Scott Kernan, a former prison guard and warden, has been appointed secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a target of protests and court rulings over its crowded conditions and solitary-confinement practices, eports the San Francisco Chronicle. He succeeds Jeffrey Beard, who is leaving next month after three years. Under federal court orders to elevate substandard medical care, the prison system reduced its inmate population during Beard's tenure to about 110,000, down more than 40,000 from the high point four years ago. Much of the reduction was accomplished through the policy known as realignment, enacted by Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature to send lower-level felons to county jails instead of state prison.
Inmates also filed lawsuits and held hunger strikes to protest the prisons' extensive use of solitary confinement, particularly at maximum-security prison Pelican Bay, where inmates found to be affiliated with gangs were sometimes held in isolation for 20 years or more. Prison officials and lawyers for the inmates announced a settlement in September to allow thousands of inmates to return to the general prison population and limit isolation to 10 years in most cases. Kernan, 55, was hired as a guard in 1983 and served as a prison officer through 2000, except for his work as a budget analyst for the system in 1986 and 1987. He became an administrator in 2001 and served as a warden between 2003 and 2006. He was the prison system's chief of operations from 2008 to 2011, then ran a private consulting company before returning to the operations post in March.