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California Must Double-down On Prison Rehabilitation

WLA Guest
Written by WLA Guest

If California Wants to Lower Its Recidivism Rates It Must Finally Get Serious About Rehabilitation and Reentry

by Adnan Khan

The State Auditor recently issued an audit of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s in-prison rehabilitation programs with a conclusion that these programs did not reduce recidivism rates.

However, this audit did not demonstrate the full picture and the experience of being incarcerated. The audit only analyzed one type of rehabilitation program known as cognitive behavioral therapy and did not analyze any restorative justice programs or victim awareness programs.

I know first-hand. I spent nearly 16 years in prison for stealing marijuana and was originally convicted under the felony-murder rule. This law was changed in 2018 and led to my release in January 2019.

Rehabilitative programming and educational opportunities were very important to me and other people who are incarcerated in state prisons. I spent my first 11 years in institutions that provided little or no rehabilitative programming at all.

During my stay in maximum security prisons, my cellmate and I would put quotes, definitions and positive words all over our walls on little pieces of paper, using our deodorant labels as tape.

We were tired of watching the same basic TV channels and bored out of our minds staring at blank walls. Hardly any programming was offered. We would spend most of our time enduring institutional lockdowns. I realize now, back then, my cellmate and I were begging for an education.

When I arrived at San Quentin State Prison in 2014, I experienced a culture shock. Incarcerated men were passing by, in full conversation, about their college essays, victim impact statements, remorse letters, and their childhood traumas.

They were planning events and projects to make amends and give back to the communities they took from. I immediately signed up for the on-campus college program and several of the self-help groups.

I learned the college program and the groups I attended were not funded, nor run by, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Rather, they were provided by non-profit grassroots organizations and volunteers who would come in weekly to support us.

In these groups, I learned about emotional intelligence, reflected on how my childhood pain was linked to my crime. As I sat in these intense groups, other men and I shared, empathized and found understanding of our child selves. That helped heal our pain.

Most importantly, I gained deeper understanding of the harm that I had caused. I was able to develop my academic and emotional intelligence, and reflect on the impact of my crime on my victims and community.

Though San Quentin had a rehabilitative culture, I did continue to experience the punitive aspects prisons are widely known for. A culture of power and control hovered in the facility like dark clouds.

Random searches, pat downs, abusive, controlling language and verbal disrespect reminded us constantly that we were incarcerated, a separate class that, in the view of some, is not fully human.

I would go into a group, talk about my innermost shame and trauma, reveal my hurts and pains, and talk about my crime, then step outside into that punitive, traumatic environment. Though the groups were very helpful, the culture outside of the groups was counterproductive.

Furthermore, there was little reentry support. Not until you were six months away from going home could you sign up for the reentry group and hopefully figure out possible housing and possible employment.

A grassroots volunteer organization ran the reentry program. Volunteers did what they could with the little resources they had. More shockingly, it was incumbent upon the incarcerated person to determine and plan their reentry themselves. There was no administrative responsibility, nor was there help.

Recidivism rates cannot be linked to rehabilitative programming alone.

We must include the idea of safe learning environments in prison, access to the kinds of programs that help incarcerated men and women do the deep reflective work required to grow, heal from trauma, and become accountable for our past and current behavior.

There must be substantial investment in and support for an emphasis on reentry, in particular, housing and employment. A much more holistic approach needs to be taken when implementing a system for our returning neighbors.

The reality is that almost all incarcerated people will get out.

Preparing for reentry should start on Day One of a person’s incarceration. It should include a specific plan for what incarcerated individuals need to do to eventually come back home to our families and community.

Such a plan must identify our individual needs for healing specific traumas, which skills and education we need to obtain for a job and career; and a plan for a safe, and supportive living situation upon our release.

The answer is not rejecting rehabilitation programs but instead investing in a more effective, holistic and restorative approach that will dramatically reduce recidivism rates.

Author Adnan Khan co-founded Re:store Justice, based in Oakland and Los Angeles, working in partnership with incarcerated individuals, victims and others advocating to reform our criminal justice system.

Khan was the first person  in the State of California to receive re-sentencing and release since the implementation of SB 1437, the law that changed the felony murder rule.  

You can read more of his writing here.

This essay originally appeared in CALmattersa nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

Top photo courtesy of First Watch.


  • Spoken just like most other criminals and inmates. I never read any remorse in Adnan’s words for the crimes he committed or the victims he hurt. I only read about the blame he placed, senselessly on the criminal justice system and society, and about the entitlements he felt inmates and criminals had a right to.

    Notice how many “shoulds”he used in his speech? They all referred to entitlements owed to him. None were directed to him or others taking responsibility for their crimes and their own recidivism. None were directed towards the hurt and loss the victims of his crimes felt.

    Reform states with you and is YOUR responsibility. Not the responsibility of the good tax payers or the guards we had to hire to watch you.

    Go get a job and clean your own self up!!

  • “I spent nearly 16 years in prison for stealing marijuana and was originally convicted under the felony-murder rule.”

    I did 16 years for stealing marijuana….oh..and uh…my partner stabbed a guy (he has a NAME, Khan….Kevin Leonard McNutt) to death WHILE we were stealing the marijuana and AFTER I hit him in the head. Khan first said the plan was, “when McNutt showed them the marijuana, he was going to just grab it and run.”

    He later said, “We’re not supposed to have any weapons. I was supposed to rough him up and take—you know, I was supposed to run, first of all.” Good catch.

    Not that McNutt was a upstanding citizen, but did he deserve to be stabbed to death?

    Khan, it’s good to know that you had personal awakening in prison, something Kevin Leonard McNutt never got to experience. I’m so sorry, though, that there were constant reminders you were IN prison, but I think that IS still part of the prison experience.

    There are other problems with Khan’s story which you can read here and draw your own conclusions:

    Celeste, I believe in redemption, but it begins with honesty. I don’t disagree with the writer’s views on programming and rehabilitation. I object to THIS writer being given the lectern when he’s still in denial over what his involvement was in the brutal killing of a man.

    It’s amazing to me that with a blizzard of stories critical of cops who risk their lives everyday, we give a voice to a murderer and, effectively, call him a hero.

    • The Professor at UC DAVIS is a wacko and it shows that hatred towards LEO’s is not limited to race, education or location.

  • Editor’s Note:

    Dear John Olyssabi and LASD Apostle,

    John, you may not believe in the value of rehabilitation and help with prison reentry when it comes to community safety and wellbeing. We do, and most all available data and research backs up this perspective. This is true simply because most people who go to prison eventually come out. Thus we are all safer and communities are healthier if those who are released from jail or prison are able to succeed by being productive community members when they come out, rather than returning to illegal behavior.

    From our perspective it is logical that among those who are useful to talk to about what works in terms of rehabilitation are those who have actually been through the experience and can compare various prison environments.

    If you think otherwise, we can agree to honorably disagree.

    As for Adnan Khan, Apostle the quotes from Mr. Khan in the document you linked to are taken from his interview with the police in March 25, 2003. The interview took place the day after Kevin McNutt was murdered, when Kahn was first arrested, and shortly after he learned that Kevin McNutt had died.

    Indeed he sounds freaked, defensive, stupid, and not remorseful at all, but mostly scared for himself—rather than upset by the fact that someone’s son was dead due to a robbery in which he participated.

    That was 16 years ago. Now after nearly 16 years in prison, in the time between 2003 and now, Adnan Khan has many, many times over expressed his responsibility, sorrow and remorse for the effect of the crime he took part in that resulted in the death of Kevin McNutt. He has done so with, among others, various victims of crime who have had their own family members murdered. Some of those victims of crime whose own lives were shattered by the murder of a son or daughter or brother or sister are among his biggest supporters.

    Before Adnan was re-sentenced as a consequence of SB 1437, in an unrelated event, on Christmas Day his sentence was commuted by then governor Jerry Brown, meaning he could apply for parole. The former governor’s commutation message is on p. 64 of the document linked below.

    I recommend you read it. It contains references to Adnan Khan’s remorse for his role in Kevin McNutt’s murder, and also contains references to Mr. Khan’s work on himself and for others while in prison, and various endorsements from those who believe that 15 plus years in prison are enough and that now he could do more for California out of prison than in. Two of those quoted are correctional officers who know him from San Quentin.

    You may find you still disagree with the fact that we have featured Adnan Khan as a columnist,. But at least you’ll have additional information.

    Thanks for your comments.


  • This story cements the idea that indeed there is a war on cops, and the so-called justice warriors are fighting on the side of the real criminals. Although this is not the topic, it makes me remember the McDonnell/Teran regime. That in order to be in the good grace with these justice warriors, they were feeding their on deputies to them, by distorting the truth, imagining what the state of mind was of a deputy and creating their own narrative just to get a deputy screwed.

  • Gentlemen-
    Please, its unbecoming an officer. Stop the whining. There is no war on officers, none. Why do you not stop and ask why people feel this way about you. Even skinny, middle aged, white literature professors dislike you. You have run roughshod over too many people, mostly of color, and people are on to you. Check this out from the Washington post. Had it not been for video (and the stupidity of the officers), this is incident would never have come to light. The issue is that there are many incidents like these. And, to make it worse, we pay your salaries and your judgments. Go work as security in WalMart or Costco if it is that bad.

    Washington Post Summary: Two Miami officers charged for slapping handcuffed teenager, then trying to destroy the footage: Sgt. Manuel Regueiro and Officer Alex Gonzalez had arrested an 18-year-old on nonviolent charges, and the teenager was in handcuffs when Regueiro decided to approach him and slap him in the face. After the teen told the officers that his home surveillance system was recording, security footage shows the officers walking into the home. Then the video cuts off. Footage from a neighbor’s camera captured Gonzalez leaving the home and walking to his car with a box wrapped in a pillowcase. Inside that pillowcase, prosecutors say, was the surveillance system’s battery, which Gonzalez seemed to have confused for the system itself. The surveillance system’s wiring was cut. Regueiro has been charged with misdemeanor battery, and Gonzalez with tampering with evidence. Regueiro’s attorney said that the slap was justified because the teen was going to spit, but even if that was true, it’s hard to square that position with the actions the officers then took to hide the evidence.

  • Celeste, is that the going rate for murder these days…”nearly” 16 years? I know if MY loved one was stabbed to death, I’d want MUCH more than 16 years for everyone involved.

    Detectives try to get a statement from suspects immediately after a crime. First, because it’s still fresh in their heads and second, to lock them in to their actions before they’ve had a chance to concoct alternate versions. The statements Khan made the day after the murder are probably the most accurate account of what happened. Doesn’t it bother you that he said he was just supposed to “rough him up” then catches himself and says he was just supposed to run with the weed?

    As I said, I’m a believer in programming and education in prison, but for Khan to have any credibility with me, he’ll need to preface all of his future columns with:

    My name is Adnan Khan and I spent 15 years in prison for my involvement in the stabbing murder of Kevin Leonard McNutt during a robbery. I was originally convicted under California’s felony-murder rule. This law was changed in 2018 and led to my release in January 2019.

    The emphasis these days is almost exclusively on the offender and his/her rehabilitation, but in doing so, we seem to have forgotten the victims. Thank you Celeste for mentioning McNutt’s name in your response. You’re new columnist conveniently neglected to do so.

  • It’s amazing how those that are clearly on the left criticize law enforcement…. But they sure are few and far between when it comes to pulling up your boot straps and doing the Lord’s work.

    While “success” stories regarding rehabilitation make us feel all warm and fuzzy, there is an astronomical amount of failure associated with what this state calls “rehabilitation”. Monies squandered on programs that don’t TRULY produce should be redirected to victims funds, youth intervention, or the like.

    The left has provided enough alternatives to incarceration in this state….. So much so that it has diminished the quality of life of law-abiding citizens. If somebody ends up in prison, there’s an abundance of evidence that landed them there… If they’re foolish enough to return…. Rehabilitation efforts have obviously not been effective.

    Alternatives to incarceration always cost more…. Celeste, the more money you keep throwing at the problem, the poorer hard working, law-abiding citizens become…. Shame on you, shame on Gavin Newsome, shame on Jerry Brown.

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