Jeanne Woodford was an unusual choice to be California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first corrections director. Woodward, 50, had been the first female warden in the 152-year history of San Quentin prison, now with 5,600 male inmates.
Woodford believes in rehabilitation in a state that removed the word from its penal code’s mission statement in 1976, says the New York Times Magazine. Since then, prison officials have run highly secure prisons, devoid of anything that could lead to accusations of pampering inmates. The Times says that “Woodford is accustomed to being judged a naive, criminal-coddling do-gooder, and she doesn’t seem to mind it.” Woodford worries that as corrections director, she could lose touch with the people in the system. She told the Times, “I don’t want to forget that this is about people — about humanity.”
Saving money is Schwarzenegger’s main motivation for asking Woodford to run the nation’s largest state prison system, with 32 penitentiaries, 49,247 employees, and 161,500 inmates. On average, it costs about $31,000 a year to care for each prisoner. Two-thirds of those who are released end up back in prison within 18 months, twice the national average. Schwarzenegger, with a $14 billion deficit to contend with, reasons that Woodford’s philosophy, which the Times describes as “same man, same result; changed man, changed result” — will mean more parolees staying on the straight-and-narrow and fewer bodies on the state dole.
Research shows that the more education and rehabilitation programs a prisoner goes through while incarcerated, the less likely he will commit another crime. When they met before her appointment, Schwarzenegger grilled Woodford about San Quentin’s unusual range of offerings and charged her with exporting them throughout the state. “She addressed substance abuse, mental illness, lack of education and other factors that drive criminality,” said Roderick Hickman, the governor’s cabinet secretary overseeing corrections and Woodford’s boss. “And she did it without cost to the state.” She has also been untouched by the recent spate of scandals involving, among other things, prison officials who have been accused of trying to cover up violence provoked by prison officers. “She brings credibility to an organization that sorely needs it,” Hickman said. “We have an integrity deficiency, and we need to fix it.”