AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, criticized a lack of progress since Hickman’s previous confirmation in 2004 to head the old prison agency. He was appointed in November 2003, following Schwarzenegger’s election. Romero’s Select Committee on the California Correctional System is holding hearings to determine whether the Senate Rules Committee recommends that the 25-year corrections veteran be confirmed. She and other critics spent the four-hour hearing outlining the department’s failures, as Hickman and Undersecretary Jeanne Woodford highlighted the agency’s progress. Romero and Hickman distributed competing documents outlining their positions – then sharply criticized each other. Romero dismissed Hickman’s “glossy, pretty pamphlet,” while he accused her of reducing the agency’s problems to media-friendly “sound bites.” Many of the headline-grabbing problems that confronted the agency two years ago aren’t issues now, Hickman said: a videotaped gang battle at Folsom State Prison and beating of two wards at Stockton’s N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility; an endemic “code of silence” that punished whistle-blowers and rewarded guards who abused inmates. Hickman and Schwarzenegger have strengthened the internal investigation and discipline system, said the state’s auditor and inspector general. Yet the parole system is “still a billion-dollar failure,” said Donald Specter, director of the nonprofit Prison Law Office that has forced changes through repeated lawsuits. Romero criticized the high recidivism rate and the department’s $1 billion cost overrun last year due to a population increase it failed to foresee. While the department does well at its most basic mission of containing inmates, it dragged its feet on efforts to keep them alive, Specter said. Inmates were dying of medical neglect at a rate of about one a week, Specter said, citing the conclusion of an irate federal judge who ordered changes in December. And it took repeated court orders before the department began requiring guards to try to resuscitate inmates who attempt suicide. Yet the fault is not all Hickman’s, Specter said. The corrections secretary is overruled by other agencies and lacks sufficient staffing and money even with a budget that increased by $2 billion in two years. Reforming such a massive, entrenched bureaucracy from within might not be possible and could require additional court oversight, Specter said. Hickman said his department alone can’t rehabilitate inmates, which would require the cooperation of local governments and community and faith-based social organizations. “We are building the foundation for sustainable change,” he said. “These efforts will not happen overnight.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SACRAMENTO – A massive overhaul of California’s prison system is barely under way and may take years to show serious improvement, Corrections Secretary Roderick Hickman told state senators Thursday as they began considering whether he should keep his job. “Are we rehabilitated? No. We are on the road to recovery,” he repeatedly told senators in various ways during an often contentious hearing. “What we have embarked upon will take time, effort, money, and it will take the will to see it through.” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Hickman on July 1 to head the new Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which combined the adult and youth prison systems in the largest reorganization in state history. Senators have until this July to confirm his appointment to head the nation’s largest state corrections system, one that consumes $8 billion of the state’s $125.6 billion budget. “We are literally changing the tires on a moving car,” Hickman said, and the benefits of last summer’s retooling are just beginning to surface.