Advocates call for probe of prison abuse allegations

From: Sacramento Bee

By Charles Piller
Published: Monday, May. 10, 2010 – 2:58 pm
Last Modified: Monday, May. 10, 2010 – 9:39 pm

The American Friends Service Committee today challenged California legislators to look into allegations that state prison inmates were abused in a special behavior modification program – and pushed for the units to be sharply restricted.

The advocacy group’s San Francisco office raised concerns after Sacramento Bee articles published Sunday and today revealed evidence of racism and cruelty by guards at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California. Sources described strip-searches in a snow-covered exercise yard, as well as guards who assaulted inmates, tried to provoke attacks between inmates, and deliberately spread human excrement on cell doors. Prisoners depicted an environment of brutality, corruption and fear.

Though the High Desert behavior unit has been closed for budgetary reasons, The Bee series found units at other prisons to be marked by extreme isolation and deprivation, without the education that is supposed to be an underpinning of the program, and without social contact, TV or radio, or even fresh air.

“What is especially frightening in this story is how long it has been going on and the extent to which the (corrections department) seems to have covered it up,” said Laura Magnani, an official of the nonprofit Quaker organization, in a written statement. “I’m particularly worried about the prisoners who are speaking out.”

The group called for the state Senate public safety committee to conduct hearings to examine the allegations described in The Bee stories. It recommended the state restrict the use of behavior units “and other forms of long term isolation.”

The group also called for improved access by prisoners to independent auditors in order to ensure that prison staff cannot intercept formal complaints about treatment by correctional officers.

The Bee’s report found substantiation of allegations of abuse in interviews with inmates, prison documents and a long-hidden report written by corrections department experts.

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