Governor’s New Prison Chief Faces Trouble At Hearings

By JULIA REYNOLDS Pacific News Service
Friday June 25, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO--She's been called "The Good Jailer" by the New York Times and hailed as a reformer.  

Jeanne Woodford, the former San Quentin warden, was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in February to run the California Department of Corrections (CDC) the nation's largest -- and possibly most troubled -- prison system. 

"I look forward to working with [the governor] to re-establish public confidence in California's prison system through real reform," she is quoted as saying on a Schwarzenegger Web site. 

During 25 years at San Quentin State Prison, Woodford emphasized rehabilitating prisoners, not just warehousing them.  

But all is not perfect in Woodford's old fiefdom. 

Behind the iron gate of picturesque San Quentin, which from outside has the appearance of a Camelot-by-the-Sea, quiet testimony has been taking place since April, in hearings stemming from a 2002 lawsuit alleging whistleblower retaliation against inmate case analyst Kathy DeoCampo. Testimony from San Quentin staff members is providing a look inside an administration plagued by problems.  

While Woodford was warden in 2002, there was a tremendous backlog of incoming inmates. Staff counselors and analysts have testified that some processing steps required by the department manual were bypassed in order to speed inmate transfers into the "mainline" of the prison -- with potentially dangerous results. 

According to staff testimony, high-security prisoners were accidentally mixed with lower security inmates in San Quentin's reception center, putting the safety of prisoners and staff at risk. Inmates were also processed into San Quentin's lower-security H unit without seeing a counselor or receiving a security level classification. 

Medical and psychological records were often missing from files, delaying inmates' classification and transfer to appropriate facilities. 

Early in the hearings, a prison official testified that the problem of unclassified inmates turning up in San Quentin's "mainline" had been quickly identified and resolved in 2002. 

But others say it's still going on.  

As if to prove the point, on June 10 a counselor testified that during the previous day's hearing she learned that one of her as-yet-unprocessed inmates was found in San Quentin's H unit. 

At best, the DeoCampo hearing testimony points to a system in disarray. At worst, it may be exposing serious mismanagement and violation of regulations. 

The contradictory testimony certainly invites deeper investigation from outside the prison walls. 

If allegations by staff prove true, "this is very serious," says Richard Steffen, an aide and investigator for Sen. Jackie Speier. He has spent the year digging into problems of the state's prison system for the Senate's government oversight committee.  

Woodford has been subpoenaed to testify in the San Quentin hearings, but according to the state's attorney in the case, she couldn't appear in June due to a heavy schedule before her June 23 state senate confirmation. She has declined repeated requests for interviews on this subject. 


PNS contributor Julia Reynolds is a California-based investigative reporter specializing in criminal justice.