Other Projects

Prison Honor Program

The Steering Committee for the Honor Program, led by Kenneth E. Hartman, has been at the forefront of the movement to include rehabilitative programming options in maximum-security prisons.

Prisoners conceived the Honor Program. Not surprisingly or coincidentally, it has demonstrated exceptional success. Based on the principle of incentivizing positive behavior and holding individuals accountable for their actions, the purpose of the Honor Program is to create an atmosphere of safety, respect, and cooperation, so that prisoners can do their time in peace, while working on specific self-improvement and rehabilitative goals and projects which benefit the community. Prisoners wishing to apply for the program must commit to abstinence from drugs, gangs and violence, and must be willing to live and work with prisoners of any race. Upon activation, objective, quantifiable results were immediate and dramatic – in the first year alone the results on the ground showed measurable positive gains, including decreases in weapons related offenses of 88% and decreases in violence related offenses of 85%. In the eleven 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 California. Fiscal savings to the taxpayers surely are in the millions of dollars by this time (with no less than $200,000 of documented savings in the first year alone). More importantly, this program demonstrates that positive outcomes in our troubled and dysfunctional prison systems are possible. Equally as important, the program enables the expansion of prisoner participation, of prisoner motivation to take control of their own destiny, and of prisoners’ sense of empowerment.

The power structure of the prison system, based on a model of prisoner disempowerment, has resisted this political and social awakening. On numerous occasions, efforts have been undertaken to dismantle the Honor Program. At these moments of crisis, The Steering Committee has served as the primary organizer of positive resistance. Collaborating with a growing group of supporters, and campaigning tirelessly within the prison, every attempt to end the Honor Program has been thwarted. In 2006, after supportive elements of the prison’s staff alerted The Steering Committee to a plan to transfer all the Honor Program participants to various prisons – an obvious attempt to demolish the program – the Committee released a comprehensive handbook (The Honor Program: Road to a Rehabilitative Prison System, January 2007) detailing how to save the Honor Program and codify it into the rules and regulations of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Upon receiving a copy of this publication, CDCR officials placed Kenneth E. Hartman in Administrative Segregation (the hole), but the well thought out strategy of the Committee to simultaneously deliver the handbook to every member of the California Legislature, the leadership of the Judiciary Branch, the leadership of the Executive Branch, and close to 200 media outlets, as well as the activation of a powerful internet presence, compelled his release after two weeks.

The proposal was the catalyst for legislation (SB (Senate Bill) 299) introduced by State Senator Gloria Romero (D – Majority Leader) that sought to codify the Honor Program and expand it to all Level III and Level IV prisons in the state. Hundreds of supporters were motivated by The Steering Committee through its many contacts and supporters, which resulted in strong attendance at multiple hearings and thousands of letters, e-mails, and phone calls in support of the legislation. Ultimately, even traditional opponents of prison reform (such as the guards’ union) voiced support. Although the bill passed by wide, bi-partisan margins in both houses of the legislature, Governor Schwarzenegger ultimately vetoed it, stating “a law was unnecessary because the CDCR already has the authority to implement Honor Programs administratively.”

The unexpected April 2008 resignation of CDCR Secretary James Tilton (who stated publicly at a Senate hearing that he “did not want the word ‘honor’ to be associated with prisoners”), and his replacement by former Inspector General Matthew Cate (a staunch supporter of prison reform), created an excellent opportunity for achieving success through administrative channels.

Over the past three-and-a-half years, the CDCR has been subjected to a tremendous amount of scrutiny consequent to The Steering Committee’s well-planned strategy of maintaining a presence at a little known state government entity called the California Rehabilitation Oversight Board (C-ROB). This continuous advocacy at C-ROB meetings has enabled Honor Program supporters to develop positive relationships with the decision-maker, CDCR Secretary Cate.

Most recently, members of The Steering Committee met with newly appointed Inspector General Robert Barton, in a private meeting that cemented his support for the Honor Program and continued scrutiny of CDCR actions.

While the Honor Program has been renamed the Progressive Programming Facility (due to the continued resistance of recalcitrant elements within the CDCR), there has been a recent upswing in positive actions taken by Secretary Cate in holding the local institution accountable for implementation of incentive-based, rehabilitative programming. The Steering Committee’s advocacy in securing the involvement of the new Inspector General will certainly result in additional positive pressure on the institution to continue to move forward.

In the interim and for the duration, The Steering Committee will maintain vigilance and continue its core principle of proactive engagement.