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Oct 21, 2016
keywords: Ashker v. Brown
From Prison Focus Issue 50
This bulletin is informed, in part, by in-person interviews conducted at Corcoran and Pelican Bay State Prisons in August and September, 2016, as well as by letters recently received from both prisons. It is also informed by the record and documents in Ashker v. Brown (N.D. Cal. No. 4:09-cv-05796) and reports from the Ashker plaintiffs' litigation team.
As usual, the identities of individual interviewees/correspondents have been safe-guarded through the use of anonymous designations.
A note to those new to the Prison Focus newsletter and/or unfamiliar with Ashker v. Brown: The majority of our regular readers are incarcerated in California, most of whom are directly impacted by Ashker in one way or another. They are generally familiar with matters discussed below, and this bulletin is primarily oriented towards them. That being said, some background info is provided here and there for those of you who are unfamiliar with the lawsuit and the issues surrounding it.
To begin with, Ashker is a federal class action (now settled) brought primarily on behalf of people held in indefinite solitary confinement/isolation at Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit (SHU). All of the named plaintiffs spent a minimum of ten continuous years in Pelican Bay's SHU, and some were so caged for decades on end.
This was a result of the California Department of Corrections having deemed them gang (or in the Department's current parlance, "Security Threat Group," aka STG) affiliates. So long as a person's status as a gang affiliate remained "active," in the Department's estimation, that person remained in the SHU. Remaining "active" did not require, and to this day does not require, any actual misconduct or criminal activity. But under the settlement reached, being an alleged active STG affiliate alone does not suffice to get you a SHU sentence.
Class members in the lawsuit also included alleged gang/STG affiliates who prospectively stood to be confined in Pelican Bay's SHU for ten-plus years. The lawsuit contended that long-term isolation in Pelican Bay's SHU is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the US Constitution, and that class members' due-process rights under the US Constitution were violated.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (referred to CDCr herein ) has repeatedly denied that solitary confinement is used in California. This is false. Of the 865 total individuals remaining in California's SHUs, according to recent statistics, nearly seventy percent were single-celled —i.e., alone without cellmates (not that sharing a concrete-and-steel bunker the size of a parking space, where you spend up to 24 hours each day, isn't without its own problems). Meanwhile, others suffer similar or even worse torture within the CDCr's Administrative Segregation Units (ASUs) and other isolation or maximum-security facilities.
PROGRESS OF CASE REVIEWS REQUIRED BY THE ASHKER SETTLEMENT
As of August, 17, court records indicate, the reviews of everybody who is going to receive a review under Ashker were "almost complete." This was substantially confirmed by the plaintiffs' litigation team, who informed us that initial ICC reviews were on schedule to be completed within the one-year deadline mandated by the settlement. Only about 75 people were still waiting for initial ICC reviews as of early August.
That being said, there is a bottleneck in cases that the Internal Classification Committees (ICCs) have referred to the Departmental Review Board (DRB) for further review. Details of the situation with the DRB will be discussed in a moment.
The most recent COMPSTAT data available , published in July, show that as of July 2016, there were:
• 440 people in Pelican Bay's SHU (as opposed to 1124 in July 2015)
• 324 people in Corcoran's SHU (as opposed to 1229 in July 2015)
• 76 people in Tehachapi's aka CCI's SHU (as opposed to 484 in July 2015)
• 25 people in New Folsom's aka SAC's SHU (as opposed to 52 in July 2015)
Given the progress of initial ICC reviews, it appears that Ashker class members presently constitute only a very small percentage of the people currently in the state's four SHUs. Others remaining there are ostensibly serving determinate SHU sentences based on alleged misconduct, as clarified below.
BOTTLENECK AT THE DRB; PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL COMPLIANCE
In early June, the litigation team informed us that about 80% of people receiving Ashker reviews were being released from the SHU immediately. Of those referred to the DRB for further review, about half were getting out of the SHU after seeing the DRB. These figures seem to hold true at present. Yet, as of June, there were some 100 people whose cases had yet to be reviewed by the DRB, and the DRB was only reviewing around six to eight cases per month.
Prior to the settlement, when case-by-case reviews by the DRB were happening under the Pilot Program, the CDCr had represented that it would be training/implementing additional DRB teams to conduct reviews.
At that time (February 2014 or thereabout), there were only two teams of two up and running. This substantially delayed the DRB's progress. During the two and a half years intervening, however, the DRB's capacity does not appear to have increased.
Meanwhile, the CDCr has increased the capacity of its Institution Gang Investigators (IGI). Earlier this year, the Department requested millions of dollars from the California Legislature to employ new IGIs. The legislature ended up approving $2.7 million (which paid for 22 new IGIs), despite adverse recommendations from the state's Legislative Analyst Office.
Because of the bottleneck at the DRB, the Ashker team filed a motion to compel compliance with the settlement agreement (SA) in June. Specific time-tables were requested with respect to completion of the backlogged reviews. Magistrate Judge Nandor Vadas however denied the motion in August. In his opinion, the CDCr was substantially compliant with its obligations set forth in the SA pertaining to reviews.
OTHER ISSUES BROUGHT TO THE COURT BY THE ASHKER TEAM
Since the settlement, a number of issues have been brought to the attention of and litigated before Magistrate Judge Vadas and/or (District) Judge Claudia Wilken. Due to limitations of space and publishing exigencies, we regret that only a couple of these issues can be summarized here.
Recruitment as a "SHU-eligible" offense
Attachment B to the SA, the SHU Term Assessment Chart, lists offenses punishable by a determinate (fixed) SHU sentence under the SA. "Recruiting others to become an STG affiliate or to take part in STG activities that is behavior [sic] listed in" the SHU Term Assessment is one such offense: It can land you in the SHU for up to eighteen months.
As such, "recruiting" is punishable whether or not you have recruited anybody to engage in any misconduct or criminal activity whatsoever—a state of affairs that the litigation team had objected to when settlement negotiations were still underway. A premise of the Ashker class action was that affiliation in and of itself should not be treated as misconduct.
In addition, it's possible, although unreasonable, that the CDCr could at its discretion construe "recruiting others" to include nothing more than greeting or talking to somebody on the yard. That class members lacked due-process rights was in fact one of two causes of action in Ashker. (The CDCr determines a person's placement in the SHU without any judicial oversight or review).
During settlement negotiations, the CDCr had verbally assured that the language around recruitment would be revised. When it was not revised, Plaintiffs' objected in a December 2015 letter brief to Magistrate Judge Vadas.
During a subsequent conference with Vadas on December 28, 2015 (roughly one month before the settlement agreement received the Court's final approval), the CDCr verbally agreed to formulate a policy concerning recruitment "that incorporates a coercive element." This was to be done no later than March 28, 2016. But when March 28 rolled around, the state's counsel emailed the litigation team, saying that the defendants were "unable" to revise the language defining recruitment to include a coercive element.
Plaintiffs responded by filing a motion for enforcement of the December 28 agreement. They were denied by Vadas and took the matter to Judge Claudia Wilken, requesting a determination de novo ("from the new"). Judge Wilken too refused Plaintiffs on September 14, 2016. In both judges' estimation, the December 28 agreement was not enforceable as a modification of the SA.
Alleged conspiracy by class members still retained in SHU
Another still-pending matter taken up by the litigation team is the situation of several (initially six) class members still being retained in the SHU. As of January 2015, when the CDCr began investigating these individuals for an alleged conspiracy to murder a fellow prisoner, each had been serving indeterminate SHU sentences due to their "validation" as STG affiliates. By that time, they'd respectively done between 16 and 25 continuous years in the hole (as the SHU is colloquially known).
The CDCr continues to justify keeping four of the six accused in the SHU based on the alleged conspiracy. No murder or harm ever happened, however, and when the case was referred to the local DA for prosecution, the DA declined to prosecute. Administrative charges against two of the men initially accused have furthermore been dropped.
In dispute has been the CDCr's use of old and newly introduced confidential "information" in administratively prosecuting the accused and finding them guilty. Plaintiffs have challenged a lack of transparency in the CDCR's and the Court's processes. They have further contended that the Department's use of confidential information is in violation of the SA's provisions concerning such use.
The dispute has gone back and forth between Magistrate Judge Vadas and Judge Wilken during the past several months. In response to Plaintiff's latest motion, Wilken most recently (on September 6) issued an order: (1) denying Plaintiff's request that she conduct an evidentiary hearing de novo; (2) granting Plaintiff's request to file, under seal, documents in support of their argument that the CDCr is in violation of the SA; (3) recommitting the motion to Vadas to consider the parties' new information and arguments.
RELEVANT REPORTS FROM CORCORAN AND PELICAN BAY
California Prison Focus's latest interviews with people at Corcoran and Pelican Bay happened in late August and early September. Of California's four SHUs, the SHUs at Corcoran and Pelican Bay have historically held the largest numbers of people (the remaining two SHUs are located at CCI, aka Tehachapi, and at SAC, aka New Folsom).
What is discussed below is supplemented with information provided within the past few months by correspondents at both prisons. The overwhelming majority of Interviewees/correspondents whose remarks are drawn from are Ashker class members, who recently or fairly recently got out of the SHU.
Particularly concerning in these remarks is the appearance of animus, or stigma, that emerges in regard to prison staff's conduct towards class members. Individuals provided a variety of accounts lending toward this appearance, but we only have space enough to elaborate on a few of the most recurrent or critical ones.
While retaliation towards class members is specifically prohibited by the SA, convincing a court (in this case, a judge or judges, rather than a jury) of retaliatory intent is a difficult thing. This is especially true when you're dealing with occurrences unwitnessed by third parties/outsiders, prisons largely impregnable by the public, and an entity whose independent discretion is as enormous as the CDCr's.
Uptick in Rules Violation Reports (115s) reported by class members; 115s being issued for petty reasons
A number of our interviewees report that people are being issued more 115s than usual and/or report having received new 115s themselves. Around 70+% of these interviewees are Ashker class members, judging from information that they either gave us or that we already had before interviewing them.
Several described receiving 115s for petty reasons (the equivalent of rolling though a stop sign out here). Details are given in the Pelican Bay Report and Corcoran Report in this issue of Prison Focus.
A 115, if sustained in a hearing by staff, results in discipline. In the worse-case scenario, you can be thrown into the SHU for months, even years, if the alleged offense is a SHU-eligible offense. 115s can otherwise affect your work group status and your ability to parole or obtain a parole date, if you are eligible for parole.
Disproportionate placement of class members on "C" status; "underground" rules for those on "C" status
Multiple class members have shared their observations about people being placed on "C" status, i.e., being assigned to Work Group C.
Mr. YB compiled a list of over a hundred people on "C" status, the majority of whom are class members, he says.
The CDCr assigns various "Work Group" statuses to those in its custody. (See California Code of Regulations, Title 15, § 3044, Inmate Work Groups."Work Group" is a misnomer, in that so-called jobs are hard to come by. And many are simply not permitted to work for the cents per hour that the CDCr pays, because they are prohibited from doing so by their work group status.)
The "privileges" you're granted in prison are commensurate with your work group status. i.e., the amount of money you're allowed to spend at the commissary, the restrictions placed on your visits with loved ones and on your out-of-cell exercise time, your permission or lack thereof to make limited phone calls and to work, etc., all depend on the Work Group you've been place in.
Relevant to our interviewees'/correspondents' comments,"privileges" for those specifically in Work Group C are even less than those for those in SHU (See § 3044 and its subparts pertaining to those place in Work Groups C and D).
Moreover, Mr. ZA additionally informed us, individuals on "C" status are being subjected to mail restrictions. These include certain individuals whose mail was restricted after receiving correspondence from California Prison Focus. What these specific restrictions may be, we don't know. But we do know that, regardless of your work group status, Title 15 regulations around mail remain the same. (See §§ 3130–3153.) The withholding or partial withholding of mail, for example, is authorized only in limited instances, and according to the procedures set forth in Title 15.
Along similar lines, other interviewee's comments suggest that those on "C" status are receiving special treatment not authorized under Title 15.
Mr. QW, who is preparing his own list of persons on "C" status, likens being on "C" status to "stop-and-frisk" on the outside. You get petty 115s. Your cell is raided, and the cops just barge in yelling and telling you to get on the ground, rather than following the standard procedure of cuffing you up prior to before raiding your cell. People on "C" Status don’t really know what legitimate rules adhere outside of the SHU, but staff expects them to know. At any rate, they do know what the "underground" rules are.
Mr. JJ mentioned that appliances (TVs, e.g.) are being taken away from those on "C" status. But he also heard about a memo going out from Sacramento instructing cops not to do this.
Mr. RE believes that the cops are using 115s ten or fifteen years old, and petty 115s, to put people on "C" status. It's not clear whether or not he's a class member, but he told us that's he's spent time in the SHU.
Ongoing repercussions of information supplied by confidential prisoner-informants
The SA does not substantively address the CDCr's taking into consideration of confidential information when making administrative decisions, including decisions about housing/SHU assignments which are at the heart of Ashker. It only states, at ¶ 34, that the CDCr shall follow its own rules set forth in Title 15 and shall "develop and implement appropriate training for impacted staff members" making administrative decisions. (Training requirements are an issue that the Ashker's litigation has brought to court in recent months.)
Confidential information is largely supplied by debriefers or "drop-outs", meaning those renouncing/denying any gang affiliation and supplying information to prison staff. That such people would feel strong incentive to talk (truthfully or not) is clear enough. Failure to debrief, for example, has been cited as a reason to deny parole to many.
When confidential information is used to an individual's detriment, Title 15 does not require that the specific content of that information be disclosed to that individual. Instead, s/he is issued a Confidential Information Disclosure Form (1030) stating the general nature of the information.
Once issued, any 1030 stays in your central file forever and can generally be invoked in support of a variety of actions adversely affecting you. The only limitations of which this writer is aware are those set forth in the SA, pertaining to 115s and the manner in which they're used in determining housing assignments.
How the use of confidential information—a critical topic for all people in California's prisons—will play out for class members in coming months remains to be seen. Yet, the potential for ongoing abuse is apparent.
Mr. TE indicates that people awaiting Ashker reviews are being told by the ICC, during 180-day reviews otherwise required under Title 15, that their cases have been referred to the IGI. Mr. TE is an apparent class member. In 2010, he received a 1030 concerning information allegedly proffered by somebody he'd allegedly disrespected. He mentioned this within the context of saying that his case had been referred to the IGI a couple of weeks earlier. Prior to being so advised, he'd been advised that his Ashker review was soon forthcoming.
This raises the questions: To what extent is confidential information being used by the CDCr to justify housing assignments? And how many people receiving initial Ashker reviews are having their cases referred to the DRB based on confidential information?
Mr. OU believes that debriefers are increasingly being used to get people off the mainline, i.e. out of the general population and into more restrictive housing units such as the SHU or Ad Seg. The CDCr can no longer do so (under the SA) by just saying they're gang members, he notes. Mr. OU is a class member who spent well over a decade in the SHU. He was released from the SHU earlier this year, then was put in Ad Seg scarcely more than two months later. The IGI informed him that this was because of a 1030 they'd received from a prison where he'd previously been held, to the effect that he was subject to attack by other prisoners.
The SA specifies, at ¶13, that the CDCr shall not place anyone in an ASU or SHU on the basis of validation status (status as "gang" or "STG affiliates) alone. But it cannot be emphasized strongly enough that the use of Ad Seg is not otherwise addressed in any detail by the SA, since it is outside of the scope of Ashker. (As explained at the beginning of this article, Ashker was brought on behalf of those confined at Pelican Bay's SHU for ten years or more, and on behalf of those subject to being so confined. It was not brought on behalf of those confined at Pelican Bay's or any other prison's ASU.) It too cannot be emphasized strongly enough that, while California's prisons for women do not have SHUs and are to that extent out of the scope of Ashker, they do have ASUs. All prisons in this state have ASUs.
Oct 21, 2016
keywords: Extended Lock Downs
From Prison Focus Issue 50
The following report is compiled from correspondence with individuals at High Desert State Prison (HDSP) and from an in-person visit with legal investigators conducted in June, 2016. To prevent retaliation, we have refrained from using names, and use random initials instead. All quotes are from incarcerated men at HDSP.
CPF investigators traveled to High Desert on June 20, 2016, and interviewed five men out of the seven visits they had scheduled. According to the Correctional Officer (COs) who escorted the investigators, two men refused their visits. The guard stated to investigators, “I have never heard of an inmate refusing an attorney visit,” but insisted that one person refused even after he offered the visit five times. Overall guards were polite to investigators and made the visits go smoothly.
The visiting sections were far apart from each other, a long walking distance in the hot sun and wind. The visits were conducted in rooms with two-way mirrors, and the two guards that accompanied investigators were behind those mirrors throughout the visits. When leaving the prison and returning ID badges, investigators saw a flyer inviting guards to a July 4th BBQ and raffle where the winning prize was an AK-47.
This was the first visit from CPF for all of the men we met. This is not surprising as it is the first time in many years that CPF has conducted a visit at HDSP. Average time in CDC custody ranged from 3 years to 11 years, with some much longer. Three were survivors of solitary confinement in the past. Most of the men were currently housed in close custody units.
In 2010, High Desert received a directive from headquarters stating that they cannot have lockdowns that last longer than two weeks without permission from Sacramento. However, we heard many reports of extended lockdowns lasting for up to a month or longer without explanation. In general, the men felt lockdowns were put in place arbitrarily and used as a tool of retaliation when guards were unhappy.
At the time of our visit on June 20, B-unit and D-unit had been on lockdown since May 6. Several men had heard the lockdown would continue until the end of June. Mr. G reported that there was a small fist fight in early May which triggered the lockdown, but there was no need to lock down the whole unit. News reports have labeled this incident as a riot involving 65 prisoners. Punishment of an entire group for one or two individual’s actions is an ongoing and serious problem throughout CDC. The men did not believe there was permission from Sacramento for the extended lockdown, because no high level officials had come to visit, as they have done in the past. For over a month, the men were not allowed yard time, access to canteen, or delivery of quarterly packages.
During the lockdown, they replaced all kitchen workers and for four days, they fed everyone on paper plates, 1/3 smaller portions. All the new kitchen workers were Mexican. That ended on Tuesday of the week prior to our visit, the day after the warden came to visit with them.
Mr. G reported that on Monday, June 14th, the day after letters arrived to prisoners noticing the upcoming CPF visit, the Warden came into D unit and talked to several people about “what can be done to resolve this issue.” The very next day, canteen slips were passed out. On Thursday, quarterly packages were delivered. On Friday, there was fully integrated yard with no problems. The men speculated that the lockdown would end, now that the visit had occurred. Mr. G suspected that the Mexican prisoners would be the last off lockdown, even though they have not been fighting and are respecting the Agreement to End Hostilities.
The B Unit had also been on lockdown for close to 30 days at time of visit. No one was provided with a reason. One block has been designated as a “program block” about a week prior to the visit. It is the only one that receives any programming out of the entire B Unit. According to one man in B Unit, the men who qualify for the program block do so because they “kiss guards' asses.”
Yard time in High Desert is rare due to the frequency of lockdowns. Yard is cancelled with no notice about one or two days a week. Another man confirmed that his yard is also canceled about once a week. The guards claim this happens because they don't have enough staff, or because they have to go to a different yard. Day room is also cancelled on days when yard is cancelled.
Mr. V described B-yard, “They [prison guards] run this yard like a 180 yard, but it's a 270.” The men have to be cuffed wherever they go. His particular yard, B-5 which is a SNY, doesn't get night yard, and that is the only one. On normal programming, B-5 gets yard about every other day, and two buildings go out at a time. In D-unit, even when on normal programming it does not meet the 10 hour per week requirement for yard time. When on normal programming, prisoners who don't have a job get yard Tuesday and Thursday, then on alternate weeks get yard three times in a week. During those alternate weeks, they only get about an hour or so at yard. If prisoners do have a job, they get yard Saturday and Sunday for only an hour.
RETALIATION, RACISM, ABUSE BY GUARDS
“This is a violent prison because the guards make it that way.”
We received consistent reports of violence, retaliation, and aggressive treatment by guards. Mr. O, a Latino man for whom English is a second language, was accosted by guards calling him gay; one guard grabbed his buttocks twice, while other guards laughed. This man has heard that this CO does that to other Mexican prisoners regularly. Mr. O also reported that he was hit by a guard with baton a month prior to our visit. Two other men had been fighting on the yard. Everyone was told to get down, but one guard told him to move. When he didn’t go down, another guard hit him. When this man brought it up with custodial staff in his unit later, they just laughed it off.
Mr. K, also Latino, described to us how he was forced by prison guards to pick a gang and be classified as a Northerner. He does not consider himself in a gang, and does not relate to any gang, “at all, or any of that.” Mr. P said that he is afraid to speak specifically on guard harassment. He reported that once while he was in B-3 block and out at yard, tower guards opened his cell door to let other prisoners run through his cell, taking his appliances, and messing with his papers. Mr. Y reported that there is discrimination and abuse focused on a transgender prisoner in his unit, which includes guards calling her “princess,” “cupcake,” and other sexualizing, diminutive names.
Mr. V, who had been to High Desert previously in the 1990s, repeatedly stated that all of the reports of corruption at High Desert is all true. Informants are easily branded as such, for no reason. Guards pressure people to inform more here than other places.
SHU kick-outs are especially subject to harassment. The gang investigation unit (IGI) has targeted those men more than usual since December 2015, around the time a lot of DRB kick-outs came to High Desert.
Reports indicate that COs still employ contraband watch, i.e. “Potty Watch.” This is an investigation tactic used by IGI when individuals are taken from their cell, put in a barren cell with no clothing, and forced to wear an adult diaper for several days in order to observe for contraband. One man reported that he saw one man all taped up, taken away, and then released a short time later.
Mr. G explained to us that there is only one doctor, and he did not know how many days that doctor is on the premises. At High Desert prisoners get bunched together to go to medical and so they have to wait in a long line. Sometimes people leave because of the long wait.
Two men stated that they have been pressured to take psych meds, rather than pain killers. Mr. U stated that he has pain related to scoliosis, but instead of providing him with pain medication and physical therapy as he’s requested, they have prescribed him a psychiatric medication, which he refuses. One investigator did some research into the medication he was prescribed, Trileptal, and found that it is indicated for treating seizures and epilepsy in adults and children over two years old. The drug has serious side effects and could have a substantial impact on his cognitive abilities as well as physical health if it is not needed. This man says that it is common for medical doctors to try to get prisoners on drugs like this, which make people go crazy, so they can keep them in isolation. At the time of the visit, Mr. U had been waiting for a doctor appointment for 3 weeks to discuss his physical health. He is at third level 602 regarding inadequate medical treatment, and will go to outside court if denied again.
Mr. B also reported that he was not diagnosed with any mental health concerns but was “badgered” by the medics to take Trileptal. He had been on medication for paralysis on his right side for ten years. Now High Desert is saying that his medical condition, neuropathy, is actually a mental health condition and has placed him on Trileptal and Lyrica. He has tremors with the Trileptal. His pain is a lot worse now, and his muscles are so constricted that he does not go to chow hall but rather eats in his cell, and he can't go to yard. The guards told him that soon he would lose permission to eat in his cell and would have to come to the chow hall, since he no longer had a documented physical condition. He felt that if he had outside contacts who wrote to him, the medics would know better than to do this and would leave him alone.
Mr. S had requested appointments with a doctor since December, but had yet to see one. He has a torn ACL and was awaiting cortisone shots and physical therapy. His last cortisone shot was in May 2015, before he was transferred to High Desert, and his physical therapy stopped without notice in December 2015. He felt the physical therapy was inadequate, which was a treatment consisting of 15 minutes of electric shocks without stretching or exercises, but he still felt that it was better than nothing.
EDUCATION AND PROGRAMMING
The overall sense investigators got during the visit is that High Desert has very few opportunities for programming. Programs supposedly offered at High Desert include building maintenance, mechanics, computer literacy, Spanish language courses, and some educational opportunities. However, we did not talk with anyone who was enrolled in any of this supposed programming. Mr. R explained that there used to be a computer class, but the instructor was escorted out when guards saw movies being shown on the computer, and the instructor has not been replaced. As noted above, only one block in unit B was getting programming at time of interview.
People also reported that there are extraordinarily long wait lists to receive any of the educational opportunities. Mr. L had his GED and had signed up for a class at Lassen Community College, but he has been waiting to start his class since shortly after he got to High Desert because of a long waiting list. Mr. T had a high school diploma, but was told he needed to raise his TABE score before he could enroll in community college. Mr. M explained that only 10-12 men in his unit are in college classes at a time.
The Law Library is only available two days a week for limited hours. The Inmate Advisory Council has requested access Monday through Saturday, 8am-2:45pm, as is available at other General Population institutions. Mr. A had put in a request in for library use a month prior to our visit and was still waiting; another man filled out the form when he got to High Desert eight or nine months prior to our visit, and had only just received the ducat when we saw him. He believes this may have been related to our attention to the facility. Mr. H estimated a backup of at least 300 prisoners who needed to use Law Library and did not have access.
Mr. W stated that there used to be a Law Librarian who genuinely helped prisoners, but he was put under investigation and removed. He believes that it was pure harassment by the IGI because the librarian was helping prisoners.
Mail is consistently slow to move through the facility in both outgoing and incoming directions. Mr. L reported that mail typically arrived two to three months after it was mailed, even though it was just coming from Redding. His cellie had just received mail from February the week of our visit in June. However, legal mail had been coming in just a few days. Other men reported an average of two weeks to receive their regular mail, and that their legal mail was coming through much faster.
The consensus from all of the men we spoke with was that the food at High Desert is not good. Sometimes it is cold or comes late; sometimes the prison serves spoiled milk and moldy bread; other days it is OK.
The largest issue with property is related to transfers into High Desert. Two men received their property relatively quickly (i.e., within two weeks) after transferring to High Desert; one from Jamestown, and another from Calipatria. Others reported much longer delays. Mr. P reported that his cellie arrived in April and had just gotten his property a few days before our visit in June. He explained that the guards had been making rules up since January 2016 such as “A-yard is starting a new gang with Nike symbols” so they wouldn't let prisoners keep items in their packages with that symbol.
GRIEVANCES AND APPEALS (602s)
While people do use the 602 process at HDSP, we did not hear about the process leading to a satisfactory outcome for anyone. Mr. J had two 602s at the time of our visit; one regarding property theft, and another for receiving the wrong medication (psychiatric instead of pain). Both 602s had been denied and were at the third level review. Similarly, Mr. D was suffering due to a prescription for the wrong kind of medication. He filed a 602 shortly before our visit because medical staff had taken him off a medication for neuropathy and replaced it with a psychiatric medication. The other area where men had filed 602s was in protest of the extended lockdown on the D-5 block. We were told several men filed individual 602s, and there was also a group 602 filed challenging the legitimacy of the lockdown.
Because High Desert is a general population facility, contact visitation is allowed. However, the rules at High Desert are arbitrary and more severe than at other facilities. There is a patio outside which is supposed to allow for outdoor visiting, but no one has ever seen it in use. Mr. T reported that guards are very strict about physical contact: nothing more than hand-holding is allowed during visiting, and when taking photographs no touching at all was allowed. Just recently, at the end of August, CPF received correspondence that this rule was changed and now people in High Desert can take photographs together while touching, as long as their hands are visible. This is due to the advocacy efforts of a friend of someone in High Desert, after she wrote an email to the warden about this seemingly absurd rule.
Mr. I reported that that Southern Mexicans are the first to be kicked out of visiting if it becomes overcrowded, instead of following the first-in, first-out rule as written in Title 15.
Oct 21, 2016
keywords: Mental and Disability Access, Movement from SHU to General Population
From Prison Focus Issue 50
The following report is compiled from correspondence with individuals at Corcoran State Prison (COR) and from an in-person visit with legal investigators conducted in August 2016. To prevent retaliation, we have refrained from using names and use random initials instead.
We woke up before dawn to get ready for our visit to Corcoran State Prison. Upon entering the grounds we immediately noticed the sheer volume of the economy it takes to run a prison: big-rig trucks entering the facility to make deliveries, cubicles dividing up large office spaces, and various sectors managing specific issues in their respected departments, going about their business of warehousing human beings. We saw firsthand how human suffering within prisons not only generates profit based on misery but also feeds thousands of public-state employees that depend on this irrational system for their livelihood. From an abolitionist perspective, dismantling an economy that employs this many appears extremely challenging to overcome.
As we make our way to the prison where individuals in the SHU are housed, a sense of normalization and matter-of-factness is carried on among the Correctional Officers (COs, or “guards”). They are dressed up in military fatigues, carrying bags and coolers for their lunches that barely get inspected by the front desk guard. They flash their IDs and are waved in without incident or hesitation.
After we clear the front desk and doubled barbwire gates, we wait for COs to let us in. As the doors open up, we are led down hallways – a bureaucratic maze of sorts that felt as though it was intended to cause confusion. The hallways open up to the end of an area that looks like a cafeteria meal room, we are told the last four rooms are for legal and private visits. The air conditioning is running low and this room is filled with mildly humid dense air. The guards proceed to notify us that no one will be in the room so we can leave our doors open for ventilation. Needless to say, we decide to keep our doors closed in order to preserve the confidentiality of the visits. As we wait for the men to be brought out, we notice there is a cage near the private rooms that is no higher than four feet; it is there for the children of visitors and perhaps the prisoners. There was a small box overfilled with toys, puzzles, and other various games. A small table intended for preschool age children with miniature chairs are next to this table. My collegue offers an opinion that perhaps the cage material was left over from constructing the prison. We turn our attention to the legal rooms and wait patiently for the men to arrive. They slowly start to come in one at a time and we began to conduct our interviews via glass in the 4x6 rooms. We pick up our phones, make the proper introductions, and proceed with our interviews.
Movement from SHU to General Population
Several of our correspondents are “SHU kickouts,” individuals who went to the Institutional Classification Committee (ICC) in the past year pursuant to the Ashker settlement and were moved out of Security Housing Units (SHU) to the mainline (general population, or GP). (For more information about the Ashker settlement, refer to the Ashker bulletin in this paper and PF Issue 48, which covers the settlement in great length). Many of these individuals were already on a step in the Step Down program when they were moved to the mainline.
During this visit, we heard confirmation of previous reports that the B unit at Corcoran is currently undergoing construction to convert from a SHU to a general population unit. All SHU prisoners are presently consolidated in the A unit.
Movement from the SHU to GP was done for most without advance notice or planning. Mr. Y was not given any warning as to when he would be leaving his cell. A few weeks after his visit to the ICC, he woke one day and was told to pack. Mr. S noted that after his ICC hearing, he was moved to the mainline that very day. Mr. P went to see the ICC and immediately filed an administrative appeal (602 form) requesting special housing due to safety concerns. His case was elevated to the Departmental Review Board (DRB) in Sacramento, but when he went to his hearing the DRB had no record of his 602 request. He did note that thanks to the advocacy of the Ashker attorneys, he had access to extra privileges while he remained in SHU on this special status.
Mr. O was pleased to report that lifers in GP are now receiving family visits at Corcoran. This is due to a legislative addition to the California state budget for the 2016/17 fiscal year.
Security checks continue unabated every 30 minutes around the clock in the Corcoran SHU, although reports indicate they are not occurring at all on the GP yards. (See the Pelican Bay article in this issue for further information and background on the security checks). Mr. F reported that guards have become more respectful recently and appear to be trying to keep quiet during the rounds. Mr. P confirmed that most guards conduct the checks quietly, but a few “do not care” and are very loud.
MEDICAL AND DISABILITY CHECKS
Nearly every person we spoke with on this visit had serious medical issues and were not receiving adequate care. Mr. O reported that medical staff refused to provide any treatment for his Hepetitis C condition because it had “not progressed far enough.” This is similar to what we have reported at Pelican Bay, where Hep C levels must progress to late stage 3 or stage 4 before individuals are eligible for treatment. At stage 3, Hep C begins to cause irreversible damage to the liver.
One positive note is that access to pain medication and other needed medications are more available at Corcoran than other facilities. Mr. H reported that when he was moved to High Desert State Prison, he was removed from all pain medications entirely. He suffers from nerve damage in his leg and foot as a result of an assault by COs in years past. He still has trouble walking. Once back at Corcoran, he had to use the HC 602 process but was eventually provided with his medications again. (Compare with the Pelican Bay report in this issue, where medical staff refuse to provide any pain medication above Tylenol).
Mr. L stated that there is one medical technician in particular who is very difficult and mean to patients. She constantly cancels appointments late in the process such that patients are still charged for the visit.
Two individuals we spoke with were wheelchair-bound. One, Mr. D, described conditions that fall far below the requirements for accessibility as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There are no hand railings or curbs along walkways or in the showers, so he is unable to access the showers and other facilities. He rolls up his mattress in order to remain upright while sleeping, but it is extremely difficult given the structure of the cells. Mr. D stated that it is very difficult to obtain medical care. He is provided with some pain medication, but he is not given any physical therapy, and was denied an MRI to evaluate the extent of his condition. He has filed multiple Health Care 602 forms (HC602s) with very little success.
Mr. W is also confined to a wheelchair. He has a number of medical conditions, and is concerned that the medical clinic does not keep accurate or secure records. He wears hearing aids in both ears, one of which is broken. This has prevented him from accessing educational programming, which is only offered through a TV/headphone setup (he can’t wear headphones due to hearing aids). They have made no attempts at reasonable accommodations for access to programming, as required by the ADA. He spoke with an ADA Representative, who told him that a doctor would need to order special headphones, but has not gotten an appointment with a doctor yet.
While a few reporters stated that there has been a positive change in the attitudes of guards, others had reports of racist language and violence from COs. Mr. O witnessed someone “thrown down” by guards for standing up and stretching while in the medical clinic. Mr. H witnessed a guard pushing a prisoner against the wall and beating him up while handcuffed. The prisoner was subsequently put in the SHU for “attacking a guard,” but it was obvious he was the only one who was injured.
One troubling report we received after our last visit to Corcoran in March was that on the walk back from a visit with one of CPF’s legal investigators, a CO slammed a correspondent against the wall and told him, “get me, punk.” He knew the guard was trying to set him up so he stayed calm and did not take the bait. This level of instigation from COs immediately after an attorney visit could constitute a chilling of access to the courts, which is a violation of prisoners’ First Amendment rights.
Mr. Q noted that on the mainline, many COs are former gang investigators (IGI) and employ IGI tactics such as aggressive and violent cell searches, taking personal property that is allowed under Title 15 regulations, and confiscating books with political themes. There is one guard in particular who was removed from his position due to inappropriate behavior.
Mr. M reported that guards in general do not like prisoners advocating for themselves and are more hostile toward jailhouse lawyers and SHU kick-outs. Many are targeted for cell searches, which lead to guards taking property and issuing write-ups for petty things.
General population yards are notoriously understaffed, so it is difficult for some to access basic privileges, such as phone calls and canteen. At times there is only one CO in the building at a time. Possibly related to this issue, Mr. D reported that prisoners are now confined to tables during visits, which was not always the case. This makes visiting difficult especially when loved ones are mobility-impaired.
RULE VIOLATION REPORTS
The common thread among other prisoners who have received Rule Violation Reports (115s) is that more often or not, the violations regard conspiracy and recruitment to gangs/Security Threat Groups (STGs), which automatically makes the violation a more serious offense. This uptick became noticeable since the Ashker settlement went into place in October 2015, which eliminated the ability of guards to put people in the SHU exclusively for gang membership without any accompanying behavior. Mr. C also noted that there are more 115s issued for petty and frivolous things than before. He believes these are used as a tactic to keep prisoners from having access to things the guards view as privileges, such as programming and yard time.
Mr. G stated that he has noticed more random drug testing lately.
Our correspondents reported that they do use the 602 process and that it is occasionally successful. Mr. P filed a 602 in order to get copies of transcripts from an education class for his parole application; it was granted and he was provided the documents he needed. On the other hand, Mr. W filed a 602 challenging a transfer decision, and went he went before the DRB, there was no record at all of his appeals on the matter. Several noted that they must use the HC602 process in order to access medical treatment.
Mr. C said that there were two issues he is actively appealing, both custody/housing related: one for higher-quality razors, as the ones that are provided are painful and cause skin problems; and another regarding the laundry process. He explained that currently, there are not enough laundry bags, so the clothing exchange for the laundry, which should be every Wednesday, is delayed, sometimes for weeks. When he does get laundry back, clothing is ripped and not properly washed. Mr. D has filed a 602 regarding clothing because he was issued clothing that is 3x too big for him and COs refuse to exchange for properly fitting clothes.
YARD AND HOUSING CONDITIONS
Mr. U reported that similar to the conditions in the SHU, general population cells are in terrible disrepair. Leaks are persistent and the ventilation is awful, creating an environment where it is stiflingly hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. Mr. K noted that COs are keeping SHU kickouts on single cell status for no reason.
Many complained that yard is consistently cancelled. Excuses from COs include kitchen renovation, security checks, and low staffing. Mr. T reported that in the past month his unit went two weeks without any yard time, and the month before there were three weeks without yard. Mr. D, in a different unit, also confirmed that his block will regularly go up to a week at a time with no yard. Only one correspondent stated that his block receives yard time on schedule. Mr. V, who is wheel-chair bound, noted that the yard is not wheelchair/ADA accessible so he is unable to take advantage of certain privileges & facilities.
Mr. G noted that the COs have been cleaning the facilities more lately, including using disinfectants and re-painting in places, but overall the facilities are old and filthy, especially the plumbing and laundry.
An excess of mold and other sanitation issues caused the main kitchen to shut down for the past several months and at least through November. Food is now heated in each housing building and delivered on carts to cells. While meals are consistently delivered on time, the food is often undercooked or overcooked, and portions are smaller than other prisons. “I thought the portions couldn’t get smaller than at Pelican Bay, but then I came here.”
Accessing the law library is “one of the hardest things to do at Corcoran;” “almost impossible” to get in. If you have a pending case, you are more likely to get access, but you still must wait several weeks at times. If you do not have a pending case, typical wait time is 3-4 months before you will be allowed into the library. Mr. K was denied access to the copy machine because he was still at the 602 appeals level and had not yet filed a lawsuit.
Each visit to the law library is only two hours, which does not give sufficient time to research all of the case law one might be looking for. Mr. E also stated that you are not allowed bathroom breaks while in the law library.
EDUCATION AND PROGRAMMING
Generally, our correspondents are frustrated with the lack of meaningful programming opportunities. Especially for those who are trying to work toward a SB 260/261 or lifer parole hearing, who are required to complete a certain amount of vocational certificates in order to be eligible for release. Mr. W explained a difficult situation where there are some people in programming classes who do not want to be there, but they are not allowed to drop the classes and give their spots to others who want to be there more.
Mr. M stated that he has tried to access college classes but it’s next to impossible to get signed up and to get required books on time to meet class schedules.
Oct 21, 2016
keywords: Welfare Checks, Sleep Deprivation
From California Prison Focus Issue 50
The following report is compiled from correspondence with individuals at Pelican Bay State Prison and from an in-person visit with legal investigators conducted in September 2016. To prevent retaliation, we have refrained from using names and use random initials instead. All quotes are from incarcerated individuals at Pelican Bay.
FROM THE SHU TO GENERAL POPULATION
During this visit, as in March 2016, we had the opportunity to meet with people who are now in general population (thanks are due to the Ashker team for their incredible work in making this a reality). While it is universally the case of those we spoke with that people are happier on the mainline than in SHU, there are great challenges as well, such as intense sensory overload.
While the stories of those released to the mainline are heart-warming, not everyone has had such opportunity. For instance, Mr. E reported that he was identified as a potential victim in a conspiracy plot, and now has been placed in Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg) for “his own safety.” Also, as a recipient of mental health services, he feels the segregation is damaging to his mental health and frustrating, given that no one is even pretending that he did anything wrong.
Another set of individuals released from the SHU, which some refer to as “SHU Kickouts,” have been moved to the Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP) unit. This is a special housing unit that was created under the Ashker v. Brown settlement. (See Prison Focus issue 49 for more information about this unit). Individuals are placed in the RCGP if they are identified as STG-related and are identified as having safety concerns, refusing or failing to complete the Step Down Program or if one receives a rules violation report while in the Step Down Program. Mr. T has been in RCGP for three months, allegedly due to “safety concerns,” but he does not believe those are real. Individuals in RCGP are promised contact visits every two weeks, limited phone calls, and packages. Depending on their individual circumstances, they may get to exercise in a group yard instead of a cage, and spend an hour in the day room every week or every other week. There are exercise cages for individuals whose alleged safety concerns preclude group exercise. Mr. Q complained there are no real education opportunities in RCGP nor law library access. The C-Section of RCGP has solo “yard” and no visits, phone calls or canteen.
We also received reports from individuals about erroneous placement on Work Group C, or “C-status.” Under Title 15, sec. 3044(b)(5)(A), C-status should be reserved for: “Any inmate who twice refuses to accept assigned housing, or who refuses to accept or perform in an assignment, or who is deemed a program failure.” See the Ashker Bulletin in this paper for more information about C-status prisoners. It should be noted that many times people refuse housing assignments when asked to share a cell with somebody they know to be hostile or unsafe to share a cell with.
Security checks refer to the thirty-minute rounds that guards make throughout each unit which have led to conditions of severe sleep deprivation. (See page 17)
Though attorneys in the Coleman suit sought and received a permanent order from the court on August 31, 2016, that guards should conduct the checks only once per hour, from 10pm to 6am, at least one individual in the SHU reported that the checks continue every half hour and continue to prevent people from sleeping.
Several people we met with confirmed previous reports we’ve published on this issue. The checks are extremely loud; keys slap guards’ legs while they come into the pod at a fast pace. Guards continue to bang the “pipe” (a metal wand used to electronically register that a check has been happened), against the wall and hit eyes with the flashlight. If there are people on the top tier, the guards run, taking the stairs either one at a time, or skipping a step at a fast pace, which is extremely loud. Mr. K reported that he wears earplugs every night, but that the noise “wakes me up all the time.” Some reported that they could hear the checks from two pods over, and certainly in the pod closest to their cell. To top that, the main door always bangs open and shut.
When confronting CO’s about this issue, they just grin and state that they are just doing their jobs. Like many others, Mr. S filed an administrative grievance form (“602”) about the noise. He reported that COs were playing games with him. First they returned the 602, saying it was incomplete. Later, when he checked in on it, they told him that the 602 did not exist and they never received anything from him. He thankfully had sent a copy to an outside advocate, who sent the copy back to him, allowing him to prove it had been submitted. As of the time of our visit, Mr. S was still awaiting a response.
At one point, guards were required to put a decibel reader in an empty cell in order to monitor the amount of noise created by the checks. Mr. J reported that the guards put tape over the button to stifle noise, and did not hit the button on the empty cell while the reader was there. He believes that they were messing with the test in order to keep messing with prisoners and damage their credibility about the amount of noise they endure.
Mr. R reported that likely due to the monitoring of Ashker attorneys at Pelican Bay, staff are more subtle than they used to be in retaliation. Delay in mail delivery has always been an issue, and because it happens to so many prisoners, it is difficult to prove that it is due to retaliatory intent. Mr. V noted that arbitrary cell searches for no apparent reason are common, but most often happen to Ashker class members. Mr. D confirmed the use of cell searches and raids as a tactic to keep prisoners scared. At the time of our visit, there had been four cell raids in the past two days, without notice and without the guards finding any contraband.
RULES VIOLATION REPORTS (115s)
We received several reports that in general population, guards hand out 115s for very petty reasons. Mr. K stated that there have been a lot of 115s given out for reasons ranging from keeping fruit in your cell (“they say it’s for making wine”) to having excess laundry. Mr. G reported that he has heard of 115s issued for not following orders, walking out of bounds, and for asking directions. This is especially challenging for SHU Kickouts who do not know how all the rules work yet and are not given adequate direction.
Mr. R reported an incident where two cellies reported a broken sink to the CO. They asked if there were any programs available that would teach them basic plumbing so that they could fix the sink themselves, and would have training upon release. The guards must not have liked that question, Mr. R explained, because the next time the two cellies left their cell they returned to find it ransacked. The COs tried to issue 115s for weapons in the cell, but they were eventually dropped as no weapons were in fact found.
Mr. C felt that COs were actively trying to link 115s to an “STG nexus,” because they know that will cause more trouble for the individuals. (STG is the acronym for “Security Threat Group,” aka gang. A rules violation with an STG nexus can put you back in the SHU, or keep you there.) For instance, Mr. A reported that he received a 115 for gang communication simply because he was speaking to his gang-affiliated cellmate and knew a little about his family. Similarly, but possibly worse, Mr. T reported that he was given a 115 for making direct eye contact with his wife. This was characterized as gang communication.
ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS (602s)
Many of our correspondents utilize the 602 process, but as noted in previous issues of Prison Focus, it rarely leads to solutions to prisoners’ problems. Mr. E reported that after every 602 he has submitted, he has experienced retaliation and harassment. The guards would raid his cell and destroy things they knew were important, like family photos.
Mr. N noted that he is always encouraging people to write 602s and teaching them the process. Guards are always discouraging new arrivals from filing 602s because the “big dogs” there will get mad. He felt that while guards will not acknowledge that a 602 is warranted, it will sometimes be effective. For instance, he filed one three weeks ago because he hasn’t been getting his legal mail. Although the 602 was formally denied, he started receiving legal mail again right after he filed it.
Reports on medical treatment continue to reveal grave deficiencies in care. First, new arrivals to the facility have often reported that custody staff are taking prescribed medications and all medical devices, including inhalers, knee braces, and glasses. Our most recent visit confirmed this is an ongoing issue. For example, Mr. O reported that he was removed from his seizure medication upon arrival at Pelican Bay. After advocating for medication, a registered nurse attempted to put him on a medication he was allergic to; a fact documented in his file. Mr. P reported that an ADA arm brace was taken from him and despite his multiple 602s, it had not been returned. Shortly before our visit, a Sergeant from the ADA (disability access) department met with him and asked if he still had his arm brace, showing that staff are aware that he needs one. As of the time of our visit, the brace still had not returned it to him.
Second, we heard many reports of failures to take prisoner complaints seriously and refusals to provide needed medications. Pelican Bay’s medical staff, we repeatedly heard, is worse than other facilities in refusing care and telling prisoners that their condition does not warrant treatment, no matter what level of pain they report. Mr. K was told by physicians at four other prison facilities that he needed surgery on his spine. However, as soon as he got to Pelican Bay, medical staff told him they felt he was lying about his condition and thus he did not need surgery. He had medical records diagnosing his condition going back several years. Eventually, after many months, he underwent the surgery, and the surgeon recommended pain medication for up to six months. The COs took him off the medication within 36 hours. Even after the surgeon advocated for him, custody staff refused to provide it to him. Failures to treat and/or provide medication are especially frustrating given that individuals are charged for medical visits. This is the case even if they are pulled out of the cell and not seen by a physician, or if the physician sees the patient but fails to provide needed care.
In a similar case, Mr. L underwent surgery while at Lancaster State Prison that left him in a great deal of pain. He was told the pain was just part of the “healing process.” After six months of requesting care, medical finally performed an MRI and found a calcium deposit from the surgery. He was told that he needed surgery again to remove the calcium. Before that happened, he was moved to Pelican Bay, and had to start the process all over again, including filing medical 602s in order to access care. A physician at Pelican Bay took him off all pain medication and told him he did not qualify for surgery because his condition was not severe. They put up a video camera in front of his cell to see how he was moving his arm around as a test to see if he indeed was in pain. Eventually, he was able to convince medical that he wasn’t “manipulating” and had corrective surgery about 5 months ago. He now receives physical therapy, which he feels is beneficial. He was not given any pain medication while in recovery from the corrective surgery. He is still in pain, but nowhere near what it was prior to the second surgery.
Mr. F also reported that he was refused pain medication after undergoing a recent surgery offsite at St. Joseph Hospital. He too was told the pain was just “part of the healing process.” After several days, he convinced custody to move him to the infirmary. He said that if he hadn’t advocated for himself via medical 602s, he never would have received the surgery. He was still in severe pain at the time we conducted our interview, often stopping mid-sentence and appearing to have difficulty moving.
Long delays in care, as described by our correspondents, lead to permanent injuries and lifelong disabilities. Mr. A presents one such case. Years ago, he underwent a procedure while in a different facility where his eardrum was unnecessarily removed. CDCr has not acknowledged their role in damaging his hearing and has done nothing to fix it. Occasionally, medical staff would provide him with medication and “ear flushes.” Only last week, he saw an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor for the first time and was told that the ear flushes further damaged his hearing. So much time has elapsed since the damage to his ear, any surgical fix would be incredibly complex, and there is “no way CDC will fix it because it will cost way too much.”
Mr. L also reported that he was made to wait years for care; in his case, an MRI related to a past injury. When they finally made an appointment, it was on the same day the Warden had scheduled a meeting with him. Forcing unnecessary choices like this are incredibly frustrating. Knowing he may never get another opportunity for an MRI, he chose the medical visit. The good news is that the Warden agreed to meet with him at another time.
Several people reported challenges in accessing treatment for Hepatitis C, which has reached near-epidemic levels in California prisons. A registered nurse told Mr. S that the prison will not treat Hep C unless the condition is at least at stage 3, at which point the liver is already scarred and may be beyond repair. The lack of access Hep C treatment at Pelican Bay also recurrently came up when we visited Pelican Bay in March of this year, as we wrote in Prison Focus #49.
Finally, CPF heard reports that many people are suffering from prostate problems and are not getting any testing or treatment at all. This makes for a difficult situation when at the Law Library or in visiting, because bathroom breaks are not allowed.
There were several comments by our correspondents that visitation is extremely strict at Pelican Bay. Visits are often cancelled for no apparent reason and without notice. This is particularly concerning given that the prison is close to the Oregon border, and houses a large population coming from Southern California. Getting there is not easy for working families, many of whom are under resourced. When visiting is available, guards harass visitors, making visits uncomfortable; visitors are kicked out for accidentally brushing up next to someone or putting a hand on someone’s shoulder. People identified as SHU Kickouts are especially targeted for this treatment.
The most common complaint from our correspondents is that Pelican Bay does not follow Title 15 regulations and takes an arbitrary approach to what property is allowed. Several people who came from other SHUs or ASUs to Pelican Bay were frustrated to find that Pelican Bay would not allow the same pieces of property that were acceptable in the previous facility. Common items that are disallowed include clothing, papers (regular and legal), pictures and artwork.
Several people also reported long delays in receiving one’s property upon arrival to Pelican Bay. COs tell people that it will take at least 60 days, but delays of this length are not standard across the prison system. Mr. X reported that he missed court deadlines because his legal paperwork took so long to get delivered.
Another issue is that custody is not consistent in distributing basic sanitary supplies to the cells. Cleaners, toothbrushes, and tooth powder are distributed at most, and often skipped entirely. Writing supplies and stamps for indigent prisoners are rarely provided, despite Title 15, section 3138 stating that “upon an indigent inmate’s request, writing paper, envelopes, writing implement, and the postage required for five 1-ounce First-Class letters per week shall be supplied.”
On average, it takes mail approximately 20 days from the date it was sent to arrive at a cell. Some people we spoke with reported that it takes up to two months, and many times not at all. Mr. B reported that he will write to family and hear from them months later, asking what happened to him and why he hadn’t written. Mr. U reported that the artwork that he sends out to family and friends usually never gets to them. Yet, he is never told it was confiscated or gang-related or anything.
There are limited programming opportunities at Pelican Bay. SHU Kickouts, new to general population, are overwhelmingly excited about the opportunities to have education and programming. Unfortunately, not everyone has access. Mr. Y was told that you are not eligible for education, programming, or jobs until you are four years away from release. Everyone else is put on an indefinite “waiting list.” Despite this rule, for which we were not able to find support in Title 15, some people reported to us that they have access to college courses and/or computer classes. (College courses however have to be paid for individually, which sharply curtails access.) There is also a self-help program, Getting Out by Going In, which is available to those in general population.
Mr. Q reported that they have only one vocational training program at Pelican Bay, an electrical training program. This is a problem for people who must go before the parole board (both lifers and those eligible for SB 260/261 hearings). Mr. Q’s understanding is that the parole board requires two vocational certificates and/or one vocational certificate plus a high school equivalent to be eligible for parole. Mr. O stated that there is no reason why some people are approved for programming and others are not. He suspects custody staff are paying attention especially to lifers and preventing some from accessing the programming they need to appear favorably before the parole board.
Mr. C let us know that while there are more educational and programming opportunities than previously, guards are quick to cancel programming for flimsy reasons.
AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
Nearly everyone we spoke with confirmed that people at Pelican Bay are upholding and following the Agreement to End Hostilities. It is obvious, Mr. L said, that “people are focused on their own thing and not plotting against each other.” Mr. U noted that the Agreement has benefitted everyone, because instead of the prison staff having excuses to take things away from them, now there is more access to programming and educational courses.
Mr. G stated that thanks to the Agreement, it has been peaceful at the Pelican Bay yard for nearly a year straight. Mr. O talked about a basketball tournament the other day on the yard that included groups that wouldn’t have previously been peaceful towards each other. We heard about similar tournaments back in March, and have since been informed that similar activities are taking place at a couple of other prisons. ”
Jun 10, 2016
keywords: Closure of SHU
From Prison Focus Issue #49
This report is from letters from men at the California Correctional Institution Tehachapi sent to CPF and the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. We report all information anonymously to prevent retaliation by prison guards. Any quotes come directly from prisoners.
SECURITY HOUSING UNIT TO CLOSE?
Rumors have been flying that Tehachapi will soon be closing their SHU and converting the unit to a different type of housing. These rumors have not been confirmed by CDCr officials. However, the number of people at the SHU in Tehachapi has dramatically reduced in recent months, with CDCr’s own reports showing that the population in the Tehachapi SHU has reduced from 1,057 people in April 2015 to 151 people in April 2016. We are hopeful that these numbers continue to decrease until we can report that the Tehachapi SHU is no longer!
Over the winter, the most common complaint from those at Tehachapi regarded the complete lack of heat in the cells. Given that outside temperatures can drop to freezing or below, the lack of heat is a serious issue that creates inhumane conditions. Despite reports from multiple prisoners who filed Request for Interviews (Form 22s) and 602 Appeals, “maintenance seems committed to ignoring the problem. I feel I have done, and continue to do all I possibly can concerning this issue but seem to have exhausted my options with still no resulting improvement in the circumstances.”
As the 602 appeals process is the only process available to prisoners to improve cell conditions, we encourage everyone to continue the process of pursuing any still-active 602 appeals to the director level, even if the cold is not at this time as unbearable as it was during the winter. Cell conditions such as extreme heat and cold have been found to violate prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, but these cases will only be heard if the 602 process is completed timely through the top level of appeal. See, e.g., Ball v. LeBlanc, 792 F.3d 584 (5th Cir. 2015) (finding Louisiana prison officials “deliberately indifferent” to cell conditions of extreme heat on Angola’s death row up to 108 degrees in violation of the Eighth Amendment). Letters and copies of appeals can also be shared with Sara Smith, CDCr Ombudsman for CCI, Office of the Ombudsman, 1515 S Street, Room 311 South Sacramento, CA 95811.
Along with the cold temperatures, we have received multiple reports that sanitation at Tehachapi is at an all-time low. The entire section is filthy, and neither prisoners nor guards ever clean the unit. The plumbing has severe issues and contributes to this problem. Mr. X reports, “When I use the bathroom and flush the toilet, the neighbor’s toilet flushes instead of mine.” Overflows are not uncommon, leading to contaminated floors and unsanitary cells. While plumbers have occasionally been sent in to investigate, they reportedly tell those suffering that the prison is not willing to spend the money necessary to fix the problem.
Complaints about medical care have slowed in recent months, but it is unclear if this is due to the lower number of people in the SHU. Mr. J reported that he developed a bacterial infection on back of his head, which he believes is from filthy showers. The prison doctor, Dr. Tate, prescribed Mr. J a medication he was allergic to, leading to a medical emergency and a trip to the outside hospital. Prisoners have previously reported that Dr. Tate was previously fired for poor medical practices, but has since been re-hired at CCI.
From the very first reports CPF has issued about this prison, illegal property confiscation have been a major issue. We continue to receive reports of aggressive cell searches, the taking of legal papers, and “loss” of property when individuals are moved to/from/or within CCI. For instance, Mr. R reported that all of his legal materials related to an upcoming parole hearing were taken from his cell, making him uncertain that he will be able to properly present his case when the hearing comes.
The closed-circuit TVs at CCI do have a number of educational courses, including selp-help, GED, and college courses. Unfortunately, technical problems with the TVs have prevented some men from keeping up with their coursework. These technical problems have the functional impact of holding men back from earning milestone credits and rehabilitation certificates related to their educational accomplishments, which could help in achieving parole and in evaluating their security risk when they are transferred out of the SHU.
We welcome any and all reports on conditions at Tehachapi regarding the issues covered here or any other issues that you may be experiencing.