Jerry Brown taps insider Scott Kernan as new California prisons chief

A guard watches prisoners being escorted across the yard at San Quentin State Prison.

A guard watches prisoners being escorted across the yard at San Quentin State Prison.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown has tapped an insider with ties to major contractors to take over the helm of the state’s sprawling prison system, retired undersecretary Scott Kernan.

Brown’s announcement was made Monday. Kernan, 55, retired as second-in-charge of the state agency in late 2011, and returned to the agency this spring in the same capacity. He replaces Jeffrey Beard, who had retired as Pennsylvania corrections chief when Brown appointed him to run the California system in early 2011. Beard departs Friday.


The $243,360 post is not a easy one. California’s prison system remains under federal control and oversight, subject to class actions over inmate healthcare, mental health services and solitary confinement. The agency is in the process of crafting a new execution protocol while its death row is filled to capacity. Earlier this month it came under sharp criticism in an inspector general’s report finding overt racism and mistreatment of inmates at a remote Northern California prison.

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From 2011-15, Kernan ran a corrections consulting company from his home in West Sacramento. Corrections spokesman Jeffrey Callison said during that time that Kernan worked as a subcontractor for others who held contracts with the state corrections agency.

Those companies have held some of the biggest contracts with the state prison system. They include Satellite Tracking of People (STOP), whose GPS devices are used by the state to monitor sex offenders on parole. During Kernan’s prior tenure with the corrections department, STOP acquired the entire state contract from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after a controversial internal testing program found its competitor’s GPS devices were faulty.

Callison said Kernan also did work for private prison contractor Corrections Corp. of America, which California pays to house some 7,300 inmates in prisons in Arizona and Mississippi and at a private prison in California City.

Kernan was unavailable Monday for comment, Callison said.

Prior to stepping into administrative roles in Sacramento, he was a warden at California State Prison, Sacramento, a high-security prison near Folsom, and at Mule Creek State Prison near Ione. He began working in the corrections department in 1983 as a guard after three years in the U.S. Navy.


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“He has the experience and the know-how to do what needs to be done,” Brown said in a statement released by his office. The appointment requires confirmation by the state Senate.

For more California corrections news, follow me at @paigestjohn on Twitter.

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