Grave conditions were reported to California Prison Focus (CPF) during its most recent legal visit to Folsom State Prison (FSP) as well as through victim/witness accounts mailed directly to CPF. From among the many observations, perhaps the most compelling is CDCR’s retaliation against those men who participated in the most recent hunger strike; dolling out written violations with penalties of 90 days of restricted C status and 90 days loss of earned credit for those who fought for basic needs and reasonable requests, like insisting on a bowl or cup to eat from in lieu of using trash bags or used Ziploc baggies. Moreover, these written violations are used against a person as justification for unsuitability for release during parole hearings, thereby compounding a senseless penalty for simply seeking a humane livelihood.
And while some needs were met as a result of the hunger strike, men at FSP continue to experience inadequate living conditions and treatment. For example, sleep deprivation resulting from deliberatively disruptive welfare checks, suspicious mail delays (i.e., up to 5 weeks), poor ventilation and insufficient shade in the yard during the height of the blistering summer heat are a common part of a bleak existence at what has been described as an “old, decrepit and filthy” facility.
Lastly, there appear to be no administrative controls in place to ensure the prevention of illegal monitoring of highly sensitive conversations occurring during legal visits, that by law are meant to be confidential. Indeed, conversations between an incarcerated person and her/his attorney may never be monitored. Yet, FSP provides no assurance that prison protocol operates in accordance with the privacy law and it is suspected that they lack appropriate policies and procedures in their Departmental Operating Manual (DOM) to address such a risk.
The following is a brief narrative of CPF’s visit to FSP, followed by key points about current conditions. These accounts of FSP are an unwelcome truth.
Ms. Pollak arrived alone at Folsom State Prison on June 30th, 2017 and was escorted in for her scheduled legal visits without incident. Ms. Pollak spoke separately with three men being housed in Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) and one from General Population (GP). For the Ad Seg visits, Ms. Pollak was physically separated from the interviewee by a plexiglas wall, however, she was able to shake their hands using the small open space at the base of the glass meant for exchanging paperwork. There were no dividers on the visitor’s side of the stations, which allowed for conversations to carry easily; and because of the physical separation, phones were located at each station for communicating. Phones that, according to the notice posted on the glass wall, may be monitored.
And despite being made aware that Ms. Pollak’s visitation was legal in nature and therefore subject to confidentiality as required by law, Ms. Pollak was instead placed at an open station with a phone, not in the alternative private booth where conversations are held face-to-face, which would have circumvented the need to use the possibly monitored phone. No indication or assurance was provided to Ms. Pollak that her phone conversations would be exempt from monitoring.
The privacy issue came up again when one interviewee expressed significant concern regarding the proximity of the correctional officer, who was within earshot of their conversations. Because of the correctional officer’s presence and his ability to overhear the conversation, the interviewee was very hesitant to discuss the prison conditions and the associated hunger strike. The interviewee was clearly worried for his wellbeing.
Ms. Pollak expressed concern over the lack of privacy to the correctional officer, who responded that there was no other more private space available, so she proceeded with her interview, emphasizing to the interviewee to only share what he felt safe and comfortable saying, knowing that they may be heard.
After the visit was finished Ms. Pollak again expressed her concern about the lack of privacy, pointing out the sign on the window and reminding the correctional officer that this was a legal visit. This time, Ms. Pollak was told a more private booth had become available. Consequently, the last two visits occurred in a private booth where Ms. Pollak and her interviewee could talk face to face, away from the correctional officer and without the use of the possibly monitored phones.
In sum, given the totality of the circumstances (i.e., no dividers allowing for privacy, the correctional officer’s ability to eavesdrop, the use of phones that may possibly being monitored, and not administratively arranging for a known legal visit in a private space), it is fair to conclude that Folsom State Prison could with ease illegally monitor conversations occurring during legal visits that are highly sensitive and confidential. However, lack of privacy is a common occurrence based on Ms. Pollack’s previous legal visits and that of other CPF volunteers who have shared similar experiences.
The following is a summary of the hunger strike-relevant information gathered. For the protection of the interviewees, unique identifiers are excluded.
Mr. A: Level II, General Population, spent 19 years in Pelican Bay State Prison Secure Housing Unit (SHU); Participated in the Step-Down Program (SDP) as a means of leaving solitary confinement and in the 2013 hunger strike. (Mr. A has a parole date in 2018 and has found the Prison Hungry Strike Solidarity parole publication very helpful!)
Mr. B: Spent 22 years in SHU (I believe in Corcoran), participated in SDP; participated in 2013 hunger strike and recent Folsom State Prison strike. Mr. B has been in Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) for 9 months for an event that is currently waiting on a 5th investigation, after the initial 4 were found inconclusive. (The 4th investigation – also deemed inconclusive - was conducted by the Warden) on 12/22/16 at his Institution Classification Committee (ICC) he was informed that he must remain in Ad Seg throughout the investigation(s) due to “safety issues.” However, he was told that he would be placed on Non-Disciplinary Status (NDS) if he debriefs. He refused to provide any information. Thus, his request for NDS pending the investigation(s) was denied. Mr. B appealed both his ASU placement as well as his NDS. His appeal was denied at the third level, and he is eager to take legal action.
Mr. C: Spent 36 months in Corcoran State Prison (CSP) SHU. For the last 8 months, he’s been in ASU doing a SHU term. His attorney has encouraged him to delay his Rules Violations Report (RVR/Form 1-15) until a pending case runs its course. Meanwhile, he’s left without the privileges of NDS. He participated in the 2013 hunger strike and the recent FSP hunger strike. He expressed that he felt he was having to starve himself again for privileges he had already starved himself for – and acquired some of in 2013.
Mr. D: In ASU doing a SHU term. Came to FSP from California State Prison-Sacramento (CSP-SAC) GP. He has been in ASU for over 6 months, doing a SHU term due to an incident, for which he has not yet been found guilty. Because he has pending court hearings, he’s been counseled to put off his RVR until all court proceedings have terminated. Mr. D predicts that by the time the court proceedings will be over, he will have completed his SHU term without SHU privileges (which are reportedly more than non-NDS ASU privileges.)
The hunger strike lasted eight days or the equivalent of twenty-four missed meals. Mr. D clarified that the strikers had offered CDCR “proposals,” and had not made “demands.” Mr. C stated that the strikers simply want equity among all men in California state prison who are housed in Ad Seg and even men in the SHU.
According to Mr. D, it was reported that the FSP Warden pulled out individual strikers, insisting that they stop striking and that he would not negotiate at all, until the strike was ended. The men reportedly made a collective decision to stop, which they did, that day.
• Visiting was reportedly extended from 1 day/per week to 2 days/per week. However, from accounts, this change occurred prior to the hunger strike. Now however, there is bathroom access during the first visitation hour.
• Most canteen restrictions were removed.
• The men received a scrub pad and disinfectant for cleaning. However, from accounts, this change occurred prior to the hunger strike.
• Since the strike, staff have made rounds asking each inmate if they have any programming or law-related questions or needs, and if they need any forms printed or copies made.
• Since the strike staff have been coming through on a regular basis asking the men if they need certain books or help with getting signed up for the GED program.
• The men have been permitted, since the strike, to take their sweats or shorts with them to the yard.
*It is believed that the Folsom administration preemptedly planned on granting some gains in efforts to quell the strike.
According to one interviewee, “we did not receive TVs, Non-Disciplinary Reports or anything of real substance.” Additionally, CPF received a letter from FSP ASU dated 7/1/17 stating: “The conditions here have not changed. We are possibly gonna go again! This time for 30 days.”
• Request# XX – Televisions
The FSP Warden claims that the lack of TVs is due to the age of the facility and is a financial issue beyond the scope of his influence. While no TVs is being blamed on the lack of electrical sockets, the cells are already wired. Adding sockets should not be a huge expense. However, the men were told that there was nothing the institution could do about it. What it really comes down to, according to Mr. D, is that the FSP Warden reportedly gets a bonus for keeping his budget below a particular level.
• Request# XX – Welfare Checks
Welfare checks had reportedly stopped, but have since commenced.
Retaliation: All participants in the FSP hunger strike received a 115 for “Delaying a peace officer in the performance of duties” and received 90 days on restricted C status and a 90 day loss of credit. Mr. D was eager to challenge his 115 and was grateful for the information he received regarding the Gomez case, which he plans to designate. He intends to encourage others to challenge their strike-related 115s.
Non-Disciplinary Status: Attorneys encourage men with pending cases to put off rule violation hearings until a case has run its course. Meanwhile one may end up in ASU for an extended period of time while waiting, without NDS privileges or without SHU privileges (which are reportedly more than those afforded to non NDS ASU inmates.)
It was explained that even a victim of a stabbing can end up in Ad Seg for extended periods of times without NDS, pending a delayed investigation.
Coerced debriefing: NDS are being withheld as a method of coercion to debrief. There is a very clear, unspoken “memo” that if you do not “cooperate” you will not receive NDS and privileges.
Reported conditions at FSP’s Administrative Security Unit (ASU):
• FSP ASUs are reportedly far worse than at any other CDCR facility.
• Old, decrepit and filthy
• Not properly equipped (i.e.: electrical outlets)
• Poor ventilation, hot and humid.
• Insufficient shade in the yard. Excessive sun and heat which is difficult for men who suffer sun sensitivity due to medications or physical conditions (such as Mr. B who has lupus).
• The men are forced to tolerate extremely loud tier fans all day, which are loud yet provide no relief in the cells. The loud fans make it difficult to think and contribute to the symptoms of sleep deprivation caused by the welfare checks.
• No way to track time.
• Conditions and privileges are better in GP and in CDCR SHUs than in FSP ASU. FSP ASU is “stuck in the middle getting the worst of everything.”
• Items that are allowed in SHU - that are not considered a security issue in SHU - are considered a safety issue and prohibited at FSP ASU. (i.e.: cups and bowls)
• Canteen regulations (packaging and repackaging) are reportedly stricter in FSP ASU than they are in SHU.
• TVs: All three of the men who had participated in the strike voiced how important to them the TV issue is. Without TVs, the men don’t have access to educational programming or news. The lack of TVs increases the likelihood of more severe depression and claustrophobia.
• The men don’t get to have a decent bowl and cup. They are permitted very small rubber cups that are reportedly for men with mental health issues, as they cannot be used to hurt themselves or anyone else. As a result, the men make soup in chip bags and old milk cartons, which is not very hygienic. “It’s degrading. Dogs in the kennel get better then what we’re getting.”
• Everything from the canteen is repackaged into little baggies. Items like soap and deodorant dry out. He explained that in ASUs in other prisons, items are transferred into baggies in front of the prisoner, but not at FSP. He is certain that he often is not getting the full amount of the items he paid for.
• Mr. B has lupus and is therefore particularly sensitive to the sun. He’s been denied the hat he has in his property, and told that he can purchase a beanie from canteen to protect his head. Mr. B still has sun spots on his bald head. (Aside from not receiving his hat, he reported that the treatment he receives for his lupus has been adequate.)
Cell searches: Searches are conducted regularly. Generally, their cells and belongings are not trashed, but the men receive no receipts of property taken.
Welfare Checks: The men continue to suffer sleep deprivation from the welfare checks. There are ways that the checks can be implemented by correctional officers to cause less disturbance. For example, the unit door could be left open during the night checks, so the door would only have to be slammed once per check, rather than twice. Keys can be attached and tucked into pockets in a way that would greatly reduce key noise. Also, though correctional officer 1 has a silencer, the correctional officers rarely use it. Thus, men continue to endure the loud bang and lights being shined in their faces all through the night. The correctional officers that care, make efforts to reduce the noise level, and do so significantly.
General Noise: The constant roar of the loud fans is contributing to the symptoms of sleep deprivation, making it difficult to “think or study” and causes severe mood swings. One man reported that they “appeared to be worse” since the strike.
Programming: Mr. B reported that though staff do come around and ask about his educational needs, and provide necessary paperwork, there is no one to help with the actual material, and no proctors. He explained that one is basically left to teach themselves and that is a great challenge and obstacle for many of the men who would like to receive their GED. The fans and welfare checks make it hard to study.
Library: The law library has a cage equipped with a computer, but no manual or personnel to assist. As a result, it’s “practically useless” to many of the men.
Mail: Delays up to 5 weeks are common. Often no explanation is provided. A group 602 over mail delays has been submitted. When Mr. D 1st arrived at FSP ASU, it took almost 3 months for him to start receiving his mail. He reported that the mail service seemed to be improving slightly before the strike, but then got worse again when the strike started.
Books: The literature available is basically limited to religious materials or magazines that one can pick up on their way to and from showers, as well as other miscellaneous books that are passed around from time to time.
• The ASU yard cages are dirty.
• They have no pull-up bars or anything at all.
• Sometimes not even shade, creating a serious health risk for some.
• The men are reportedly receiving the required minimum of 10 hours yard time per week.
• “Strip Outs”: the strip search protocol is degrading and unnecessary. The men are forced to strip down, and then parade through the prison on their way to yard, in only their boxers and shoes – even when it’s raining – in front of other inmates as well as correctional officers, both male and female. They can get dressed once in the yard/kennel, and then have to completely strip down again before returning to their cell, even though they’ve had no contact with anybody or access to anything since the earlier search. Again, they are forced to parade through the prison, half naked.
• Mr. D reported that most ASUs are being refitted for longer term use; essentially into new SHU cells.
• NOTE: CPF received a letter from FSP ASU dated 6/4/17 which included a copy of a FSP memo dated June 29, 2017 regarding canteen shortages, an act of retaliation according to the prisoner who forwarded us the memo.
• Mr. D emphasized that the problems aren’t the correctional officers fault; that they were just following orders from the top. And they were also dissatisfied with the way things are run in ASU. He wants outside advocates to meet with the authorities in Sacramento to demand that the property matrix be changed.