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Jun 26, 2017
keywords: PSU, Mental Health
From Prison Focus Issue 52
WHAT IS A PSU?
A PSU or Psychiatric Services Unit is a secure housing unit for prisoners with solitary terms who are deemed to require an advanced level of mental health care. In the words of the Mental Health Services Delivery System (MHSDS) Program Guide: “Inmate-patients who are serving an established and approved SHU term and require an Enhanced Outpatient Program (EOP) level of care shall be referred to a PSU.”
PSUs were created as part of the Statewide Mental Health Program (SMHP) initiated in response to the 1995 federal court ruling in the Coleman vs. Brown class action lawsuit regarding the treatment of prisoners with mental health diagnoses. This ruling found that California prisons were in violation of the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment because they did not provide adequate mental health care. Other states, when forced to reckon with the unsuitability of solitary confinement for those with mental health symptoms, chose to move people out of solitary. For instance, New York has the SHU Exclusion Law, passed in 2008 and implemented in 2011, which restricts the placement of prisoners with serious mental illness in disciplinary confinement entirely.
Instead of ending solitary confinement for Californians with mental health diagnoses, CDCr chose to implement SMHP, with the stated goal of providing “ready access to mental health services” for prisoners. The program also aims to “ensure that the individual functioning of seriously mentally disordered patients is optimized so that their care may be maintained in the least restrictive environment.” This doublespeak is not lost on those with serious diagnoses who are still placed in solitary confinement conditions with no substantive out-of-cell time.
According to policy, PSU prisoners are supposed to be offered at least 10 hours of scheduled structured therapeutic activities per week, and to be regularly evaluated both medically and psychiatrically by health-care professionals. Therapeutic treatment activities may include individual or group psychotherapy, although during group therapy, prisoners are kept in individual cages because they are not allowed to be unshackled around others. According to one report we received, this programming may consist of nothing more than watching television. The average stay in the PSU lasted 86.63 days, with a range of 3-229 days.
The actual provision of this care is monitored by a Special Master, as part of the Coleman ruling. In the last (26th) round of reports, filed May 2016, the Special Master found that the initial contact timeframe for individuals placed in the PSU was only 76% compliant; the rate of interdisciplinary participation in treatment planning meetings was 79% compliant; and only 57% of PSU prisoners were offered ten hours of group therapy per week. Looking at the Step system by which prisoner-patient progress is measured, out of 1460 Step actions taken in the monitoring period, 793 or 54% maintained the prisoner at his current Step level. The primary reason for prisoners being retained at their current levels or having their levels increased was listed as “participation.”
In light of these findings, it is reasonable to ask if prisoner participation in treatment programming has been adversely affected by the State’s failure to meet the standards set by the Coleman ruling. Given that privileges in the PSU are earned through progress on the Step system, and that prisoners are penalized for not participating fully in treatment, it is all the more crucial that the CDCr ensures this treatment is provided. Whether the programming that is offered is suitable and applicable to the prisoners and constitutive of “adequate mental health care” is a further question.
Following the closure of the PSU at Pelican Bay at the end of 2016, there is currently only one prison in California with PSU facilities - CSP Sacramento. California Prison Focus has received a number of letters from prisoners in the PSU at Sacramento, many of which report serious deficiencies in their care. The issues highlighted by these letters are summarized below:
While prisoners are officially encouraged to speak out in order to receive help if they are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, we have received multiple reports of prisoners not receiving the help they need, including guards refusing to remove suicidal prisoners from their cells, and even being threatened with physical violence for speaking up. Similarly, when people harm themselves, rather than getting placed in “crisis beds,” where they are under 24-hr supervision, reports are that they are immediately returned back to their cells instead.
Security welfare checks, are a constant and severe problem threatening the mental health of prisoners across all solitary units, especially the checks throughout the night, causing sleep deprivation, which is a known form of torture. This issue is reportedly exacerbated by the placement of sensors directly on the cell doors in the PSU at CSP-SAC. Recent reports from the PSU are that the checks are loud and regular, but are not thorough, with most officers rushing by and not even looking into the cell. These “welfare” checks have already been the focus of human rights scrutiny for their failure to provide any welfare to prisoners, but rather have negative, physical and mental health consequences. (For more on the security welfare checks, see page 5)
A serious issue CPF is concerned with involves the state abusing its right to administer medication involuntarily, with many prisoner-patients in the building forced to take the same medication, despite differing individual needs of their conditions. One report to CPF describes overmedicated prisoners as “walking zombies”, some of whom now need to use walkers to get around due the effects of these medications upon their equilibrium.
MENTAL HEALTH EVALUATIONS
When prisoners in the PSU are written up for rule violations, they must undergo a mental health evaluation in order to determine if their mental health condition played a part in their violation of the rules. In one letter CPF received, a prisoner describes how these evaluations are often conducted as many as ten days after the violation. The results of these belated evaluations are then used to determine the prisoner’s state of mind at the time of the violation, with the usual conclusion being that mental illness played no part (due to the length of time between violation and evaluation), so the prisoner may be held fully responsible and face disciplinary action.
DISABILITY DESK IN LAW LIBRARY
For one piece of positive news, thanks to the efforts of prisoner advocates within the PSU, there is now a ‘disability desk’ in the PSU law library, providing physically disabled prisoners with equal access to legal information.
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS
CPF stands in solidarity with prisoners of all types, including those with mental health diagnoses. CPF understands that mental health conditions are common to all people, and we reject any “stigma” or negative treatment based on a mental health diagnosis. All individuals deserve support and respect. If you are currently incarcerated in the PSU, previously have spent time in the unit, or have other accounts of CDCr’s provision of mental health services, CPF welcomes all submissions. Be sure to note in your letter whether you give permission for your account to be anonymously shared with others.
Jun 23, 2017
keywords: Prisoner Report
From Prison Focus Issue 52
I am writing on behalf of everyone being held in Donovan State Prison Ad -Seg. I am not here for disciplinary reasons yet have been held in Ad-Seg since November 2016 because they have no yard to place me on because of informant enemies.
This has to be the oldest place I’ve been to. Run down. They are being funded as ADA Medical yet they are not fixing the problems. This Ad-Seg does not allow T.V.’s because they don’t have outlets. [at other ad-Segs] inmates can get their TVs and those that are Non Discipline can get other items. Not here. They only give us wind-up Radios! They want inmates to go CCCMS or EOP to get what should be allowed for every inmate in the system.
This Ad-Seg isn’t even approved for ADA inmates. They house ADA inmates with breathing problems where they need a machine to plug in the wall. They use a cord in the chase that goes under the door. Water is in the chase. It's very dangerous.
They have a tier full of inmates on suicide watch. At least 5 inmates come in on a daily basis. Last week an inmate hung himself on the B Yard. The question is why? From cell 142 to 150 they have Suicide inmates also that are ADA inmates. No wheelchairs or walkers allowed or canes. They take the inmate’s clothes. Butt naked and give him just some weird looking cover to put on. They just started to give them one blanket. No boxers. Each cell isn’t even a Suicide cell. The cell has lockers, which they aren’t supposed to have or a table or top bunk! So they can’t kill themselves! But these cells are full every day. New guys come in and go out every 5 days. I’ve seen in this short time at least 1,000 different inmates.
They don’t have mirrors in showers, nor do they turn on the lights to see when using the razors or nail clippers. Hair clippers aren’t even cleaned when we use them and we’re allowed to only use them once a month. The plumbing here is bad. Leaking water in all the chases. No exercise bars in cages! No pull up bar! The Legal Law Library is a Joke. The guards are disrespectful to inmates.
The food we’re fed is placed on trays that are old and nasty. In all the other prisons everything had been replaced so the food was delivered hot in small trays with lids. These trays here pile on top of each other where everyone’s food sticks to the bottom of each tray.
We aren’t allowed to wear Thermal tops or bottoms to the Cage Yard. No place have I ever been where you can’t, and where they don’t hand out jackets! Here it rains and it’s cold.
On C Yards, inmates are being allowed to assault other inmates. Beat them down to get them off the yards and leave the 2 or 3 that jumped on one inmate. Staff allows this type of behavior and gives the inmates that get assaulted a write-up. Just so that there will be no victim. This is being allowed on all SNY’s! Craziest thing I ever seen or heard.
Because CDCR wants violence to take to the public and Sacramento so they can start the SHU Programs back. Inmates are getting assaulted by 2 or 3 or even 4 [other inmates] and then all 4 are allowed back to the yards. Coward staff! Put 1030 or 812 on the ones assaulted. There are inmates in Ad-Seg right now for that! And if they fight back they get RVR-115s too! Administration here is no good. Corrupt! That’s not fair to no one!!
It’s all coward stuff that’s being allowed and Prison Focus needs to print-up these issues about SNY Prisons. A lot of these younger inmates lied and ran from other inmates on G.P.s and some have never been on G.P. mainlines and come over here and assault inmates and staff allows it. Someone needs to make it known to all inmates how these cowards are behaving so CDCR will handle this problem. More inmates have gotten killed in the last Years on SNY’s than on G.P. by inmates that ratted out their best friends or gang homies. Yet didn’t face their own music.
And there’s a lot of inmates that can’t program because of these types of incidents. It’s all on SNY’s. They want to belong to groups so they can call themselves a gang. Many inmates have suffered and come out of the SHUs to leave that lifestyle and do a better program, to maybe see some freedom. And they all had rules placed on them as well as inmates that were victims and really got stabbed on mainlines. Now all they have to do is lie and owe someone or disrespect someone and come to SNY’s for protection.
Sit ins come in and sit and go to sleep. COs all do overtime and have a good old time. They just walk away and leave the cell. It’s a scam. They are stealing from the state big time. If only the public could see where the money is being spent. They have cameras that don’t work and are turned off. The lights are always off and dark in the building. If someone needs help in the morning, no one could hear them because the cops play a radio so loud you can’t even hear during chow/shower time. For their enjoyment. There is medical staff/Lt/Sgt/counselor and other staff all see and know of all this and not one cares enough to confront it or take it to the top.
I got a visit from Moms. They never called me to visit at 10:30AM but at 1:30PM after she left. They allowed me time Sunday but my mother is 90 years old with a lot of health problems. There was no chair in the booth. I was chained and so couldn't hold the phone. I couldn’t hear her during the whole (non contact) window visit. The SHU wasn’t even this bad! I can’t stand for too long because of my old injuries. At this time I’m waiting for a walker.
All this needs to be investigated and something needs to be done. CPF would have a field day here!
Jun 13, 2017
keywords: Folsom State Prison, Administrative Segregation, ASU, Hunger Strike
Grave conditions were reported to California Prison Focus (CPF) during its most recent legal visit to Folsom State Prison (FSP) as well as through victim/witness accounts mailed directly to CPF. From among the many observations, perhaps the most compelling is CDCR’s retaliation against those men who participated in the most recent hunger strike; dolling out written violations with penalties of 90 days of restricted C status and 90 days loss of earned credit for those who fought for basic needs and reasonable requests, like insisting on a bowl or cup to eat from in lieu of using trash bags or used Ziploc baggies. Moreover, these written violations are used against a person as justification for unsuitability for release during parole hearings, thereby compounding a senseless penalty for simply seeking a humane livelihood.
And while some needs were met as a result of the hunger strike, men at FSP continue to experience inadequate living conditions and treatment. For example, sleep deprivation resulting from deliberatively disruptive welfare checks, suspicious mail delays (i.e., up to 5 weeks), poor ventilation and insufficient shade in the yard during the height of the blistering summer heat are a common part of a bleak existence at what has been described as an “old, decrepit and filthy” facility.
Lastly, there appear to be no administrative controls in place to ensure the prevention of illegal monitoring of highly sensitive conversations occurring during legal visits, that by law are meant to be confidential. Indeed, conversations between an incarcerated person and her/his attorney may never be monitored. Yet, FSP provides no assurance that prison protocol operates in accordance with the privacy law and it is suspected that they lack appropriate policies and procedures in their Departmental Operating Manual (DOM) to address such a risk.
The following is a brief narrative of CPF’s visit to FSP, followed by key points about current conditions. These accounts of FSP are an unwelcome truth.
Ms. Pollak arrived alone at Folsom State Prison on June 30th, 2017 and was escorted in for her scheduled legal visits without incident. Ms. Pollak spoke separately with three men being housed in Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) and one from General Population (GP). For the Ad Seg visits, Ms. Pollak was physically separated from the interviewee by a plexiglas wall, however, she was able to shake their hands using the small open space at the base of the glass meant for exchanging paperwork. There were no dividers on the visitor’s side of the stations, which allowed for conversations to carry easily; and because of the physical separation, phones were located at each station for communicating. Phones that, according to the notice posted on the glass wall, may be monitored.
And despite being made aware that Ms. Pollak’s visitation was legal in nature and therefore subject to confidentiality as required by law, Ms. Pollak was instead placed at an open station with a phone, not in the alternative private booth where conversations are held face-to-face, which would have circumvented the need to use the possibly monitored phone. No indication or assurance was provided to Ms. Pollak that her phone conversations would be exempt from monitoring.
The privacy issue came up again when one interviewee expressed significant concern regarding the proximity of the correctional officer, who was within earshot of their conversations. Because of the correctional officer’s presence and his ability to overhear the conversation, the interviewee was very hesitant to discuss the prison conditions and the associated hunger strike. The interviewee was clearly worried for his wellbeing.
Ms. Pollak expressed concern over the lack of privacy to the correctional officer, who responded that there was no other more private space available, so she proceeded with her interview, emphasizing to the interviewee to only share what he felt safe and comfortable saying, knowing that they may be heard.
After the visit was finished Ms. Pollak again expressed her concern about the lack of privacy, pointing out the sign on the window and reminding the correctional officer that this was a legal visit. This time, Ms. Pollak was told a more private booth had become available. Consequently, the last two visits occurred in a private booth where Ms. Pollak and her interviewee could talk face to face, away from the correctional officer and without the use of the possibly monitored phones.
In sum, given the totality of the circumstances (i.e., no dividers allowing for privacy, the correctional officer’s ability to eavesdrop, the use of phones that may possibly being monitored, and not administratively arranging for a known legal visit in a private space), it is fair to conclude that Folsom State Prison could with ease illegally monitor conversations occurring during legal visits that are highly sensitive and confidential. However, lack of privacy is a common occurrence based on Ms. Pollack’s previous legal visits and that of other CPF volunteers who have shared similar experiences.
The following is a summary of the hunger strike-relevant information gathered. For the protection of the interviewees, unique identifiers are excluded.
Mr. A: Level II, General Population, spent 19 years in Pelican Bay State Prison Secure Housing Unit (SHU); Participated in the Step-Down Program (SDP) as a means of leaving solitary confinement and in the 2013 hunger strike. (Mr. A has a parole date in 2018 and has found the Prison Hungry Strike Solidarity parole publication very helpful!)
Mr. B: Spent 22 years in SHU (I believe in Corcoran), participated in SDP; participated in 2013 hunger strike and recent Folsom State Prison strike. Mr. B has been in Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) for 9 months for an event that is currently waiting on a 5th investigation, after the initial 4 were found inconclusive. (The 4th investigation – also deemed inconclusive - was conducted by the Warden) on 12/22/16 at his Institution Classification Committee (ICC) he was informed that he must remain in Ad Seg throughout the investigation(s) due to “safety issues.” However, he was told that he would be placed on Non-Disciplinary Status (NDS) if he debriefs. He refused to provide any information. Thus, his request for NDS pending the investigation(s) was denied. Mr. B appealed both his ASU placement as well as his NDS. His appeal was denied at the third level, and he is eager to take legal action.
Mr. C: Spent 36 months in Corcoran State Prison (CSP) SHU. For the last 8 months, he’s been in ASU doing a SHU term. His attorney has encouraged him to delay his Rules Violations Report (RVR/Form 1-15) until a pending case runs its course. Meanwhile, he’s left without the privileges of NDS. He participated in the 2013 hunger strike and the recent FSP hunger strike. He expressed that he felt he was having to starve himself again for privileges he had already starved himself for – and acquired some of in 2013.
Mr. D: In ASU doing a SHU term. Came to FSP from California State Prison-Sacramento (CSP-SAC) GP. He has been in ASU for over 6 months, doing a SHU term due to an incident, for which he has not yet been found guilty. Because he has pending court hearings, he’s been counseled to put off his RVR until all court proceedings have terminated. Mr. D predicts that by the time the court proceedings will be over, he will have completed his SHU term without SHU privileges (which are reportedly more than non-NDS ASU privileges.)
The hunger strike lasted eight days or the equivalent of twenty-four missed meals. Mr. D clarified that the strikers had offered CDCR “proposals,” and had not made “demands.” Mr. C stated that the strikers simply want equity among all men in California state prison who are housed in Ad Seg and even men in the SHU.
According to Mr. D, it was reported that the FSP Warden pulled out individual strikers, insisting that they stop striking and that he would not negotiate at all, until the strike was ended. The men reportedly made a collective decision to stop, which they did, that day.
• Visiting was reportedly extended from 1 day/per week to 2 days/per week. However, from accounts, this change occurred prior to the hunger strike. Now however, there is bathroom access during the first visitation hour.
• Most canteen restrictions were removed.
• The men received a scrub pad and disinfectant for cleaning. However, from accounts, this change occurred prior to the hunger strike.
• Since the strike, staff have made rounds asking each inmate if they have any programming or law-related questions or needs, and if they need any forms printed or copies made.
• Since the strike staff have been coming through on a regular basis asking the men if they need certain books or help with getting signed up for the GED program.
• The men have been permitted, since the strike, to take their sweats or shorts with them to the yard.
*It is believed that the Folsom administration preemptedly planned on granting some gains in efforts to quell the strike.
According to one interviewee, “we did not receive TVs, Non-Disciplinary Reports or anything of real substance.” Additionally, CPF received a letter from FSP ASU dated 7/1/17 stating: “The conditions here have not changed. We are possibly gonna go again! This time for 30 days.”
• Request# XX – Televisions
The FSP Warden claims that the lack of TVs is due to the age of the facility and is a financial issue beyond the scope of his influence. While no TVs is being blamed on the lack of electrical sockets, the cells are already wired. Adding sockets should not be a huge expense. However, the men were told that there was nothing the institution could do about it. What it really comes down to, according to Mr. D, is that the FSP Warden reportedly gets a bonus for keeping his budget below a particular level.
• Request# XX – Welfare Checks
Welfare checks had reportedly stopped, but have since commenced.
Retaliation: All participants in the FSP hunger strike received a 115 for “Delaying a peace officer in the performance of duties” and received 90 days on restricted C status and a 90 day loss of credit. Mr. D was eager to challenge his 115 and was grateful for the information he received regarding the Gomez case, which he plans to designate. He intends to encourage others to challenge their strike-related 115s.
Non-Disciplinary Status: Attorneys encourage men with pending cases to put off rule violation hearings until a case has run its course. Meanwhile one may end up in ASU for an extended period of time while waiting, without NDS privileges or without SHU privileges (which are reportedly more than those afforded to non NDS ASU inmates.)
It was explained that even a victim of a stabbing can end up in Ad Seg for extended periods of times without NDS, pending a delayed investigation.
Coerced debriefing: NDS are being withheld as a method of coercion to debrief. There is a very clear, unspoken “memo” that if you do not “cooperate” you will not receive NDS and privileges.
Reported conditions at FSP’s Administrative Security Unit (ASU):
• FSP ASUs are reportedly far worse than at any other CDCR facility.
• Old, decrepit and filthy
• Not properly equipped (i.e.: electrical outlets)
• Poor ventilation, hot and humid.
• Insufficient shade in the yard. Excessive sun and heat which is difficult for men who suffer sun sensitivity due to medications or physical conditions (such as Mr. B who has lupus).
• The men are forced to tolerate extremely loud tier fans all day, which are loud yet provide no relief in the cells. The loud fans make it difficult to think and contribute to the symptoms of sleep deprivation caused by the welfare checks.
• No way to track time.
• Conditions and privileges are better in GP and in CDCR SHUs than in FSP ASU. FSP ASU is “stuck in the middle getting the worst of everything.”
• Items that are allowed in SHU - that are not considered a security issue in SHU - are considered a safety issue and prohibited at FSP ASU. (i.e.: cups and bowls)
• Canteen regulations (packaging and repackaging) are reportedly stricter in FSP ASU than they are in SHU.
• TVs: All three of the men who had participated in the strike voiced how important to them the TV issue is. Without TVs, the men don’t have access to educational programming or news. The lack of TVs increases the likelihood of more severe depression and claustrophobia.
• The men don’t get to have a decent bowl and cup. They are permitted very small rubber cups that are reportedly for men with mental health issues, as they cannot be used to hurt themselves or anyone else. As a result, the men make soup in chip bags and old milk cartons, which is not very hygienic. “It’s degrading. Dogs in the kennel get better then what we’re getting.”
• Everything from the canteen is repackaged into little baggies. Items like soap and deodorant dry out. He explained that in ASUs in other prisons, items are transferred into baggies in front of the prisoner, but not at FSP. He is certain that he often is not getting the full amount of the items he paid for.
• Mr. B has lupus and is therefore particularly sensitive to the sun. He’s been denied the hat he has in his property, and told that he can purchase a beanie from canteen to protect his head. Mr. B still has sun spots on his bald head. (Aside from not receiving his hat, he reported that the treatment he receives for his lupus has been adequate.)
Cell searches: Searches are conducted regularly. Generally, their cells and belongings are not trashed, but the men receive no receipts of property taken.
Welfare Checks: The men continue to suffer sleep deprivation from the welfare checks. There are ways that the checks can be implemented by correctional officers to cause less disturbance. For example, the unit door could be left open during the night checks, so the door would only have to be slammed once per check, rather than twice. Keys can be attached and tucked into pockets in a way that would greatly reduce key noise. Also, though correctional officer 1 has a silencer, the correctional officers rarely use it. Thus, men continue to endure the loud bang and lights being shined in their faces all through the night. The correctional officers that care, make efforts to reduce the noise level, and do so significantly.
General Noise: The constant roar of the loud fans is contributing to the symptoms of sleep deprivation, making it difficult to “think or study” and causes severe mood swings. One man reported that they “appeared to be worse” since the strike.
Programming: Mr. B reported that though staff do come around and ask about his educational needs, and provide necessary paperwork, there is no one to help with the actual material, and no proctors. He explained that one is basically left to teach themselves and that is a great challenge and obstacle for many of the men who would like to receive their GED. The fans and welfare checks make it hard to study.
Library: The law library has a cage equipped with a computer, but no manual or personnel to assist. As a result, it’s “practically useless” to many of the men.
Mail: Delays up to 5 weeks are common. Often no explanation is provided. A group 602 over mail delays has been submitted. When Mr. D 1st arrived at FSP ASU, it took almost 3 months for him to start receiving his mail. He reported that the mail service seemed to be improving slightly before the strike, but then got worse again when the strike started.
Books: The literature available is basically limited to religious materials or magazines that one can pick up on their way to and from showers, as well as other miscellaneous books that are passed around from time to time.
• The ASU yard cages are dirty.
• They have no pull-up bars or anything at all.
• Sometimes not even shade, creating a serious health risk for some.
• The men are reportedly receiving the required minimum of 10 hours yard time per week.
• “Strip Outs”: the strip search protocol is degrading and unnecessary. The men are forced to strip down, and then parade through the prison on their way to yard, in only their boxers and shoes – even when it’s raining – in front of other inmates as well as correctional officers, both male and female. They can get dressed once in the yard/kennel, and then have to completely strip down again before returning to their cell, even though they’ve had no contact with anybody or access to anything since the earlier search. Again, they are forced to parade through the prison, half naked.
• Mr. D reported that most ASUs are being refitted for longer term use; essentially into new SHU cells.
• NOTE: CPF received a letter from FSP ASU dated 6/4/17 which included a copy of a FSP memo dated June 29, 2017 regarding canteen shortages, an act of retaliation according to the prisoner who forwarded us the memo.
• Mr. D emphasized that the problems aren’t the correctional officers fault; that they were just following orders from the top. And they were also dissatisfied with the way things are run in ASU. He wants outside advocates to meet with the authorities in Sacramento to demand that the property matrix be changed.
Feb 17, 2017
From Prison Focus Issue 51
This is a summary of present conditions at High Desert State Prison, as collected by CPF through letters written to our office and a legal research visit conducted in November 2016. As with all prison reports published by Prison Focus, in order to protest those who write and visit with us, we do not use any names that will identify any of the people visited. Initials used to identify speakers are not representative of names, and the repetition of initials does not indicate it is the same person.
Longtime readers of Prison Focus may note that reporting on High Desert is a relatively new practice for us. In previous years, we exclusively reported on the conditions in the SHU, at Pelican Bay, Corcoran, and occasionally Tehachapi. In recent times, however, due to the vast movement out of the SHU resulting from the Ashker v. Brown settlement, we have begun to hear more and more reports of the harsh and inhumane conditions in many of the other prisons, especially those places where former SHU residents have been moved. Accounts of extensive lockdowns, long stays in ASU, and lack of programming expected on the mainline have drove us to increase our attention to the level 4, high security prisons, where according to many SHU “kickouts,” conditions are as bad, if not worse, than the SHU. As one correspondent wrote, “High Desert has the thought that since it is in the far corner of the state, not too many people will care what happens.” We reject the idea that distance and isolation give CDCR a pass on following its own rules, and its obligation to treat humans with the basic dignity all deserve.
GENERAL CONDITIONS AT HD
The cell conditions at High Desert fall grossly below basic standards for livability. Inmates are responsible for cleaning their own cells, yet they are not provided with cleaning supplies. Mr. B reported that he has only received cleaning supplies, scrub pads, cups, and spoons twice in the months he has been at HD. The mattresses are stinky and tiny. Mr. U reported that his cell was leaking when it rained. He requested work order repair, did not receive anything, and was forced to personally patch the leak. He used soap.
In the day rooms, there only one phone. Even at Pelican Bay there were two phones per section.
The temperature in the cells at HD vary significantly based on locations. Mr. O reported that in his block, the temperature is warm, but elsewhere, he knows there are constant complaints of cold air pumped into the cells. Individuals in Ad Seg reported very cold temperatures.
Cell searches happen randomly every day. Each shift has to search 6 cells a day at random, according to an internal CDC memo. During searches the COs drag the mattress onto the nasty dirty ground.
Several individuals reported that laundry gets picked up but it comes back dirty every week.
Despite these conditions, one individual who was at HD from 2010-13, left, and recently returned, noted that the new Warden is making changes and is much better than the previous one.
As reported elsewhere in this issue, CPF has heard reports from across the prison system that X-ray Scanners are getting installed and used on a regular basis. At HDSP, interviewees told us that machines had been installed in early November 2016 on the way to the visiting area, but not yet in use. It was Mr. T’s understanding that they would be put into use in early 2017, after guards were trained on their use (we have not received any updated reports on their use at HDSP at the time of publication).
Until such time as the X-ray machines are put into use, the “regular” metal detectors are still used, but only when there are incidents on a unit.
RULES VIOLATIONS REPORTS (115S)
Several individuals we met with had not had trouble with arbitrary or false 115s. Others did report instances where 115s were issued based on poor evidence. For instance, Mr. B reported that one day, he was randomly handcuffed and told to stand in the back of my cell. One of his enemies walked by and threw a weapon from his sock into the cell. He was then convicted on constructive possession, which landed him in the SHU. Another individual reported receiving a 115 for constructive possession when his cellmate was found with a weapon. He is appealing this and his 602 is currently pending at the third level. He felt his due process rights were violated, as he was found guilty by association.
Mr. H reported that he had heard of someone getting written up for having toilet bowl cleaner in his cell. This was surprising given that cleaners are commonly allowed in other prisons.
Petty 115s are extremely frustrating to prisoners, as they affect people’s ability to transfer, and more than anything, people desperately want out of HDSP.
Mr. V reported a situation where he was told that legal mail addressed to Mr. Jones contained narcotics and did not pass through inspection. At the hearing, the guard admitted he had no proof Mr. V requested such drugs, however, he was still found guilty. His visits were taken away for one year, contact visits for two years, and yard for 30 days.
GRIEVANCES/ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS (602s)
Several of our correspondents fully exercise their ability to file 602s. We commend these efforts, as they are the first step to access to the courts and an important mechanism for getting one’s rights enforced. Mr. H reported that most of his 602s are “partially granted,” but none are fully approved. This is frustrating because it limits his ability to appeal up the chain.
There were a few successes with the 602 process. Mr. I relayed one success with a 602 concerning his mail; he tried to mail a drawing of his daughter to his daughter, but it was returned back to him for not being suitable. He included copy of Title 15 in his 602 and was able to send the drawing. Others we correspond with feel that writing 602s are pointless because they are so rarely successful.
Mr. D reported that he had to file a 602 on his property, as it did not arrive for nearly 3 months following a transfer from another institution. He did finally receive (most of) his property.
Mr. M filed a 602 regarding a “stripped down” mattress. He never received a written response on the 602, but within two days, he received a replacement mattress. He was pleased this was resolved at his cell door, without a written response.
The general consensus is that doing time in general population at HD is like being in ASU or SHU but with less yard time. Mr. O stated that he had been at HD since May 2016 but had only been to the yard a total of 10 times.
In the fall, Mr. X reported a consecutive two month lockdown. They were told there were threats to staff and security, but a full search (which could be done in a single day) was not done. After that, the unit was put on a modified yard schedule due to construction on the yard for a wheelchair ramp. During modified programming, each tier gets dayroom every other day, but it's not consistent. The first official yard was the week prior to CPF’s November visit, the first time since August.
In another unit, Mr. K reported rolling lockdowns: two weeks on lockdown, back to yard for a week, then another lockdown. Reports guards are making up excuses for a lockdown, claiming “weapons” or “metal missing,” or even something like a cup missing in the chow hall, but then the guards do not conduct the typical searches associated with those risks, if they were real.
A couple interviewees did state they had regular yard access, although sometimes yard is cut short due to staffing issues, or will inexplicably start very late.
On the yard itself, there is extremely limited recreational equipment, and there are often fights. According to Mr. H, guards do not get involved, but instead throw small hand grenades at people to try to stop fights, or shoot at the wall.
Mr. L explained that HD law librarian does not have a contract with the state, so the library is only open when she is available. As a “Priority Legal User,” he is supposed to get a minimum of 4 hrs/week in the library, but it is inconsistent. “General Legal Users” have an even harder time, with a wait list of over 200 to gain access. On the week of our visit, the library was only open two days. Mr. E stated that he regularly waits up to two months between visits, which makes researching for a case he intends to file essentially impossible.
The law library is even more difficult to access during lockdowns. Mr. D noted that he had to file a 602 in order to gain access to the library because there are so many lockdowns.
It is almost unnecessary to state that our correspondents describe medical care at HD as grossly below basic standards. Mr. S stated that others in his yard have cancer but are not getting needed medications, and do not regularly see medical. Mr. Q told us that he had a knee injury over a year ago and immediately after, the doctor recommended an MRI for him. He has now seen the doctor two more times since then but has never received the MRI.
In one urgent case, Mr. X described a severe heart condition as a result of a stabbing at a different institution. He had emergency surgery, but was left with a hole in his heart. It is his understanding that there is no full-time doctor on staff, but only one on call, and that the closest hospital is quite small (only 25 beds) and prisoners are never transferred there. A nurse practitioner confirmed the facility cannot support his condition, but has not had success in advocating for his transfer.
The treatment of Hep C is especially frustrating to individuals. It is rumored that under CDCR policy, Hep C must reach stage 4 before individuals are eligible for any treatment. Mr. W told us that he receives no treatment whatsoever for his Hep C. When he does see a doctor, he checks his blood pressure and sends him on his way. As a result, Mr. C has very high anxiety about his health. He said that in the SHU at Pelican Bay, he had a significantly easier time getting prescription medication than at HD. Mr. J told us that his cellmate, who has late-stage Hep C, was hospitalized for two weeks and upon return received no follow up care.
Dental care is also difficult to receive and many prisoners expressed dissatisfaction with the level of care. Mr. C stated that the dentist is quick to pull out teeth rather than fix them. He had severe tooth pain and it took about 6 months to see the dentist after putting in a request. Others reported a delay of only 2-3 months to see the dentist. Mr. E stated that he has put in requests for a cleaning, but that is considered not serious enough to warrant an appointment.
“There is a different breed of prison up here. They follow their own rules.”
Mr. Z reported that ever since the 2015 Ashker settlement, SHU prisoners and other activist prisoners who promote positive programming are harassed either by getting removed from jobs, or through limitations on movement access, designed to deny them the ability to promote positive activities.
One individual who visited with CPF reported that he received threats of retaliation immediately after the visit for speaking with CPF. We condemn this behavior and the chilling of constitutionally-guaranteed access to the courts that it leads to. “The meetings will not go unheard or unnoticed in High Desert’s eyes…”
Mr. G reported that some guards are better than others, but many are not ready for change, such as new programming. Anything that requires guards to work harder is resisted.
Mr. H stated that the guards at HD are more petty than at many other institutions where he has been housed, such as yelling at prisoners on intercom for extremely minor violations.
Mr. V confirmed that sentiment, stating that this is the worst prison out of all of the Level 4's that he's been at (almost all of them) because of the guards. They hold a lot of tension and aggression toward prisoners.
Mr. U felt that because he doesn’t interact with the guards, the guards leave him alone. He reports that the guards only “bug” the inmates who speak out to them.
In one especially troubling report, Mr. B described a “Fight Club” where guards put prisoners of different races into the yard together when they are at war with one another. They set up controlled situation and allow prisoners to “clear the air” while they place bets on the winner.
More than some other facilities, CPF receives a lot of reports of violence at HD. Mr. I reported that there are rumors that three prisoners died in October alone at HD. One person reported that someone was killed the day after our visit. We do not have details on whether the suspected killer was another prisoner or a guard, but regardless, it is the responsibility of CDCR to ensure the integrity of every individual’s life in their care. Failure to protect other prisoners from violence is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
Reports of the quality of food were varied. Some stated it was bearable, although they would prefer more variety and access to a healthier diet and especially more vegetables. Others reported that the quality of the food was very low: undercooked, cold, and tasteless. Mr. W stated “I prefer the food at Pelican Bay, and that’s saying something.” Mr. E stated that he is regularly served rotten milk, bruised apples, or moldy bread, but the food is not replaced if he complains. This is especially difficult for those who are indigent and thus don’t have access to the canteen.
One of the biggest issues with access to mail centers around the censorship of an allied newspaper, the SF Bay View. Many people across the California prison system, including those at High Desert, did not receive the Bay View Sept/Oct issue, but never received notice of censorship, as required by Title 15.
Mr. H reported that it took 4 months for his cellmate to receive a letter from the Bay Area. Another individual stated that he is in the process of filing 602s about timeliness of mail. Most reported a delay of two or three weeks before delivery, including for legal mail. Several individuals reported that in the lower D yard, a big stack of mail was thrown in the trash. Large bulk of mail for prisoners from all races/ethnicity. It was discovered by kitchen workers.
There is a new rule about magazines and many people complained that they are no longer allowed magazines if they are not “educational.” This is frustrating to people who have paid for magazine subscription but believe they are getting thrown out.
Programming and Work Assignments
There are very few educational and programming opportunities at HD. Mr. K reported that there is one GED class and two college classes for the whole prison. The classes are apparently not at capacity, although there is a waiting list of over 100 people. Mr. K received a letter stating that the wait list for college classes is approximately a year and a half.
Mr. Y had heard that starting in 2017, HD is supposed to receive more programming opportunities, including autobody, electrical, building maintenance, as well as a pre-parole class for individuals who are less than two years out from release. There is presently a re-entry hub, that has classes on substance abuse, family relations, anger management, and criminal thinking, but it is not available to most prisoners, including those with the longest sentences.
Mr. T reported that even though he received a GED and AA degree, but they are not reflected in his C-file.
Mr. C described access to a self-control program, which consists of essay assignments inside the cell two times per week. He liked it. It is the only program he's had since he's been at HDSP.
He signed up for anger management, never got called.
Several of our correspondents reported that they did have work assignments, including yard crew, a recreational clerk on the yard, and a law clerk. Mr. U explained that there are also opportunities to work porter jobs, laundry, canteen, medical, kitchen, and in the educational department. In general, however, there are not enough jobs for everyone and people expressed frustration at the forced boredom of their lives. Mr. H stated there are only 42 jobs available in his whole unit. Several prisoners volunteer to do work without pay just for something to do.
Several correspondents, especially those transferred out of the SHU, noted that it took weeks, if not months, for their property to be delivered after their transfer to HD from Pelican Bay. Some reported that all of the property arrived, others described items of personal importance that they are still missing. Mr. E told us that when he arrived at HD, he was told many pieces of property he had at Pelican Bay were not allowed at HD. He was told he could send the property home, but his family has never received it. He filed a 602 about this issue, but has not received a positive response. Technically, the prison is supposed to compensate him for missing property, but he is not hopeful.
Feb 07, 2017
From Prison Focus Issue 51
This is a summary of present conditions at Corcoran State Prison, with data from a legal research visit in January 2017 as well as letters written to CPF. As with all prison reports published by Prison Focus, in order to protest those who write and visit with us, we do not use any names that will identify any of the people visited. Initials used to identify speakers are not representative of names, and the repetition of initials does not indicate it is the same person both times.
When we arrived in Corcoran, the stench created by the dozens of cattle feed lots and dairies surrounding the prison was overwhelming. It had been raining hard for days and the cattle waste smell was everywhere, including inside the prison itself, as we quickly discovered.
At the first station, the guard in charge was baffled by our appearance. He insisted he had no record of any kind of any legal research visits – or indeed, any other visits. Eventually, he decided to send us to the SHU entrance. At the SHU station, we were informed that one on “the list” – which he had in his hand – had declined. The fact that the duty guard at the entrance did not know about us, but these two SHU guards had both the information and a list of those to be visited that day shows a typical level of lack of coordination between guards and units within a prison.
Once we went through the door of the outside room for the SHU, the guards kept us waiting a long time in front of the sally ports, which are outside. It was 40° and drizzling so this was, needless to say, unpleasant. Once we got inside, we learned that more of those on Monday’s list had “declined,” including one who had asked for special legal attention and for which Patricia had received additional information. Once we got inside, we had to explain our situation again to whom seemed to be new guards. The visiting booths we were provided had plexiglass and phones, as expected; however, the phones were permanently set at the highest volume, so the sounds from the phones traveled, making us concerned that the guards could hear the content of our communications.
CORCORAN: A PRISON OF TRANSITION
Corcoran is, in many ways, a prison of transition. Unlike previous visits, where the individuals were exclusively or mostly in the SHU, this time the individuals we met with were both on the mainline and no longer in the SHU. Several of those we visited were in Ad-Seg, including individuals who in our opinion should not be housed in such conditions, due to serious mental difficulties, grave physical illnesses, among other factors.
Likely due to the dramatic decrease in the SHU population due to the Ashker v. Brown settlement in September 2015, it appears that Corcoran has closed an entire section of what had been the SHU (unit 4B), which now sits empty, while much of the other unit (unit 4A) is housing for people who are in transit from a SHU to a mainline elsewhere. These are essentially SHU-like conditions and many are held for inordinately long periods of time. These individuals expressed frustration with getting stuck in transition, as they have neither their possessions, which are held by property until they are permanently housed somewhere, nor access to regular family visits or programming of any kind.
Mr. B reported that he was transferred from Pelican Bay and brought down to Corcoran, where he was placed in a unit with known enemies. He wrote to us after an incident resulting in numerous stab wounds. He is now in grave physical condition.
As well-reported in previous issues of Prison Focus, the facilities at Corcoran are in a constant state of disrepair, including leaking in the roof and extremely poor water quality. Mr. V complained that the water at Corcoran is often yellow and smelly, which does not surprise anyone who has taken a breath there. Bottled water is available at the commissary but of course not all prisoners have funds for this.
Poor housing conditions are exacerbated by the freezing air pumped into cells in Ad Seg all night long by the night shift guards, who are, in at least one man’s words, “rogues.”
Compounding the poor living conditions are issues involving basic movement in and out of cells. Mr. A reported that one week not long ago, his unit was made to go over four days without showers, and the day showers were scheduled they were skipped, ostensibly because a football game was on during that time.
Mr. O reported that he was in a bad living situation with his cellmate, and alerted staff that he needed to be moved. Three full days later, after several requests, a small confrontation with the cellmate over the lights resulted in Mr. O getting punched in the face. He later learned that the cellmate had several previous 115s for in-cell fights in close proximity.
HEALTH AND MENTAL HEALTH
We interviewed at least four men who are in dire mental health straits. Mr. T confessed to being in a lot of mental trouble; he is in Ad Seg and terrified of his condition, especially since he was a long-termer in the SHU at Pelican Bay who had adjusted there. He found that he could not adjust to the main yard population but instead, felt himself becoming terribly anxious and frightened of everyone and everything. Ultimately, some incident put him back into isolation at Corcoran where he has been asking for help every day in all the ways he knows how to ask. Similarly, Mr. O had a hard time holding a conversation, and continued to repeat the same narrative over and over and over, in the same words. He was very jumpy and physically uncomfortable.
Mr. S reported that he was permanently in Ad Seg because of “mental health” issues. There are apparently no regular counselors available for anyone. Mr. R reported severe levels of anxiety which he credited to his recent release from the SHU; he does not get the support he needs, and notes that the failure of CDCR to treat his medical conditions seriously affect his mental health.
Many of the men with whom we visited are in dire physical condition. They explained to us that despite regular requests for care, doctors under-diagnose and under-treat many illnesses, leading men across the prison to be in daily pain and often with worsening conditions. For instance, Mr. C described how he had fell during a seizure and seriously hurt his wrist. He did not realize it was broken until the terrible pain drove him to plea to see a doctor. That doctor said it was “sprained” and gave him acetaminophen (which in not an anti-inflammatory and thus unhelpful to his condition, but the only pain medication allowed in these prisons). Mr. C could not sleep because of the continuous pain, so he put in for another medical visit. This time they x-rayed the wrist and told him it had actually been broken but that there was nothing they could now do because it had healed too much without proper care. Not only did it continue to hurt but it became unusable so he put in for more testing. After over 90 days, they ordered another x-ray. This showed that the wrist had healed into a visible knot (which he showed me). He is now in chronic pain and unable to use his hand. In the outside world, he would likely need surgery so that he could ever have hope of using his arm again. Unfortunately, with the long sentence he is service, he is not likely to ever be released, so effectively he now only has use of one hand for the rest of his life.
A second interviewee, Mr. L, also had complaints of poor orthopedic care. He has a permanently damaged hand due to a surgery where a prison doctor apparently removed the carpal bones. He is in constant pain as a result, and another surgeon informed him that only fusing the bones permanently would possibly relieve the pain. He has no use of the hand and has no word on whether the prison will provide this surgery.
Mr. W reported a lack of medical attention to two severe conditions, a back injury and diabetes. Despite his documented back injury, Mr. W has been given a work assignment that requires high levels of physical labor. He has asked and asked to see a doctor for the pain but when he finally got taken to medical, he was kept in a tiny holding cell for 6 hours while he waited to see what turned out to be a foot doctor. He lives with this pain as he tries to do his work assignment. For his diabetes, he has been instructed to take his diabetes meds only on a full stomach but the nurses who provide all the medical services force him to swallow the medication in front of him whenever they deliver it, in order to avoid trafficking of contraband and because they do not want to come back by his cell at mealtime. He also noted that his diabetes exacerbated by the freezing air pumped into their cells in Ad Seg all night long by the night shift guards (see above on Facilities).
We also heard from prisoners with a condition common to many California prisoners, which is complications due to Hepatitis C. Mr. F, who is terminally ill with cirrhosis of the liver due to Hep C, reported that he had had decent medical care at various prisons but in Corcoran, he has not been provided with the appropriate housing. Since he is wheelchair-bound, he is entitled to special housing in a “medical cell,” so that there are less chances he can hurt himself by falling out of the wheelchair. He is presently in “transit” to another facility, but is terrified of leaving Corcoran because this would end his relationship with two doctors who have been caring for him. Transfer creates long term disruption of care and is a major inhibitor to delivery of care.
Mr. I, who has also been diagnosed with Hep C, stated that he has never been treated for his condition.
Mr. W reported he had “mild” brain damage and indeed, this meant that he could hardly focus on any question. He sat smiling throughout the interview, although was unable to respond to questions. We quickly realized that an interview was impossible and we terminated it. He did report that he receives no treatment for this brain damage or the condition.
Mr. M reported that he has chronic dizziness, ringing in the ears, and nausea, leading him to believe he may have a brain tumor, but the prison will only send him to an ear, nose, and throat doctor, who does nothing to help him.
Several men reported serious issues with access to dental care. Mr. Y has a really bad tooth that had cracked during a fall. He first saw one dentist, who put peroxide into the hole in his broken tooth and told him to continue this treatment. When informed that inmates are not allowed to have peroxide, he said salt would do. Of course inmates are also forbidden salt. This reveals the lack of awareness and training that prison doctors have regarding the harsh limitations on prisoners ability to care for themselves, as well as an unnecessary lack of collaboration between medical and custody, such that effective medical treatment is functionally impossible due to such high levels of bureaucratization.
Mr. K had seen a dentist whom he decided was deliberately trying to injure him by putting a needle in the roof of his mouth. He left the visit because of this and hadn’t seen one since.
While outside the prison, we did encounter a dentist who was visiting from Arizona and seeing patients at the prison. Given the severe needs of dental care, it seems patently unacceptable not to have full time dentists on staff at or near the prison.
Access to effective vision care is also a challenge. Mr. H reported that when he tried to get a new prescription for his eyes, he was told that he was not allowed to get the lenses replaced on the glasses he has had for years, but would only be allowed to buy prison glasses. This is a clear violation of Title 15 which allows one to purchase glasses from an outside vendor.
We found that racism is endemic throughout Corcoran. While both Latinos are African Americans suffer the impact of racist guards, it is understood that Black men experience the worst of it. Interestingly, the Black men interviewed all talked about the racism but said they expected it – as indeed they should, given US society and US history! Several noted that their court cases – including parole hearings – had been affected by various racist assumptions expressed, in one case, by the parole board that decided that the man was clearly a “criminal type” because he had been in trouble once as a youth of 14. Latinos noted the racism – but often noted, too, that it hit hardest on the Black men. One white prisoner interviewed revealed a typical response of those in (relatively) privilege by stating that he did not witness any racism against anyone.
Mr. N confirmed, as many of our correspondents do, that while not all guards are bad, and many try to be decent, those who are nice quickly become outcasts and are treated poorly by their peers, which makes it difficult for them to “do the right thing.”
Property is held for inordinately long periods for those men transferred from long-term SHU. Mr. U reported that it takes 4 to 6 weeks just to receive prison-issue clothing. Several told us that once their property was returned, items were missing and that there was no recourse because when their property had been brought to them and they had asked for receipts, they were all told that the prison had no receipts so that there is no record of the items delivered. This is a clear violation of Title 15, and we encourage prisoners in this situation to file 602s if they are in this situation.
30 MINUTE CHECKS
All interviewees told us that the 30 minute rounds continue unabated. Most said that the day shift guards are pretty good about keeping the checks as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. But at night, especially when substitute guards are on, the checks are deliberately as loud and intrusive as possible. Keeping everyone awake seems to be the purpose, and sleep deprivation continues to have negative and long term effects on everyone.
All reported that the X-ray search machines continue to be the “old style ones,” which we take to mean metal detectors rather than x-ray scanners, and aren’t used that much. The metal detectors are used whenever there is movement in or out of units for work detail or visits. When individuals are moved to different cells, they are usually “wanded” by hand.
Most of the men we met with told us that access to the law library is nearly impossible. Several of our correspondents are jailhouse lawyers and in active litigation. They universally stated that there is a dearth of material and all of it was outdated, making it difficult to keep up with important (and possibly positive) changes in the law.
Work assignments are, as many know, only available to prisoners on the main line. While a few of those we interviewed had work assignments, those in the SHU, in Ad Seg, or in transit did not. Many were just waiting for assignments since they had been recently released from the SHU. Work assignments were few and far between, with long waiting lists, many over one year.
Many of the individuals we spoke with had requested programming but were not provided any. Waiting lists for educational courses are apparently long and all those in transit are ineligible. They all expressed frustration about this. We note that as individuals are moved out of the SHU and become eligible for parole, it is extremely frustrating to see individuals request programming, be rejected, and then denied for parole based on lack of programming. CDCR has an obligation to make programming and rehabilitative services available to those it confines.