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Oct 06, 2016
keywords: Pelican Bay, March 2016, cell searches, reviews, Agreement to End
From Prison Focus Issue #49
This report is informed by (1) in-person interviews conducted at Pelican Bay State Prison in March 2016, (2) letters recently received by California Prison Focus from incarcerated correspondents at the Bay, and (3) reports made to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition by those with incarcerated loved ones, penpals or legal clients at the Bay.
As we emphasize each time we publish, the names of interviewees and correspondents have been replaced with anonymous designations to guard individuals’ confidentiality. Any overlap with anonymous designations used in other reports in this issue of Prison Focus is purely coincidental: Each of our contributors assigns and randomizes their own anonymous designations when preparing reports.
CPF had scheduled nineteen interviews at Pelican Bay in late March. Yet, seven of the people we’d planned to speak with were unavailable, or so we learned upon arriving. Most of the latter had been released from the SHU and had been transferred to other prisons shortly before our visit, and another had actually paroled—all positive developments. The remaining individual allegedly declined our visit.
Of the dozen men we did speak with, six were in the SHU. All were relatively recent arrivals, having been sent to the Bay from other SHUs or ASUs during the 2014–2015 time period (but in any event prior to the Ashker settlement, with the exception of one of them).
Five of the other six men we spoke with were in the general population (also called the mainline). Three had been let out of the SHU in January or thereabout, after receiving reviews by the Internal Classification Committee (ICC). The fourth had seen the Departmental Review Board (DRB) before Ashker settled, under the then-ongoing DRB “case by case” review process.
Finally, we also spoke with one person in the Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP) Unit opened in late January of this year. He, too, had been released from the SHU per the DRB’s recommendation and before Ashker settled.
Because the individual and situational circumstances of our March interviewees varied from one person to the next, we heard a variety of grievances—too many to possibly discuss herein. This report will therefore focus on several common themes that clearly emerged.
RECENT SPATE OF CELL SEARCHES
One of the first things that we heard from several folks on the mainline, in March, is that they’d just gotten off of lockdown. The lockdowns, we learned, involved a minimum of three yards, and had been in effect for up to two weeks. Men from two different yards described cell-searches that lasted for three and four hours, while they were made to wait outside in the driving wind and rain and winter cold. Moreover, they were allowed nothing to wear other than t-shirts, boxers, shower slippers and rain jackets. Noting that the dining hall, a dayroom, etc., could have been used instead of the outdoors as a waiting area, Mr. F succinctly stated, “They do this to torture us.” His legs had literally turned blue during the ordeal, he added.
What pretense had been offered for such abuse, we don’t precisely know. Mr. F said that usually a memo is posted to inform prisoners of the reason for any lockdown, but no memo had been posted at his yard; rumor only had it that something had “gone missing” from a facility. Mr. C otherwise vaguely made mention of a “routine search.” The bright note is that nobody mentioned any inter-group hostilities having preceded the lockdowns.
It’s worth noting here that complaints of lockdowns at Kern Valley State Prison have been nearly constant since the beginning of this year. Whether this is a new pattern at Kern Valley or not we don’t know, as our contacts and our allies’ contacts are by and large fairly new at Kern, having been sent there upon release from the SHU and following the settlement of Ashker.
Adding to all of the above, just the other week we learned about a search and outright cell-trashing that had happened at the Bay. The officers involved included Officer Guillermo Pimentel. Yet, we have affirmative information that this cell-trashing was definitively not preceded by any inter-group hostilities, which is positive news to us and other proponents of the Agreement to End Hostilities.
Pimentel, of course, was one of the four officers found guilty in Jesse Perez’s retaliation/First Amendment case, which we reported on in Issue #48. Escalating our concern, we have reason to believe that Pimentel was promoted at some point between the Perez trial in November and March 2016. (At of the time of the Perez verdict, he was the only officer among those found guilty who had not already received a promotion following the retaliatory trashing of Perez’s cell in 2012.)
In 2012, Pimentel and his co-defendants were all employed as Assistant Internal Gang Investigators IGIs). Meanwhile, as we prepare to publish, the State Legislature is in the process of deciding whether or not to approve the CDCR’s request to hire forty-eight new gang investigators, to the tune of $5.8 million. This outrageous request flies in the face of the Ashker settlement, its mandates, and its discrediting of the notion that “gang” affiliation (real or alleged), in and of itself, is indicative of actual misconduct, or predictive of any future conduct at all.
Medical complaints continue to be serious and rampant across all areas of the prison. Dr. Dorman (a male) and RN Raisin Hoover (a female), were specifically implicated in regard to issues that people have been experiencing.
These issues, unfortunately reflective of the CDCR’s overall standard of “care,” include: medical assistive devices and medications taken away, medications inappropriately/negligently prescribed, necessary refills not timely provided, and potentially life-threatening conditions such as Hep C going untreated.
In regard to Hep C, multiple individuals informed us that they’d been refused treatment because they weren’t at Stage 3 yet, weren’t dying yet, and so forth. We unfortunately have no good news here. A November 2015 memo issued by the Prison Law Offices advises: “Prison medical officials are only required to provide treatment if it is ‘medically necessary.’ Under the current Care Guide, treatment is considered medically necessary only for some HCV patients.”
The torturous situation with thirty-minute “welfare” checks in the SHUs has not changed in any notable way. Moreover, despite a court-approved stipulation requiring that checks be conducted hourly, rather than each half-hour, during first watch (while people are sleeping), this is not happening in all pods.
Mr. Q was not aware of the stipulation, which issued in late December 2015, and was extended in early May, 2016. This further suggests that any requirements that the CDCR may have to notify its wards of the stipulation may be violated.
LACK OF ACCESS TO A1-A STATUS
People who are working and/or participating in educational programming for a certain number of hours per week should qualify for what’s colloquially referred to as A1-A status. The relevant regulations are set forth in Title 15, section 3044 and its innumerable and nearly incomprehensible subparts.
The practical effect of being assigned A1-A status is considerable. If you belong to this “privilege” group, you are allowed one phone call per week (as opposed to one phone call per month), full canteen draw, increased access to yard and group activities, maximum monthly canteen draw, and four annual packages. A1-A assignment may furthermore prove indispensible in terms of getting a sentencing reduction, or getting paroled.
However, we’ve heard countless grievances, both from the Bay as well as from other prisons, about the paucity/lack of both jobs and educational programming available inside. These present a seemingly uncrossable barrier to qualifying for A1-A status.
Mr. F further informs us that Pelican Bay, unlike any other prison he’s been at, outright denies A1-A status where the basis for qualification is participation in educational programming.
ICC REVIEWS, ASHKER REVIEWS, AND ALL THINGS REVIEW-RELATED
For those still in Pelican Bay’s SHU whose sentences are indeterminate (there currently remain 500-odd), a primary concern is obviously, when will they be let out? Ongoing frustrations expressed to us in March included the slow pace of the Ashker-related ICC reviews, the deferral of annual reviews, the meaninglessness of 180-day reviews, and the order of Ashker-related ICC reviews—which in many cases doesn’t adhere to the protocol, under the settlement, that those in the SHU the longest be prioritized.
For more on these topics, we encourage you to continue on and read the Ashker Bulletin published in this issue of our newsletter.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
According to everybody we talked to in March, and according to more recent accounts, the Agreement is holding! There are minor incidents here and there. But, despite doors mysteriously opening now and again, guards trying to falsely alarm people during recreation time, and so forth, morale is high. We particularly enjoyed hearing about the inter-group intramural sports that have folks have initiated, apparently on multiple yards.
Jun 10, 2016
keywords: sleep deprivation, torture, Pelican Bay, "security" checks, "welfare" checks
From Prison Focus Issue 49
Guards have been jarringly waking prisoners every thirty minutes at the Central California Women's Facility since May 8, 2014 and at Pelican Bay SHU since August 2, 2015 for so-called “security/welfare checks.” This is serious, ongoing sleep deprivation which is torture. These checks may also be harming people in other prisons; PB SHU and CCWF death row is where we have heard the most complaints. These “security/welfare checks” are purported to be 'suicide prevention,' yet are being used as a blanket practice, whether prisoners are suicidal or not, and despite the fact that denial of sleep is devastating for the human mind and body.
Since late August, 2015, there has been a grassroots campaign, legal action by prisoners and the Ashker legal team, and an official Complaint submitted to the United Nations with the aim of halting the checks. CDCr has ignored prisoners' individual and group complaints and has done nothing about the mental and physical problems resulting from or exacerbated by the sleep deprivation.
In the federal lawsuit, Coleman v. Brown, regarding CDCr's inadequate mental health treatment for seriously mentally ill CA prisoners, Lindsay Hayes is the "suicide expert" and Matthew Lopes is the Special Master, charged with overseeing prison reform and compliance concerning care of seriously mentally ill inmates. We believe Hayes and Lopes could stop the "security/welfare checks," but they have ignored that the checks are causing sleep deprivation torture. If you are suffering from the “security/welfare checks,” please write Lindsay Hayes explaining how the checks are affecting you and what you think true mental health and suicide prevention would entail. Either send a copy of your letter to all three of the below addresses or, if it is easier, send one letter to the PHSS Committee and we will forward it to the “suicide expert” (Hayes) and the Special Master (Lopes).
We understand that if you are sleep deprived, it is difficult to focus and write.
Organizations and individuals not in prison, please write Lindsay Hayes. Urge him to stop the checks. Share with him the voices of the people suffering from them. Find quotes from prisoners suffering the checks at http://tinyurl.com/zc3qbn6. The American Public Health Association's letter opposing the checks at http://wp.me/P1BB1k-27L. Read articles, expert reports, and more at https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com under the “Sleep Deprivation” tab.
If you are able, please send your letter to all three of the following addresses.
Lindsay M. Hayes
40 Lantern Lane
Mansfield, MA 02048
Matthew A. Lopes Jr.
Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West LLC
317 Iron Horse Way, Suite 301
Providence, RI 02908
PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation
P.O. Box 5692
Eureka, CA 95502
We will work to end the sleep deprivation torture until the “security/welfare checks” stop. For more info, contact us at 510.426.5322, firstname.lastname@example.org, or our mailing address above.
Below is a survey that would be helpful to document the harm. Our priority right now, however, are the letters to Hayes and Lopes.
SECURITY/WELFARE CHECKS SLEEP SURVEY
Who we are: The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) originated in the SF Bay Area in 2011 to amplify the voices of CA prisoners on hunger strike striving to achieve their Five Core Human Rights Demands. It is made up of family members and loved ones, formerly incarcerated people, grassroots organizations, lawyers, and individuals. The coalition continues to work in solidarity with CA prisoners and their families to end the torture that is solitary confinement.
Why we are conducting this survey: Beginning as early as 2013, many prisoners throughout the CA prison system - housed in SHU's, AdSeg and on death row - have reported guards doing "security/welfare checks" every 30 minutes, 48 times a day. We’ve been told that the start dates of these checks have varied at different prisons. Some prisoners say the checks are extremely noisy and disruptive, result in denial of sleep, and cause harmful side effects. We wish to document what is occurring in the various solitary units throughout CA prisons with regard to “security/welfare checks.”
1. Name of Prison Since when?
2. When did the “security/welfare checks” begin?
3. How frequently do they occur? ___ /hour; ____ /day
4. Is there a difference between the frequency at night and during the day? YES / NO
5. If so, how many times an hour? day__ /hr; night __ /hr 6. Is this the 1st time they've occurred? Y/N
7. Please describe the sounds/noises. For example, what are the sounds? Loud? Do they echo?
8. Please describe the behavior of guards when conducting the “security/welfare checks.” For example, are they quiet, noisy, take a long time to pass through the cells, rap their keys against the bars, jangle their keys, say anything?
9. How do the checks affect your ability to sleep, such as amount of time you sleep, how deeply you sleep, how many times you wake up, how long you are awake?
10. Before the checks began, how well did you sleep and how much sleep did you get?
11. How do the checks affect your ability to function and perform mental & physical tasks?
12. How have the checks affected your mood, feelings, and attitudes?
13. Has anything helped such as the provision of ear plugs, being moved to a lower tier, or guard training resulting in quieter checks?
14. Have you filed complaint(s) regarding the “security/welfare checks?” YES / NO
15. Date complaint(s) filed? Still pending? YES / NO 16. Outcome(s)?
17. Have you consulted with anyone about the checks such as an attorney? YES / NO 18. Outcome?
19. Do you think the checks could be done differently to be less disruptive to your sleep? YES / NO
20. If yes, what would you want to change?
21. Do you know if the checks have impacted other people in the area near you? YES / NO
22. If yes, please explain:
23. Any additional comment(s)?
We won't identify you in our report, but we may reference anonymously some of your answers.
Do we have your permission to share your identifying info with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture as part of a human rights complaint? YES / NO Your Name, Date, Prison, CDCr#
PHSS thanks you very much for helping us by completing this survey. Please send answers to: PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation, P.O. Box 5692, Eureka CA 95502
Jun 10, 0016
keywords: Free Speech Society, Kern Valley, conflict resolution, Inmate Advisory Council
From Prison Focus Issue 49
The Free Speech Society presents:
(April 17, 2016)
In the aftermath of two small-scale race-based 'isolated' incidents that occurred on B-facility in January of 2016 at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP), the Free Speech Society was able to successfully initiate a Conflict Resolution Committee (C.R.C.) as a part of the Inmate Advisory Council (I.A.C.) that has been established at this prison.
The C.R.C. ensures the de-escalation of potential conflicts between various groups/formations on B-facility. The committee constitutes a body of like-minded individuals that is both representative of the totality of the various groups/formations on B-facility. It is capable of resolving potential or actual conflicts in a responsible, positive, and expeditious fashion. In the past, KVSP administrators, which include the California Department of Corrections & rehabilitation (CDCr) headquarters in Sacramento, CA, have made errors in one form or another, by failing to ensure the engagement of the primary stakeholders that are representative of those groups/formations actually engaged in a conflict. Nor has there been a body of 'like-minded' individuals specifically tasked with resolving potential conflicts before they mature into actual hostile based conflicts, whereby unnecessary disturbances become manifest, which jeopardize the safety and security of both prisoners and staff.
Per Departmental Operations Manual (D.O.M.), section 53120.5.3* (viz. “Special Concern sub-committee” at p. 427), the KVSP B-facility men's Advisory Council will enact the C.R.C.. This Committee is convened for the sole purpose of resolving potential and actual conflicts on B-facility whenever and wherever they occur, and effectively [articulating] resolutions to the entire prisoner population, with special attention given to the groups/formations in conjunction with the Agreement to End Hostilities (A.E.H.).
Because appropriate representation is essential to the resolution of conflicts in an effective and responsible manner, the composition of the C.R.C. will reflect prisoner representation from each specific group/formation, which will in turn be responsible for engaging and positively resolving any subdivisions in these groups. A basic outline of the C.R.C. Representative Body will consist of a representative from each of the following groups/formations:
– Mexican Nationals
– 415 (Kumi)
– Bay Area Blacks
Because of the sensitive nature of this special concern sub-committee, the C.R.C. must have access to the units on B-facility, per approval of the facility captain. The daily activities of the C.R.C. are designed to increase dialogue across cultural lines of ever formation/group to promote a stronger foundation upon which issues can be put forward and resolved in a constructive manner.
Communication and timing are essential components to preventing conflicts before they mature into hostility-based conflicts. Therefore, C.R.C. members must be able to talk to who they need to, when they need to. Our objective is to be proactive in resolving potential and/or actual conflicts within the general population. All prisoners are encouraged to relay any and all potential conflicts to the C.R.C. so the can be resolved in an expeditious manner.
The function and activities of the committee shall be to ensure equal and effective representation of the entire general population in the resolution of potential and actual conflicts on B-facility. The entire C.R.C. body will abide by the by-laws of the Inmate Advisory Council.
Our struggle continues!
For more information about the Free Speech Society, you can visit the website at: Freespeechsociety.wordpress.com, or contact:
Kijana Tashiri Askari s/n Marcus Harrison H54077, KVSP B2-101L, P.O. Box 5102, Delano, CA 93216
Abdul Olugbala Shakur s/n James Earl Harvey C48884, KVSP B2-117, P.O. Box 5102, Delano, CA 93216
J. Heshima Denham J38283, KVSP B2-117, P.O. Box 5102, Delano, CA 93216
Jun 10, 2016
keywords: Ashker settlement, adherence, compliance, March 2016
From Prison Focus Issue #49
This bulletin, as such, will not address all concerns held by all people impacted by the Ashker settlement. Nonetheless, this article endeavors to address below certain critical issues, as well as a couple of items of broad interest.
MOVEMENT OUT OF THE SHU
If you are a person still waiting to be released from the SHU to the general population under the terms of the Ashker settlement, we’d first like you to know that movement out of the SHU is definitively happening (although at a sluggish pace at Corcoran).
Information available through the CDCR’s website—specifically, the COMSTAT DAI Statistical Report for the thirteen months ending March 2016—show that, as of the end of March, there were:
• 582 people remaining at Pelican Bay’s SHU (in contrast to the around 1154 individuals caged there as of the end of March 2015)
• 131 remaining at Tehachapi (in contrast to the around 1197 individuals caged there as of the end of March 2015)
• 46 at New Folsom (in contrast to the around 53 individuals caged there as of the end of March 2015)
• 986 remaining at Corcoran (in contrast to the around 1030 individuals caged there as of the end of March 2015)*
The staggering reduction of numbers at Tehachapi seems to indicate that Tehachapi SHU is in fact closing, as many of us both on the inside and outside have heard. However, this has yet to be officially confirmed by CDCr officials.
ORDER OF REVIEWS UNDER THE ASHKER SETTLEMENT
Many prisoners have expressed to CPF understandable frustration about the order in which reviews are occurring. Enough is enough when you shouldn’t have been in the SHU in the first place!
The Ashker settlement states (at ¶ 25) that the ICC reviews called for “shall be prioritized by the inmates’ length of continuous housing within a SHU [emphasis added] so that those of the longest duration are reviewed first.” The Ashker legal team has received confirmation from CDCr officials that they are doing their best to follow the protocol, yet we continue to receive outside information confirming that the protocol set forth under the Ashker settlement isn’t always being followed.
And even where the protocol is being followed, the situation can become complicated.
For example, if you were held four years at one SHU, then were directly sent to a second SHU where you spent another three years, it’s possible that you may rank comparatively low on the priority list for review. This, in spite of the fact that you’ve spent seven straight years in a hell-hole.
Further compounding the matter: The length of time in the SHU for purposes of processing out of the SHU is considered to be continuous, rather than a combination of multiple SHU stays. For example, if you spent x amount of time in the SHU, then paroled out, then were later returned to prison and the SHU, it may be that your pre-parole time spent in the SHU won’t be counted towards your total SHU time. This is the situation of one man we spoke with at Pelican Bay in March.
POSSIBLE CONFUSION OVER THE ICC PROCESS AS IT PERTAINS TO ASHKER
CPF has recently received a few letters from people that may be collectively summarized as follows:
“I recently had my ICC review and am in SHU only because of my validation. But at my review, I was told that I’d have to wait to see the special committee before they’d let me out.”
To clarify things, here’s the basic deal with ICC reviews:
People are getting their reviews under the Ashker case either according to their position on the priority list, or at their annual reviews. Nobody is getting their so-called Ashker review at their 180-day review.
Where the term “special committee” has come from, we can’t say, but we assume the ICCs must be using it.
LACK OF ADHERENCE TO STEP DOWN-RELATED PROVISIONS UNDER ASHKER
In March, we learned from one interviewee that there were people on the mainline who were in Step 5 of the SDP (Step Down Program). We are unsure of what to make of this. Not only is Step 5 abolished by the settlement, but the settlement explicitly provides (at ¶ 25): “Inmates currently assigned to Step 5 in the General Population shall remain in the General Population and shall no longer be considered Step Down Program participants.”
We also heard from another interviewee that he had been in Step 5 prior to the settlement, but upon transfer to the Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP) Unit, was told that he would have to “start over” with the SDP. Others in the RCGP, he indicated, were in the same boat. It is unclear to this writer why a person who was in Step 5 prior to the settlement would have been assigned to the RCGP to begin with, barring any new rules violations.
RULES VIOLATION REPORTS AUTHORIZED FOR FAILURE TO COMPLETE COMPAS ASSESSMENTS
It has been quite some time since Prison Focus has published anything concerning the COMPAS Assessment. Well, last month CPF received from a female prisoner a copy of an August 19, 2015 memo concerning this topic. Millicent Tidwell, CDCR Director of Rehabilitative Services, is the author.
In the memo, Tidwell says that prisoners who refuse to complete COMPAS assessments should be issued Rules Violation Reports (RVRs). Then she convolutedly/obtusely adds that RVRs "shall not delay transfer unless the outcome of the RVR impacts the inmate's level of placement." She further specifies that, during the annual review process, verification that the inmate has completed an assessment is "necessary," and that if an assessment is "incomplete," a new one should be “administered." She additionally specifies, for reasons that she doesn’t state, that those with life without parole and the condemned are “no longer excluded” from the Assessment.
The use of the Assessment to punish people is contrary to the intent of the very legislation (the Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Service Act) that authorized its development in the first place. It is also contrary to the stated intent of researchers involved in developing it. Yet, when we first started hearing about COMPAS and wrote on the subject two years ago, we expressed strong concerns that the Assessment would be so used. In fact, we directly broached our concerns with Millicent Tidwell in a letter. She never responded.
The subject is one that needs follow-up, and we hope to revisit it in our next issue.
STATUS OF HINOJOSA AND VICTORY IN IN RE GOMEZ (ON HABEAS)
In our last issue, we reported on Hinojosa v. Davey, (No. 13–56012 9th Cir. Sept. 25, 2015). (See Supplementary Report: News as the Final Fairness Hearing on the Ashker v. Brown Settlement Pends.) Hinojosa unfortunately has since been reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court (No. 15-833, May 16, 2016), and remanded to the Ninth Circuit. We are grateful nonetheless for a stinging dissent by Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg.
In a more favorable legal development—one that many readers are likely already aware of—Jorge Gomez has achieved a significant victory in the California Court of Appeals (In re Gomez, Ct. of App. No. 142470, Mar. 25, 2016). The upper court ruled that it was inappropriate to issue Gomez a rules violation for having refusing consecutive meals during the 2013 Hunger Strike. As a result, the affirmative ruling on the RVR Gomez received must be reversed. The ninety days’ credit Gomez lost as a result must also be restored. Finally, all references to the RVR must be expunged from Gomez’s central file.
Until his recent transfer, Gomez had spent over a decade in Pelican Bay’s SHU.
The Gomez opinion was initially uncertified for publication. But, thanks to the efforts of Gomez’s court-appointed counsel, as well from National Lawyers Guild members in the Bay Area and CPF volunteers, the Court of Appeals has agreed to publish the decision. This makes it able to be referenced as authoritative law for any others who are currently challenging their own RVRs for participation in the hunger strike.
Oct 16, 0006
keywords: Corcoran, Ashker settlement, conditions, March 2016
From Prison Focus Issue #49
Corcoran Report (California State Prison – CSP)
This report is based on information received through written correspondence and interviews conducted in March 2015 with incarcerated men at Corcoran State Prison (“Corcoran”). In this period, we conducted visits with individuals in the SHU and in general population yards. All quotes come directly from the men’s written reports or interviews. As in the past, we report all information anonymously to prevent retaliation from prison guards by replacing individuals’ names with random letters. The repetition of a letter does not mean that the information is from the same individual.
COMPLIANCE WITH ASHKER AND STG REGULATIONS
Before the Ashker settlement, validated Security Threat Group (“STG”) members were entitled to a six year “inactive” review, as well as 180 day Institutional Classification Committee (“ICC”) reviews. Now, the institution is required to conduct so-called “Ashker” reviews, evaluating people with indeterminate terms in the SHU, starting with those whomever has been in the unit the longest.
The staff at Corcoran appear to be overwhelmed by their obligations to fulfill the terms of the Ashker settlement and process people out of the SHU. The Ashker legal team is unable to explain Corcoran’s difficulties in complying with the settlement. Multiple people reported that classification reviews are extremely behind, if they are happening at all. Mr. S cited incidents such as house counselors sending case files to the wrong person inside because their case loads are so immense and disorganized.
In addition to delay, the classification committee continues to pressure individuals to debrief, even when they must process that person out under Ashker. Mr. N experienced this at his ICC review, and expressed concerned about retaliation for his refusal to debrief.
Several reported that staff regularly tell them that if they cause trouble at Corcoran they will be moved to Pelican Bay’s SHU. In general, people would prefer to stay at Corcoran than go to PB. There is still pressure from Correctional Officers (“COs”) to debrief, move you to the Bay, or the new Restricted Custody General Population (“RCGP” unit), where there are less privileges than general population yards (“GP” or the “mainline”).
One area of concern regarding SHU placement are those who return to prison after previously serving time and are immediately placed back in the SHU. Mr. M reported that he had been validated as a gang member while serving a sentence over 10 years ago. He paroled, and last year was sent back to prison on an unrelated conviction. After reception, he was sent directly to Pelican Bay SHU, and now to Corcoran SHU, even though he has had no disciplinaries since his return. Placing someone in the SHU without a finding that the person committed a SHU-able offense is prohibited under Ashker.
MOVEMENT IN AND OUT OF THE SHU
There has been a lot of movement recently for people in and out of the SHU. The Corcoran SHU continues to hold more people than any other SHU, with 986 prisoners in a Corcoran SHU unit as of March 2016. There is currently a 5-6 month wait list to be moved to the mainline once you have been approved for release.
Mr. J has been awaiting transfer to a Corcoran S.A.T.F. mainline (another prison located across the road from Corcoran State Prison) for over five months. He had heard there were people with indeterminate SHU sentences who had been working on the Step Down Program getting moved from the Corcoran SHU to Pelican Bay’s SHU. They are told the Step Down Program is no longer.
On the day of CPF’s visit, about 48-50 long termers in the SHU (approximately 10 years or more) were all moved to the mainline.
Mr. W reported that there continues to be a large influx of people transferred into 4A from Tehachapi’s SHU, because that SHU is closing down [closure of the Tehachapi SHU has not been confirmed by CDCr officials].
Mr. O reports that the 4A and 4B SHU units are about to be under construction. He was told that 4B will shut down first because the whole building is being made into general population [This is also unconfirmed by CDCr officials].
CPF investigators did speak to some individuals who had already been transferred from the SHU to a GP yard at Corcoran. The majority of adjustment for people is psychological. Mr. A noted that he struggles with the feeling that he is being watched constantly by people now that he has gotten out of the SHU. Representative of many people who correspond with CPF, Mr. U reported that he has had difficulty adjusting to physical touch and contact with others. He had a contact visit with his mother and family members, which was profound for him. “I got to hug my Mom.” He noted that there were so many more sounds to hear, so much more sensory input. It was “shocking” especially when there were more than 2-3 people—“rooms come alive.” He said he knew he had to take his time and adjust to it because ultimately it was all positive and he had to take his time dealing with other people. “It’s bittersweet,” because after 8 years in the SHU, he has lost contact with a lot of people in his immediate family and circle of friends because letters don’t work well for some people.
“Welfare checks” at Corcoran SHU continue every 30 minutes around the clock. The consensus from reporters are that the disruption of the checks depend entirely on the CO who is conducting them – some pound the walls hard and keep the beeping sound on all night long; others try harder to be quiet. The COs also use a flashlight irregularly as they start the night rounds and as the morning rounds begin, to wake people. The COs “can still see in, there’s no need for that!” Lights in the cell are already on 24 hours per day. Many people are woken up every half hour and are unable to sleep through it. The lack of sleep especially affects those with mental health issues. They are too exhausted to keep to their routines and start to act out.
Although people in Pelican Bay are provided earplugs, COs here will not provide them. It appears that the COs are annoyed at being forced to conduct the checks, but if anyone complains about the noise or the flashlights getting shined in their face, the COs will take the person out of their cell in cuffs and tear the cell apart.
Medical care at Corcoran continues to fall below appropriate standards of care. One key complaint for those who have recently arrived at Corcoran is the lack of consistent treatment standards across prisons. Upon arrival to Corcoran, medications are taken away and appointments take months to get, leaving people without continuity of needed treatments. Many reporters told us that they have to file 602HC forms before they will ever be seen by medical.
Mr. U reported that one physician only sets appointments on days when he also has a classification or other committee hearing, so he is never able to go. Meetings like that happen so rarely that it is hard to see this continual conflict as a coincidence.
Many reported that they rarely see a certified physician in person. Appointments are either with nurses or doctors via tele-medicine, which is not ideal, especially for those with serious medical conditions that require daily or weekly treatment.
Access to mental health care is especially slow. The Coleman case dictates standards of care, including the frequency of access to psychiatric care providers. Several people reported that they have gone months without seeing a psychiatrist, and that there are no group treatments, which are offered elsewhere throughout the prison system.
Dental care is nothing less than atrocious. Mr. P had a few teeth pulled several months ago, which led to an infection in his jaw. He was provided anti-biotics but not pain medication. He was in so much pain he was unable to eat, but was denied emergency care. The nurses put him on a medical psychiatric hold rather than respond to his needs for pain medication. Mr. T also reported that the dental care is “aggressive—they cut men’s mouths up all the time.” Mr. V said he had been waiting over three months for a filling, and was called out for the procedure on the very day of our visit. Mr. L stated that he intends to wait as long as he can for dental care, in hopes that his transfer will go through soon.
There are also concerns with getting access to needed medical devices. For example, Mr. B was assigned a wheelchair, and was provided one with no legs. After going through the appeal process, the facility granted him a new wheelchair, contingent on his ability to pay for it himself. Once his wheelchair finally arrived, he was not allowed to keep it inside his cell, but told he must park it outside of his cell. COs then took the wheelchair and used it to transport other prisoners, never returning it to the cell. Mr. B was forced to purchase another wheelchair out of his own money, which again, coincidentally arrived on the very day of our visit.
There are continuing issues at Corcoran with access to hot water. Mr. T reported that in 4A, one half of the building claimed the water was too hot and burning them, so the COs turned off the hot water completely. Last summer, Corcoran prisoners reported going without hot water for 6 months. Mr. J reported that at some point in February, there was hot water for one week, but then it was turned off again.
In general, the facilities are very dirty. In the year that Mr. R has been in Corcoran, he has only seen the facility swept 3 times, because many of the 4A inmates complained. The floors were only mopped once. “Cleanliness is an issue.”
There are also issues with the lights. Two prisoners reported that the lights would occasionally go off for days at a time.
COs do not respect mail and many prisoners reported significant delays in receiving mail. Sometimes the delays are many weeks, other times they are up to two months. This has been a consistent issue at Corcoran and something that we have reported multiple times.
Mr. Y reported that on February 22, 2016 about 60 people received notices from CO M. Magana that their annual packages were being thrown away. The COs claimed that people were working the system by adding items for cellmates to annual packages. Instead of returning to sender, the boxes were thrown away and their annual packages wasted.
The food at Corcoran is notoriously cold, bland, and served in small portions. Reports from men this spring were no exception. Many people reported that a main source of “protein” in meals consists of artificial meat that is reconstituted with water and lacks nutritional value. Mr. C reports that while the kitchen in Corcoran has a heater to keep food warm before it is delivered to the men, it is not used, so that by the time the trays are delivered to cells, the food is very cold. Those who are able augment their food through access to the Canteen, although there are not many nutritious options there either, and many do not have the resources.
EDUCATION AND PROGRAMMING
While educational programming is theoretically available in both the SHU and in GP, reports of access are varied. One individual told us that his access to his books and proctored exams are satisfactory. He asked and received information on the educational options he had. Two others reported that COs do not volunteer information about educational opportunities. Mr. K stated that he studies through correspondence courses that he found through his own initiative.
Educational tablets, music and books are supposed to be available for purchase but reporters are told they are not allowed in the SHU. On the mainline, there are more educational opportunities, but they cost money, which is prohibitive for many.
Several reported that they would like to begin or continue educational programming, but are in a holding pattern until their long-awaited transfers go through. It is frustrating, Mr. P stated, that he is unable to educate himself or work toward rehabilitation certificates because he would lose any progress upon transfer, which could happen at any time.
GRIEVANCE AND APPEALS PROCESS
As previously reported, Corcoran is well known for obstructing the 602 appeals process. Mr. D reported witnessing COs throw away completed 602 appeals forms right in front of him. Others reported that submitted 602 forms are never returned—“They simply disappear.” Mr. I reported that every 602 he has ever filed has been denied.
Many people struggle with the catch-22 of needing paperwork to substantiate their grievance, but are unable to access the information prior to filing a 602 form. For example, Mr. H believes he was wrongfully validated as an STG member based on an incident where he was not present and is unaware of who was involved. He filed a 602 form but it was rejected because he did not have the evidence used against him. When he filed another 602 requesting the evidence, it was rejected because the validation was based on confidential information.
Unbelievable to some new arrivals at Corcoran, staff attitudes are even worse at Corcoran than at Pelican Bay. Mr. V explained how at Pelican Bay, COs inform you of changes to policy and schedule; here they provide no information. Mr. W described his efforts to keep his relationships friendly with COs (in order to avoid excessive searches and aggression), but said that at best COs are “chill and unfriendly” with him. Cell searches are common, especially while individuals are at yard or showering. Mr. Q reported that it is common for COs to go through and toss out legal materials during searches.
Mr. F believes that the current political climate (with Trump running for President) has led to more overt racism from COs recently. He hears COs talking about how “all Mexicans are criminals,” which creates tensions on the unit.
Mr. H stated that the COs befriend certain individuals who they believe will be informants for them, providing them with extra food packages and TVs appropriated from other prisoners.
There is general consensus that the law library is not sufficient for individuals to complete research in time for court deadlines. Mr. E reported that he has put in multiple requests for the law library but never received a response. He has heard from others that if he does not have an active court case, he is not eligible for the law library, but questions how he would be able to write a viable complaint without first conducting research.
The law library offers copying services, but only once your case is active. This presents another catch-22, because one needs copies of their 602 or other paperwork in order to initiate a lawsuit.
Loss of property is a common issue throughout all of CDCr, but it has become especially problematic in light of all the recent transfers. Several reporters told us that they have had to wait months for their property upon arrival to Corcoran. Mr. Z reported that he waited 6 months; Mr. W waited 2 months; Mr. P waited 4 months, and when his property finally arrived, many of his possessions were missing.
After months of waiting, Mr. Q filed a 602 form requesting his property. It was rejected because he had no proof that the property had gone missing, as opposed to still in transit. After 6 months of persistent advocacy, the Unit Sargent told him that his property had been located at a different prison entirely.
Mr. B explained that there are inconsistencies in the property matrix across prisons; things that are allowed one place are prohibited at Corcoran. New arrivals to the GP yards reported confusion around the fact that things which were allowed in the SHU are not allowed on the mainline. Mr. A reported that in the SHU, he was allowed pens, but in GP they are prohibited and they are not sold in the Canteen. As a result, he is unable to work on his drawing, which is an important creative outlet for him.
The men are told that they are allowed yard three times a week, but this rarely occurs in practice. Mr. X, a recent arrival from Tehachapi, expressed appreciation that they occasionally do get yard three times a week, because at Tehachapi they never got yard more than once per week.
Sometimes, COs will leave men at the yard for hours at a time. They say they are making up for days where they were not allowed yard, but it can be disruptive to miss educational programming, access to the law library, or needed medical appointments while left in the yard for an entire day. As it turns into summer, people worry about being left in the sun for too long.
Mr. U reported that his tier operates on a “split tier” schedule, where each month the upper tier will get yard and the lower tier will get shower and phone access, and the next month it will switch. Neither tier gets both.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
Awareness of the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) is mixed, especially on the GP yards. Mr. R told us, “Everybody thinks it’s a good thing.” Mr. Q confirmed that in general, people respect the AEH, although not everyone is aware of it.
In the GP yard, COs work to keep the races separated, and there is less awareness of the AEH. Mr. T reported that race-based violence still occurs regularly on the mainline and that tensions have been heightened since the murder of Hugo Pinell last August at New Folsom prison. Mr. C observed that attacks against individuals coming out of the SHU are common, and he believes they are considered easy targets, vulnerable due to the psychological effects of the SHU. The violence is usually a stabbing or an assault where at least one person is punched.
Several individuals who have left the SHU and are now in GP promote the AEH with others and try to live the values of the Agreement by refusing to play by the race game. “I have no hang ups about that stuff.”