ill Offenders (COMIO) Announces First Annual Best Practices Awards

SEASIDE -- The Council on Mentally Ill Offenders (COMIO) announced the recipients of the first annual Best Practices awards today at its council meeting. Awards were given for “outstanding best practices” in the adult programs category to Behavioral Health Court, San Francisco Superior Court; Co-occurring Disorders Court, Orange County Superior Court; and Mental Health Treatment Court, Santa Clara County Superior Court. Recipients for juvenile programs included Client Assessment Recommendation Evaluation Project (C.A.R.E.), Los Angeles County Public Defender; and the Court for the Individualized Treatment of Adolescents, Santa Clara County Superior Court, Juvenile Delinquency Division.

“The Council has broken new ground this year by establishing and recognizing the Best Practices in serving mentally ill offenders,” said James Tilton, COMIO Chairperson and Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). “Persons with mental illness traditionally have been underserved and often end up in jail or prison due to few community alternatives and a lack of understanding of the needs of these individuals. These five projects show creative approaches to serving this population.”

Five awards were given this year out of a pool of 12 applicants, with two awards presented in the juvenile program and three in the adult program categories. The recipients are recognized for successfully managing a program that reflects best practices in California, for treating mentally ill patients to decrease the likelihood of their involvement with law enforcement and to increase the likelihood of an effective transition back into the community. Each winner will receive a plaque at an awards ceremony held tonight in conjunction with the annual statewide conference of the Forensic Mental Health Association of California where several hundred people will be in attendance.

“It is critical that state agencies and local governments have a coordinated approach to providing programs that serve the needs of mentally ill offenders and improve public safety, said Secretary Tilton. “These awards highlight examples of the 'best of the best' approaches throughout California to effectively serve the needs of the mentally ill offender.”

A major function of the California Council on Mentally III Offenders (COMIO) is to encourage effective creative services in an ongoing effort to identify best practices.

COMIO intends to annually recognize providers who successfully treat mentally ill patients within the state and county criminal justice systems.

COMIO was created by the legislature in 2001 "to investigate and promote cost-effective approaches to meeting the long-term needs of adults and juveniles with mental disorders who are likely to become offenders or who have a history of offending." Two strategies to achieve this were defined:

1) to improve service coordination among state and local mental health, criminal justice and juvenile justice programs, and

2) to improve the ability of adult and juvenile offenders with mental health need to transition successfully between corrections-based, juvenile-based and community-based treatment programs.

COMIO is comprised of a ten person panel of experts and practitioners selected to tackle the difficult challenges posed by mentally ill offenders. The board meets six times a year.
Council on Mentally Ill Offenders (COMIO)

Chairperson James E. Tilton, Secretary, CDCR
Vice-Chairperson: Stephen Mayberg, Ph.D., Director, CA Department of Mental Health

Members: Joel Fay, PsyD., Mental Health Liaison Officer, San Rafael Police Department; David Lehman, Chief Probation Officer (retired), Humboldt County, and former member of the Board of Corrections (now the Corrections Standard Authority); Wendy Lindley, Judge, Orange County Superior Court; Duane E. McWaine, M.D., Medical Director, Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center, Los Angeles; David Meyer, J.D., Professor, Institute of Psychiatry, Law and Behavioral Science, Keck School of Medicine, USC, and former Chief Deputy Director, Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health; Jo Robinson, M.F.T., Program Director, San Francisco Jail Health and Psychiatric Services; James W. Sweeney, J.D., Principal, James W. Sweeney & Associates; Charles L. Walters, Ph.D., Assistant Sheriff, Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department.

COMIO Website:

                   Link to Council on Mentally Ill Offenders (COMIO) 2008 “Best Practices” Awards Recipients

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chowchilla Family Express, CDCR Celebrate First Year Anniversary of Successful Partnership to Bring Children, Families to Visit Incarcerated Mothers

Program provides free transportation to help better unite inmate families
Chowchilla - The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the Chowchilla Family Express (CFE) today celebrated the first year of serving children and families of inmates incarcerated at the two women's prisons in Chowchilla. The weekly bus
program, which began in March 2007, helps inmates and their families remain connected during incarceration. Nearly 2,400 children and family members have visited their mothers as part of this innovative program. Funded by the CDCR with a $400,000 annual budget, the bus program brings children to their parents housed in Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) and Central California Women's Facility (CCWF) from various parts of California every Sunday.

"We are providing new and innovative rehabilitative programs for our offenders that are designed to improve their outcomes," said CDCR Secretary Jim Tilton. "This program is in recognition of how valuable family reunification is to the welfare of children and the eventual post-prison success of inmates."

"We are excited about the many successes so far and the ongoing dedication by the Chowchilla Family Express because it provides yet another rehabilitative option for so many women offenders, said Wendy Still, CDCR Associate Director, Female Offender Programs and Services, who also noted that the majority of those inmates are mothers. "This bus program provides unique opportunities for female offenders to reunite with their children, who are in most cases hundreds of miles away. We remain committed to extending our responsibility for female offenders beyond their incarceration to improve their chances of success when they return to their communities."

More than half of the women in state prisons never see their children during their incarceration. Some of the children traveling have not seen their mothers in more than a year. National institute of Corrections research shows that children who have regular parent visits demonstrate better emotional and social adjustment as well as a lower degree of juvenile delinquency. In addition, their partents demonstrate lower rates of recidivism and higher rates of family reunification when they are released.

An important part of a female offender's rehabilitation is buiding and strengthening systems of family support and family involvement while she is in prison. Their support can enhance their eventual return and success in their community.

"I love this work," said Eric Debode, Program Director for the Chowchilla Family Express. "It is so gratifying to be a part of something so positive in the lives of children and families. The program is successful because it is so simple--the people are enthusiastic about coming to visit their loved ones and we give them a ride. Through this program, the state of California is helping families stay together--and increasing the likelihood of successful reentry."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp Celebrated 63rd Year with Open House

More than 80 former employees, community members and local dignitaries converged on the Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp Friday March 7 to honor some 63 years of public service to the local community.

Pine Grove YCF Superintendent Mike Roots said the day was full of surprises. One individual who had worked at the camp briefly during the 1950s also visited and shared stories of his time working at the location. City of Ione mayor Andrea Bonham also arrived and participated in some of the activities, watching the young firefighting crew going through training maneuvers. Bob Butterfield, who served as camp superintendent from 1982-1986 also stopped by to see how much had changed – and not changed –about the camp since his time as superintendent.
"The support we receive from the Amador County community we serve has just been exceptional," Roots said. "This was our opportunity to thank them back with our open house and the lunch prepared by the wards."
The Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp is jointly operated with CAL Fire as an equal partner. DJJ staff is responsible for the custody, supervision and treatment of wards. CAL Fire Officers plan and supervise work projects performed by the wards. DJJ officials screen and accept low risk classification wards from more secure facilities. Training is provided by CAL Fire (formerly CDF) and wards are certified to engage in wild land firefighting operations as part of a Type One Hand Crew.
Ward camp crews, each led by a fire captain (CAL Fire), provide a variety of conservation services to state and local government agencies. The education programs are in the evenings after work. All non-high school graduates participate in GED preparation, a high school program, or basic skills. The aim is completion of educational requirements for normal entry-level employment. Each camp also has a formal drug program offering various treatment modalities.

Fire crews from DJJ camps perform about 180,000 hours of fire suppression services in a "normal" year for the people of California.

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Gov. Schwarzenegger Attends Female Inmate Carpenter Graduation, Opens New Inmate Firefighter Training Center

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger participated in an inmate graduation ceremony today at the California Institution for Women (CIW) to highlight the state's commitment to effective rehabilitation programs that prepare offenders for life after prison. The Governor congratulated female state prison inmates who were presented with graduation certificates for completing a carpenter apprenticeship training program. The Governor also dedicated a new classroom that female inmates in the carpentry program built, which will be used to train other female inmates to fight Southern California brushfires.

"It has been a top priority of my administration to reform California's prison system by focusing on rehabilitation programs that will reduce recidivism and increase public safety," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "Both the carpenter training and firefighting programs give inmates skills to take their lives in new directions. These programs and the will of these women to improve their lives is what I want for as many inmates as possible because it will make our communities safer and will save taxpayers billions of dollars in the long haul."

The 5,200 sq. ft. classroom that the Governor dedicated today was constructed by 30 female inmates from the California Prison Industry Authority's (CalPIA) Career Technical Education-Carpentry program. This program is the first of its kind in the nation for women and is modeled after a similar program for men introduced in 2006 at Folsom State Prison. Both programs are partnerships with the Northern California Carpenters Union Local 46. As part of their training, the inmates demolished an antiquated training center used by female inmate firefighters who train at the prison, replacing it with a new modern structure. The work involved all phases of carpentry where inmates gain proficiencies in various skills including: framing, drywall, taping and texturing, painting, roofing and finished carpentry.

The 14 inmates who graduated from the training this year are eligible for placement in jobs in the construction industry when they are released on parole, through formal agreements between CalPIA, the City of Los Angeles Community Development Department and the Northern California Local Carpenters Union.
"This program not only gives inmates the training they need for a career upon release, it gives them a foot in the door with an employer," said James Tilton, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). "We know that ex-offenders who have a plan for life after prison have a much higher probability of returning home to become productive members of their local community. It is our ultimate goal to return inmates better off than when we received them. The Prison Industry Authority plays an important role in providing skills inmates need for success."

To help inmates get a start in their new lives, CalPIA provides a fully equipped tool belt to each graduate when they are released on parole, ensuring they are ready to work on day one, and also pays their union dues for one year.

The carpenter's training program was funded with a $1.2 million grant from CDCR that was intended to reduce repeat crime among inmates.

The CalPIA, dedicated to inmate rehabilitation, is financially self-supporting through the sale of its products manufactured at 22 locations within the prison system. Recent data shows that inmates who participate in CalPIA programs and business enterprises have a recidivism rate that is approximately 25 percent less than the general prison population, saving taxpayers an estimated $11-15 million per year. In addition, teaching inmates job skills in CalPIA businesses reduces taxpayer funds spent on vocational education by an additional $30 million per year.

Approximately 250 female firefighters are trained at CIW each year before being assigned to the fire camp in Malibu (Los Angeles County) or a pair of camps near Fallbrook (San Diego County). Female inmate fire crews from those camps were on fire lines throughout Southern California last fall during the widespread wildfires across the region.


Monday, March 3, 2008

CDCR Meets with Local Officials on Future of El Paso de Robles Correctional Facility

PASO ROBLES - Today, representatives from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) met with local leaders from San Luis Obispo County and Paso Robles to talk about the future of the El Paso de Robles Correctional Facility. The meeting was convened by CDCR to provide an informational update to the city and county about the status of the repurposing options for the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility. The facility is planned for closure as a Division of Juvenile Justice facility on July 31, 2008, in response to a declining juvenile population statewide.

"The state has partnered with the local community in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo County for many years, and has always sought to be a good neighbor. There is a strong desire at the state and local level to reuse this facility in a way that is beneficial to the local community and the state," said Bernard Warner, CDCR Chief Deputy Secretary for Juvenile Justice. "We are optimistic that we can come up with a reuse plan that will keep good jobs in the local community, while continuing with our mission to improve public safety by providing rehabilitation to inmates."
Since the proposed closure of the juvenile facility was announced in early January, CDCR has committed to keeping the community informed, as well as to solicit public comment on proposed reuse of the 150 acre facility, which first began operation as a California Youth Authority facility in 1947. After the upcoming closure of the youth facility was announced, CDCR conducted a site evaluation to determine options for reuse.

A reuse concept discussed with local officials today is the possibility of converting the facility to house low-level older male inmates (50+ years of age). The facility previously housed an average daily population of approximately 1,000 wards, and could be relatively easily converted to be used for this lower-level older male inmate population. This proposed reuse would ease adult overcrowding and provide infill bed options to the adult prison operation, while maintaining local jobs.

Environmental impact reviews and public hearings on the proposal discussed today are forthcoming, and the state remains open to discussing additional or alternative uses of the property as a correctional facility.

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