Jerry Brown Should (Still) Be Ashamed of California’s Prisons

This comes from The Atlantic, written by Andrew Cohen, April 8th 2013:

60 years ago, Pat Brown fought the mistreatment of the mentally ill. Today, his son, the governor of California, defends such mistreatment.

On January 8th, California Governor Jerry Brown ceremoniously declared an end to what he called the “prison emergency” in his state caused by epic overcrowding, chronic under-staffing, and the systemic mistreatment of inmates. “I mean, we’ve gone from serious constitutional problems to one of the finest prison systems in the United States,” he said, pitching a success story with which no federal court in the past two decades has ever agreed.

Not only was the prison system now the envy of the nation, the governor proclaimed, but the health care given to California inmates was so good that it was worthy of awe by ordinary citizens unencumbered by the bonds of custody. “Most of the people in prison get far better care for mental health problems or their physical well-being inside the prison than they’ll get once they’re released on the streets,” he said. And then Pat Brown’s son said this:

We’ve spent billions of dollars. We’ve hired hundreds, if not thousands, of professionals to make sure that we have excellent health care and excellent mental health care. And because of that, it is now time to return the control of our prison system to California. We have the constitutional obligation. We have the expertise and we’re ready to do it. There’s no question that there were big problems in California prisons — overcrowding, lack of health care, lack of mental health care, lots of other problems. But after decades of work, the job is now complete.

But it was not up to the Governor to unilaterally declare his state in compliance with its legal obligations to the inmates. The state long ago lost that right by persistently depriving prisoners of basic medical care under conditions that virtually every single reviewing court has deemed to be “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. Not only were the governor’s remarks an insult to all those mistreated people, in and out of prison; they were also irrelevant as a matter of law. He still needed permission from the federal courts to reclaim state control over prisons — and, in January, he asked for it.

The Scheme
Sometime in the last few years, unwilling to pay the price of restoring basic constitutional rights to the inmates, frustrated state officials ginned up a new idea to wiggle out from under federal judicial oversight of their overcrowded and understaffed prisons. Instead of doing an honorable thing — complying in good faith with a a series of federal court orders requiring them to provide adequate medical treatment to thousands of mentally ill prisoners — state officials chose to do a dishonorable thing. They chose to cheat.

Instead of hiring enough psychiatrists and staff to help treat the inmates, or moving more quickly to provide inpatient care for the ill men and women, or following the recommendations of a court-appointed expert who urged them to alter their suicide prevention policies, California officials decided instead to interrogate mentally ill inmates without giving notice to, or getting consent from, the prisoners’ attorneys. State officials then used those interviews to argue in their January motion that California had complied with its legal duties to the inmates.

But such ex parte contact between officials and inmates violates California’s attorney ethics rules. (Imagine how a judge or jury would react to the use of a mentally ill person’s statements against that person in court.) Worse, at the same time that officials were unlawfully questioning these prisoners, they were denying requests for information about prison practices and policies made by the inmates’ attorneys. On Friday, a federal judge in Sacramento put an end to the sleazy scheme. He denied Gov. Brown’s motion and once again ordered California to obey the letter and the spirit of the Eighth Amendment.

The Background
If you know something about the recent history of California’s continuing failure to humanely treat prisoners, then you will find frustrating U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Karlton’s ruling in the case styled Coleman v. Brown. Once more, a judge had clearly set forth what officials must do to meet their legal obligations to the inmates. Once more, a jurist caught California blatantly disregarding its legal duties while pretending otherwise to the world. Once more, state officials have embraced a culture that dehumanizes inmates by diminishing their mental illnesses.

And if for some reason you know nothing about what’s been happening in California’s prisons these past few decades — if, for example, you didn’t pay attention when United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy declared California’s prisons unconstitutionally overcrowded — Judge Karlton’s ruling offers a quick summary of why the costly case has lingered unresolved for decades. It’s not that the state can’t comply. It’s that the state still doesn’t want to comply. It’s no more complicated than that.

Read the ruling for yourself and then compare it with Gov. Brown’s January announcement. For example, the “far better care for mental health problems” the governor said that state inmates now are receiving? That care is evidently so good, the actual evidence shows, that the state’s inmate suicide rate, which fell to 15.7 per 100,000 prisoners in 2009, has risen again to 23.72 per 100,000 prisoners in 2012. The most obvious sign of poor mental health treatment — the pace of suicides — is getting worse, not better, inside Gov. Brown’s prisons.    

Read the rest here: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/jerry-brown-should-still-be-ashamed-of-californias-prisons/274747/

Motion denied, Governor: Medical neglect is still killing prisoners

From: SF Bay View, March 22, 2013

by Mutope Duguma, Sitawa N. Jamaa, Abdul O. Shakur and Sondai K. Dumisani

Gov. Brown has declared that the prison crisis that allowed prisoners to die is over and that prisoners are receiving good care. His words, not ours.

It is obvious that the governor has not produced any data that supports his claim. Furthermore, the governor is deliberately misinforming the public, because he and the officials of CDCr – the secretary and undersecretary – are arbitrarily choosing not to provide the public with adequate information that pertains to the incompetence that continues to endanger prisoners by murdering them through direct medical neglect and incompetence.

Prisoners in cages await group therapy, Mule Creek State Prison, photo from U.S. District Court briefings

In this photo taken as part of federal litigation over California prison conditions, prisoners await a group therapy session at Mule Creek State Prison. How could being confined in tiny cages dissuade prisoners from committing suicide? – Photo filed in U.S. District Court briefings

We prisoners have read the Los Angeles Times article by Paige St. John, “California suppressed consultant’s report on inmate suicides,” dated Feb. 28, 2013, and we can only hope that justice will continue to prevail, by not only maintaining the oversight of CDCr’s “health care service,” as well as extend it to the very root of the problems that cause the very many deaths and suicides that are happening throughout CDCr.
Solitary confinement in California and throughout the United States is real. The lingering of human beings – i.e., prisoners – in these torture chambers (SHUs and Ad Segs) indefinitely has basically created the result that led to human beings dying unnecessarily inside these solitary confinement torture units.

Alex Machado, Christian Gomez, Armando Morales, John Owen Vick and Hozel Alonzo Blanchard are all men who should be alive, by all means, and the fact that the CDCr has reported 32 deaths by suicide in the year of 2012 alone should be more than enough reason for the oversight to be continued – and expanded as well. The CDCr’s own experts afforded them the procedures to follow in order to prevent such deaths. However, not only did the CDCr attempt to suppress this report and now the evidence in it, but the CDCr had the audacity to request that the United States District Court destroy that report.

The governor and the officials of CDCr are arbitrarily choosing not to provide the public with adequate information that pertains to the incompetence that continues to endanger prisoners by murdering them through direct medical neglect and incompetence.

Thankfully, for the lives of California prisoners, the judge refused to cooperate with such a conspiracy. Suppression of evidence like this is not an isolated act, because we prisoners know that the licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses and doctors do not responsibly oversee the CDCr health care services. Their actions are influenced by the local officials and officers who have total control over the prison.

Alex Machado, Christian Gomez, Armando Morales, John Owen Vick and Hozel Alonzo Blanchard are all men who should be alive, by all means, and the fact that the CDCr has reported 32 deaths by suicide in the year of 2012 alone should be more than enough reason for the oversight to be continued – and expanded as well.

Prison staff relationships are intermingled through personal relations – marriage, family, friendship – and are reflected by the transitions from health care services to corrections or vice versa. A good example as to how much the officials and officers control health care services can be seen in the two 2011 prisoner hunger strikes.

On July 2, 2011, prisoners held in solitary confinement in SHU and Ad Seg for years, subjected to torture and cruel and unusual punishment in violation of our U.S. constitutional rights, decided to go on a peaceful hunger strike, in which over 6,000 of us participated.

The only reason we received adequate health care services (medical treatment) during our July 1, 2011, hunger strike that lasted to July 20 is because the federal receivership oversaw the medical treatment; prisoners were weighed, vitals checked, vitamins provided daily. This prevented thousands of prisoners from suffering when many emergencies could have resulted in thousands of prisoners dying, due to CDCr Secretary Matthew Cate and Undersecretary Scott Kernan violating a verbal agreement to implement our reasonable Five Core Demands, an agreement that resulted in us ending our first hunger strike.

The only reason we received adequate health care services (medical treatment) during our July 1, 2011, hunger strike that lasted to July 20 is because the federal receivership oversaw the medical treatment.

Therefore, we decided to go back on our second hunger strike on Sept. 26, 2011, in which 12,000 prisoners participated throughout CDCr, clearly demonstrating that there is a widespread problem of deliberate medical neglect and torture inside CDCr solitary confinement units.

During our Sept. 26, 2011, hunger strike, which lasted to Oct. 13, 2011, the federal receivership allowed CDCr to oversee the health care services. The result of this action not only placed prisoners’ health at risk, but CDCr immediately implemented a policy protocol for overseeing the hunger strike that was catastrophic for prisoners: Thousands suffered and several died when CDCr was allowed to have control over the hunger strike, in which hunger strikers were denied medical treatment throughout the hunger strike.

The prison guards have no medical training yet were allowed to say to medical personnel that a prisoner was faking – “He’s not sick” – and oddly enough, the medical staff tended to allow this to be the authority on which they proceeded. Thousands of prisoners suffered behind this ill advised information. We received no daily checkups, no vitals checks, no vitamins, no weigh-ins conducted under CDCr medical supervision. Many times medical problems were treated too late and by this time the damage was done.

The conflict of interest lies in the relationships between the prison guards, who are responsible for providing security only, and those who are responsible for providing health care services, food and religious services etc. Unfortunately, the prison guards have structured the prison environment around the deprivation of the prisoners, simply to demonstrate its dominance over prisoners, which creates severe violation of prisoners’ constitutionally protected rights.

During our Sept. 26, 2011, hunger strike, which lasted to Oct. 13, 2011, thousands suffered and several died when CDCr was allowed to have control over the hunger strike, in which hunger strikers were denied medical treatment throughout the hunger strike. 

The Bill of Rights’ 10 original amendments and Reconstruction amendments 11 through 27 of the Constitution – particularly important in respect to prisoners, the First, Fifth, Eighth and 14th Amendments – are deliberately violated routinely. The many settlements of prisoner lawsuits in years past speak volumes to this fact.

Gov. Brown’s current changes have not rendered any justice or humane treatment of prisoners thus far, and the death count and the many prisoners held inside solitary confinement, who suffer from numerous ailments and torture, only seem to exacerbate this problem. Therefore, we prisoners can only hope, in the interest of our livelihood and humanity, that the courts expand their oversight and open up an independent investigation as to why prisoners are held unjustly in solitary confinement.
Send our brothers some love and light:

  • Mutope Duguma (James Crawford), D-05596, D1-117 up, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • Sitawa N. Jamaa (Ronnie Dewberry), C-35671, D1-117 low, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • Abdul O. Shakur (James Harvey), C-48884, D1-119 low, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • Sondai K. Dumisani (Randall Ellis), C-68764, D1-223 low, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532

California suppressed consultant’s report on inmate suicides

This comes from the LA Times:

Feb. 28th, 2013
By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times

The report warned that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths. Gov. Brown has said the state’s prison care crisis is over.

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has pointed to reams of documents to make the case in court and on the stump that California’s prison crisis is over, and inmates are receiving good care.

But there is at least one document the administration wanted to hide.

New court filings reveal that the state suppressed a report from its own consultant warning that California’s prison suicide-watch practices encouraged inmate deaths.

Lindsay Hayes, a national expert on suicide prevention in prisons, told corrections officials in 2011 that the state’s system of holding suicidal inmates for days in dim, dirty, airless cells with unsanitized mattresses on the floor was compounding the risk that they would take their own lives.

His report described in detail inmates being divested of their clothes and possessions and robed in a “safety smock.” Hayes concluded that such conditions encouraged prisoners to declare they were no longer suicidal just to escape the holding cells. Many of them took their own lives soon after.

The state asked Hayes to create a short version of his report that omitted his damaging findings, to give to a court monitor and lawyers for prisoners, the court documents show. Hayes complied, but when inmate attorneys obtained a complete copy, the state asked a U.S. District Court to order it destroyed. The judge refused.

The report says the state’s handling of suicidal inmates is “seemingly punitive” and “anti-therapeutic.” Hayes noted that guards, not mental health workers, dictate many of the conditions of suicide watches, such as whether to allow daily showers. Hayes alleged prison workers sometimes falsified watch logs showing how frequently those inmates were checked.
Hayes found that in 25 of the cases he reviewed, seven prisoners had killed themselves within hours or days of being released from suicide watch. He found lapses in care — lengthy delays in checking on the prisoners, failure to attempt CPR — in 68% of the cases he studied. Hayes did give the state high marks for compiling exhaustive reports after an inmate’s death.

Contract records show that corrections officials recruited Hayes, a former consultant for inmate plaintiffs, to begin in 2010 a three-year project on suicide prevention, demonstrating the state’s resolve to improve inmate mental health care.

His first report was filed in August 2011. Hayes said in a deposition that none of the follow-up reports and consultations called for in his contract occurred.

“When your report landed, it was not roundly applauded and in fact was buried,” Robert Canning, a prison official overseeing Hayes’ work, wrote in a June 2012 email to the consultant. There were 32 prison suicides in California in 2012, above the national average.

Other new filings show that the staffing shortage at one prison psychiatric hospital is so critical the psychiatric staff has declared they have been working since Jan. 23 “under protest.”

The doctors in Salinas Valley State Prison’s psychiatric program, run by the Department of State Hospitals, say they routinely juggle caseloads of up to 60 patients a day, and in some instances have been assigned wards containing as many as 120 patients a day.

Read the rest here

Ohio places prison physician on paid leave during investigation of inmate’s suicide

Daily Reporter, June 10, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio has placed a prison doctor on paid administrative leave during an investigation into the suicide of an inmate under the doctor’s care.

Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokesman Carlo LoParo said Friday the action taken with Dr. Myron Shank is standard during such investigations.

The state is looking into the June 2 suicide of Gregory Stamper, convicted of a double homicide in 1995, who hanged himself at Allen Correctional Institution in Lima in northwestern Ohio.

Read the rest here.

Louisiana Jail Holds Suicidal Prisoners in "Squirrel Cages"

Jul 8th, 2010

Suzanne Ito, ACLU

Mentally ill prisoners deserve more care and consideration while incarcerated, but time and again, the ACLU often finds the exact opposite: they’re treated even worse than the general population. Today, the ACLU of Louisiana sent a letter to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain and Parish President Kevin Davis asking them — horrifyingly enough — to stop treating suicidal prisoners like animals.
St. Tammany Parish officials have a policy of locking suicidal prisoners in 3-by 3-foot metal cages that prison staff call “squirrel cages.” After prisoners are deemed suicidal, they’re stripped half-naked and put in the cages without a bed, blanket, shoes or toilet. Requests to use the bathroom are often ignored by guards, so prisoners urinate in milk cartons, or soil themselves inside the cage. Some prisoners reported being forced to wear bright orange, Daisy Duke-style shorts with the words “HOT STUFF” scrawled across the backside.
To add insult to injury, the cages are placed in the main part of the jail, so the caged prisoners are a spectacle for other prisoners to gawk at.
The ACLU of Louisiana’s letter (PDF) points out:

These conditions are clearly unconstitutional. According to the St. Tammany Parish Code they are also inhumane. St. Tammany Parish Code 4-121.10 states that dogs must be kept in cages at least 6′ wide x 6′ feet deep, with “sufficient space [. . .] to lie down.” Sick prisoners in your care are afforded approximately one quarter of the space required for animals under the Parish Code.

So despite Sheriff Strain’s previous assertion that prisoners “need to be caged like animals,” in Tammany Parish, suicidal prisoners aren’t even afforded the rights of a dog.

Tammany Jail is set to receive $2 million to upgrade its facilities after a prisoner escaped earlier this year. The ACLU urges the sheriff to put some of that money toward more humane treatment of mentally ill and suicidal prisoners. The letter concludes: “St. Tammany is one of the wealthiest parishes in Louisiana; not only can you afford to treat your sick better than this, but the Constitution mandates that you do so.”

Link to Article Here