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Inmates' loved ones concerned about new state prison policy

Greta Mart/KCBX
The wives of CMC inmates held signs Thursday along Highway 1 to raise awareness of the new policy.

A handful of protesters gathered outside the California Men’s Colony prison in San Luis Obispo Thursday. The wives and loved ones of inmates say they are worried about a new policy change coming to the facility, and prisons statewide. It’s a program that merges two different populations of inmates; effectively ending the country's largest protective custody program.

Cindy was one of the protesters holding a sign as cars whizzed by on Highway One, near the California Men’s Colony. She didn’t want to use her last name, worried it could cause trouble for her husband inside.

“Everyone’s life is in danger right now,” Cindy said. “Not just our loved ones, but everyone’s at stake here.”

What Cindy is worried about is a new California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitions (CDCR) policy. 20 years ago the CDCR established a program called "Sensitive Needs" yards or SNYs. These separated areas were meant to provide security for inmates whose safety is threatened inside the general population.

But now, according to the CDCR, one-third of inmates are housed in SNYs. The CDCR says over the past two decades, gangs have emerged and violence has become difficult to control. So the Department’s begun integrating the two populations back together into what are called Non-Designated Programming Facilities at prisons across the state. Inside the merged yards inmates are expected to get along, and CDCR says it will provide more educational opportunities or programming in return.

Recently-retired CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan explained the goal of this integration in a video the CDCR put out this summer

“We are creating a system where inmates are responsible for their own conduct,” Kernan said. “And with that change we expect inmates to behave like people do in free society.”

But inmates and their loved ones say that merging the two groups is actually putting the inmates in danger—because the two populations don’t get along. And that the integration is causing violence..

“They are not understanding the chaos it’s going to cause,” Cindy said at Thursdays protest. “We need to make sure they stay safe and out of harm’s way because it’s ugly in there.”

A CDCR spokesperson, Vicky Waters, said there have been a few instances of violence at prisons across the state, but they were isolated. She said CDCR will continue to roll out the system. Waters said the CDCR is establishing a non-designated prison yard at the California Men’s Colony, but won’t say when, citing safety concerns. Cindy and the other protestors believed it started on November 1.

On Friday, Nov. 2, a protest of the policy is scheduled at CDCR’s headquarters in Sacramento. Loved ones of inmates across the state are expected to show up to vocalize their concerns about the planned integration.

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