Oct 01, 2010
From Prison Focus Issue 35
The present report is based on dozens of letters with prisoners at California State Prison at Corcoran (CSP-
COR) and 34 in-depth interviews conducted by CPF representatives in 2009 and 2010. The report suggests that prison conditions have not improved since our last comprehensive report on conditions at Corcoran (see CPF report “Corcoran State Prison 2004-2006: Inside California’s Brutal Maximum Security Prison”). In some areas, conditions have worsened with prison officials generally citing budget cuts and the economy for the deteriorating prison environment.
Together these conditions constitute a consistent pattern of legal, medical, and general human rights violations that are absolutely unacceptable. CPF notes that not all prison guards or CSP-COR staff abuse prisoner rights. In the words of one prisoner “there are good guards and bad guards, good doctors and bad doctors.” Nevertheless, the reports received by CPF demonstrate that strong patterns of misconduct exist such that the problem cannot be reduced to “a few bad apples.”
The major complaints contained in this report include excessive use of force by prison guards, bogus validation of gang activity leading to solitary confinement, serious medical neglect, racial discriminatory treatment against Hispanic prisoners, failed administrative grievance procedures (that is, blatant denial of 602 complaint process as stipulated by prison regulations), denial of effective use of law library, poor sanitary and general health conditions, and denial of minimal food, laundry, mail, and property rights.
NOTE: The identities of specific prisoners will not be revealed in this report to protect them against common retaliatory practices by prison guards and staff at CSP-COR. Such retaliation, while itself a violation under several sections of California Law Title 15 (see §3004, §3271, §3402, §3486, and §3391), frequently occurs according to prisoners. One prisoner refused to meet with CPF representatives in April of 2009 specifically due to fear of retaliation from prison guards. Prisoners will be referred to with a different letter from the alphabet each time their correspondence or interview is referenced.
II. Assaults and Excessive Use of Force
Incidents of assaults and excessive use of force continue at CSP-COR. Prisoner A stated that he was taken from his cell under suspicion of staff assault. He was handcuffed, put into a kneeling position with his head touching the wall, and left in the cold night for 4 hours. Correctional officers (COs) then hit him in the back of the head, pulled his hair, slammed his face against the wall, stepped on his feet while he had them crossed in front of him. They also slapped him when he was passing out because of exhaustion. He was dragged into a different and his foot was hitting doors and trash cans along the way. He was put into a holding cell where CO Kirkland pushed him down with his weight. He was taken to a cell with one other prisoner and kept there for a long time. The cell had a flooded toilet, and the blankets and sheets were stuffed inside the toilet. The prisoners had nothing to wear except the boxer shorts, t-shirts and the socks they were wearing. They had no mattress or any way to cover from the cold. Their food was thrown from the tray slot and poured all over the floor.
CSP-COR staff also attempt to force incompatible inmates into housing together. Prisoner B, who was housed on a special needs (protective) yard, was placed by CSP-COR staff on the main line (general population) with another inmate. A fight broke out between the two inmates and CO Kalkis sprayed Prisoner B with pepper spray on the side of the face. Subsequently, he reported not being able to hear out of that ear and it still hurts. He also received a 115 for fighting, which will affect his release date. This incident should have been avoided due to Prisoner B’s condition as a special needs yard inmate.
Prisoner C also reported that when he and other prisoners refused to be housed with incompatible inmates, the guards take them to a “rotunda” cage with no water, toilet, or heat for 24 hours. They only have a mattress on the floor, but it is impossible to sleep.
Prisoner D reported that he was pepper-sprayed following an incident with a prison guard because the prisoner did not receive his special meal he normally receives due to religious observances. He told the guard that something was missing from his tray, but then told the guard, “Just give me the regular meal.” The guard responded by holding onto to the tray when Prisoner D tried to accept it through the slot. When the guard suddenly released it, the food spilled all over and then he had nothing to eat. Then the guard sprayed a whole can of pepper spray on Prisoner D who was unable to sleep all night. Prisoner E reported that another prisoner was in a fist fight the Thursday before our visit and got shot seven times with a “block gun”. (19 shots were fired.) These guns use hard rubber bullets. He says, “If they hit you in the head, it can put you in a coma.”) That prisoner has bruises etc. on his butt cheek, neck, etc. etc. and his hand is purple. He can’t use the hand, and it’s probably broken. For this they gave him only one ibuprofen.
Other prisoners reported current physical difficulties due to past beatings by CDCR guards (both at CSP-COR and other prisons). Prisoner F reported suffering a stroke after being beaten by prison guards on one occasion.
Prisoner G reported that another prisoner in 4A (whose identity he does not know) is apparently a non-English speaking individual who has been severely assaulted by CSP-COR prison guards. He wanted to check on the welfare of this prisoner.
Prisoner H reported that he saw another inmate being pushed through a door and a sergeant went through the door and beat him, cracking his arm bones.
III. False Gang Validations
Many prisoners report that they are validated as gang members with evidence that is clearly false or using procedures that do not follow the Castillo settlement. Prisoners report that any material in their possession that refers to George Jackson in any publication constitutes evidence of gang activity. George Jackson was a renowned San Quentin prisoner who organized resistance to blatantly racist conditions of prisons in the 1960s and 1970s, founding the Black Family as a resistance movement among prisoners and non-prisoners. Some later leaders of this movement subsequently became involved in gang activities, but this does not mean that anyone with anything by or about George Jackson is actively or passively involved in gang activities.
Prisoner I noted that he was validated as a gang member in part because he had a book written by George Jackson in his possession.
Of special concern to CPF is that the fact that the CDCR has used the mere possession of an issue of our newsletter, Prison Focus, that mentioned George Jackson and Black August, as evidence of gang-related activities. Prisoner J reported that our newsletter was used to validate him as a gang member. CPF categorically rejects this association in the strongest terms possible and calls on the CDCR to refrain immediately from associating any material produced by CPF with gang activities.
CPF has received hundreds of requests for its legal manual on how to challenge a prison gang validation, even though we ask for a $20 donation to cover costs. Prisoners generally report that the SHU cells are overflowing and Administrative Segregation Units are now being filled with prisoners with indeterminate SHU sentences. CDCR officials use the torturous conditions of SHU confinement (see VIII below) against the prisoner in order to find out more about prison gangs. CDCR officials pressure prisoners to “debrief” (that is, implicate others who are involved in gang activities) so that they can get out of SHU and sent to a special needs yard.
Prisoner K reported several pieces of fabricated material used against him (details omitted in order not to identify the prisoner). He suggests that CSP-COR officials are trying to “break” mainline prisoners by plucking out those with any sort of “structure” (meaning psychological balance, ability to think for oneself and stand up for one’s rights) and trying to “break” them (psychologically) by keeping them in solitary confinement SHU cells.
Prisoner L reported that he was offered release from the SHU. When he arrived at general population housing, he was asked to sign a prepared statement that implicated another prisoner of being a member of a known prison gang. He refused to sign and was re-validated using over-six-year-old evidence from a prison where he was previously housed.
IV. Serious Medical neglect
Several complaints about medical neglect reveal a strong pattern of consistently denying the right to minimal levels of medical attention. Most often prisoners are simply refused doctors’ appointments when they are sick
and in severe pain. Complaints about not getting a doctor’s appointment go unanswered (see section VI below). Prisoners have to wait in some cases for weeks or months for a doctor’s visit and then, after a co-pay of $5.00, may only bring up a single medical issue in that visit. Prisoner medications have been arbitrarily canceled without any direction from the attending physician, including extra strong medications for severe pain.
Prisoner M reported getting his heart medication on time for the first ten days after being transferred to CSP-COR, but then went without these medications for the next 30 days.
Hepatits C is rampant within the prison, and prisoners with this disease report they are unable to get treatment if they are in the first or second stages. This neglect leads to many prisoners advancing to the third stage of Hep-C which is both more costly for the prison to treat and is more likely to lead to liver cancer, liver failure, and death of prisoners. Prisoner N reported that he has been trying to obtain treatment for Hep-C during the last four years and to date has not been treated.
Prisoner O was denied dental treatment. He is trying to have the remaining loose teeth in his mouth removed so that he can get dentures, but the state refuses to do so stating they are under obligation to save his remaining “good” teeth. However his remaining teeth are loose and could be pulled. This situation severely affects how much he is able to eat.
Prisoner P stated that there was no doctor on his yard at the time of CPF’s visit in April of 2009—only a nurse practitioner. He reported that she told him angrily that he did not need his vitamins and took them away even though he had paid for them.
V. Racial Discriminatory Treatment Against Hispanic Prisoners
Prisoner Q reports that the CSP-COR staff discriminates against Hispanic prisoners based on their race in direct violation of Title 15 §3004 (c). Hispanic prisoners have been ordered on lockdown for the past 11 months following an altercation from last summer, even as non-Hispanic prisoners are not locked down. Under lockdown conditions, they are denied more rights than prisoners currently under punishment for prison violations who are housed in Administrative Segregation. Hispanics are being denied access to yard time, canteen, and even have shortened showers.
VI. Failed Administrative Grievance (602) Procedure
A ll prisoners complained about the Administrative Grievance Procedure, also known as the 602 process. This process includes both informal and formal procedures designed to allow for the opportunity of immediate staff to respond to prisoner complaints before appeals to higher levels of administration.
At the informal level, prisoner complaints are simply being ignored. Several prisoners report that their 602 forms are either being screened out (denied without the possibility of appeal) without proper justification or are simply getting “lost” without ever being logged. At the formal level, prisoners must appeal their 602 complaint in a timely fashion if their request is denied. Prisoners report that prison staff regularly return the denial of their requests after the appeal due date, thus effectively denying their right to appeal.
Prisoner R reported that he sent in six 602 forms in the last six months. He did not receive a response to a single one. Prisoner S wrote several 602s in order to get his medications back after they were cut off. He was subsequently severely limited in the number of 602s that he was able to hand in.
VII. Denial of Effective Use of Law Library
As with the 602 process, dozens of prisoners complained about CSP-COR staff denying their ability to use the law library in an effective manner. In some cases, prisoners reported that the time was so limited they could not carry out effective legal investigations. In addition, some prisoners were denied the ability to make photocopies even at their own expense or to check out materials, in violation of Title 15 §3120. Most prisoners complained about not being able to get to the law library, and those with access reported very limited hours.
Prisoner T stated that he is allowed to use the law library only once every four to fi ve weeks for two hours at a time. Other prisoners complained about not being allowed to use the law library since they are unable to get on the PLU (preferred library users) list.
VIII. Lack of Minimal Health and Sanitary Conditions
Especially noteworthy during this visit with SHU inmates, prisoners complained of the torturous conditions of sensory deprivation. SHU inmates are supposed to receive yard exercise time every day, but some do not because some of the yard cages are “broken.” 602 complaints about this issue receive no response.
Prisoner U reported the high and constant noise level in 4A. He noted that the radio playing by the prison guards, which cannot even by muffled by ear plugs, wears out the prisoners psychologically and may cause prisoners to “snap” or become suicidal. He also claimed that noisy inmates are to be placed in a special room or area away from the rest of the inmates in order to keep noise levels down to acceptable levels and this is not being done.
Prisoners do not receive enough soap or sanitary products to maintain a minimal level of sanitary conditions in the prison. Prisoner V reported that many prisoners were not issued shower shoes for as many as 30 days after their arrival to CSPCOR and for that reason did not shower. [One is allowed to shower without shower shoes but runs a high risk of catching bacterial diseases]. He also noted that in 2R, prisoners didn’t receive disinfectant for one stretch of three months in a row, and in 4B-1R they didn’t receive disinfectant for 70 days.
Prisoner W reported that regularly scheduled power and water outages are occurring at CSP-COR. When power and water go out, prisoners have to be escorted to a single bathroom in each building and must otherwise wait for long periods of time (up to six hours) to relieve themselves. These shutdowns happened twice in June and prisoners are only given two days notice before an outage.
Prisoner X claimed that laundry service has been poor because it was transferred from a general population yard (A) to a special needs yard (C). Prisoners have had to 602 requests to get all of their clothing back because the laundry would come back with items missing or all mixed up. Prisoner Y told us that he received only one laundry change in six months between October 2008 and April 2009. He stated that prisoners were washing their own clothes in the toilets and sinks.
Recently laundry issues seemed to have been corrected.
IX. Denial of Minimal Food Rights
N early all prisoners reported that food portions had become increasingly smaller and were inadequate to maintain their normal health. Food portions are so small that prisoners are losing weight at a rapid rate. Prisoner Z reported losing 15 pounds in two months. Prisoners receive only two meals a day, with dinner served at 4 pm making it very hard to get through to the next morning. Most prisoners who are able to supplement their diet with food from the canteen cannot imagine how prisoners with no funds are able to survive. Portions are often served less than the minimal serving sizes, watered down, cold, and sometimes undercooked (such as potatoes). Prisoner AA who is a vegetarian has tried to get on a vegetarian diet for more than 12 months, but none of his 602s receive a response.
X. Denial of Mail Service
Prisoner AB noted that mail service has recently improved, but in the period prior to our June 2010 visit, the mail was running extremely slow, taking up to 30 days to get delivered. Many other prisoners complained about the long time to receive mail and Prisoner AC claimed that his mail was illegally tampered with by prison officials.
XI. Denial of Property Rights
Prisoners reported having their property confiscated and then disposed of without their consent and without the opportunity to forward some of their property to their family members-- in violation of Title 15 §3191. Prisoner AD reported that when he was transferred from Pelican Bay, he did not receive his property for 30 days. When he received his property, much of it was missing, including a picture of his parents who are now deceased. He had not had the opportunity to send it to family members.
Prisoner AE reported that new arrivals often wait between 70 and 90 days to receive their property after a move even though they are supposed to receive it within 15 days. When a prisoner submits a 602 form to get their property back, they must include a property inventory sheet which they do not have because it is located with their property. Inmates are not allowed to bring any property with them on the transfer bus.
XII. Summary and Recommendations
At Corcoran State Prison, there are ongoing violations of prisoner’s rights to sanitary and healthy conditions, health care, mail, access to legal research materials, and their rights to be free from racial discrimination and physical abuse by prison staff. The grievance procedure that should safeguard their rights is simply broken. Finally, many “gang validations” are based on specious evidence.
CPF calls on the warden, prison guards, investigative personnel, and all other staff at CSP-COR to adhere to Title 15 regulations and respect the fundamental rights of prisoners. In addition, we call on state offi cials, including Governor Schwarzenegger, CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, Attorney General Brown, members of the State Assembly, and Sara Malone, acting ombudsman for CSP-COR, to investigate these serious allegations of maltreatment of prisoners and to hold all responsible prison officials and staff administratively and criminally accountable for these deplorable practices.