Can an ex-counselor who started yoga and gardening classes for inmates turn around California’s rough-and-tumble prison system? That’s what the San Francisco Chronicle asks about Jeanne Woodford, former warden of San Quentin State Prison. The Chronicle’s description: “She preached education for felons in a corrections agency that has been more human warehouse than classroom. She was a beacon for community volunteers in a system that is mostly shuttered from society. She oozed compassion for inmates and guards in a grim setting.”
Woodford is expected to win confirmation from a state Senate committee this week. The prison system is so troubled that a joke memo on a prison guard’s Web log seemed almost believable. It announced the creation of the Pending Indictment Division in corrections, where employees under investigation would be sent to work until their court date. Woodford’s legacy at San Quentin can be seen in the prison’s H unit every Tuesday. Twenty or so inmates gather to do sun salutations and other common yoga moves. Inside H unit, about 200 inmates live in what Woodford dubbed “Success Dorm” when she initiated the program two years ago. Prisoners work at jobs in the institution during the day and take classes in the evening. They each keep a journal. California prisons seem to be best at perpetuating criminal behavior: two of every three inmates return to custody within 18 months of release for failing conditions of parole or for committing a new crime. California has the distinction as a national leader in recidivism.