Human Reports Search

Aug 10, 2018

The Use and Misuse of Confidential Information in California State Prisons

Matthew Byrne and Marisa Endicott

keywords: informants, confidential reports, debriefing

From Prison Focus Issue 56

California Prison Focus (CPF) has chronicled a pervasive pattern of abuse regarding the use of confidential information in at least 13 California prisons. Inmate-generated reports revealed misuse of confidential information to subject incarcerated individuals to the SHU and other forms of punishment as well as to the delay or denial of privileges and even parole. CPF noticed a worrisome two-fold pattern taking place. First, formal reports filed by Confidential Informants (CIs) were used for validating alleged gang-members, narcotics smuggling, assaults, and even homicide, as well as other undisclosed uses. Second, as a result of refusing to debrief on their incarcerated peers (become a confidential informant), incarcerated individuals alleged retaliatory actions by correctional officers. CI’s are given incentive to lie or exaggerate.There often is a lack of vetting or corroboration of CI statements, yet, these debriefs are relied on heavily with potentially grave consequences, including putting inmates’ welfare, safety and freedom in jeopardy.

This report spans from April 2016 to present and includes reports from the following prisons: Corcoran State Prison, Pelican Bay State Prison, CCI Tehachapi, Folsom State Prison, Salinas Valley State Prison, CSP Sacramento, USP Atwater, CIM Chino, Palm Hill, Wasco State Prison, Soledad, Correctional Training Facility - Soledad, Richard J Donovan Correctional Facility at Rock Mountain, and the Deuel Vocational Institute.

Pattern of Abuses, Misuses and Overuse of 1030s

“This [the abuse of debriefing and confidential informants] is an ongoing issue that is affecting a lot of individuals.” – Anonymous

Inmates report a range of abuses when it comes to the use of confidential informants. This includes active recruiting of informants, coerced debriefing, improper use in gang validations and use of CI reports as a means to retaliate against prisoners.

Recruiting, Coercion & Overuse:

• “He has filed multiple confidential entries into my file claiming inmates tell him I sell drugs and that I want to assault staff. Other inmates have filed complaints on this corrupt officer because he tried to recruit them. He is untouchable.”
• “CRC is actively running a snitch breeding program from top down.”
• One prisoner noted that officers make use of the dormitory setup to facilitate confidential informants coming forward: “It is easier for “jailhouse snitches” to coordinate with the correctional officers. They actually have a sign in every housing unit recruiting snitches with a phone number directly to a[n] ISU Lieutenant.”
• One prisoner was allegedly informed he was an active Mexican Mafia member and was placed on Ad-Seg despite the fact that he was no longer affiliated. He was told that in order to be transferred to a sensitive needs yard, he would have to debrief. “All I wanted was clear passage to an SNY yard. On 11/03/16, Lt Rivera IGI brought me a 37 page “debrief questionnaire” to be filled out if I wanted to transfer. On 11/04/16 I went to ICC and was then notified of the Ashker agreement given an intramediary SNY chrono and put in for immediate transfer to Corcoran DPU program debriefing processing unit.”

Improper Use of 1030’s in Gang Validations:

The improper use of 1030s in gang validations comprise the bulk of reports from incarcerated individuals. The vast majority of 1030-facilitated gang validations were made against men of color, based on the ethnic makeup of the gangs to which they supposedly belonged. There is a serious concern that allegedly misused 1030’s have prevented inmates from getting parole.

According to 2014 guidelines by Prison Law Office “the CDCR must have a certain amount of information” in order “to validate a prisoner as an STG [Security Threat Group - aka gang member] member or an associate.” To be considered “valid”, any debriefing information must go through a general protocol. The basic rule is that a validation requires at least three independent source items with a combined value of 10 points or greater, plus some "information/activity indicative of" membership or association. The source items can date from any time, except that photographs, must be no more than four years old. For validation as a member or associate of an STG-1, there is an additional requirement that at least one of the source items must be a "direct link" to a current or former validated STG member or associate or to a person who was validated within six months of the activity described in the source item.
• “Their points were invented by the same group of gang investigators, therefore, when you compare their paperwork you see a clear pattern in which the same informants and source items were used in all of the cases: drawings, letters (often misinterpreted) and the Machactlomei symbol, which, prior to 2008, had never been used as a point.”
• One prisoner wrote: “[I] remained unsuitable for parole for my alleged ongoing gang affiliation because [he] refuse[s] to debrief and that [he] allegedly lack insight and remorse within my prison committing offense and because [he] failed to admit guilt in said case”.

Use of CIs & Debriefs to Retaliate Against or Silence Prisoners:

• “Once I was released from Ad-Seg, the courts wrote back saying that my lawsuits have been filled for excessive force, once they found out that they were being charged, they printed out false paperwork to make me look like a prison rat and had inmates try to kill me, Correctional Officers [names withheld] did this.”
• "A while back I was sent to the hospital for a MRI. They attempted to cover it up, but I'll continue to bring it up to get my credit for it. There's too much evidence to cover it up. Now they're trying to do their best to use the confidential information against me. You know by corrupt guards to telling inmates. These guards love to look through the computer to see if they can smut inmates up even if it's something good and twist the truth!"
• “There is a serious flaw at the institutional head policy level at CRC with systemic abuse when any correctional officer, including a rogue such as [name withheld] who has an open prisoner rights lawsuit filed on him can write confidential information into inmates’ files who write staff complaints on them. I really have a grievance with this when this same confidential information is being used to give inmates RVRs, SHU terms, and DA referrals with no evidence whatsoever and the inmate cannot challenge or question any evidence/confidential info.”

Retaliation against Incarcerated Individuals Who Refuse to Debrief:

• “Bogus violation reports all stemming from me not turning into an informant”, which has led to “mental warfare and harassment and covering up the violation of my rights, and tampering with my mail to the point where they are purposefully taking out letters intended for one person, and switching it with outgoing letters intended for the other person.”
• Another inmate said he “was battered by an inmate here at Salinas Valley State Prison, [. . .] denied medical treatment, which [he] [has] proof of[,] [. . .] I was just placed by in my cell and force[d] by threats to sign a chrono, I was told if I did not sign[,] I will be placed in the hole and lose my property.”
• "ICC retained me in ad-seg and told me I have 2 options [to] [undergo][:] the debriefing process or go back to Pelican bay SHU for the RCGP.”
• “Now I’m being told I have to debrief, turn in another autobiography or go to Corcoran State Prison SHU.”
• One prisoner reported a correctional officer confiscated his personal property and refused to return it unless he agreed to inform on other inmates (a supposedly common practice for this C.O.). When the prisoner refused, the officer threatened to plant a phone on him among other things. The inmate said he filed a complaint and fortunately has two other C.O.s testimony corroborating the abuse.

Unreliability of Debriefs and Incentive to Lie or Exaggerate

Informants can be notoriously unreliable sources of information due to the fact that they may have incentive to lie or exaggerate, either because an officer can offer him something or threaten him or for other reasons like personal conflicts and debts and state of mind. It is important to note, however, that it appears that peer-to-peer misue of debriefs makes up a smaller portion of the debriefing abuse than that by correctional officers and prison officials.
• “When CRC disregards the dangers of relying solely on jailhouse snitches and arrest accused inmates with no other evidence, the inmate is being sand bagged because he must be told how the snitch was used, what additional info the snitch was given because it may be exculpatory to his defense and what arrangements or favors the snitch may have received. Was the snitch negotiations made while he was on drugs/meds, beat up, or while in good health? What is the background of the snitch?”
• One prisoner, incarcerated for nearly 25 years, stated that “the majority of the inmates making such “confidentially construed” statements against another inmate only do so because they believe they will not be discovered for doing so, are often found to be deliberately false, confused, misleading and patently vindictive”. Debriefing is incentivized to a degree as a means to “(1) get transferred from one prison to another; (2) to “get off the yard” to avoid being assaulted because of an unpaid drug debt; and 3) or a CI-inmate an accuse another inmate of being disruptive, while the inmates being accused shows the contrary by his proactive approach to participate in multiple self-help groups.”
• “CI-inmates have already learned that they can use this confidential wherewithal as a “pay back” towards other inmates for one reason or another, or for no reason whatsoever.”
• “Confidential informants are awarded certain privileges by prison officials, to cover for them, by lying in the shoes of truth, to justify and protect the misconduct of these employees which happen to be prison officials.”
• One prisoner explained that impunity is inherent to the process of 1030’s for two reasons: “staff will place the “statements” into the file of the targeted inmate, thus helpin[g] the CI, and harming only the targeted inmate”, and “there is never any real dispute about what a “CI” tells a correctional staff person…Where the truth certainly had failed, the lies are always meant to substitute; the facts run contrary to the lies.”

Denial or Delay of Rights, Privileges & Parole Based on Potentially Unreliable Information

There is serious concern that unverified debriefs are relied upon heavily or improperly in administering measures as harsh as solitary confinement. Over two years after the Ashker case settled, reports still trickle in to our organization about SHU abuses brought on by improper, inappropriate uses of confidential informants.
• Two incarcerated individuals noted that they were mandated to join the Step Down Program as a result of allegedly improper 1030’s: “Claiming an STG [Security Threat Group] nexus and they want to try to send me back to the SHU for the Step Down Program, no gang related ties even exist since there are no drugs nor is there a conspiracy.”
• “At Atwater I’m in hole for nothing. [name withheld] said that I snitched on a man named Oozy, I don’t even know this man. They got me on P.C. I didn’t even request it or sign for it. […] they are forcing me in a cell with people that I can’t even be with.”

Moreover, it seems that unsubstantiated information can hold serious weight in parole decisions, potentially preventing an inmate’s legitimate chance at freedom. The lack of transparency contributes to the CI system’s misuse and exploitation, and because information on debrief specifics seems to be often withheld from accused prisoners, they cannot adequately defend themselves.
• A prisoner at RJD detailed how his petition to advance his parole hearing was denied solely on the basis of confidential information claiming he was, “involved in the illegal distribution of drugs and cellphones. This despite the fact that the prisoner had never received a Rules Violation for possession of drugs or cellphones in his 24 years of incarceration. The Board of Parole Hearings admitted that the confidential information was given “significant weight” in the decision, overruling the fact that the prisoner was now recognized as a youthful offender under SB 261 & Penal Code §3051 and had fulfilled all of the recommendations made by the panel following his initial denial of parole four years prior (at which time he was not recognized as a youthful offender). The board acknowledged that in that time he had earned a GED, numerous AA degrees, participated in a bevy of self-help programs, received multiple laudatory “chronos,” and had remained disciplinary-free since his last hearing.

As a system, it appears that debriefing offers relatively comprehensive immunity to an informant, while shifting burden of proof on to the individual about whom the report is written. Rather than investigate these instances of abuse (which are clearly an open secret), it appears that prison officials and correctional officers are sometimes complicit in the abuses. We hope that this report will bring to light the alleged improper uses of the confidential informant (ie. debriefing) system, so that it may be implemented in a more just manner. Please continue to report to us any misuses or abuses.

*Names have been withheld to protect the identity of reporting inmates.

Aug 10, 2018

Physical Abuse and Retaliation

Jeff Trembath, Kim Pollak, and Rallie Murray

keywords: physical abuse, retaliation

From Prison Focus Issue 56

Based on years of concurring reports from people inside California’s prisons, physical assault and the inciting of violence by prison guards is a serious, on-going problem. In fact, CPF receives reports of guard assault from imprisoned people nation-wide. Physical abuse in California prisons is not a new issue to contend with. Although California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR or commonly referred to as CDCr, due to their lack of rehabilitative programming) claims to be interested in the welfare of the people whom it holds in custody, one need only look at the piles of concurring letters from the experts – those who live it - to see the severity of the cruelty and harm they are causing.

Violence is a way of exercising power over the imprisoned population; to break peoples’ spirits, keep them in their place and terrorize them into silence. The threat and occurrence of physical violence is used in conjunction with other threats to coerce people to debrief (become an informant) and to make other decisions desired by correctional officers (COs), which often endanger prisoners’ safety and lives. It is an attempt to discourage filing appeals, complaints and lawsuits, and a form of retaliation after individuals do so. Inciting violence leads to unwarranted written violations and charges that are placed in ones file resulting in loss of privileges and up to 15-year parole denials. In addition, these violations may result in years of solitary confinement. Even if an investigation ultimately finds the prisoner innocent of the charges, the individuals is usually held in Administrative Segregation until an investigation is completed. These investigations can take years, while one languishes in the horrible conditions of extreme isolation. Physical assault and inciting violence through excessive use of force provides guards with unfounded justification for putting prisoners on long-term lockdowns, where they may not be let out of their cells (except for showers?) for weeks or months at a time, losing “privileges”, including programming, phone calls and family visits. When group violence breaks out, triggered by excessive use of force by guards (See Pelican Bay Report on pg. ?) the incident is usually referred to as a “prisoner riot”, a form of propaganda attempting to justify the killing and abusive treatment of prisoners. In addition, Correctional Officers often take no action to stop violence they witness, that they may or may not have incited in the first place.

The likelihood of being brutalized by law enforcement, especially for black and brown men, both inside and outside the prison walls, puts a huge segment of our society in danger of having their life and liberty taken from them. Since the widespread use of cell phones and social media, public has finally been exposed to the extent of police brutality towards people of color across the country. But the general public is not aware of the extreme brutality taking place in jails and prisons across the country. And when they do hear of it, people tend to believe the false narrative of the “authority” over the people labeled as “criminals”, or simply don’t care because they assume people in prison deserve it. They are unaware of prison guard culture, the code of silence, the corruption, discrimination and lack of repercussions for those in positions of power and authority who violate CDCr policies, state and federal law and UN sanctioned human rights.

Though the Corcoran State Prison gladiator fights of the 1990s were exposed and allegedly (by CDCr) ended, the culture that allowed such egregious actions on the part of the prison guards, it has not changed a bit. Indeed in 2015, sheriffs at the San Francisco jail were accused of running a “fight club”, forcing people under their authority to participate in gladiatorial-style combat. Though CPF has consistently received prisoner reports on physical abuse since our inception in 1989, before and after the exposure of the gladiator fights, the following report is based on reports received by California prisoner just since January 2017. All names are withheld to protect individuals from further abuse.

A report about a prisoner’s time at Salinas Valley Prison told of an assault by guards against a man on suicide watch who was forced to smash his head against the wall repeatedly, then told to hang himself . “He [tied] the cloth around his neck!...lucky the cloth broke but it [was] still tied around his neck.” The violence did not end there, as the guards proceeded to pepper spray him and slam him onto the ground several times before calling medical. Another letter, calls out the COs at Salinas Valley State Prison for putting EOP/DDP inmates directly in harm's way.

People with psychiatric issues and even those with mental health status (in other words, individuals of whom staff are well aware of their level of vulnerability) are reportedly targeted for harassment and assault. A man at California State Prison – Los Angeles (CSP-LA) stated that officers there “have a reputation...for excessive force against Black mentally ill inmates.” A man from CSP-Sacramento Psychiatric Services Unit (PSU) reported, “I was beat so bad my back was broken… I underwent surgery…I still have nightmares and am in constant back pain...I was also forced to swallow urine and feces mixture on two separate occasions.” (See report on CSP-SAC PSU in Prison Focus, Issue 52)

Letters documenting abuse go on. At Corcoran State Prison (COR) and at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) people have been beaten inside and outside of their cells. A man wrote of witnessing four guards assaulting and beating a fellow prisoner in the man’s cell. Another report describes how the writer’s hand was crushed by a guard in the heavy door of his cell, and that his “fingers became swollen, especially my middle-finger, which had a ⅓ inch gash.” When a guard attempted this again he managed to jump out of the way in time to avoid being crushed. Yet another described being attacked inside his cell while handcuffed., After the COs beat him they threw a sheet over his head and around his neck. After passing out he says “I felt more kicks and punches. I fell out of the wheel chair directly in front of the ASU front door... I knew something bad was going to happen this time because they didn’t press their that point, I had no more fight in me and I was dragged back to my cell where I just laid in pain.”

The following are just a few of the many statements regarding physical assault, compiled by CPF from prisoner reports received from seven different prisons across California, including some of those mentioned above.

California State Prison Sacramento
• After having been falsely accused of violence against guards, a man tells use “I was dragged to the gym - stomped, and kicked...Police [are] attacking African Americans.” July, 2017
• “I had a fight in the yard...Three C.O.s ran over beat me breaking my left knee in half...I [had] screws and wires put in my knee… and it took 40 hours. They retaliated on me after I started with the paperwork...and filed it with the court.” July, 2017
• “I was violently shoved to the wall, then the floor roughly with a boot to my ribs of this date, my ribs are still painfully hurting and my back too.” 2017
• “I’ve been mistreated for all of my prison time and county time. C/Os use my DDP status against me as well as other EOP/DDP inmates. All of the prisons I’ve been to have mistreated all EOP/DDP inmates...They want to hurt [them].”
• "A while back at CSP Sacramento, correctional officers threw away all my property, beat me twice and charged me with battery and found a weapon in my cell which I ended up spending two years in court for. I wrote several extremely well-written Inmate Grievances detailing everything that occurred, naming everyone involved and charging the whole administration that did not intervene with “deliberate indifference”. I also made some very serious allegations against custody saying in writing that they were selling drugs, leaking documents and participating in organized murder with inmates. I outlined the process in writing saying: Correctional officers are engaging in criminal activity and if inmates report anything, mental health personnel persuade the inmate to write everything down, make copies, and give them to specific influential inmates who themselves make copies and send them to prisons up and down the state to have this inmate stabbed and/or blacklisted; given inadequate medical and mental health care. I requested a senate investigation and an internal affairs investigation but because I really couldn’t prove any of it, it was all swept under the rug. I found myself at the center of a firestorm that triggered a significant adverse personnel response and resulted in me being completely ex-communicated by the inmate population and all personnel. Things got very scary. I told custody I was suicidal to try to get transferred out... And correctional officers at CSP-Sacramento are using false pretexts to try to get me transferred back to CSP Sacramento. I don't even know what to do.”

• California State Prison – Los Angeles
• “[Officers] have a reputation...for excessive force against Black mentally ill inmates.”

• Richard J Donovan State Prison
• “…At approximately 12 pm an inmate was being held in the cage in front of my cell and many others… 3 guards tell him to hit his head against the cage, which he does. But hard! A dozen times… He tells them over and over you are telling me to do this! Instead the guards tell him to hand himself, which he starts to do. He ties the cloth around his neck! But they do nothing. They walk away! Luckily the cloth broke… He passes out and goes on his knees and they decide to pepper spray him! They take him out and take it off his neck and body slam him on the cement… They place him in another cage right next to the other one but with handcuffs behind his back! They called medical and took him to CTC! Never seen him again!” August 2017
• “[My brother] was beaten by guards while handcuffed 3 years ago - put into the hospital. He has tried to file official complaints and since then, transferred and threatened to be silenced...when he was beaten he was naked and hands cuffed behind his back. They broke his knee in half and split his head open. He almost died.” 2017

• Salinas Valley Prison
• They (COs) put the EOP/DDP [mental health] inmates in harms way… Salinas Valley Prison guards within the Green Wall hurting any inmate they want or killing any inmate they want dead... I am transgender… and I’m afraid to go out to the yard for fear of them beating me up”
• “I am a transgender EOP/DDP inmate. I’ve gone through a lot of pain and suffering while in prison by the prison guards using illegal use of force. The C/Os always say stop resisting and beat up (the poor inmate) the inmate that they want to hurt.” February 2018 (reported after transferred to RJD)
• “The prison guards beating me up then saying in a write up (115) that I beat up two COs with coffee and a kick. You should look at all my (115’s) - fill in the you can know what truly goes on in the prison system.”

• Corcoran State Prison
• “Then they arrived and put handcuffs on my wrist through a tray slot in the door… I hit my face on the wall; that’s when my lip busted open.. I felt a punch to my lower back toward my right rib… I felt another punch and then was slammed to the ground.” April 2017
• “I witnessed four guards beat [an] inmate... while he was in handcuffs… corrupt COs violate civil rights of mentally ill inmates.” May 2017

• California Medical Facility
• “…while eating chow here at CMF, in the chow hall, I was attacked by an inmate, I was sliced in the face, head, neck and hand by a weapon later found out to be a box cutter. As I was bleeding profusely, the officer stood by and did nothing… I was handcuffed and put into the wall… I was taken to the clinic where they slowed down the bleeding but took their time to get me to the hospital. I received staples to my head plus 63 stitches on my head, face, neck, ear, and hand. Once back at CMF I was sent to administration [segregation]…” March, 2017

• Correctional Training Facility
• “I was battered here by an inmate here… I was denied medical treatment [after] correctional facilities never did an incident report. The next day the same inmate… battered me again… I woke up at [the] hospital with a broken jaw.” May 2018

Location Unknown:
• “Some mentally ill inmates are afraid to approach the COs because of how their responses are.” 2017
• “When they went to put me in a holding cell I resisted them by placing my right foot into the back of the cage. They then slammed me into the ground and started kneeing me in the back of my head and on the side of my face, calling me more racial slurs. After they assaulted and battered me they threw me into the holding cell barely conscious. I suffered a busted lip, chipped tooth, cut on my right eyebrow, and a confused wrist and fractured hand.”
• “With my back facing officers, I was struck with spray, then baton on shoulder. I turned facing them to block more swings which led to knots and bruises on hand/forearms.”

These reports make one question the values on which CDCr claims to base their policies as listed on their website: service, leadership, integrity, accountability, respect, trust and collaboration; or the CDCr goals they list, including workforce excellence, legal compliance, safety, transparency and delivery of health care. CDCR claims that it is their mission to “enhance public safety” and “successfully reintegrate offenders into our communities”. But this is clearly propaganda. Most people, professionals and otherwise, would agree that with so many men, women and LGBTQ individuals leaving California prisons with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and other anxiety disorders, the public is hardly safer, and in fact the risk to the public is significantly and unnecessarily enhanced.

Aug 10, 2018

Orange County Jail Hunger Strike

Rallie Murray

keywords: hunger strike

From Prison Focus Issue 56

Beginning on Wednesday, July 20th, people incarcerated at Orange County Jail engaged in a hunger strike to protest their treatment at the jail. Working with advocates at the Southern California ACLU, the hunger strikers based their demands upon a 2017 report released by the ACLU, calling attention to prolonged isolation, lack of access to medical care, excessive use of force, retaliation for filing grievances, and lack of access to grievance forms.

On July 20th, reports say that the first five participants began refusing meals, and by the second day they were joined by somewhere between 145 and 200 others. On day four of the strike, the two lead organizers – Josh Waring and Johnny Martinez – were moved into isolation, but have since been returned to their cells.

The strike was staggered across ten days, with participants engaging for different periods of time, until the final remaining participant began accepting meals again on July 28th. The strike has been put “on hold” by organizers in order to re-strategize and maintain their health for upcoming actions. ACLU will continue working with families of the prisoners, calling attention to the ongoing problems in the jails and demanding independent oversight of the Sheriffs' Department.

Jun 01, 2018

Conditions Report: CSP-Sacramento

Taeva Shefler

keywords: csp sacramento, harassment, medical

From Prison Focus Issue 55

A recent investigative visit to CSP Sacramento revealed that medical treatment at the facility continues to severely lack community standards, leaving some prisoners in dire condition without treatment, or with deeply inhumane treatment.

Several of the people we spoke with inside had serious medical conditions, which had been left for up to years without treatment. We were told doctors regularly accuse people of “malingering,” or lying about their pain, when in fact they have serious medical conditions impacting basic bodily functions. There are individuals with advanced cancer and organ failure living in regular, non-medical cells. One reported that for days he would be very weak and unable to get out of bed. As a result, he couldn’t get up to get his food tray at the door. His only meals would be lunch, because that came in a box and they would throw that to him and he could pick it up without getting out of bed. Recently, the prison put Advil in the commissary, so now people have to fund their own pain management care instead of the medical staff having to do it.

Mail is a consistent tool for harassment. We have reports of guards reading mail and using its contents to taunt the rightful recipients. To many people, this would be considered a major violation of privacy. Serious mail tampering issues occur at all institutions, but especially at the Corcoran SHU, at PBSP, and at all level IV facilities. For instance, legal and confidential mail is routinely opened. There is never any consequence for this behavior, so officers act with impunity.

Food quality is not good. “Worst food ever.” All the food is steamed, so it loses its nutritional qualities and it has no flavor.

Similar to Corcoran, facilities at CSP-SAC are falling apart. When there is heavy rain, there is regular flood damage. Recently due to rain storms, there were leaks in the C building near the cells and there has been little effort to mitigate the damage. Work orders on facility-related issues are slow to receive responses, if any. In general, sanitation is bad. For instance, there are vents in the buildings that are caked up with so much dust you could put a fork in it. Requests are made to have them cleaned or replaced but they won’t do it. This is terrible for air quality, creating a high risk of mold inhalation, and likely contributing to airborne illnesses within the facilities.

Law library access is frequently a problem. This is an essential part of the Constitution’s supposed guarantee of access to the courts, but it is regularly denied. The library is frequently used for programming unrelated to the library’s purpose, and when it is, it is usually filled to capacity, making it impossible to do research there. The prison needs to make more classroom space and room for positive programming.
Lockdowns have become less frequent, which is welcome, but continue to be destructive. Property is always “lost” or “mislabeled” and never returned. One particularly vindictive move is that of a guard who, during a recent lockdown, stole the spacebar from typewriters during cell searches. The non-functioning typewriter is a problem, especially for those who need them for legal filings in active cases. This is a blatant form of discrimination against writers and jailhouse lawyers.

Throughout the prison system, there is significant stigma around mental health. One form of abuse we’ve witnessed is when guards put people on EOP yards so that when they come out, they are stigmatized by their peers. We have heard from men who have been mis-classified, or are forced mental health care against their consent. This is apparent at CSP SAC, which has several EOP yards.

Jun 01, 2018

Richard J. Donovan Prison Report

Cameron MacKenzie

keywords: richard j donovan, asu, shu, health

From Prison Focus Issue 55

Over the past 12 months, Prison Focus has received a multitude of reports concerning the inhumane conditions, improper staff behavior, and abusive mistreatment of prisoners at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. While these kinds of reports are sadly indicative of the general state of affairs in prisons throughout the US, the disturbing number of letters we have received corroborating heinous staff misconduct and dangerously poor facilities single RJD out as one of the worst prisons currently operating in California.


“Yes I am now here at Donovan. Ad-Seg. This place isn’t fit for ADA inmates. No electricity plug(s) in cells. This has to be the oldest place I’ve been to. Run down.” –J.C.

“Your article on the ‘Donovan’s Ad-Seg’ medical was 100% true!! It’s unbelievable what goes on in here!! So many rule violations – unsafe for mental health inmates…unbelievable what this place gets away with! Medical facility!! My foot!!” – Anon

“I’ve been in multiple ASUs/SHUs and this is by far the worst one” –Anon.

Conditions at RJD are poor to the point of constituting a danger to the mental and physical health of the prisoners forced to endure them. Problems stem from the age of the facility itself (constructed in 1987 with apparently little renovation since), as well as from a lack of proper maintenance. Corroborated examples include:

• A total lack of electrical outlets in Ad-Seg cells, denying prisoners the appropriate property privileges the opportunity to acquire appliances such as TVs or radios, as guaranteed to them by 15 CCR § 3190. This is a particular hardship for prisoners with mental health conditions, and could rise to the level of “cruel and unusual” considering the amount of in-cell time spent by those held in Administrative Segregation. As a veteran prisoner observed, “Every other ASU/Ad-Seg has wall sockets”. According to one correspondent, this deficiency is not just limited to the ASU but also at least some of the General Population Yards. “Also on the mainline on D Yard and other Yards there aren’t outlets. They have to mickey mouse through the light socket. Hazards and violations. Dangerous. They have not insulated or repaired the outlets for years. It’s a code violation for sure. Where is the money being spent? All prisons are (supposed to be) up to date, especially electricity. This is an ADA-SNY Yard too.” Meanwhile, “the C/Os watch football on TV while on duty”.

• The danger of electrical shock goes beyond dangerous wiring from gutted outlets as RJD appears to have a problem with flooding that puts the most vulnerable of prisoners at risk: “The plumbing here is bad. Leaking water in all the chases…In this Ad-Seg they house ADA inmates with breathing problems where they need a machine to plug in[to[. Well they use a cord in the chase that goes under the door. Water is in the chase. Very dangerous.” According to one letter some cells were flooded for over a week without any sight of a plumber. The staff did not even bother to mop.

• Multiple correspondents have attested that the ASU visiting rooms, showers, and yard cages are not ADA compliant, thus furthering the negligence of custodial staff towards disabled prisoners.

• Showers are dangerous and a source of humiliation for many. ASU Prisoners at RJD are forced to parade to showers in front of other prisoners, correctional officers, and female staff\. Shower shoes are not provided to them. “They won’t turn on the lights in the showers. No mirrors to shave in the shower. No mirror when we are allowed hair cutters. Hair cutter is old! Broken teeth and (it) gets hot. Burns your head in 2 minutes”. According to one report, there was no hot water for “at least 3 weeks”.


“This place is a straight dump where they do as they please” –J.C.

“Inmates here are going CCCMS just to leave this prison for the records show this” –Anon.

Many of the letters we have received detail ways in which RJDCF is failing to provide a basic level of care for its prisoners. This issue is particularly disturbing when it extends to prisoners with medical or mental health needs. Like many Californian prisons, RJD San Diego is 130% overcrowded– the most current monthly count puts the population at 3,905 – a full 1,000 prisoners over its design capacity. Prisoners with medical needs are not receiving scheduled doctor’s visits or prescribed treatments and are waiting months to obtain basic necessities such as walkers or reading glasses. Prisoners with mental health issues are not receiving access to group therapy, only one-on-one sessions once a week for 5-10 minutes. Because of the lack of outlets in the cells, there is no access to programming via television nor any entertainment except for wind-up radios. However, these radios are being issued only on temporary “21-day intake loans”, contrary to the property privileges of the prisoners. Food is being served on “dirty”, “old and nasty” trays without lids. As one experienced prisoner writes, “In all the other prisons everything had been replaced so the food was delivered in small trays with lids. These trays are piled on top of each other where everyone’s food sticks to the bottom of each tray.” According to one prisoner, the Ad-Seg canteen ran out of supplies for over 2 months, “orders are getting lost”.

No jackets are provided when it rains or is cold in the yards, and prisoners are not allowed to wear thermal tops or bottoms to cage yard. There are no exercise bars provided in the cages.The law library has been described as “a joke”, with reports that there is only an officer on duty to allow prisoners to conduct legal research once a week. Officers are “disrespectful to inmates” conducting legal research. And finally, prison closed-circuit cameras are apparently obviously turned off or nonfunctioning.


“They aren’t actually fit to be guards. They are sick guards. They don’t even treat animals this cruel. Yet they are allowed to treat Americans worse than animals. Here they totally abuse it!” –Anon.

Reports of staff misconduct at RJD received by Prison Focus range from simple breaking of regulations and dereliction of duty, to officials ignoring and obstructing prisoner complaints or appeals, to destruction of prisoner property, humiliation, excessive use of force and calculated assault on prisoners by correctional officers. Guards are reportedly smoking on prison grounds, behind the windows of some prisoners, in contravention of §3111.07 the California Operations Manual for correctional officers. Correctional officers blast the radio “so loud” for their own enjoyment during meal and shower times that, “if someone needed help in the morning, no one could hear them.” One prisoner, who preferred to remain anonymous, wrote that officials are “not responding to CDCr 22 complaints. Appeals coordinator office refuses to send log # and due date notices to inmates. Some C/Os refuse to collect/sign/date legal mail.” Another prisoner wrote, “They left a few inmates handcuffed behind their backs for hours. They parade inmates butt-naked in front of women that are overlooking Suicide (Watch) inmates. Degrading them while inmates in Ad-Seg laugh at them. They know it’s not procedure and discriminating, cruel, and unusual punishment.” An overweight prisoner was mocked and guards refused to take him out of his cell because the correctional officers “hate using waist chains.” This kind of discrimination creates circumstances where individuals are essentially held in solitary confinement for no other reason beyond size. According to another letter, some guards are spreading false information that certain prisoners are “sex offenders and child molesters” in order to instigate prisoner-on-prisoner violence. “If an inmate puts in 602 grievances the same guards get their cowards [other prisoners] to assault them and also allow [other] inmates to steal the inmates’ property, TV, Radio etc.! I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many inmates have come back here to Ad-Seg and the guards let the tenders and inmates steal their property. They are allowing inmates to pack inmates property – jobs that guards are responsible for…” In another letter, a correspondent related how a fellow prisoner on his block who had been accused of assaulting correctional officers was harassed and threatened all night before his court hearing, in order to deny him sleep and sabotage his chances of a fair trial. Correctional officer Sanchez allegedly “beat up” a handcuffed prisoner in his cell and then wrote him up for staff assault. This tactic is reportedly fairly common. “On C Yard inmates are being allowed to jump on inmates. Beat them down to get them off the Yards and leave the 2 or 3 that jumped on one inmate. While inmates are getting assaulted staff allows this type of behavior and gives the inmates that get assaulted a write-up. Just so there will be no victim. Craziest thing I ever seen or heard. This is being allowed on all SNYs! Because CDCr wants violence to take to the public and Sacramento so they can start the SHU programs back [up]. Inmates are getting assaulted by 2 or 3 or even 4 and allow all 4 back to the Yards. That’s not fair to no one!!”


“Now they’re trying their best to use the confidential information against me” –Anon.

A disturbing trend that is found throughout the California prison system is the use of information given by ‘confidential informants’ to substantiate Rules Violation Reports (115s), move prisoners into more restrictive forms of housing, deny privileges, or parole, or delay parole hearings. We received reports of this method of control implemented at RJD in full force. In one letter to Prison Focus, a prisoner at RJD detailed how his petition to advance his parole hearing was denied solely on the basis of confidential information claiming he was, “involved in the illegal distribution of drugs and cellphones. Therefore, the Confidential Source(s) now claim you as an enemy.” This was in spite of the fact that the prisoner had never received a Rules Violation for possession of drugs or cellphones in his 24 years of incarceration. The Board of Parole Hearings admitted that the confidential information was given “significant weight” in the decision – in fact, it overruled the fact that the prisoner was now recognized as a youthful offender under SB 261 & Penal Code §3051, and had fulfilled all of the recommendations made by the panel following his initial denial of parole four years prior (at which time he was not recognized as a youthful offender). The board admitted that in that time he had earned a GED, numerous AA degrees, participated in a bevy of self-help programs, received multiple laudatory “chronos,” and had remained disciplinary-free since his last hearing.


“Now the Suicide Check is another issue. They abuse the hell out of it and use it as a mind thing! Mental health to torture inmates. They bang it and want problems! They enjoy it!” –Anon.
“Sit ins come in and sit and go to sleep. C/Os all do overtime and have a good old time. Walk away and leave the cell.” –Anon.

Most horrifically of all, Prison Focus has received letters alleging that suicide watch is being abused and improperly performed at RJD, while at the same time prisoners are attempting and even succeeding suicide in their cells. In a letter from May of 2017, a prisoner informed us that a prisoner with severe mental health diagnoses qualifying for the Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP) was found dead in his cell. It was determined that he had died up to three days prior, but was left undiscovered by correctional officers, despite the protocol of performing “wellness checks” every half hour around the clock for individuals on suicide watch. In a letter from another prisoner just two months later, an attempted suicide was barely prevented by one conscientious correctional officer, who noticed that a cell window was “boarded up” so that no one could see into the cell. Upon investigation he found the prisoner hanging inside. According to the letter writer, typically a sign is placed on cell doors alerting guards that someone is inside and identifying who they are – but in this case, there was no sign or photo identifying the prisoner to alert the guards that the cell was in fact occupied. As he writes, “When the officers brought the inmate out after cutting him down we could see the people overlooking the suicide inmates laughing while the guards on 3rd watch were tending over him. They look like they saved his life…All we want is to be treated fair and with respect as humans! And one guard makes a difference. As does the guard that is corrupted.”

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