From Prison Focus Issue #49
This report is from letters from men at the California Correctional Institution Tehachapi sent to CPF and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. We report all information anonymously to prevent retaliation by prison guards. Any quotes come directly from prisoners.
SECURITY HOUSING UNIT TO CLOSE?
Rumors have been flying that Tehachapi will soon be closing their SHU and converting the unit to a different type of housing. These rumors have not been confirmed by CDCr officials. However, the number of people at the SHU in Tehachapi has dramatically reduced in recent months, with CDCr’s own reports showing that the population in the Tehachapi SHU has reduced from 1,057 people in April 2015 to 151 people in April 2016. We are hopeful that these numbers continue to decrease until we can report that the Tehachapi SHU is no longer!
Over the winter, the most common complaint from those at Tehachapi regarded the complete lack of heat in the cells. Given that outside temperatures can drop to freezing or below, the lack of heat is a serious issue that creates inhumane conditions. Despite reports from multiple prisoners who filed Request for Interviews (Form 22s) and 602 Appeals, “maintenance seems committed to ignoring the problem. I feel I have done, and continue to do all I possibly can concerning this issue but seem to have exhausted my options with still no resulting improvement in the circumstances.”
As the 602 appeals process is the only process available to prisoners to improve cell conditions, we encourage everyone to continue the process of pursuing any still-active 602 appeals to the director level, even if the cold is not at this time as unbearable as it was during the winter. Cell conditions such as extreme heat and cold have been found to violate prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, but these cases will only be heard if the 602 process is completed timely through the top level of appeal. See, e.g., Ball v. LeBlanc, 792 F.3d 584 (5th Cir. 2015) (finding Louisiana prison officials “deliberately indifferent” to cell conditions of extreme heat on Angola’s death row up to 108 degrees in violation of the Eighth Amendment). Letters and copies of appeals can also be shared with Sara Smith, CDCr Ombudsman for CCI, Office of the Ombudsman, 1515 S Street, Room 311 South Sacramento, CA 95811.
Along with the cold temperatures, we have received multiple reports that sanitation at Tehachapi is at an all-time low. The entire section is filthy, and neither prisoners nor guards ever clean the unit. The plumbing has severe issues and contributes to this problem. Mr. X reports, “When I use the bathroom and flush the toilet, the neighbor’s toilet flushes instead of mine.” Overflows are not uncommon, leading to contaminated floors and unsanitary cells. While plumbers have occasionally been sent in to investigate, they reportedly tell those suffering that the prison is not willing to spend the money necessary to fix the problem.
Complaints about medical care have slowed in recent months, but it is unclear if this is due to the lower number of people in the SHU. Mr. J reported that he developed a bacterial infection on back of his head, which he believes is from filthy showers. The prison doctor, Dr. Tate, prescribed Mr. J a medication he was allergic to, leading to a medical emergency and a trip to the outside hospital. Prisoners have previously reported that Dr. Tate was previously fired for poor medical practices, but has since been re-hired at CCI.
From the very first reports CPF has issued about this prison, illegal property confiscation have been a major issue. We continue to receive reports of aggressive cell searches, the taking of legal papers, and “loss” of property when individuals are moved to/from/or within CCI. For instance, Mr. R reported that all of his legal materials related to an upcoming parole hearing were taken from his cell, making him uncertain that he will be able to properly present his case when the hearing comes.
The closed-circuit TVs at CCI do have a number of educational courses, including selp-help, GED, and college courses. Unfortunately, technical problems with the TVs have prevented some men from keeping up with their coursework. These technical problems have the functional impact of holding men back from earning milestone credits and rehabilitation certificates related to their educational accomplishments, which could help in achieving parole and in evaluating their security risk when they are transferred out of the SHU.
We welcome any and all reports on conditions at Tehachapi regarding the issues covered here or any other issues that you may be experiencing.