State investigators cite culture of abuse, racism by High Desert State Prison guards

This comes from the LA Times, Dec. 16, 2015, and is about a report on High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California.

Paige St John reports for the LA Times:

State investigators are calling for immediate action at a Northern California prison with an “entrenched culture” of racism and violence, where guards allegedly have set inmates up for attack.

In a special report released Wednesday, the independent Office of Inspector General said that abuse and cover-ups at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville were so severe — and have been for so long — that officials should consider requiring some of the guards to wear body cameras and GPS devices in order to “curtail misconduct.”

The six-month investigation at the facility was ordered after complaints of excessive force by guards and reports that sex offenders were being housed alongside those likely to assault them.

Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), chairwoman of a state Senate subcommittee on public safety and corrections, said the findings were “deeply disturbing and reveal broken systems.”

Read the rest here.

Link to the Report:

http://www.oig.ca.gov/media/reports/Reports/Reviews/2015_Special_Review_-_High_Desert_State_Prison.pdf

 

 

Prison hunger strikes begin at High Desert

From LA Times, July 5th, 2013
Paige St John

A week before protests in prisons are planned to start statewide, inmates at High Desert State Prison in far Northern California have launched their own hunger strike.

Corrections department officials Friday confirmed that nearly two dozen inmates began refusing meals Monday. By Friday afternoon, that number had dropped to 20.

Department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the High Desert inmates had presented a list of 30 complaints, all centered on conditions within the prison’s administration segregation unit. Those areas are used not only to house inmates who have violated rules and require greater security, but serve as overflow housing for mentally ill inmates awaiting placement elsewhere.

Thornton would not provide a copy of the prisoners’ list of demands, but said they include “larger food portions, more cleaning supplies, more access to the law library, the ability to purchase more soup, soap, coffee, snacks and food items from the canteen; and more TV channels. They also have concerns about the laundry and want the canteen to stock a wider selection of headphones and ear buds.”

Inmates in California’s supermax prison near the Oregon border, Pelican Bay, have said for months that they intend to launch their own hunger strike starting Monday, largely in protest over the state’s use of indefinite solitary confinement to control prison gangs, and the conditions within those isolation units.

Inmates at other prisons around the state have said they also intend to refuse meals and also to refuse to go to work. State prisons rely on inmate laborers to man their kitchens, laundries and other facilities.

Read the rest here.

Prison officials open “full investigation” into abuse claims

From: Sacramento Bee

By Charles Piller
cpiller@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, May. 10, 2010 – 8:50 pm

State prison officials said Monday that they had dramatically broadened their investigation of alleged racism and cruelty by guards at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California. The move came in response, officials said, to a Bee investigation published on Sunday and Monday about claims of abuse of prisoners in a special behavior modification program.

The corrections department “has zero tolerance for abusive behavior by inmates or staff,” said Scott Kernan, undersecretary for operations. “The department takes allegations seriously and a full investigation is underway.”

Earlier in the day, the American Friends Service Committee challenged California legislators to look into the abuse allegations – and pushed for the behavior units to be sharply restricted.

The Bee’s report found support for the abuse claims in interviews with inmates, prison documents and a long-hidden report written by corrections department research experts.

For years, prison officials knew about many of the claims – including denial of medical care, racial slurs and the destruction of prisoners’ formal written protests of mistreatment – yet did nothing to investigate.

After initially downplaying the allegations to The Bee, Kernan subsequently said that the department’s internal affairs office would look into them, but in a limited way: reviewing actions by managers after state researchers informed them of the abuse allegations.

On Monday he said the investigation had been broadened to cover the abuse claims themselves – whether reported to state researchers or revealed by The Bee – as well as revelations in The Bee that state researchers may have been retaliated against after they pressed for an investigation of the prisoner claims.

However, “because the investigation involves staff conduct, it will not be made public based on laws that protect employee privacy,” said Gordon J. Hinkle, the department’s press secretary.

The Bee’s 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 was closed for budgetary reasons, The Bee found units at other prisons to be marked by isolation and deprivation, lacking the education that is supposed to be an underpinning of the program, and without social contact, TV or radio, or even fresh air.

On Monday, Kernan defended the behavior program as effective for “reducing violence against staff and other inmates.” He added that his department “is committed to implementing the most effective programs that maintain the security of the prison system while ensuring the safety of staff and inmates.” The American Friends Service Committee called for the Senate public safety committee to step in and conduct hearings into the allegations. It recommended the state restrict the use of behavior units “and other forms of long term isolation.”

“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. “I’m particularly worried about the prisoners who are speaking out.”

Magnani said that during a visit to High Desert in 2007, she herself witnessed a prisoner being paraded, shoeless and dressed only in underwear, across the prison’s snow-covered yard.

The advocacy 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.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chair of the public safety committee, was unavailable for comment Monday.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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.

Read more here

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Bee Investigation: Guards accused of Cruelty, Racism

From: Sacramento Bee: http://www.sacbee.com/2010/05/09/2737459/the-public-eye-guards-accused.html

By Charles Piller
cpiller@sacbee.com
Published: Sunday, May. 9, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 9, 2010 – 12:09 pm

First of two parts

Jason Brannigan’s eyes widened as he relived the day he says prison guards pepper-sprayed his face at point-blank range, then pulled him through the cellblock naked, his hands and feet shackled.

“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Brannigan recalled gasping in pain and humiliation during the March 2007 incident.

“They’re walking me on the chain and it felt just like … slaves again,” said the African American inmate, interviewed at the Sacramento County jail. “Like I just stepped off an auction block.”

Brannigan, 33, said the incident occurred in the behavior modification unit at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, where he was serving time for armed assault. He is one of more than 1,500 inmates who have passed through such units in six California prisons.

A Bee investigation into the behavior units, including signed affidavits, conversations and correspondence with 18 inmates, has uncovered evidence of racism and cruelty at the High Desert facility. Inmates described hours-long strip-searches in a snow-covered exercise yard. They said correctional officers tried to provoke attacks between inmates, spread human excrement on cell doors and roughed up those who peacefully resisted mistreatment.

Many of their claims were backed by legal and administrative filings, and signed affidavits, which together depicted an environment of brutality, corruption and fear.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2010/05/09/2737459/the-public-eye-guards-accused.html#ixzz0nVjv1hIg