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Oct 20, 2017

History of the Debriefing Program

Louis Powell, Lancaster

keywords: SHU, solitary, human rights

Prison Focus Issue 53
Fall 2017

In the 1970’s a highly secretive counterintelligence program inside of the California Department of Correction [and Rehabilitation] became operational, it was referred to as the Debriefing Program. The special agent of SSU were former military and mercenaries who had operated in counter-insurgency and counterintelligence units in places like Vietnam, Laos, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Angola, etc. They would bring their expertise inside the CDCR during the Ronald Reagan governorship to carry out counterintelligence operations in general, against the NF, EME and AB, and in particular, against the BGF.

The word debriefing is a military term. Soldiers of the United States Military and agents of intelligence units coming in from Recon and other missions would undergo debriefing. Also captured enemy soldiers and spies with confidential information about activities and plans of hostile groups or nations would be taken through enhanced interrogation [debriefing] under some form of mental/physical torture. Foreign diplomats and other defectors would be taken through debriefings.

The debriefing program of the 1970’s was very unique, it would be the first program of its kind in a state or federal prison system dealing with prison organizations with a sophisticated paramilitary structure. The debriefing program wasn’t at the time based on debrief, parole, or die. The SSU debriefing program was exclusively directed around a small influential circle of people inside the four named entities referred to today as a security threat Group-1 (NF, EME, AB/BGF by the CDCR. SSU set-out to turnout particular ranking members inside each of the entities who could be compromised. The targeted individual’s life was placed under a microscope of surveillance for profiling. Wherefore the visible aspect of their personality may suggest exploitability. Some were vulnerable to being blackmailed or they were opportunistic when extraordinary privilege was placed on the table, some went for the offer of immunity, and some could be compromised with a supply of heroin. All of this was done towards a strategy of coopting them into working as confidential informants who would be receptive to provocateur work. The debriefers were kept under the radar of prison guards who were considered by SSU as corruptible in their mercenary motives. They couldn’t leak what they didn’t know.

In the mid 1970’s the undercover debriefers inside of particular groups were instructed by their SSU handlers to create fifth column cadres in an attempt to usurp control over their formation hierarchy. The SSU were successful in the first 5 years of the debriefing program, they decided to expand said program from exclusively targeted ranking individuals to being inclusive of their affiliates of the STG-1 groupings.

The SSU introduced a second phase of the debriefing program which became inclusive of both ranking and underling members and even non-member associates. By 1985 the second phase of the debriefing program begin tightening the screws on the four STG-1 groups by way of indefinite solitary confinement which meant psychological warfare, deprivations, non-contact visit, excessive cell searches, mail tampering, set-ups, transferring far away, incursions of outside families residence, bus therapy/transfers for jailhouse lawyers, slanderous accusations, exposing sexual identity of closet homosexuality, minimum amount of property/canteen, orchestrated contradictions that led to assaults and killings, inadequate medical care, lack of nutritious meal, maddening noise throughout the night, coming under urine/feces attack, and on top of it all that is parole denial under the extrajudicial requirement of debriefing for parole suitability.

By the 1990’s all of the above led to the routing individuals away from their affiliation’s clutches. But there was now a hitch in place. The CDCR would only remove individuals from extrajudicial punishment provided that they undergo debriefing. Simply dropping out of their membership or association was out of the question if it weren’t followed with a debriefing. Only after a successful debriefing would the individuals be removed into Protective Custody Unit or into a general population. A successful debriefing entail a written biography of their group history, naming its members and sympathizers, along with a detailed account of the inner workings of the group and then a partial polygraphy examination would be given on the things the SSU knows isn’t fabricated, otherwise the debriefing wouldn’t be successful on the tales told.

By the time 1995 arrived the Phenomenon Effect occurred, so many individuals started debriefing that it created a stampede, the mental and physical coercion was taking its toll, individuals seeking to debrief would start telling tales of non-existent criminal conspiracies. The number of prisoners waiting to debrief created a management program for the Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI). The SSU was a highly structured elite paramilitary police unit, a lot of the IGI weren’t qualified to be part of the counterintelligence program. So the SSU created the Investigative Service Unit (ISU) and the OCS Gang Intelligence Operations. The appropriation to maintain said units inside the CDCR was an astronomical amount of tax payers’ money.

The psychopolitics of the Debriefing Program have nothing whatsoever to do with turning out reformed gang members. The debriefing individuals were encouraged to rejoin their former street gangs for protection and cover or else start their own prison street gang for an umbrella of protection and cover. The stamping out of the existence of STG-1 is a priority of the CDCR, however it has nothing whatsoever to do about bringing an end to prison gang activity. In fact it has everything to do with expanding gang activities into the inner cities of California as larger market of commerce. With the absence of the STG-1 groups from California prisons general populations between 1984 and 2014, it left a vacuum to be filled with over fifty new entities referred to by the CDCR as STG-2 prison street gangs. The uniqueness of STG-2, they are hybrid, the offerings of two entities (street/prison gangs) functioning at the same time in society and prison. Within five years of STG-2 classified groups, thousands of individuals have joined the debriefing bandwagon and not as reformed gang members nor the result of coercion of solitary confinement. Cities across California are overrun with STG-2 entities as it has become a lucrative business for the peace officer associations of sheriff, city police, state police, marshal, highway patrol and prison guards who have all established numerous specialized anti-aging units.

The ingenuity of the psycho-political strategy of the debriefing program during phase two. The names of the debriefers would be released to the prison guards so they could release the information into the prison grapevine, and at times bogus information was given to prison guards to be released. And the former cohorts of the alleged debriefer would spread the word of the now apparent snitches who betray their groups or association’s trust. And with the opening of Pelican Bay State Prison supermax solitary confinement units of C/D Facilities, of which it was architecturally designed to break the will of those identified as STG-1 via mental/physical torture under the color of state law. It was crucial to the success of the debriefing program for STG-1 groups to hold animosity against their fellow cohorts who broke under the torture and then debriefed. It mattered not to the criminal mentality thinking individuals that many of those who debriefed was under such mental torment that in order to avoid taking their life via suicide, they surrendered to their tormentors.

The United States Military at one time took the same ridiculous attitude when American soldiers being held as prisoners of war who debriefed under mental or physical torture were referred to as telling traitors, and they were dishonored by their cohorts. And then one debriefing soldier was tortured into appearing on camera making confessions and charges against the USA for war crimes, the film was presented to the United Nations as an offer of proof of America’s crimes against humanity. However the debriefer blanked out the word torture in morse code which led to a propaganda coup for America over their enemy. It was such a propaganda coup that the United States military had to re-think and re-write their playbook on their captured prisoners of war who debriefed, they were now classified as victims of torture and no longer viewed as traitors but instead as heroes.

In conclusion: the majority of debriefers who submitted to the debriefing program because of the excruciating noise, pain distress, deprivations, alienation/loss of family members, chronic illness of incurable cancer, etc. would reject opting out by suicide, and then there were those who chose to kill themselves instead of debriefing, as an honorable thing to do. Yet we referred to them as weak for killing themselves. Yes we unknowingly became the perfect collaborators of the SSU debriefing program, by turning on other victims of torture. For those who have a social consciousness that is free of the criminal mentality, we too play into SSU strategy by condemning all of our brothers victims of torture, even when it was evident that were blinking the word torture in the massive amount of CDCR 1030’s confidential information reports that held so much misinformation. It was morse code telling us of their loyalty during forced debriefing. And even after our fellow brothers received relief from their excruciating pain, we spread word about them betraying the cause of liberation. Some of our brothers who no longer could distinguish friend from foe, became homicidal under torture, and their cellie and others would reap the effects. Both the murderer and the victims of the homicidal rage are victims of torture. We must hole the state prison officials accountable by exposing the atrocities committed by SSU, IGI,. ISU, OCS, CCPOA, DRB and the BPT who all formed a criminal conspiracy and committed crimes against humanity. The Board of Prison Term are using CDCR 1030’s confidential information that was extracted during debriefing of torture victims as evidence to find those who withstood the torture as unsuitable for parole. So survivors of torture, it is time to declare a legal war/propaganda warfare against the perpetrators of the debriefing program. We have only our chains to lose.

In the early 1990’s I attempted to introduce a psychopolitical counter strategy that I believed would have exposed the hidden game plan of the debriefing program, of which was the interjecting hybrid gang members in the inner cities of California which would then transfer to inner cities all across the United States. Declaration under article five would have made the debriefing program impotent and thereby forcing it to collapse on itself. Most individuals I shared it with didn’t have the social or political maturity to understand the positive impact of the declaration. We would have generated so much support from peace loving people all over the world. Those who will reject the declaration, are not able to transition out of the criminal mentality and rather be in collaboration with the SSU debriefing program instead of destroying it. The history and the psychopolitics of the debriefing programs is much more than what’s expressed in this piece. Forever forward and never backward.

An open letter to all California prisoners…..

Henceforth this declaration should be referred to as:
Declaration under article five
I do acknowledge that solitary confinement between the years of 1985-2015 was a traumatic experience resulting in psychological and physical injuries that effected tens of thousands of California prisoners. I do declare that the effected prisoners were victims of torture that resulting in the following:
(1) The acts of suicide whole under solitary confinement.
(2) The killings of fellow prisoners while under solitary confinement.
(3) The debriefing while under solitary confinement.
(4) The suffering from activity deprivation, cultural deprivation, environmental deprivation, material deprivation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, social deprivation and thought deprivation while under solitary confinement.
(5) The chronic health problems leading to cancer, Hep C, death, and the mental health problems of nervous breakdown and going insane while under solitary confinement.
I do acknowledge all prisoners (male/female) who broke under torture, mentally, physically and psychologically. I call upon the United Nations and the International Court in The Hague to register them as victims of state sanctioned/sponsor of torture. And that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation entities of SSU, IGI, ISU, OCS, DRB, CCPOA and BPT knowingly and with callous disregard for the humane treatment of prisoners did perpetuate crimes against humanity.

I call upon both state and federal government to provide all victims of long term solitary confinement and extreme isolation with independent medical/mental health treatment and reparations in the form of monetary compensation, parole suitability, removal from parole supervision and specialized rehabilitation programs should be forthwith, and also pardons from the Governor of California for those prisoners convicted of crimes committed while under the torture listed in said declarations.

In solidarity, Louis Powell B-59864
PO Box 4490 B1-116
Lancaster, Ca. 93539-4490

Oct 20, 2017

A Proposal for Developing a Community Release Board

Fati Yero Kambon

keywords: parole

Prison Focus Issue 53
Fall 2017

In April 2015, two New Afrikan California prisoners, in a Bay View article introduced the concept of, “Strategic Release” (SR) for ‘Life’ prisoners. SR was described as “a different form of compassionate release.” The bruthas reasoned that SR recipients “will have a direct impact on reducing crime – and the social inequalities at the root of (some) criminality. They continue: “consideration for strategic release is based on a prisoner’s work product, and proven record of service to their community, and society as a whole…” their notion of an SR begins with a petition to the Board of Parole Hearing (BPH), the prisoner’s biography requesting his/her parole, or the same sent to the Governor requesting Clemency (See April 2015 edition of the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper).

The hurdle in a SR’s path, is the BPH’s or the Governor’s investigators accepting the presented evidence of a prisoner’s service to society, or the interpretation of a cited act’s value. Without such an agreement, it is hard to fathom a SR petition opening the gate for the subject of its request. However, even if prisoner advocates for SR, attained agreement one hundred percent of the time, from state investigators for their SR clients. Those paroled/clemencied would be but a miniscule portion of the more than 30,000 ‘Lifer’ population in California. Therefore, SR ought to be approached as a tactic employed in a larger campaign to acquire a greater say in parole matters. A campaign in part taking aim at the BPH’s propensity to deny parole to ‘Lifers’ who have completed the “base term” of their sentence. A campaign in part which will seek to replace law enforcement types – police, prosecutors, etc., on the ‘Board’ with engaged community members. And, a campaign in part where “Jail-House Lawyers” (JHL) among us will research the impact of the December 17, 2013, “Butler Settlement Agreement” signed by lawyers for the BPH in the First District Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California. A settlement that “required the ‘Board’ to notify ‘Life-Term’ prisoners of their ‘Base-Term’ - - - at their first Parole Hearing.”

The JHL will also research the implications of Butler’s presiding justice J. Anthony Kline’s 2012 statement: “The ‘Board’ appears to be violating the rights of thousands of inmates by systematically denying release.” Comments apparently made in an earlier ‘Lifer’ petition. Butler’s lawyer Sharif Jacob indicates early “notice of ‘Lifer’s’ “Base-Term” - - - is a starting point for a constitutional challenge,” in that on average ‘Lifers’ are receiving parole dates a decade beyond their “Base-Term.” Once all that can be learned from “Butler” has been, the JHL’s who conducted the research will prepare a pamphlet with sample writs and instructions for ‘Lifers’ to utilize when the ‘Board’ fails to follow “Butler.”

A community is a group of people of common interest, living under the same government. It coalesces with other communities to form the ‘state,’ giving it the authority to administer its affairs and enforce the law of the united communities. The community is: the city, county, or state of x, y, z versus John/Jane Doe on the ‘Face Page’ of a ‘Charge-Sheet.’ When the community law is broken, it seeks to identify, arrest and prosecute the alleged culprit. If convicted, the convict is subject to a range of sanctions up to and including a period of exile served in state prison. If the governed had “the right…to alter or abolish” the government, in the ‘colonial settler’s’ thinking of “The Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America.” Then our community is well within its right to alter any state agency – so it better serves us. The centerpiece of the campaign is giving the community the ultimate say in determining if a ‘Life’ prisoner will be reintegrated into his/her community. By creating and empowering a “Community Release Board” (CRB) brought into being through protest, proposition and/or legislation. Spearheaded by a determined cadre, united for its realization, who will educate the public, and organize mass- consciousness to protest, to proposition, to apply political pressure to advance the agenda.

The CRB will contribute to curing California’s inability to operate its prisons within their capacity, absent federal oversight, or caveat where capacity is above 100 percent, and the combustible consequence of crowding too many people into not enough space, looms on the horizon. By implementing a practical Parole Program guided by a prisoner’s “Base-Term,” and diluting dependency on manipulatable opinion. The CRB will contribute to shrinking the CDCr’s budget by resisting taking at ‘face-value’ future behavior predicters, colored by hidden prison politics and petit-peon beliefs.
The late Black Panther Geronimo Ji-Jaga was targeted by the F.B.I.’s COINTELPRO, and local police “Red Squads.” in their effort to destroy the L.A. Chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP); he was framed and convicted of a murder he did not commit. He was interned in the California Department of Corrections for (27) years, until his tenacious capable attorney convinced the court to recognize the miscarriage, ordered his release and awarded him millions in damages. The Parole Board in its wisdom, held him (20) years beyond his “Minimum Eligible Release Date” (MERD).

Had Ji-Jaga’s fate been left to the “Board of Prison Terms” (BPT) and/or “Board of Parole Hearings” BPH’s discretion; chances are he would have died an innocent man in prison, or been subject continuously to the same treatment Sundiata Acoli reported he faced across the country at his New Jersey Parole Board Hearing, (i.e.) “A forty-year train of denials.”

I appeared before the “Board of Prison Terms” BPT in December of 1981, (2) years beyond my MERD. The Deputy District Attorney representing my commitment county, recommended I be given a 5-year parole date. The Parole Board rejected the recommendation, and denied my parole, over the view of my commitment county’s representative. Today, I am (37) years beyond my MERD.

The CRB will create space, and its ripple-effect will remove the need to pay other states to house thousands of California prisoners. It will shrink the CDCr back within its borders. It will remove the pressure for new jail, and prison construction, manage over-crowding, speed up ‘Lifer’ community-reintegration by purging current BPH dysfunction.
The CRB will serve as an alternate board to the BPH for all indeterminate sentences, except ‘life-without the-possibility-of-parole,’ and ‘condemned prisoners.’ It will guard against class, and race-targeting, and act as a hedge to impede private prison profiteers, and ‘bought-off’ politicians. The indeterminate prisoner’s “Minimum Eligible Release Date” will serve as the dividing line between BPH Parole Authority, and the CRB’s.

The state will take an indeterminate prisoner to BPH within a year of their MERD and decide if it’ll grant parole. A parole grant will BE subject to the “Governor’s Review & Reversal” (GRR). If the BPH denies parole; the authority to parole such prisoner’s will transfer to the pre-convictions’ community, “CRB,” with the prisoner’s central file.
The CRB will review the file to determine when the prisoner will appear before The CRB. The CRB will have the authority to parole such prisoners within an agreed upon number of years – not to exceed five and subject to GRR. After 5-years, the CRB’s authority to grant or deny parole is wholly its own.

When the CRB grants parole; it’s “Community Parole Agency” (CPA) will assume parole supervision in all grants except prisoners the state classifies as “high-risk.” With these parolees, the state will supervise. The CPA will monitor the supervision, and conduct any parole violation hearing. The state will contract with the CRB for costs sufficient to cover salary and infrastructure agreed to with CRB negotiators.

CRB candidates will examine BPH statutes, and study California Parole Boards: The Adult Authority, Community Release Board, and the Board of Parole Hearing’s Archives. In search of the balance between what has been, what is, and what the CRB hopes to contribute to this history, as it prepares to take the mantle of alternate board and confidently write a new chapter. CRB review decisions will be weighted towards: the sentence given, when the committed crime occurred, the average time in prison during particular periods, additional convictions while in custody, the Life-Term Matrix Butler, and a sanity evaluation, (i.e.) “Does the prisoner know right from wrong?” All CRB parole grants or denials will consist of these factors, the CRB’s gathering experience and natural community sense.

The CRB’s aim is to release as many prisoners who’ve served their sentence as possible, without endangering public safety, by not being ruled by fear. By, cutting through calcified opinion, and convoluted reasoning which has ignored the time in prison, and age reduces dangerousness dramatically as well as the likelihood of participation in future crime.


For more information about our Community Release Board CRB Proposal, write to us:
Attn: W. L. Nolen Mentorship Program –
In re: Community Release Board,
P.O Box 7907
Austin, Texas 78713

Prison Focus Issue 53
Fall 2017

The Ashker lawsuit challenged CDCr’s use of indefinite placement in a Security Housing Unit (“SHU”) for anyone “validated” as a member of a prison gang. Previously, staff members at the institution level could make the determination that a person--because of their alleged membership in a gang--was a threat to the institution’s safety and security. Once in SHU, prisoners stayed there for decades, with no way out.

Under the settlement, announced September 1, 2015, the parties agreed that there will be only two paths for the State to put a person in SHU. The first is the CDCr disciplinary process. As part of the disciplinary process, if the State finds that the offense was related to or for the benefit of a STG, the person may be referred for an additional two years in the SHU to participate in a Step Down Program (SDP). Separately, the Departmental Review Board (DRB) —the highest‐level committee in CDCR— can determine that a prisoner is appropriate for “Administrative SHU” if the DRB finds “overwhelming evidence exists supporting an immediate threat to the security of the institution or the safety of others, and substantial justification has been articulated of the need for SHU placement;” or the prisoner has committed at least three SHU-able offenses within the past five years, and “substantial justification for the need for continued SHU placement due to the inmate’s ongoing threat to safety and security of the institution and/or others, and that the inmate cannot be housed in a less restrictive environment.” These two paths were designed to ensure that CDCR officials would not have the ability to arbitrarily put people in the SHU without full due process considerations.

As part of the settlement, CDCr was required to draft regulations implementing the terms of the settlement. In August 2017, CDCr gave plaintiffs’ counsel a draft of the regulations. We reviewed and brought many recommendations to CDCr for changes. According to CDCr, they integrated about half of our recommendations into the regulations. On September 18th, 2017, CDCr submitted proposed emergency regulations to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL). Based on this version, it appears that CDCr made some small changes, but some of the biggest problems remain in the regulations. The Ashker team submitted an emergency comment to the OAL and hope that these regulations will not be implemented with such gross defects. The draft “emergency” regulations have not been implemented as of October 10, 2017. We are doing what we can to ensure that CDCr does not send people back to indefinite SHU or implement these regulations that could (as we read it) allow them to.

The worst parts of the proposed regulations relate to placement in solitary confinement. At several locations in the proposed regulations, CDCr states that “ICC maintains discretion in evaluating an affiliate’s (alleged gang member or associate) overall disciplinary record and case factors in determining placement in the SDP or within a general population setting.” This is clearly not allowed under the settlement and we are challenging it.

For placement decisions, the new regulations have ICC making the initial decision and the DRB approving it, rather than having the DRB make the initial decision.
Further, CDCr refuses to define “overwhelming evidence,” even though this is a new standard to CDCr.

Under the settlement agreement, once a person is in Ad-SHU, CDCr is required to “identify all efforts made to work with each inmate … to move the inmate to a less restrictive environment as soon as case factors allow.” However, the regulations do not incorporate any such requirement. We are concerned that without placing this in the regulations, staff will not do it, and therefore more people will potentially be placed in solitary for longer.

We are also concerned about retaliatory placement in the Restricted Custody General Population unit (RCGP). Under the settlement, there are three groups of prisoners who are to be housed in the RCGP. The first group is those with safety concerns. Section 3000 (the proposed definition of RCGP) and Section 3378.9 refer to prisoners with a “a substantial threat to their personal safety should they be released to general population.” However, these regulations reflect an incomplete version of the Settlement Agreement language, which states that people shall be transferred to RCGP “if identified safety concerns prevent their release to GP and the RCGP is deemed to be appropriate” because of a “substantial threat to their personal safety …. as determined by a preponderance of the evidence”. We have challenged this as well.

The regulations are still evolving, and the most important thing to note is that they are not final yet. The Ashker team continues to advocate and will follow-up after these issues have been resolved.


Eva DeLair is an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and a member of the Ashker team of attorneys representing the class action.

Oct 20, 2017


By Sitawa, Arturo Castellanos, Todd Ashker, George Franco Arturo Castellanos Todd Ashker George Franco


Prison Focus Issue 53
Fall 2017

Oct 14, 2017 marks the 2 year anniversary of the approval of the Ashker settlement. We celebrate our victory in the Ashker case, in which virtually all of the over 1600 prisoners then languishing in indeterminate SHU were released to General Population. This victory was achieved through 3 hunger strikes and the non-violent legal and political action of thousands of California prisoners, their families, supporters, and their attorneys.

However, unfortunately our general monitoring is due to run out after two years unless the Court grants an extension. We believe that CDCR is still engaged in constitutional violations that deny prisoners due process and seeks to put us back in the hole, for many, indeterminately under the guise of Administrative SHU. Our attorneys will seek an extension of the agreement due to CDCR’s systemic violations of the constitution. We don’t know what the court will do, but we do know that prisoners and their families have to re-energize our human rights movement to fight against the continuing violations of our rights. Examples are:

-CDCR’s continued misuse of Confidential Information to place prisoners back in the SHU, particularly with bogus conspiracy charges;
-The lack of out of cell time, programming and vocational programs in Level 4 prisons. The last letter of CDCR stands for rehabilitation, and there is almost no rehab programs or opportunities in the level 4 prisons. They function like modified SHUs;
-The denial of parole to lifers and Prop 57 prisoners who have clean records simply because of old, unconstitutional gang validations and CDCR’s illegally housing us in SHU for years;
-The turning of the Restrictive Custody General Population Unit which was supposed to be a GP unit where prisoners who had real safety concerns could transition to regular GP, into a purgatory where the only way out is to either debrief or die;
-CDCR promulgation of new regulations which gives the ICC discretion to put people back in the SHU, allows for many prisoners to be placed in the future in indeterminate Administrative SHU, or to be placed in the RCGP on phony safety concerns.

We must stand together, not only for ourselves, but for future generations of prisoners, so that they don’t have to go through the years of torture that we had to. We need all prisoners – young and old -to make our collective outcry public to ensure that the victory that we have won is not reversed by CDCR behind closed doors. Ultimately, we are the ones who are responsible for leading the struggle for justice and fair treatment of prisoners. That is why we entered into the historic Agreement to End Hostilities, and why it is so important that the prisoner class continue to stand by and support that agreement. We cannot allow our victories to be nullified by CDCR’sabuse of power, and may have to commit ourselves to non-violent peaceful struggle if CDCR continues on its present path.

We need everyone- prisoners, their families and the public - to send comments on CDCR’s proposed regulations to, send emails and letters urging Gov Brown to sign Assembly Bill 1308, make sure that prisoner complaints about unfair treatment are publicized, and to work together to rebuild our prisoners human rights movement.

We cannot let CDCR increase its use of prolonged solitary confinement either by misusing confidential information to place prisoners in SHU on phony conspiracy charges, or through increasing the use of Administrative SHU. As the Supreme Court stated over one hundred years ago in the 1879 case of Wilkerson v. Utah, it is “safe to affirm that punishment of torture… and all others in the same line of unnecessary cruelty are forbidden by that [the Eighth] Amendment.” The admired historian Howard Zinn noted the application of that decision to the modern SHU: “All we need then, is general recognition that to imprison a person inside a cage, to deprive that person of human companionship, of mother and father and wife and children and friends, to treat that person as a subordinate creature, to subject that person to daily humiliation and reminder of his or her own powerlessness in the face of authority… is indeed torture and thus falls within the decision of the Supreme Court a hundred years ago.”

Oct 01, 2014


Kim Rohrbach

keywords: Prison Searches

From Prison Focus Issue 44
Fall 2014

In late September, the CDC announced draconian new
regulations promulgated under the guise of an emergency.
These regulations purport to authorize the use of
dogs and electronic drug detectors to indiscriminately search
all persons entering institutional grounds for contraband, as
well as the CDC’s wards. The public was given short notice
of the new regulations—we were only given about five days
to submit public comments to the Department—but word
quickly got out, and a large number of comments opposing
the regulations were submitted.

Although the “emergency” regulations nominally apply to
all persons, they require that only visitors and those incarcerated
endure strip-down searches in the event of “positive canine
alert” (employees and contractors receive nothing more
than a pat-down.) Moreover, penalties attach to anybody
who refuses a strip-down search and/or does so repeatedly.

To what extent these regulations have been implemented,
and the time-line for implementation, are unclear. Meanwhile,
on October 17, and on October 31, respectively, the
CDC issued Notices of Change to Regulations regarding
both electronic drug detection equipment and canine searches.
The Department contemporaneously publicized, “Recognizing
the ongoing problem with drug use and trafficking
within the institutions, CDCR must focus on undertaking a
comprehensive approach to prevent the introduction of drugs
and contraband into the institutions.” The Department further
noted that there were 4000 documented incidents recorded in
2013 related to drugs in California prisons.

4000 incidents is not such a high number, when put into
perspective. On December 25, 2013, the CDCr’s total incustody
population, according to its reported statistics, was
134,243. Thus, based on the latter figure, for each one hundred
people in custody, about 2.98 reported drug-related incidents
were documented in 2013. (One wonders how these
statistics compare with statistics out on the streets.) This is
by no means intended to minimize the problems and risks
associated with the presence of illicit drugs within California’s
prisons. However, the situation hardly justifi es a
policy allowing highly invasive and indiscriminate searches
of visitors and those in custody. Staff and contractors, who
typically go into work without so much as passing through a
metal detector (or so this writer has observed), have the most
unfettered access to those in custody, and the greatest ability
to introduce contraband unnoticed.

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