A few pages of neatly organized talking points sat in front of Kern County Superior Court Judge David Wolf on July 11 as he surveyed his courtroom, now occupied by a host of criminal justice partners.
Wolf’s notes carefully summarized their titles and contributions to the innovative program responsible for 318 video arraignments of state inmates in the past year.
Those visual cues were hardly necessary.
With unmistakable pride and warmth, Wolf deftly highlighted the key players responsible for improving the safety and security of the public via Kern County video arraignments ― a program responsible for significant cost savings and a greater level of service to both defendants and victims of crime.
Wolf and his team perform arraignments of inmates who committed a crime while incarcerated at one of five CDCR prisons in Kern County. The inmates appear on a large monitor inside prison court, while safely housed at state facilities. It’s a prudent solution, considering arraignments only feature the brief prehearing court appearance when inmates’ charges are read, future court dates are established, counsel is assigned and bail is set.
Video arraignments in Delano have served Kern County for years, but in July 2017, CDCR expanded the feature to all 35 institutions, covering former Kern County inmates across the state.
The final year of leadership under CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan ― who will retire Aug. 30 ― has been prolific for Kern County Prison Court.
It’s why Wolf filled his courtroom with essential criminal justice partners July 11 and heartily recognized each of them.
Correctional officer Rafael Torres, who is assigned to Kern County Prison Court, led Kernan and the Director of the Division of Adult Institutions Kathleen Allison on a tour of the facility during their July visit. He showed off the 2017 renovations that transformed the building to include 21 holding cells, a public viewing area behind bulletproof glass, private interview rooms, a “fishbowl” viewing room for inmates to interact with proceedings and a control booth.
The facility has grown to support the aspirations of Wolf’s team.
“To understand the success of this court, we have to go back in time to about two years ago,” Wolf explained. “We had that parking lot filled with CDCR vans from all over the state and those inmates were sitting in those vans until about 5 p.m.
“It was a hot and miserable way of doing business, and now we have a far more humane process that is better for attorneys, inmates and the transportation officers. Working together, we have provided a higher level of service, enhanced public safety and done with greater efficiency.”
Partners took it a step further last year, by expanding the video arraignment program to institutions across the state.
From July 3, 2017, to July 9, 2018, Kern County Prison Court hosted 318 video arraignments. Forty-one of those eased the strain on CDCR’s transportation team at nearby California State Prison, Corcoran, but public safety benefits and cost savings were dramatic, as the reach of video arraignments extended across the state.
Officers at Salinas Valley State Prison avoided 39 352-mile round trips during the same period. Also avoided were 29 treks of 386 miles for California Health Care Facility in Stockton and 27 drives of 530 miles from California State Prison, Sacramento.
Then there’s Pelican Bay State Prison.
Thanks to Kern County Prison Court, California’s northernmost correctional facility ― one known for housing a large population of maximum-security inmates ― avoided 34 round trips of the staggering 1,324-mile variety.
Altogether, CDCR saved over 134,690 miles of travel for arraignments that only last about 10 to 15 minutes each.
“The safety of my staff has been significantly improved,” Kernan said, addressing Wolf and attending criminal justice partners July 11. “It makes me think as I am walking out the door into retirement, that more needs to be done across our prison communities to get facilities like this.
“You should all be proud of what your county has done, and what Judge Wolf has done, in improving public safety and providing better justice.”
“The successes would not have been possible without Secretary Kernan and his team’s support,” Wolf added. “We wouldn’t be here today without him, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity to thank him and some of his team members before he retires.”
Wolf also recognized the Citizens Advisory Council in attendance, Delano Police Chief Robert Nevarez, McFarland Police Chief Scot Kimble and Kern County Superior Court Executive Officer Tamarah Harber-Pickens.
From CDCR, Wolf highlighted the critical support from Allison, DAI Deputy Director Connie Gipson, Office of External Affairs Chief Albert Rivas and attending Wardens Christian Pfeiffer (Kern Valley State Prison), John Sutton (Wasco State Prison) and Kelly Santoro (North Kern State Prison).
“My team here, wardens and staff, they are the ones working with this program every day and I am so proud of what they have done during my tenure,” Kernan said. “This is a real present example of when you put smart people together and work out a solution, things get done.
“Congratulations to all of you.”
Since the operation requires support and hearty cooperation from criminal justice partners throughout central California, Wolf also credited the work of Kern County Public Defender Pam Singh, Indigent Defense Program Director Henry Marquez and his attorneys, Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green, Supervising DA Sara Danville and the DA’s entire prison unit.
Wolf’s team in Delano, including the Kern Valley State Prison transportation team and court staff/supervisors, were also recognized.
The list of key players supporting Kern County video arraignments is lengthy, but those partners are essential to the achievements safely beamed into prison court on a live feed.
Ike Dodson is a public information officer with the Office of Public and Employee Communications of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.