The head of the California Prison Industry Authority, an internationally known agency that trains inmates for such diverse occupations as carpentry, deep-sea diving, computer coding and farming, is retiring after more than a decade on the job.
The departure of Chuck Pattillo marks the end of an era at CalPIA, an unusual state agency — it operates roughly like a not-for-profit enterprise — that has had a dramatic impact on thousands of inmates.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army as teenager, serving as a military police officer and, later, as an undercover narcotics officer.
His retirement came just days after the state auditor reported that California prison system’s programs to reduce recidivism aren’t working effectively.
“The only positive things in the audit were about us. It’s a nice way to go out,” Pattillo said, referring to CalPIA’s rehabilitation focuses and trade-specific job training.
Pattillo’s own background is as unusual as CalPIA.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army as teenager, serving as a military police officer and, later, as an undercover narcotics officer in the Criminal Investigation Command. After getting his Bachelor’s Degree at Sacramento State in 1989, Pattillo joined the state Department of Finance. His duties included management auditor and budget analyst. He later obtained his MBA at Sacramento State.
Pattillo served as a chief consultant and deputy chief of staff with in the Assembly. In 2000, he was appointed as the chief consultant to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
Pattillo later joined CalPIA, and in 2007 took the role of general manager, overseeing 27 separate businesses operating 34 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation institutions that provide over 8,000 training programs. He was the agency’s longest-serving general manager.
Pattillo also proposed the restart of a deep sea diving program that had previously operated for 30 years.
Recently, retired California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Scott Kernan spoke about Pattillo in the Inside CDCR publication.
“Chuck Pattillo is tasked with one of the hardest jobs in California government—rehabilitating offenders in prison by developing and implementing results-based employment training in the framework of a profitable, self-sufficient, and diversified business model,” Kernan said.
In 2006, Pattillo advocated for a $1 million investment for CalPIA vocational programs and spearheaded a separate Career Technical Education Division focused on trade-specific apprenticeships. Pattillo also proposed the restart of a deep sea diving program that had previously operated for 30 years — it opened as the Leonard Greenstone Marine Technology Training Center.
During his time with CalPIA, Pattillo has increased revenue from about$140 million to roughly $250 million and offered up some 8,000 offenders to rehabilitation positions.
“We are running the largest mental health institute in the world.” Chuck Pattillo.
The venture caught the attention of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who reached out Pattillo to tour the facility in 2015.
“Only three people knew about the visit,” Pattillo said. “I accepted Zuckerberg’s request on the condition he would sit down with the prison newspaper for an interview,” he added.
He said Zuckerberg really enjoyed the visit but that he was surprised to find out not a lot of California prisoners were in prison for marijuana-related reasons; something Pattillo said is a common misconception.
Pattillo said another misconception about prisons regards mental health.
“We are running the largest mental health institute in the world,” he said. He noted that the inmates under his CalPIA has only caused two assaults in 12 years.
Amid the general population, he said, some correctional officers experience several assaults a day.
“The only reason two happened were because they individuals were mentally unbalanced in that moment in time,” he added.
In the early 2000s, the prison system was focused on training women in more traditional job training like sewing and culinary classes.
“Our programs are great because we treat the inmates with respect and as employees, everyone gets along,” he said. He refers to those who have left the prison system as “returned citizens” and keeps in touch with a few.
Chris Redlitz, co-founder of The Last Mile, said if it were not for Pattillo’s shared vision and passion for the Code .7370 project, it wouldn’t be what it is today. The program has been implemented in Indiana, Kansas and a women’s facility in Oklahoma City is launching next week.
“The strong partnership allowed us to expand the program even though it was new and potentially risky. Chuck really saw what we saw,” he added.
Gov. Gavin Newsom attended the January grand-opening of a Stockton Code .7370 program, praising it as a “means for young inmates to become a viable part of society when they get out,”ABC 10 reported.
Dawn Davison, a CalPIA board member and retired warden of the California Institution for Women, said Pattillo has championed women’s rights in the prison system.
In the early 2000s when the prison system was focused on training women in more traditional job training like sewing and culinary classes, Pattillo took a different approach.
“But a lot of work has to be done. It can’t all be press conferences and photo ops.” — Chuck Pattillo
“He understood these women can be heads of a single-family household when they are released and need to make a livable wage,” Davison said.
Over the years, Pattillo spearheaded the implementation of technical job training, including the 2016 partnership with The Last Mile and a Code .7370 program. Now, the CIW has partnerships with unions for both men and women to ensure jobs are waiting for them when they get out, according to Davison.
Pattillo also is working with local government to ease the current lack of housing for the homeless within Sacramento County. He envisions pop-up shelters.
“We [the city of Sacramento] have resources, we could get these up within 6 months,” Pattillo said.
As for CalPIA, he said it’s technology training efforts will “grow exponentially” outside of California and be implemented in other states.
“But a lot of work has to be done. It can’t all be press conferences and photo ops, it takes hard work.
“Not enough 18-to-25 year olds are being sent to training or education programs within prisons. They need hireable skills,” Pattillo said. “There is only one reason we work here — to teach them that.”