Matthew Cate is a visionary leader who has taken significant steps against enormous odds to transform the CDCR’s culture into one which truly supports prisoner rehabilitation and system-wide reform. Fundamental culture change in such a massive bureaucracy is no easy task, especially when the prevailing attitudes of punishment and retribution have been so deeply entrenched within the CDCR for the past thirty years. Secretary Cate has demonstrated great courage in this monumental undertaking, personally supporting programs and initiatives which challenge the status quo and are therefore unpopular with certain powerful stakeholder groups. These programs have the potential to change the very nature of correctional management in our state, laying the groundwork for a prison system which routinely releases men and women ready to rejoin society as safe, contributing, and law-abiding members. This benefits all Californians.
The Honor Program is a shining example of one such initiative which has been championed by Secretary Cate. Conceived in 1999 by maximum-security prisoners at California State Prison-Los Angeles County (CSP-LAC), and implemented the following year in collaboration with supportive prison staff, the Honor Program has demonstrated exceptional success. Prisoners must apply for the program, commit to abstinence from drugs, gangs and violence, and be willing to live and work with fellow prisoners of any race. In the program’s first year, violence was reduced by 85%, weapons offenses by 88%, and a savings of over $200,000 was realized, solely from reduced staff time in managing disruptive incidents. In the ten years of the Honor Program’s existence, there has not been a single, serious mass violent incident, a record unmatched in any other prison in the state. During this time, taxpayer savings have surely been in the millions of dollars. Most importantly, though, the Honor Program demonstrates that positive outcomes in our troubled prison system are possible.
Before Secretary Cate’s tenure, the Honor Program was forced to struggle for survival. The predominant culture of the CDCR simply did not support a place in which prisoners were treated as human beings capable of rehabilitation and redemption, where they were given the opportunity to atone for their wrongdoings and give back to the communities from which they had taken. On numerous occasions, the program was shut down by shortsighted prison administrators, only to be resurrected by the tireless advocacy of a group of dedicated supporters. As CEO of The Catalyst Foundation, I have committed enormous organizational resources to fight for the continued existence of the Honor Program as a proven path to a truly rehabilitative and humane prison system. In 2007, Catalyst partnered with Senator Gloria Romero to support SB 299, her landmark legislation to retain the Honor Program at CSP-LAC and expand it to all Level III and Level IV prisons throughout the state. The bill, though ultimately vetoed, gained wide, bipartisan support in both houses of the legislature. While the veto message read, “There is no need for a law, as the CDCR can implement this program administratively,”
Mr. Tilton’s unexpected retirement in April 2008, and his replacement the following month by Mr. Cate, the former Inspector General, represented a golden opportunity for the Honor Program specifically and for meaningful reform in general. Through my attendance and advocacy at California Rehabilitation Oversight Board (C-ROB) meetings, I have had many opportunities to interact with Secretary Cate, and have been enormously impressed with his sincere and dedicated commitment to positive, transformational change in our prisons. This has been clearly demonstrated through direct, consistent, and ongoing action. In the face of what must have been colossal barriers presented by the huge CDCR bureaucracy, he mandated that a formal Honor Program Operational Procedure be signed, personally oversaw its actual implementation on the ground, and has supported its growth and development by ensuring that eligible prisoners statewide can be transferred to the program.
To honor his extraordinary efforts in one of the most difficult tasks of our time, that of reforming our prisons, The Catalyst Foundation has named Secretary Cate as the recipient of its 2010 Humanitarian Award. In this spirit, I urge you, Governor Brown, to keep Matthew Cate as CDCR Secretary, and allow him to continue the groundbreaking work he has so courageously begun.
Secretary Cate will receive the Humanitarian Award at Catalyst’s Winds of Change Art Auction and Benefit Concert on Sunday, November 14 at the House of Blues, Hollywood. For more information, visit www.catalystfdn.org.
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Susan E. Lawrence, M.D., is the Founder and CEO of The Catalyst Foundation, a Southern California-based nonprofit organization whose mission it is to decrease the impact of childhood abuse and trauma on society and the world. She is the award-winning author of Creating a Healing Society: The Impact of Human Emotional Pain and Trauma on Society and the World, and a prize-winning finalist in the 2008 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.