Apr 15, 2015
keywords: Step Down Program, Departmental Review Board, Case-by-Case Reviews
From Prison Focus Issue 45
This supplemental report substantiates through in-person interviews and correspondence four key findings:
1) The pace of the reviews remains sluggish as CDCR has only had two qualified persons to chair DRB reviewing teams since the inception of case-by-case reviews in October of 2012. CDCR officials informally reported in February that they plan to add two more individuals who can also chair DRB teams, and that these additions should speed up the process. Be that as it may, it's unconscionable that men who are likely to be released from solitary confinement upon review—after being subjected to inhumane conditions for years or decades on end—have been indefinitely waiting in SHU just to go before DRB. There is no excuse for CDCR's bureaucratic moroseness. Justice delayed is justice denied.
2) The pattern of case-by-case (CBC) reviews, when and where they take place, is being cynically driven by the Ashker v. Brown lawsuit. CDCR's demonstrated intent is to render that case moot by moving men who've been caged in Pelican Bay's SHU for ten years or more to the other SHUs—that is, to reduce and eventually eliminate the class of plaintiffs in Ashker v. Brown who are party to the cause of action brought under the 8th and 14th Amendments (Cruel and Unusual Punishment). This violates the spirit of those who participated in the recent hunger strikes and demanded, among other things, an end to CDCR's administrative abuses and debriefing policies. It also violates the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which the US and its subjugate territories are signatories.
3) CDCR continues to pressure individuals to enter the debriefing program at penalty of remaining in the SHU. In one recent case, CDCR decided to hold a person who'd refused to debrief in the SHU, citing nebulous security concerns as a justification. This was despite an earlier DRB finding that there was no reason to hold this person in the SHU any longer.
4) Linked to the previous item, we are receiving indications from various sources that several men have qualified for transfer directly to Step 5 (monitored status within the general population), but are being retained in SHU due to alleged security concerns. This is especially true where confidential informants are involved in raising security concerns. Under existing regulations, there's generally no way to corroborate such concerns or to ensure that they're being adequately investigated if at all. Hence, the status quo constitutes a continued abridgment of due-process rights.
The information that follows herein is based on:
-Interviews conducted with about two-dozen individuals at Pelican Bay SHU and at Corcoran SHU (respectively, in late December 2014 and in late February 2015)
-Information supplied by members of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS), including members of the mediation and legal teams.
-Letters recently sent to CPF by those in the SHUs.
Random letters (italicized) are used herein instead of names to identify sources inside so as to guard those sources' anonymity.
Ashker v. Brown is driving DRB priorities: Pelican Bay is the focal point, not movement out of SHU
In August 2013, Michael Stainer, then Director of CDCR's Division of Adult Institutions, said that STG associates with the earliest validation dates would be prioritized for CBC reviews. By now, CDCR practice has revealed a clear alternative priority, as indicated above: The focus is to conduct CBC reviews of those people who have been at Pelican Bay SHU for the longest amount of time. DRB's George Giurbino corroborated this as much during deposition in December. This has resulted in many being transferred from Pelican Bay, often to other SHUs. CDCR has therby succeeded in vastly reducing the numbers of class members party to the first cause of action (Cruel and Unusual Punishment) in Ashker v. Brown. When the plaintiffs thereto filed their Second Amended Complaint back in May 2012, an estimated 500+ people held in Pelican Bay's SHU had been there for over ten years (based on CDCR's own statistics for 2011). As of January 31, 2015, only 213 people remained in that category compared, to 232 for the previous month. Many of these men, however, were not let out of SHU, but simply transferred to other SHUs. By end of February, a little over 200 remained so classified at Pelican Bay.
Due to this practice of SHU-shuffling, the plaintiffs in Ashker v. Brown recently petitioned the court to expand the class action to those who have been transferred out of Pelican Bay and placed in other institutions. The majority of those transferred out of Pelican Bay have been sent to Tehachapi (CCI)—where conditions are reportedly even worse than those at Pelican Bay (see, e.g., the Tehachapi Report included in Issue #44 of this publication). Oral argument on was heard on February 12. Although a written decision from Judge Claudia Wilken is forthcoming, she did rule from the bench in favor of expanding the class. This judgment will result in a bifurcated trial; i.e., two trials. The first is set for December 2015, whereupon it will be decided whether confining a person to the SHU at Pelican Bay constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. If the plaintiffs prevail, the court will decide during a second trial (in 2016) whether confining a person to Pelican Bay's SHU for ten years or more, then transferring that person to another SHU, also constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
According to one PHSS legal team member, almost 900 people remain in the Due Process class (14th Amendment), according to statistics for February. This class consists of those men at Pelican Bay's SHU who were validated under regulations formerly in place under California Code of Regulations, Title 15, and have yet to receive a DRB CBC review. The length of time spent at Pelican Bay doesn't matter. The Due Process class increased by four people between January 31 and the previous month. Thus, it seems that CDCR is moving people who've not yet received DRB reviews into Pelican Bay's SHU, from other SHUs or from Administrative Segregation.
In their recent meeting with CDCR on February 20, the PHSS mediation team was told that 1,070 CBC reviews had been completed, and about 1600 remained. Of the 1,070 who received reviews, about 72.5% (776 total) had been placed in Step 5, whereas the other 294 had been placed in Steps 1–4. These statistics evince the legitimacy of one of the prisoners' five demands: that SHU only be used as a last resort. If over 70% of them men in SHU have been qualified for general population, with CDCR reporting few if any problems of post-SHU release adjustment, then the SHU hasn't been (and continues not to be) used as a last resort.
CDCR further told the mediation team that they plan to complete the CBC reviews by December 2015. At present, only two DRB teams handle all reviews, each headed by Susan Hubbard or George Giurbino. However, CDCR says that two new teams are currently being trained and will focus on Corcoran and Tehachapi. The current wardens at Wasco State Prison and Central California Women's Facility (CCWF)—respectively, Deborah Johnson and Jon Katavich—will lead these new teams. These additional teams will allegedly increase CDCR capacity to do the CBC reviews.
Members of the PHSS mediation team, including CPF volunteers, complained about the low number of teams since 2012. They consider the refusal to implement additional teams until now as a violation of the men's basic rights not to be held in SHUs indefinitely and without due process—especially in light of the fact that the great majority of them will be released to general population.
News from Pelican Bay SHU
Mr. A told us, "The way I see it, it's a con game. They got the biggest con game in there." He has already heard that people who have gone to the DRB or have been deemed inactive are coming back from the mainline (general population), and cited two specific examples. The same holds true, he indicated, for those who have successfully challenged their validations under the Castillo settlement.
Mr. A was placed in Step 3 some time ago and was almost regressed to Step 2 when he refused transfer to Tehachapi. His refusal was primarily due to medical concerns. "Why would I want to go from bad to worse?" he rhetorically asked when discussing his situation. A lot of men just want to "get the hell out" of Pelican Bay, he added—noting that when they see how bad the alternatives are, they may reconsider. In his own case, he asked to be transferred to New Folsom rather than Tehachapi and ultimately was not regressed to Step 2.
Mr. B had his active/inactive review in mid February 2014. While he was in the shower the around the time of his review, his cell was searched—as were the cells of two others on his tier who were not up for review. Mr. B speculated that IGI (Institution Gang Investigation Unit) perhaps thought the latter two were holding something for him. One IGI officer told him that they were conducting random cell searches. Another told Mr. B, "No, we're doing your active/inactive review." The search slip he received cited that the reason for the search was his active/inactive review.
In July 2014, IGI did another search of Mr. B's cell, again saying that they were conducting his active/inactive review. He told IGI that he thought he had already received it. They told him, "No, that was something else." This time they came up with a validation point, based on Mr. B having records of some other peoples' birth dates in his cell. He filed an administrative grievance (602) and as of late December was waiting for his final appeal decision from Sacramento. He contends that the theory used by IGI to deem him an active STG (Security Threat Group or prison gang) member is unsupported by the evidence. For example, no inmate ID numbers or anything else in the documentation shows that the persons cited by the IGI for the purpose of affirming association are who the IGI says they are. In addition, no evidence shows points to any Security Threat Group/gang-related conduct, he said.
Mr. C reported that he's been on inactive status since May 2014. He met with the DRB in November 2014, and was told that he would be placed in Step 5 and go to the mainline. When we spoke with him, he had been waiting to be transferred for some seven weeks, and noted that others had only waited four weeks. Again, CPF finds such wait times in solitary confinement due to inept management to be a clear violation of basic human and legal rights.
Mr. D, who at the time of our interview with him was not in the SHU but on the mainline, indicated that a lot of people who had supported the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) had been kicked down to his yard. Why these latter men remain at Pelican Bay, as opposed to being transferred to a different institution, is not clear.
Mr. E discussed new guidelines released three weeks prior to CPF's visit: If somebody is placed on “inactive” status, he will go to the Internal Classifications Committee (ICC), which, Mr. E noted, is less desirable than appearing before the DRB. The ICC tends to be less impartial and part of an institution-specific operation, he explained. Mr. E has been in the SHU for around twenty-five years, and therefore didn't understand how others were receiving CBC reviews ahead of him.
Mr. F observed that that, although CDCR approved the SDP, "they don't even know if it works." (Implicit in his words was that the SDP had been rubber-stamped.) He was supposed to have his active/inactive review in February 2014, but it got postponed until September 2014—two days before his parole date, it just so happened. He was given a six-year denial, he said, but he was supposed to get a four-year denial, like others who were validated around the same time as he. He filed a 602 on this issue up to the third level, but Sacramento denied his appeal.
Mr. G was placed in Step 5 and was consequently released from Pelican Bay's SHU on inactive monitored status. He was then transferred to Kern State Prison. His yard, he reported in a letter, is full of gregarious people—many of whom, like himself, have recently been returned to the mainline from the SHU. Otherwise, there is no program to speak of. One can have a microwave in one's cell, or purchase a tablet computer, but that's as far as it goes. (The tablets appear to be e-readers preloaded withVoluntary Educational Program (VEP) materials, including remedial education and GED materials, and materials relating to self-help programs [AA, Anger Management, etc.]. This is indicated by information available through CDCR's website.)
NEWS FROM CORCORAN
Two people at Corcoran commended Susan Hubbard—one of the two people currently leading the two DRB teams, as earlier discussed herein—for rejecting weak evidence in the course of conducting CBC reviews. (In contrast, Mr. A at Pelican Bay mentioned that a St. Paddy's card he had hanging on his wall for year had been construed as evidence of "gang activity" at his DRB review. He did not say who headed the team handling his case.)
Mr. H reported agreement amongst the men at Corcoran to participate in the widely loathed aspect of the Step-Down Program that requires the completion of numerous so-called self-directed journals. (Issue ## 43 and 44 of this publication detail the make-up of these journals. Some have insulting and/or presumptuous titles such as "The Con Game," "Thinking Errors," "Criminal Lifestyles," and "Reviewing my Drug Use.") Mr. H is not himself in favor of completing the journals, but is going along with it for the sake of solidarity with the mens' collective decision to do so.
On a separate note, Mr. H reported that people placed in Step 2 at Corcoran have access to a new programming opportunity: a book club. The book club includes three other men and a staff person (?), Ms. Done, besides Mr. H. Ms. Done asked an officer by the name of Bailey—who apparently heads the implementation of Step-Down at Corcoran and apparently "chaperones" the book club—if men participating in the club could receive certificates for doing so. (Such certificates help when the men go up for parole). She did this in front of the group participating in the book club. Bailey denied the request, but stated that the participation of individuals would be noted in their central files.
Mr. H estimated that around 90% of those validated at Corcoran are still waiting for DRB reviews. In his area, he reported, he knew of just two people who were placed in Step 1, two people who were placed in Step 3, two people who were placed in Step 4, and four others who were placed in Step 2. To his knowledge, DRB will next be visiting Corcoran in April.
Mr. J told us that, as a result of his 2013 DRB CBC review (he was one of the first to receive one), it was determined that evidence used to revalidate him in 2010, pursuant to his six-year inactive review, didn't substantiate gang activity. The DRB concluded that there was no reason to hold him in the SHU any longer. Yet, confidential informant information suggested that he had a security concern--i.e., that others wanted to hurt him, for events going back to 1996. The DRB decision was to retain him in SHU for another year, but during this time, the IGI was supposed to investigate and determine if security concerns remained valid. Mr. J. claimed that IGI interviewed nobody, but filed a report saying that since they found no new evidence to discredit security concerns, they remained valid.
In anticipation of a follow-up DRB hearing in November 2014, Mr. J submitted letters of support from his family and other materials in October. He has been free of write-ups since 2007. However, the DRB didn't come in November. At first he was told that the teams busy doing reviews at Pelican Bay, and he could expect his follow-up DRB in January. January came and went with no review. Upon inquiry with his counselor in February, Mr. J learned that a DRB decision was reached in his case in Sacramento in absentia. The decision was to retain him in SHU for another 24 months. Mr. J was then asked to enter the debriefing program. He refused. This refusal was noted on his paperwork and it was recommended that he continue in SHU due to security concerns.
Mr. J happens to be a successful litigant who in the past won a significant settlement against CDCR for guard misconduct. Thus, this case has the clear appearance of retaliation. Furthermore, CDCR has put him in a Catch-22 situation. The only way he can prove that he does not have security concerns is to associate with other supposed STG members or associates. But if he associates with them in any way, this will be misconstrued as gang activity and he will be revalidated. This situation further exemplifies the lack of due process otherwise remarked upon herein.
Mr. K affirmed that although CDCR claims many men are placed in Step 5, many of these same individuals remain in the SHU.
Mar 07, 2015
keywords: Department Review Board, Step Down Program
From California Prison Focus Issue 45
This report is based on investigative interviews with men imprisoned at Pelican Bay State Prison SHU and written correspondence received from them in the last six months. Medical neglect, retaliation, staff misconduct, substandard food and denial of the rights continue to be critical issues. Although the hunger strike of 2013 has advanced the movement to end solitary confinement by bringing attention and momentum to the issue, many men locked away in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison have seen little improvements in their day to day conditions and treatment. Moreover, some men endure hunger strike-related retaliation. Individual identities are withheld from this report. For information specifically on the Step Down Program (STP) and Department Review Board (DRB) see our separate report on page 2.
LACK OF MINIMAL ADEQUATE HEALTH CARE
Poor health and medical care continue to be one of our top concerns, based on the regularity and severity of reported medical situations and crises. American Disability Act standards are often unheeded. Assistive devices are confiscated or withheld regularly, including back braces and eyewear. Mr. A had his glasses confiscated after the doctor claimed he was manipulating the eye test. Now he uses reading glasses for everything. He filed a complaint (602), reporting that all of his 602 exhibits had gone missing. In addition, the Pepto-Bismol that he used to take to ease his celiac disease-related discomfort was confiscated. One former patient stated that there is a new doctor, Nancy Adams, that “just takes everything” from assistive devices to anti-depressants, aspirin for high blood pressure and medications for pain.
Treatment for various conditions is regularly denied. Mr. B described his repeated efforts to receive treatment for his Hep-C. At first he was told he was not strong enough to handle the treatment. Medical staff eventually conceded that he could, but continued to deny him treatment, reportedly for financial reasons. Mr. C has colitis, an inflammation of the inner lining of the colon which causes, among other things, blood in his stool. This is a chronic condition which can be partially regulated by diet. Mr. C has been denied a special diet, however. When his colitis acts up and he requests immediate help, he is told to fill out a medical slip, even though it can take up to two weeks to receive medical attention. Staff members tell Mr. C to drink water and they give him a Motrin. Such efforts clearly do not address in a meaningful way his medical condition.
Men frequently have their medications canceled and must fight to get their medications re-instated, even when their conditions are chronic and medications unchanged. Mr. D was diagnosed with an anti-biotic resistant staph infection. He gets occasional outbreaks, but his requests for medical attention are regularly denied. In a clear violation of his medical rights, he was told by medical staff, “if you want to receive better medical treatment, you gotta get out of the SHU.” Mr. E received a medical recommendation to be transferred to Folsom Medical Facility due to a “high risk” issue he has, but the transfer was denied.
Mr. D complained of a complete lack of privacy. Two guards stand with the men at all times. The guards listen in on all discussion between the doctor and patient. Mr. D explained, “you have to get nude, but there is nothing even so simple as a paper privacy curtain to shield you from the eyes of guards or anybody who happens to be passing by.” Mr. D is over fifty years old and feels he should have a prostrate exam, but for the above reason, he has postponed doing so. Another problem is over-use of restrictive devices, such as black box restraints, which are used for transportation to outside medical appointments. Black box restraints render a person’s wrists immobile, forces one’s arm into awkward and often painful positions, and cut off circulation.
Medical patients are charged whether or not the treatment they receive is adequate or effective for their ailment, and regardless of whether they are seen by a nurse (RN) or doctor (MD). These problems and others deter many men with health issues from seeking the care they need.
Men continue to be validated as gang members or associates (now Security Threat Groups) and sentenced to decades of solitude and sensory deprivation by an internal group of prison staff with insufficient regard to due process. Men are validated, often subjectively, based on flimsy and false evidence. The patterns suggest that some are validated as a means of staff retaliation. For example, Mr. E challenged his validation in court and won. The following day he was served with a "new" validation packet citing the same source items as previously used to validate him. The DRB (Department Review Board) hearings and Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI) persist in employing different and inconsistent criteria for validating people. Unfounded allegations of STG affiliation continue serve as a pretext for forcing men, including non-violent offenders, into long term solitary confinement.
Mr. F was given an indeterminate term in solitary confinement based on a validation he described as “very vague.” He explained that he was accused of being involved in “a conspiracy of some sort,” but that he was not sure exactly what it was since it was never clearly explained to him. In addition to the conspiracy allegation, he was validated based on the claim that his name was found in someone else’s property. According to a memo from then Director of Adult Institutions, Michael Stainer, such evidence should not be considered when a person is being considered for validation. Since the men cannot control items in another's cell, such evidence is to be considered only if found in that person's own property. Another man reported that he had a St. Paddy's day card which had been hanging on his wall for years, but was recently told to take it down because it was allegedly gang-related. The card was discussed at his DRB review.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
Since Fall 2012, a group of men in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, referred to as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective, have been pushing to end all hostilities between racial and geographical groups within California’s prisons and jails, and in violence ridden communities on the outside. The handwritten announcement, called The Agreement to End Hostilities, calls for people to solve their disputes non-violently. (See page …) The men had hoped to circulate the statement throughout all California prisons. However, since the inception of The Agreement to End Hostilities, CDCR has stifled the men’s efforts to disseminate it. Staff members refuse to hang the statement throughout the prison as the collective had hoped, claiming that The Agreement to End Hostilities qualifies as "third party communication Mr. E noted that he challenged his validation in court and won. The following day, however, he was served with a "new" validation packet citing the same source items as previously used to validate him.
LACK OF REHABILITATIVE OPPORTUNITIES
Despite the widely acknowledged rehabilitative benefits of education and the mission of CDCR expressed in its very name, there are few to no educational and other rehabilitative opportunities for the men in the Pelican Bay SHU. If one has sufficient funds—and by and large, most men do not—opportunities are minimal. Mr. F explained that even the educational programs that do exist are unreliable or inconsistent. Sometimes the programs will stop before they are completed. He reported that when programs are dropped, “people complain until it starts up again. Without ongoing outside pressure and scrutiny,” he explained, “they will stop." Mr. G had planned on enrolling in the past but was told that there was no space at that time for lifers. The program was subsequently cut. Others complain that they cannot afford the books. Pelican Bay has a program that provides some inmates to obtain free textbooks. The problem is that general population yards are prioritized over the SHU. Thus, those men who are dependent on free textbooks must tailor their curricula to the books available. Mr. H explained that if those studying for their GED have a question, they must submit it on a request form, but often no response is received. The men do not have access to a library, apart from the law library which has a limited selection of outdated legal books. There are no book carts with novels and other non-legal literature. Advocates and loved ones of the incarcerated individuals are prohibited from sending books or magazines directly to the men inside. Despite the fact that all mail is subjected to inspection, books still must be sent directly from the publisher, a rule that clearly reduces the number of books that would otherwise be circulating through the prison and thereby limits efforts at education and rehabilitation.
The conditions at Pelican Bay remain deplorable. Ceilings leak and subsequent puddles create a safety hazard. Mr. N stated that the men are denied towels to put by the doors for the water that accumulates from the leaks. The men suffer from the cold as well. Mr. F stated that he recently experienced one of the coldest winters at Pelican Bay that he remembers. He reported one incident when cold air was blasted through the air vents despite the cold weather. The men, who sleep on thin shabby mattresses on a concrete slab, and are usually denied more than one light weight blanket, struggle to keep warm at night.
The lack of decent food contributes to the men’s poor health. From year to year, the complaints remain unchanged. The food lacks nutritional quality, tastes horrible, lacks fresh fruits or vegetables, and are insufficient in quantity, leaving the men hungry, malnourished and unsatisfied. In their own words, when asked about the food, the men say it is “still garbage” and “the same old crap.” According Mr. D, “The menu looks pretty but the food is horrible, the proportions are tiny and the meat is not real." Often complete items are missing from the tray. In general, the men report that the trays have larger portions when “there are tours or suits coming through.” Several men have explained that they drink large amounts of water to help with the hunger. In addition, staff piles up trays for delivery rather than delivering smaller numbers at a time and making more trips. As a result the food is cold by the time that it arrives. We receive regular reports of men being denied special meals, even when medically advised.
It reportedly took several appeals and an injunction through Del Norte Superior Court for the men to begin receiving yard on time. Men are not receiving the four hours a week they are supposed to get in the law library when they have active cases and filing deadlines.
We received reports that mailing rights are sometimes denied as a form of punishment. As stated in Title 15 §3130, mail is a right—not a privilege. Mail tends to sit in the mail room for up to five days before it is distributed to the recipients. One man reported an incident when correctional officers lost his mail which contained important legal documents relevant to an active case.
We have received multiple reports that the men rarely, if ever, get their full three hour visits. They are generally getting about two hours and forty minutes visiting time, or approximately twenty minutes less than what the regulations call for. The location of Pelican Bay makes it extremely difficult or impossible for most of the men’s loved ones to visit. Their friends and family cannot afford the long journey, only to have their visiting time cut short. Thus, geographical remoteness is another factor playing into the severe isolation of the men incarcerated at Pelican Bay.
Often the men are separated by race. However, sometimes an individual of one race gets placed in a pod in which there are no members of his racial or social group. Mr. O, for example, was the only African American man in his pod for eight years. One incident was reported in which an African-American man who was racially isolated from his social group received a 115 written violation for speaking to other African Americans as he was being led through the hallway. He had been isolated from his own group for a long period of time, he explained, and was eager to connect with others in his racial/social group, given that he would soon be isolated from them again.
Despite the fact that the following information is from the mainline, we have included it in this report because it reflects CDCR’s attitude that is behind Pelican Bay’s decision not to support or circulate The Agreement to End Hostilities.
A new Anti-Hostility Group was initiated by an individual in general population. He explained that the chaplain had permitted him to sponsor the initiative but the staff are not supportive. The Anti-hostilities group is trying to promote peace as the new “cool” and challenge what is perceived by many of the men to be CDCR’s divide and conquer mentality. Some guards have been known to place “disruptive” people on the yard to instigate fights and break the peace promoted by the Anti-Hostility Group and The Agreement to End Hostilities. Like the Agreement to End Hostilities, the Anti-Hostility Group discourages men from partaking in violence, challenging officers’ apparent attempts to incite hostilities and violence among the men.
This report demonstrates the great deal of work that lies ahead to rectify California’s system of so-called criminal justice system, and to develop a sense of humanity within our state sanctioned method of correction and rehabilitation. The report reveals that rights of all United States citizens as stated in our Constitution, and the specific legal rights stated in CDCR’s Title 15, are not only frequently and regularly discounted, but in fact are scorned by the very people whose mission is to promote peaceful interaction and rehabilitation among men on the inside. The way prisoners are treated at Pelican Bay State Prison and other California Prisons harms the individuals who we aim to rehabilitate, as well as their children and families, their communities, and society as a whole. Years in solitary confinement commonly and predictably lead to mental health problems and instability. Individuals who have no history of violence often leave prison with more uncontrolled hate and anger than ever before. CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitation claims its mission is to “help offenders leave prison with better job or career skills, education, life skills, and confidence, so they can succeed in their futures despite past obstacles." CDCR has yet to explain how years and decades of being locked in a small concrete box, deprived of all social contact, family connections, sensory stimulus, education or creative outlets, rehabilitates anybody. They have yet to offer an explanation of how the consequential psychological problems and symptoms of mental illness factor in to their stated mission. One cannot help but question the sincerity of CDCR’s mission, and ask who is actually benefiting from this mass warehousing of human beings, mostly men of color and from financially disadvantaged communities.
Mar 07, 2015
keywords: Sleep Deprivation, Directors Review Board, Security Threat Group, Step Down Program
From Prison Focus Issue 45
The most important issues the men were facing at Corcoran have to do with the slowness of the Director's Review Board (DRB) case by case reviews, placement in Step Down Program (SDP), and ongoing problems with due process around Security Threat Group (STG) validation. Most of these items are covered in a separate report on DRB and SDP in the same issue on page 2.
Beyond the report cited above, we reiterate in this report that today many men remain locked in SHU who have been validated as members or associates of Security Threat Groups (STGs) based on false evidence. Nearly four years after the first hunger strike, these men are still waiting to have their cases reviewed by the new criteria that will most likely put them in Step 5 of the Step Down Program (72% of all those reviewed are placed directly into Step 5). That CDCR has been so slow to review their cases under the excuses of wanting to ensure they are done right, or that it takes a long time to train other individuals to do the reviews. These excuses are flat out appalling and unacceptable. In addition, Corcoran interviewees expressed concern that most of the action on the case by case reviews was occurring at Pelican Bay due to the hunger strikes originating there and the on-going lawsuit on SHU conditions there (Ashker v. Governor of California). Individuals with whom we spoke note that items found in other men's cells (over which they have no control) as well as political literature that raises consciousness about racism, classism, slave-like conditions, etc. (George Jackson, Malcom X, cultural drawings) are still retaining some men in SHU today. This occurrence is inexcusable, and CDCR cannot hide behind the excuse of "we're going as fast as we can" when they certainly had the opportunity to train others to the reviews years ago. The continued torture of 24/7 housing in solitary confinement is what hangs in the balance here.
A major complaint we heard was about the lack of real mental or physical health care. With respect to mental health, one man told us that the psychologists are not there to help you, but just to say that they are doing their job. He said they transfer counselors in and out so fast, and then one has to start all over again to tell one's story and go through all of the issues one is dealing with. He is getting tired of starting from scratch over and over again.
We heard several stories of men collapsing, going man down, and subsequently being rushed to the hospital to be cared for. One man was allowed a wheel chair and a desk while he was in ACH (Acute Care Hospital at Corcoran), but now that he is back in SHU he is allowed neither. This makes it very difficult for him to be mobile in his cell, on the one hand, or to sit and write, on the other. His current wheelchair is in bad shape, but he is afraid to ask for another one out of fear of retaliation.
With respect to physical health, the common complaint was lack of pain medication, especially for those with documented chronic pain conditions. The men told us that their individual physicians will order pain medication, but that the chief medical officer denies the request. Most often the CMO will allege that the men are faking their pain in order to abuse drugs. In the cases of the individuals with whom we spoke, however, their chronic pain has been medically documented. They suspect that cost savings may also be behind the denials. A couple of individuals with whom we spoke were clearly in pain at the time of the interview. Although they have different ailments, each basically approaches each day as a challenge in terms of getting through their chronic and severe pain. One man has returned at least five times to his doctor who prescribes pain medications for him, only to have them canceled later. This interviewee was told that he would have to be seen by the pain committee, but he has been waiting over a year and still has no date for such a meeting.
Another man had special insoles for shoes confiscated from his cell in 2011. The insoles helped to relieve some of his pain, but he has not been able to get new ones. He often does not go to yard because the guards mishandle him, pushing and shoving in ways that aggravate his chronic pain condition. Often the guards suggests that the men are either lying or exaggerating about their ailments.
SHOWERS AND UNSANITARY CONDITIONS
Related to medical wellness is basic hygiene. The men have no control over the shower schedule which is supposed to be three times a week, but we have heard that showers are regularly canceled due to all sorts of excuses. Sometimes the guards claimed they are understaffed, other times they are at a meeting, and that still other times they are "doing moves." Most of the men with whom we spoke claimed that they had not showered in the entire last week.
Most of the men complained that they did not receive enough cleaning supplies to be able to keep their cell adequately clean. If they request more, it usually takes a long time to receive. They are only allowed to put in for such a request every three months.
The new policy of 30 minutes wellness checks often leads to the disturbing occurrence of some guards who either intentionally or recklessly bang or slam the electronic wand on the metallic button outside the inmate's door to register that they have been checked. First, most men told us that they don not actually check, but simply run up and down the hallways as fast as they can to get the check done. Second, while some guards are respectful and attempt to carry out the duty at night with minimal noise, others who make a lot of noise—some apparently intentionally—are contributing to the torture of SHU through sleep deprivation and all the harms it brings with it. One man told us he can hear the guards making noise already in the previous pod, illustrating how loud wellness checks can be. SHU is stressful enough for those who sleep well. Depriving these men of regular sleep under these conditions is out and out inexcusable. Guards who make that much noise during the wellness checks at night should be held accountable and reprimanded for their behavior to the fullest extent possible.
Programming is usually either nonexistent or completely inaccessible to most individuals in the Corcoran SHU. Rarely do we speak with incarcerated individuals who do not wish to receive educational or other programming opportunities. Ironically, one man was able to pay for his college correspondence courses only after receiving a significant monetary settlement stemming from a case years earlier of clear abuse by CDCR staff. He stated that when he paroles, he wants to have some skills behind him. This man’s drive to educate himself and to succeed in the outside world reflects the wide spread longing of men in the SHU for educational and other programming opportunities, and ultimately to grow and experience success, if given a chance to do so. Unfortunately, few of the men in the SHU at Corcoran receive that chance. If validated individuals do not have the financial resources, receiving an education while in the custody of CDCR is nearly impossible.
Obtaining a GED is also a challenge. One man who was approved to take the GED course has been waiting five months for his course to start, but nothing has happened. Another noted, however, that he was able to acquire his GED along with others in SHU. He said this occurred due to the hunger strikes. Previously, he noted that people could study for the GED, but never finish it and get their certificate.
Despite The "R" in CDCR, rehabilitation does not appear to be a priority to those who have the power and ability to implement rehabilitative programming. As one interviewee asked rhetorically in reference to his eventual release, “What am I going to do with $200 and no education? Am I going to be able to get a job? Is that going to benefit society?”
Access to the law library is limited, and often completely inaccessible to those who are not PLU (Priority Legal User). This situation prevents men who are considering a lawsuit to get informed about how to do so and thus prevents them from exercising their basic legal rights. Men without active cases have reported putting in multiple requests over the years, and have still never been granted access to the law library. Though the law library finally got computers, many of the men have no experience with computers and nobody in the library (including the librarian) has been willing to show them how they work. This again leads to a denial of legal rights. One man explained that he spent his entire allotted time in the library just trying to figure out how to use the computer. He had made little progress before the guard suddenly announced that his time was up. In addition, many (if not most, or even all) of the law books in the library are outdated. Many are from the 1990s and have pages torn out of them. According to one man, when he reported missing pages, the guard cynically replied, "Talk to your buddies. They stole it.”
Like showers, the yard is often canceled suddenly for all sets of excuses. Lately the excuse is often due to the morning fog, but there is never any yard time given later in the day to make up for the cancelled time. Getting out to yard is extremely important for anyone who is being locked up 24/7 for most of the week. CDCR must end immediately this practice of regularly canceling the minimal amount of yard time demanded by law when no makeup time is allowed.
The main complaint we receive regarding mail is of unnecessary delays. Two interviewees explained that they often go two weeks or more without receiving any mail, and then receive a stack of letters with different postdates, all at one time. They suspected that the IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) is behind these delays. Sometimes men do not receive their letters at all. We also receive complaints about family members not receiving mail from their incarcerated loved ones. These occurrences are especially upsetting to the men who take the time to produce detailed letters or intricate artwork for their family members, as they have little else they can offer their loved ones as gifts. We received one report stating that the guards are opening his legal mail outside of his presence, against legal mail policy, because he has a case against CDCR. This same man reported that his legal mail was taking ten days to leave the prison, which can have serious consequences as the courts have strict deadlines.
We continue to receive a steady stream of complaints regarding the quality and safety of the food. Contrary to Pelican Bay where the food is now served by prisoners who wear gloves, hats, and smocks, the food at Corcoran is served by guards who wear none of the above. One man stated that if a spoon falls on the floor, the guards just shake it off and keep on serving (he saw this happen on one occasion). The trays are delivered after they all have been stacked up and sitting, which is why the food is usually cold and covered in flies when it arrives at the cells. The men complain that the food is soggy and tasteless, the portions are small, and items are frequently missing. The Kosher meals are reportedly the only meals that include fresh vegetables. One must meet with a Rabbi, however, to be approved for Kosher meals. The Halal meals include meat, but one man noted that it is so processed that he would hardly refer to it as "meat." The five core demands of the 2013 Hunger Strike of 2013 included the provision of “adequate and nutritious food.” Clearly that is one demand that has not been met.
The complaints outlined in this report are of a serious nature and constitute the denial of legal, medical, and other basic human rights. Practices at Corcoran continue to contravene international and domestic law, as well as CDCR policy. Guards and other staff members who openly and regularly violate the law, institutional rules, or policies must be held accountable for their actions. We press on administration officials at Corcoran State Prison and Sacramento to take the necessary measures to address these concerns as soon as possible.
Oct 04, 2014
keywords: Step Down Program, Departmental Review Board, COMPAS
From Prison Focus Issue 44
[Note: The Tehachapi Report included in this same issue discusses what's been happening with the SDP at that institution. As noted therein, Tehachapi houses those placed in Steps 3 and 4 of the SDP—or what passes for Steps 3 and 4, as the author describes. ]
This report is largely based on interviews conducted with about two-dozen individuals at Pelican Bay SHU and at Corcoran SHU (respectively, in July and early October 2014). It is also based on letters recently received from men in either SHU, as well as CDCR publications. Random numbers are used herein instead of peoples' names, to guard the anonymity of our sources.
On October 17, 2014, the new administrative rules instituting the SDP and the Security Threat Group (STG) rubric were approved by the Office of Administrative Law and went into effect. They will be published in the next printing of California Code of Regulations, Title 15. At this time, we have only cursorily reviewed the final approved rules. All references to "indefinite" SHU terms have been omitted: The word "administrative" is substituted for "indefinite." This change was vetted prior to the final October 17 hearing and, at any rate, is rhetorical rather than substantive. More noteworthy is the fact that §3023(b), as approved, does include the word "knowingly." (The final text reads, "Inmates and parolees shall not knowingly promote, further or assist any STG as defined in section 3000." "Knowingly" had been omitted from an earlier proposed version noticed by the CDC on June 20, 2014.)
Under the new rules, the minimum amount of time it will take a person initially placed in Step 1 to progress through Step 4 is four years. This assumes that the person qualifies for accelerated placement into Steps 2 and 3 following 180-day reviews. For many, no doubt, four years equals or exceeds their actual SHU term.
We understand that the CDC plans to continue with both the DRB (case-by-case orCBC) reviews and inactive reviews[KR1]. However, the Department previously stated that CBC reviews will be conducted only for those validated prior to March2013[KR2]. And, although the Department has promised to honor existing dates for upcoming six-year reviews[KR3], the SDP regulations will replace the former six-year review process.
GLACIAL PACE OF THE DRB REVIEWS
Last August, Michael Stainer, Director of the CDC's Division of Adult Institutions, said that STG associates with the earliest validation dates would be prioritized forCBC reviews, although members would also be included for review on a sequential basis. At Pelican Bay, we are informed, the DRB is still in the process of conductingCBC reviews of those validated in the mid to late '80s. Meanwhile, according to "3," the DRB is simultaneously reviewing those deemed inactive, who receive priority. This leaves little time for others to receive reviews. "8" similarly observed that you only go to the DRB if the IGI (Internal Gang Investigation Unit) says you're inactive.
Information from Corcoran seems to corroborate what "3" and "8" said. "13" and "16" didn't expect to go before the DRB until their inactive reviews came up several years henceforth. "15" reported that he hasn't seen anybody going to the DRB [forCBC reviews], but has seen people placed in Step 1 following their six-year inactive reviews.
Another man at Corcoran was placed in Step 5 at following his inactive review, although he was kicked back to the SHU shortly thereafter. (He filed a 602 [grievance or administrative appeal] in response, since he wasn't provided with relevant documentation concerning the circumstances of his being returned to theSHU. His 602 was denied, and was denied at every level of review.)
Recent sightings of the DRB at Corcoran appear to be scant. One man, "20," said that he hadn't heard about the DRB coming around in a long time; i.e., since early this year. Another, "17," hadn't seen the DRB on his tier for over a year. "19" reported that they came in January, and at some point this spring, but had not been back since. (An IGI officer told him that the DRB wouldn't be back until December, because they were busy a Pelican Bay.) "20" indicated, on the other hand, that of those reviewed earlier in the year, a large percentage—up to 95%—were placed in Step 5 or went straight to the mainline. He personally knew of only two people who met with different outcomes.
So-called self-directed journals (workbooks) mandated by SDP
Vis-à-vis the journals, one man at Pelican Bay exclaimed, “They can’t use against you things you write to answer questions they made you answer. It’s humanly impossible!” Supporters on the outside will appreciate the righteous indignation and sense of outrage implicit in his remark: Yet, leave it to the CDC to defy time and time again what seems humanly and humanely possible. Otherwise, this man was of the view that there's no harm in participating in the SDP, since "it ain't gonna hurt to do what we can to get out of here."
"3" at Pelican Bay characterized the journals as "real negative," in that one has to assume that he's a bad person to answer the questions contained in them. (Note: Some journals have titles such as "The Con Game," "Thinking Errors," "Criminal Lifestyles," and "Reviewing my Drug Use." These titles alone clearly convey negative assumptions about those asked to complete them.)
At both Pelican Bay and Corcoran, individuals overwhelming expressed a disinclination to participate in the journaling aspect of the SDP, and/or reported that others were against doing them or were not doing them. However, "12" at PelicanBay, who initially refused Step 4 but was subsequently placed in Step 1, indirectly indicated an intent to complete the journals[KR4]. Another man at Corcoran, not yet in SDP, said he wasn't opposed to doing them, adding that it seems "elementary" (or, that the journals seem "elementary"—elementary being the least castigating word we have heard in relation to the journals.)
Under the new rules (§3378.3(a)(3)), [KR5]failure to participate in the SDP, "in and of itself, will not be cause to generate a Serious Rules Violation Report." This begs the question, how will staff interpret the phrase "in and of itself"? In any event, a person can be returned to a previous step for not participating, and will "be allowed to plateau" at Step 1 or Step 2 in "accordance with [his] conduct[KR6]." This differs minimally from the stated policy under the Pilot Program initiated in October 2012. The Pilot Program provided that "an inmate electing to not participate and with no continued STG related behavior may choose to stay in Step 2 indefinitely and the required ICC reviews will continue[KR7]." Several men at Corcoran attempted to challenge the institution's practice, under the Pilot Program, of regressing those who refused to complete journals from Step 2 to Step 1. In their group appeal filed a few months ago, they argued, without success, that this was done in retaliation for not doing the journals and constituted an underground policy[KR8].
We heard from one man at Pelican Bay that a person refusing the SDP must expressly say so during his DRB review, or else consent will be presumed.
COMPAS ASSESSMENT PROTOCOLS STILL NOT BEING FOLLOWED
As reported in recent issues of this newsletter (#42 and #43), the purported purpose of the COMPAS Assessment is to further the development and implementation of "a plan to obtain additional rehabilitation and treatment services for prison inmates and parolees.” The 2007 Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Service Act (PSORSA) requires the CDC to do develop and implement such a plan. PSORSA further mandates that the "data" collected by the CDC through assessments "shall be used to place inmates in programs that will aid in their reentry to society and that will most likely reduce the inmate's chances of reoffending" [emphasis added].
Based on what our sources have said, it appears that those with parole dates are prioritized where it comes to completing assessments (although not all men with parole dates have been asked to complete them, and although multiple COMPAS Assessments were distributed to one man who has no a parole date[KR9]). We have thus far seen no evidence to date that any person, subsequent to completing a COMPAS Assessment, has been placed in any program that will "aid in their rentry to society."
The questions on the COMPAS Assessment ask not only about the person who's responding, but also ask about that person's friends, acquaintances and family members—whether on the inside or outside. They include questions regarding past or present illicit drug use, gang involvement, arrests, and so forth. Meanwhile, the CDC has acknowledged that any "data" gathered through the assessments is going into peoples' C-files (central files). Given this circumstance, we see no reason why a person who completes a COMPAS Assessment can't become an unwitting confidential informant against himself or others.
Title 15, §3378.3(a)(5), as approved on October 17, provides, "Information gleaned through inmate participation in program activities is not intended to be used to validate an inmate, initiate an investigation into STG related behavior, or identify/corroborate the involvement of other STG participants." Suffice to say, however, that the phrase "not intended to be" is a far cry from "shall not be." And, this weak assurance aside, §3378.3(a)(5) moreover states that "information specifically intended to convey to staff the occurrence of past, present, or future STG threats of violence or disruption may be evaluated to maintain institutional and public safety." It does not specify how staff will arrive at such subjective determinations.
The COMPAS Assessment, as advertised by the CDC, is said to involve a face-to-face interview conducted by a trained person, who enters a respondent's information into computer. We continue to invariably hear from men at Pelican Bay and Corcoran, however, that this protocol isn't being followed. Instead, paper fill-in-the dot-style surveys are being distributed to individuals, without any explanation. In addition, we continue to hear that people who refuse to fill out the surveys are being threatened with 115s (Serious Rules Violation Reports) and/or are actually receiving them.
DIFFERENT PRIVILEGES FOR SAME CLASSIFICATION GROUPS?
As "22" pointed out to us in a letter written in Spring 2014, §3044(c)(5) of Title 15 specifies, "No inmate or group of inmates shall be granted privileges not equally available to other inmates of the same custody classification and assignment who would otherwise be eligible for the same privileges." This language is unchanged under the new rules. "22" additionally noted in his letter that those in the SHU generally share the same custody classification [and assignment]; i.e., they are placed in Workgroup D–2 pursuant to §§3043.4(b) and/or 3044(b)(7). Thus, he continued, the provisions of the SDP are inconsisten/incompatible with §3044(c)(5), in that they afford different privileges to persons who share the same custody classification and assignment.
§3044(b)(7) has been amended effective October 17 and now states, "An inmate in ASU [Administrative Segregation Unit], SHU, or PSU [Psychiatric Services Unit], serving an administrative or determinate SHU term, who is deemed a program failure as defined in section 3000, may be assigned Work Group D-2 by a classification committee." Previously, Work Group D–2-included those validated as prison gang members or affiliates. (The term "prison gang," of course, has been eliminated in the new rules, and is replaced with the term "Security Threat Group.") §3043.4(b) has been amended to read, "An inmate who is placed in SHU, PSU, or ASU for misconduct described in subsection (c) [e.g., murder or attempted murder, manslaughter, assault or battery causing serious bodily injury, assault or battery on a peace officer resulting in bodily injury, possession or manufacture of a deadly weapon] or upon validation as a STG-I is ineligible to earn credits pursuant to Penal Code section 2933 or 2933.05 during the time he or she is in the SHU, PSU, or ASU for that misconduct." What is not clear from the new rules is what the default classification/assignment will be for persons serving SHU terms who are validated as STG–I or STG–II associates or members, whether or not they've been placed in the SDP.
We by no means begrudge any individual for receiving so-called privileges under the SDP that s/he is not otherwise be able to receive. Yet, the issue raised by "22" points to the ineptitude of the CDC.
Oct 01, 2014
keywords: Lexan Cells
From California Prison Focus Issue 44
This report is based on dozens of letters from men housed in the Pelican Bay SHU as well as 14 interviews with men currently housed in SHUconducted by CPF representatives in July of this year. The information gathered from these men reveal that conditions at PB have not improved since the hunger strikes of 2013, or since our last report on the conditions of PB SHU, published in our 2014 Spring issue. The blatant abuse of human rights persists relentlessly. The identities of all prisoners are concealed by using a random letter (eg, Mr. A) to reduce the risk of staff retaliation. Information regarding the Step Down Program are presented in a separate report. (See page 8)
NON-BEHAVIOR BASED GANG VALIDATION
As long as men can be placed in isolation indeterminately without having committed a violent act, or any act at all, the SHU will be full and the wheels of the Industrial Prison Complex will keep on turning. Men continue to share with us the circumstances of their non-behavior based gang validation. Mr. C, for example, reported that he was validated in the mid-1990s based on information received from an unidentified informant. He has not received any violation write-ups (115s) in the last fifteen years, except for those he acquired during the hunger strikes. Yet Mr. C remains locked up in the SHU indeterminately. He has been waiting for his parole hearing for fifteen years. Another individual reported that he had been written up for gang activity after having received drawings through the mail with alleged gang-related symbols. He is challenging the purported violation. We heard that there is a new regulation that requires CDCR to give inmates, upon request, a document showing the symbols that may be used towards gang validation.
SUBJECTIVE USE OF VIOLATION WRITE-UPS (115s) AND THE FAILED GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE (602s)
Officers reportedly receive orders from the top to find some men guilty of violations, whether or not the officer believes a violation was committed. One guard, for example, stated to a prisoner challenging his 115, “I understand what you are saying, but I have to find you guilty.” We received a similar report, in which case, upon the approval of a 602 appeal, the officer stated, “I’ll get in trouble for this, but I’m going to find you not guilty.” Officers have reportedly been directed to write up any jerking of handcuffs as battery.
WITHHOLDING OF MEDICATIONS AND PROPER MEDICAL CARE
Medications have been drastically reduced for reasons unrelated to the men’s health care needs. When orders come down from above, the reductions occur all at one time. This has been especially difficult for the older men, some of whom are in severe physical pain. One interviewee reported lack of care for a re-injured shoulder for which he was already receiving pain medication. Despite an increase in pain and discomfort, his previously approved dosage was reduced. We received one troubling report from an individual that his neighbors were told that they needed to debrief in order to receive pain medication.
Several men reported ongoing neglect in both eye and dental care. The medical requests of men who need eye glasses or already have glasses but need a stronger, are regularly denied. One individual explained that if somebody has one good eye and one bad eye, he will be denied optometric care.
There are so many factors that contribute to the poor health of the men imprisoned in the SHU. Lack of fresh air and sun continues to have a toll on the physical and mental health of these men. Mr. G reported that he gets spots on his arms that look like bites. The doctor told him that it was from lack of sun. Mr. L pointed out to his interviewer, in a past visit, that after decades in the SHU he was losing the pigment in his dull, hazy blue eyes.
SLEEP DEPRIVATION AND CELL CHECKS
The disturbance caused by regular cell checks is a growing problem. Cell checks create a lot of noise, making it very difficult to sleep, or even think. The huge chains on the pod doors make a loud noise every time they are opened and closed, which is unrelenting due to the frequency of cell checks, every half hour, all day and all night. In addition, the guards make excessive amounts of noise stomping up and down the stairs with their keys jangling. The noises are multiplied by six as the men can hear the noises coming from each of the six pods in their block. Despite the increasing number of complaints of sleep deprivation, ear plugs are prohibited.
It is hardly disputed among specialists that lack of sleep has adverse health effects. Years of research demonstrate that sleep deprivation has both short and long term effects. Short term effects may include impaired judgment, mood stability and one’s ability to learn and retain information. It also increases the risk of accidents and injury. Long term effects include damage to the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and/or nervous systems, leading to a host of health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Lack of sleep impairs glucose tolerance which is a precursor to diabetes, a life threatening disease already rampant and in Californiaprisons. Cell checks are directly contributing to the already compromised health of the men warehoused in the SHU.
Random drug testing has been occurring once a week or every two weeks. One man reported that for a month, he had been drug tested weekly. The guards state that the cells are picked randomly although some men believe this to be untrue. One individual referred to the drug testing as “bogus.” He reported that he had received an erroneous serious rules violation (115) for being drunk, stating that he had not had alcohol in 15 years. One individual asked in exasperation, “There is money for this, but not for programming?!”
VIOLATION OF LEGAL RIGHTS
One man reported that he has an active case and that he has been allowed only 2 hours in the Law Library every 6 weeks. This is a violation of his legal rights to defend himself.
LACK OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
The R in CDCR stands for Rehabilitation. Yet, over and over men express frustration at not having access to rehabilitative opportunities, such as education. Despite CDCR neglecting their own mission and responsibility to provide rehabilitative opportunities, many of the men strive independently to better themselves. Many explain that that they are unable to take correspondence courses because they cannot afford to do so. We received one report that the proctored exams, including math and reading, were stalled. Mr. P explained that he had requested the opportunity to take correspondence courses in late 2011, but there were continuous delays and excuses and ultimately, he never received permission to do so. Mr. Q had taken Coastline correspondence courses until CDCR “cut them out.” He was working toward an AA degree in 2006/2007. He is still a registered student there but CDCR will not allow him to continue his studies. Mr. Q wants more education materials in general, but specifically in history and math. He expressed disappointment that the SDP journals are not educationally oriented.
Supposedly, the men in the SHU have the opportunity to attain, at minimum, their GED. Even this minimal education proves nearly impossible to obtain according to several of the men with whom we have spoken. One student explained that when they are in the prison-run educational program,students send their work to the teacher to be graded, but noted “you wait and wait and get no reply.” Mr. W reported that he was in the GED program but then, for reasons unknown to us, he was required to take CASAS (Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System) again. At the time of the interview, Mr.W had already waited for over five months and had been unable to continue his studies. He is determined, however, to obtain an education, and looks forward to being able to do so when the prison makes that possible.
Education is an unquestionably critical element of rehabilitation. It opens the mind enabling one to see a different way of being. It is a critical stepping stone to making better decisions and building one’s self confidence. The Division of Rehabilitative Programs, a branch of CDCR, states that it’s mission is to “help offenders leave prison with better job or career skills, education, life skills, and confidence, so they can succeed in their future despite past obstacles... evidence shows successful rehabilitation is good for communities in a multitude ways, including a significant reduction in criminal recidivism.” CDCR and the Division of Rehabilitative Programs blatantly disregard their own mission statement. CDCR needs to take the R in their name seriously and provide real, effective,and timely educational opportunities for all men who need or desire it. As eloquently noted by Mutope Duguma (James Crawford), "If we fail to educate the people while we got their attention, that’s our failure."
UNSANITARY LIVING CONDITIONS
Little has changed regarding the appalling conditions at Pelican Bay. The men describe unsanitary conditions, worn out items such as clothing and mattresses, a faulty ventilation system, to name just a few. Trays continue to be “unsanitary and dirty with old food” visible on them. Showers are reportedly not cleaned regularly as is required by CDCR regulations, and even when they are cleaned, they are cleaned inadequately. Insufficient amounts of cleanser are provided for cleaning the pods, showers and yards. Mr.S said he does his own laundry because otherwise his clothes are returned dirty, damaged or not at all. Additionally, it is difficult to get replacement clothing, and when the men do succeed in procuring new (or used) items of clothing, they are often given the wrong size. It was reported at the time of the interview that there had been no hot water for the previous two days. Another common grievance we hear is about the apparently faulty ventilation system. Rather than cooling the cells, the vents had been feeding hot air into their cells causing great discomfort, especially for the men who are double celled. At other times the ventilation made the cells cold due to the condensation and lack of air movement.
Worn out, low quality mattresses are yet another problem. Mr. F reported that he had received a new mattress just two months earlier, but that it was already lumpy, all the air has gone out of it and he cannot sleep on it. Mr. D reported that despite the worn out state and poor quality of his old mattress, he preferred it to the new ones, which are even worse, he explained. The physical discomfort of sleeping on a slab of concrete on an inadequate mattress contributes to the sleep deprivation, back problems, and other associated ailments experienced by a large percentage of men in the SHU. Even the average barnyard animal receives more comfortable bedding than the men of Pelican Bay SHU.
CLAUSTROPHOBIC CONDITIONS OF PLEXIGLAS LINED-CELLS
Lexan cells are cells lined with Plexiglas, with about an inch of air space at the bottom of the walls. We understand that there is one pod in every block has lexan on the cells, though this information has not been verified. Though these cells are designed for mentally ill and/or suicidal inmates, they are being used to house non-mentally ill prisoners, either punitively or arbitrarily. One of the interviewees reported that half of the cells in which the Lexan had been removed, had since had the plexiglass put back on. Mr. X, who was being housed in a Lexan cell, explained that staff “pump in whatever temperature they have in mind, but there is no exiting air vent. So the air is stale.” He said that over the sumer his Lexan cell was extremely hot. However, the guards force in hot air in the summer and cold air in the winter. Mr. K reported that he does not complain about the temperature of his Lexan cell for two reasons: First, because he has been told by the guards that the forced air is not coming off, and second because he believes if he complains he would be the target of retaliation and probably moved to a different pod with even worse conditions. (This is a common threat made by the guards: “If you don’t behave, we’ll move you.”) It is critical that where the Lexan is not necessary for its purpose, it should be removed from the cell.
THE USE OF STAMPS AS DONATIONS
CPF received two reports through written correspondence that they were no longer able to include stamps in outgoing mail. One man’s letter to the editor of The Rock was returned because he had enclosed 4 stamps as a donation. Staff attached a note when returning it that said, “can’t purchase with stamps” even though it was just a donation. We find it incomprehensible that CDCR devotes time and energy to blocking a donation made to a small, but truthful and informative newsletter to prison while denying basic sanitary conditions and real educational opportunities to the men in SHU.
Recently CDCR attempted to enact a new regulation that would censor incoming publications. The public outcry against the unconstitutionality of this type of censorship forced CDCR to drop and reconsider the proposed regulation. Yet they seemed to have found a way around this move. Reports of stamps being disallowed as use for donations have only been received recently since the proposed censorship regulation was dropped.
ON A POSITIVE NOTE, PRISONER SOLIDARITY THRIVES
We spoke with one man who told us about how he tries to take care of others. If he knows somebody is feeling bad, he will send some food over. “Food,” he stated, "[is what] I call it our ‘emotional currency.’” In addition, he tries to educate those who need it about how to resolve conflict without violence, “to teach them it is okay to have emotions and express them--but emotions change and pass.”