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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.
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.
Jun 10, 2016
keywords: Ashker Settlement, Guillermo Pimentel, Agreement to End Hostilities
From Prison Focus Issue 49
This report is informed by (1) in-person interviews conducted at Pelican Bay State Prison in March 2016, (2) letters recently received by California Prison Focus from incarcerated correspondents at the Bay, and (3) reports made to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition by those with incarcerated loved ones, penpals or legal clients at the Bay.
As we emphasize each time we publish, the names of interviewees and correspondents have been replaced with anonymous designations to guard individuals’ confidentiality. Any overlap with anonymous designations used in other reports in this issue of Prison Focus is purely coincidental: Each of our contributors assigns and randomizes their own anonymous designations when preparing reports.
CPF had scheduled nineteen interviews at Pelican Bay in late March. Yet, seven of the people we’d planned to speak with were unavailable, or so we learned upon arriving. Most of the latter had been released from the SHU and had been transferred to other prisons shortly before our visit, and another had actually paroled—all positive developments. The remaining individual allegedly declined our visit.
Of the dozen men we did speak with, six were in the SHU. All were relatively recent arrivals, having been sent to the Bay from other SHUs or ASUs during the 2014–2015 time period (but in any event prior to the Ashker settlement, with the exception of one of them).
Five of the other six men we spoke with were in the general population (also called the mainline). Three had been let out of the SHU in January or thereabout, after receiving reviews by the Internal Classification Committee (ICC). The fourth had seen the Departmental Review Board (DRB) before Ashker settled, under the then-ongoing DRB “case by case” review process.
Finally, we also spoke with one person in the Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP) Unit opened in late January of this year. He, too, had been released from the SHU per the DRB’s recommendation and before Ashker settled.
Because the individual and situational circumstances of our March interviewees varied from one person to the next, we heard a variety of grievances—too many to possibly discuss herein. This report will therefore focus on several common themes that clearly emerged.
RECENT SPATE OF CELL SEARCHES
One of the first things that we heard from several folks on the mainline, in March, is that they’d just gotten off of lockdown. The lockdowns, we learned, involved a minimum of three yards, and had been in effect for up to two weeks. Men from two different yards described cell-searches that lasted for three and four hours, while they were made to wait outside in the driving wind and rain and winter cold. Moreover, they were allowed nothing to wear other than t-shirts, boxers, shower slippers and rain jackets. Noting that the dining hall, a dayroom, etc., could have been used instead of the outdoors as a waiting area, Mr. F succinctly stated, “They do this to torture us.” His legs had literally turned blue during the ordeal, he added.
What pretense had been offered for such abuse, we don’t precisely know. Mr. F said that usually a memo is posted to inform prisoners of the reason for any lockdown, but no memo had been posted at his yard; rumor only had it that something had “gone missing” from a facility. Mr. C otherwise vaguely made mention of a “routine search.” The bright note is that nobody mentioned any inter-group hostilities having preceded the lockdowns.
It’s worth noting here that complaints of lockdowns at Kern Valley State Prison have been nearly constant since the beginning of this year. Whether this is a new pattern at Kern Valley or not we don’t know, as our contacts and our allies’ contacts are by and large fairly new at Kern, having been sent there upon release from the SHU and following the settlement of Ashker.
Adding to all of the above, just the other week we learned about a search and outright cell-trashing that had happened at the Bay. The officers involved included Officer Guillermo Pimentel. Yet, we have affirmative information that this cell-trashing was definitively not preceded by any inter-group hostilities, which is positive news to us and other proponents of the Agreement to End Hostilities.
Pimentel, of course, was one of the four officers found guilty in Jesse Perez’s retaliation/First Amendment case, which we reported on in Issue #48. Escalating our concern, we have reason to believe that Pimentel was promoted at some point between the Perez trial in November and March 2016. (At of the time of the Perez verdict, he was the only officer among those found guilty who had not already received a promotion following the retaliatory trashing of Perez’s cell in 2012.)
In 2012, Pimentel and his co-defendants were all employed as Assistant Internal Gang Investigators IGIs). Meanwhile, as we prepare to publish, the State Legislature is in the process of deciding whether or not to approve the CDCR’s request to hire forty-eight new gang investigators, to the tune of $5.8 million. This outrageous request flies in the face of the Ashker settlement, its mandates, and its discrediting of the notion that “gang” affiliation (real or alleged), in and of itself, is indicative of actual misconduct, or predictive of any future conduct at all.
Medical complaints continue to be serious and rampant across all areas of the prison. Dr. Dorman (a male) and RN Raisin Hoover (a female), were specifically implicated in regard to issues that people have been experiencing.
These issues, unfortunately reflective of the CDCR’s overall standard of “care,” include: medical assistive devices and medications taken away, medications inappropriately/negligently prescribed, necessary refills not timely provided, and potentially life-threatening conditions such as Hep C going untreated.
In regard to Hep C, multiple individuals informed us that they’d been refused treatment because they weren’t at Stage 3 yet, weren’t dying yet, and so forth. We unfortunately have no good news here. A November 2015 memo issued by the Prison Law Offices advises: “Prison medical officials are only required to provide treatment if it is ‘medically necessary.’ Under the current Care Guide, treatment is considered medically necessary only for some HCV patients.”
The torturous situation with thirty-minute “welfare” checks in the SHUs has not changed in any notable way. Moreover, despite a court-approved stipulation requiring that checks be conducted hourly, rather than each half-hour, during first watch (while people are sleeping), this is not happening in all pods.
Mr. Q was not aware of the stipulation, which issued in late December 2015, and was extended in early May, 2016. This further suggests that any requirements that the CDCR may have to notify its wards of the stipulation may be violated.
LACK OF ACCESS TO A1-A STATUS
People who are working and/or participating in educational programming for a certain number of hours per week should qualify for what’s colloquially referred to as A1-A status. The relevant regulations are set forth in Title 15, section 3044 and its innumerable and nearly incomprehensible subparts.
The practical effect of being assigned A1-A status is considerable. If you belong to this “privilege” group, you are allowed one phone call per week (as opposed to one phone call per month), full canteen draw, increased access to yard and group activities, maximum monthly canteen draw, and four annual packages. A1-A assignment may furthermore prove indispensible in terms of getting a sentencing reduction, or getting paroled.
However, we’ve heard countless grievances, both from the Bay as well as from other prisons, about the paucity/lack of both jobs and educational programming available inside. These present a seemingly uncrossable barrier to qualifying for A1-A status.
Mr. F further informs us that Pelican Bay, unlike any other prison he’s been at, outright denies A1-A status where the basis for qualification is participation in educational programming.
ICC REVIEWS, ASHKER REVIEWS, AND ALL THINGS REVIEW-RELATED
For those still in Pelican Bay’s SHU whose sentences are indeterminate (there currently remain 500-odd), a primary concern is obviously, when will they be let out? Ongoing frustrations expressed to us in March included the slow pace of the Ashker-related ICC reviews, the deferral of annual reviews, the meaninglessness of 180-day reviews, and the order of Ashker-related ICC reviews—which in many cases doesn’t adhere to the protocol, under the settlement, that those in the SHU the longest be prioritized.
For more on these topics, we encourage you to continue on and read the Ashker Bulletin published in this issue of our newsletter.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
According to everybody we talked to in March, and according to more recent accounts, the Agreement is holding! There are minor incidents here and there. But, despite doors mysteriously opening now and again, guards trying to falsely alarm people during recreation time, and so forth, morale is high. We particularly enjoyed hearing about the inter-group intramural sports that have folks have initiated, apparently on multiple yards.
Mar 16, 2016
keywords: Prison Conditions
From Prison Focus Issue 49
This report is based on information received through written correspondence and interviews conducted in March 2015 with incarcerated men at Corcoran State Prison (“Corcoran”). In this period, we conducted visits with individuals in the SHU and in general population yards. All quotes come directly from the men’s written reports or interviews. As in the past, we report all information anonymously to prevent retaliation from prison guards by replacing individuals’ names with random letters. The repetition of a letter does not mean that the information is from the same individual.
COMPLIANCE WITH ASHKER AND STG REGULATIONS
Before the Ashker settlement, validated Security Threat Group (“STG”) members were entitled to a six year “inactive” review, as well as 180 day Institutional Classification Committee (“ICC”) reviews. Now, the institution is required to conduct so-called “Ashker” reviews, evaluating people with indeterminate terms in the SHU, starting with those whomever has been in the unit the longest.
The staff at Corcoran appear to be overwhelmed by their obligations to fulfill the terms of the Ashker settlement and process people out of the SHU. The Ashker legal team is unable to explain Corcoran’s difficulties in complying with the settlement. Multiple people reported that classification reviews are extremely behind, if they are happening at all. Mr. S cited incidents such as house counselors sending case files to the wrong person inside because their case loads are so immense and disorganized.
In addition to delay, the classification committee continues to pressure individuals to debrief, even when they must process that person out under Ashker. Mr. N experienced this at his ICC review, and expressed concerned about retaliation for his refusal to debrief.
Several reported that staff regularly tell them that if they cause trouble at Corcoran they will be moved to Pelican Bay’s SHU. In general, people would prefer to stay at Corcoran than go to PB. There is still pressure from Correctional Officers (“COs”) to debrief, move you to the Bay, or the new Restricted Custody General Population (“RCGP” unit), where there are less privileges than general population yards (“GP” or the “mainline”).
One area of concern regarding SHU placement are those who return to prison after previously serving time and are immediately placed back in the SHU. Mr. M reported that he had been validated as a gang member while serving a sentence over 10 years ago. He paroled, and last year was sent back to prison on an unrelated conviction. After reception, he was sent directly to Pelican Bay SHU, and now to Corcoran SHU, even though he has had no disciplinaries since his return. Placing someone in the SHU without a finding that the person committed a SHU-able offense is prohibited under Ashker.
MOVEMENT IN AND OUT OF THE SHU
There has been a lot of movement recently for people in and out of the SHU. The Corcoran SHU continues to hold more people than any other SHU, with 986 prisoners in a Corcoran SHU unit as of March 2016. There is currently a 5-6 month wait list to be moved to the mainline once you have been approved for release.
Mr. J has been awaiting transfer to a Corcoran S.A.T.F. mainline (another prison located across the road from Corcoran State Prison) for over five months. He had heard there were people with indeterminate SHU sentences who had been working on the Step Down Program getting moved from the Corcoran SHU to Pelican Bay’s SHU. They are told the Step Down Program is no longer.
On the day of CPF’s visit, about 48-50 long termers in the SHU (approximately 10 years or more) were all moved to the mainline.
Mr. W reported that there continues to be a large influx of people transferred into 4A from Tehachapi’s SHU, because that SHU is closing down [closure of the Tehachapi SHU has not been confirmed by CDCr officials].
Mr. O reports that the 4A and 4B SHU units are about to be under construction. He was told that 4B will shut down first because the whole building is being made into general population [This is also unconfirmed by CDCr officials].
CPF investigators did speak to some individuals who had already been transferred from the SHU to a GP yard at Corcoran. The majority of adjustment for people is psychological. Mr. A noted that he struggles with the feeling that he is being watched constantly by people now that he has gotten out of the SHU. Representative of many people who correspond with CPF, Mr. U reported that he has had difficulty adjusting to physical touch and contact with others. He had a contact visit with his mother and family members, which was profound for him. “I got to hug my Mom.” He noted that there were so many more sounds to hear, so much more sensory input. It was “shocking” especially when there were more than 2-3 people—“rooms come alive.” He said he knew he had to take his time and adjust to it because ultimately it was all positive and he had to take his time dealing with other people. “It’s bittersweet,” because after 8 years in the SHU, he has lost contact with a lot of people in his immediate family and circle of friends because letters don’t work well for some people.
“Welfare checks” at Corcoran SHU continue every 30 minutes around the clock. The consensus from reporters are that the disruption of the checks depend entirely on the CO who is conducting them – some pound the walls hard and keep the beeping sound on all night long; others try harder to be quiet. The COs also use a flashlight irregularly as they start the night rounds and as the morning rounds begin, to wake people. The COs “can still see in, there’s no need for that!” Lights in the cell are already on 24 hours per day. Many people are woken up every half hour and are unable to sleep through it. The lack of sleep especially affects those with mental health issues. They are too exhausted to keep to their routines and start to act out.
Although people in Pelican Bay are provided earplugs, COs here will not provide them. It appears that the COs are annoyed at being forced to conduct the checks, but if anyone complains about the noise or the flashlights getting shined in their face, the COs will take the person out of their cell in cuffs and tear the cell apart.
Medical care at Corcoran continues to fall below appropriate standards of care. One key complaint for those who have recently arrived at Corcoran is the lack of consistent treatment standards across prisons. Upon arrival to Corcoran, medications are taken away and appointments take months to get, leaving people without continuity of needed treatments. Many reporters told us that they have to file 602HC forms before they will ever be seen by medical.
Mr. U reported that one physician only sets appointments on days when he also has a classification or other committee hearing, so he is never able to go. Meetings like that happen so rarely that it is hard to see this continual conflict as a coincidence.
Many reported that they rarely see a certified physician in person. Appointments are either with nurses or doctors via tele-medicine, which is not ideal, especially for those with serious medical conditions that require daily or weekly treatment.
Access to mental health care is especially slow. The Coleman case dictates standards of care, including the frequency of access to psychiatric care providers. Several people reported that they have gone months without seeing a psychiatrist, and that there are no group treatments, which are offered elsewhere throughout the prison system.
Dental care is nothing less than atrocious. Mr. P had a few teeth pulled several months ago, which led to an infection in his jaw. He was provided anti-biotics but not pain medication. He was in so much pain he was unable to eat, but was denied emergency care. The nurses put him on a medical psychiatric hold rather than respond to his needs for pain medication. Mr. T also reported that the dental care is “aggressive—they cut men’s mouths up all the time.” Mr. V said he had been waiting over three months for a filling, and was called out for the procedure on the very day of our visit. Mr. L stated that he intends to wait as long as he can for dental care, in hopes that his transfer will go through soon.
There are also concerns with getting access to needed medical devices. For example, Mr. B was assigned a wheelchair, and was provided one with no legs. After going through the appeal process, the facility granted him a new wheelchair, contingent on his ability to pay for it himself. Once his wheelchair finally arrived, he was not allowed to keep it inside his cell, but told he must park it outside of his cell. COs then took the wheelchair and used it to transport other prisoners, never returning it to the cell. Mr. B was forced to purchase another wheelchair out of his own money, which again, coincidentally arrived on the very day of our visit.
There are continuing issues at Corcoran with access to hot water. Mr. T reported that in 4A, one half of the building claimed the water was too hot and burning them, so the COs turned off the hot water completely. Last summer, Corcoran prisoners reported going without hot water for 6 months. Mr. J reported that at some point in February, there was hot water for one week, but then it was turned off again.
In general, the facilities are very dirty. In the year that Mr. R has been in Corcoran, he has only seen the facility swept 3 times, because many of the 4A inmates complained. The floors were only mopped once. “Cleanliness is an issue.”
There are also issues with the lights. Two prisoners reported that the lights would occasionally go off for days at a time.
COs do not respect mail and many prisoners reported significant delays in receiving mail. Sometimes the delays are many weeks, other times they are up to two months. This has been a consistent issue at Corcoran and something that we have reported multiple times.
Mr. Y reported that on February 22, 2016 about 60 people received notices from CO M. Magana that their annual packages were being thrown away. The COs claimed that people were working the system by adding items for cellmates to annual packages. Instead of returning to sender, the boxes were thrown away and their annual packages wasted.
The food at Corcoran is notoriously cold, bland, and served in small portions. Reports from men this spring were no exception. Many people reported that a main source of “protein” in meals consists of artificial meat that is reconstituted with water and lacks nutritional value. Mr. C reports that while the kitchen in Corcoran has a heater to keep food warm before it is delivered to the men, it is not used, so that by the time the trays are delivered to cells, the food is very cold. Those who are able augment their food through access to the Canteen, although there are not many nutritious options there either, and many do not have the resources.
EDUCATION AND PROGRAMMING
While educational programming is theoretically available in both the SHU and in GP, reports of access are varied. One individual told us that his access to his books and proctored exams are satisfactory. He asked and received information on the educational options he had. Two others reported that COs do not volunteer information about educational opportunities. Mr. K stated that he studies through correspondence courses that he found through his own initiative.
Educational tablets, music and books are supposed to be available for purchase but reporters are told they are not allowed in the SHU. On the mainline, there are more educational opportunities, but they cost money, which is prohibitive for many.
Several reported that they would like to begin or continue educational programming, but are in a holding pattern until their long-awaited transfers go through. It is frustrating, Mr. P stated, that he is unable to educate himself or work toward rehabilitation certificates because he would lose any progress upon transfer, which could happen at any time.
GRIEVANCE AND APPEALS PROCESS
As previously reported, Corcoran is well known for obstructing the 602 appeals process. Mr. D reported witnessing COs throw away completed 602 appeals forms right in front of him. Others reported that submitted 602 forms are never returned—“They simply disappear.” Mr. I reported that every 602 he has ever filed has been denied.
Many people struggle with the catch-22 of needing paperwork to substantiate their grievance, but are unable to access the information prior to filing a 602 form. For example, Mr. H believes he was wrongfully validated as an STG member based on an incident where he was not present and is unaware of who was involved. He filed a 602 form but it was rejected because he did not have the evidence used against him. When he filed another 602 requesting the evidence, it was rejected because the validation was based on confidential information.
Unbelievable to some new arrivals at Corcoran, staff attitudes are even worse at Corcoran than at Pelican Bay. Mr. V explained how at Pelican Bay, COs inform you of changes to policy and schedule; here they provide no information. Mr. W described his efforts to keep his relationships friendly with COs (in order to avoid excessive searches and aggression), but said that at best COs are “chill and unfriendly” with him. Cell searches are common, especially while individuals are at yard or showering. Mr. Q reported that it is common for COs to go through and toss out legal materials during searches.
Mr. F believes that the current political climate (with Trump running for President) has led to more overt racism from COs recently. He hears COs talking about how “all Mexicans are criminals,” which creates tensions on the unit.
Mr. H stated that the COs befriend certain individuals who they believe will be informants for them, providing them with extra food packages and TVs appropriated from other prisoners.
There is general consensus that the law library is not sufficient for individuals to complete research in time for court deadlines. Mr. E reported that he has put in multiple requests for the law library but never received a response. He has heard from others that if he does not have an active court case, he is not eligible for the law library, but questions how he would be able to write a viable complaint without first conducting research.
The law library offers copying services, but only once your case is active. This presents another catch-22, because one needs copies of their 602 or other paperwork in order to initiate a lawsuit.
Loss of property is a common issue throughout all of CDCr, but it has become especially problematic in light of all the recent transfers. Several reporters told us that they have had to wait months for their property upon arrival to Corcoran. Mr. Z reported that he waited 6 months; Mr. W waited 2 months; Mr. P waited 4 months, and when his property finally arrived, many of his possessions were missing.
After months of waiting, Mr. Q filed a 602 form requesting his property. It was rejected because he had no proof that the property had gone missing, as opposed to still in transit. After 6 months of persistent advocacy, the Unit Sargent told him that his property had been located at a different prison entirely.
Mr. B explained that there are inconsistencies in the property matrix across prisons; things that are allowed one place are prohibited at Corcoran. New arrivals to the GP yards reported confusion around the fact that things which were allowed in the SHU are not allowed on the mainline. Mr. A reported that in the SHU, he was allowed pens, but in GP they are prohibited and they are not sold in the Canteen. As a result, he is unable to work on his drawing, which is an important creative outlet for him.
The men are told that they are allowed yard three times a week, but this rarely occurs in practice. Mr. X, a recent arrival from Tehachapi, expressed appreciation that they occasionally do get yard three times a week, because at Tehachapi they never got yard more than once per week.
Sometimes, COs will leave men at the yard for hours at a time. They say they are making up for days where they were not allowed yard, but it can be disruptive to miss educational programming, access to the law library, or needed medical appointments while left in the yard for an entire day. As it turns into summer, people worry about being left in the sun for too long.
Mr. U reported that his tier operates on a “split tier” schedule, where each month the upper tier will get yard and the lower tier will get shower and phone access, and the next month it will switch. Neither tier gets both.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
Awareness of the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) is mixed, especially on the GP yards. Mr. R told us, “Everybody thinks it’s a good thing.” Mr. Q confirmed that in general, people respect the AEH, although not everyone is aware of it.
In the GP yard, COs work to keep the races separated, and there is less awareness of the AEH. Mr. T reported that race-based violence still occurs regularly on the mainline and that tensions have been heightened since the murder of Hugo Pinell last August at New Folsom prison. Mr. C observed that attacks against individuals coming out of the SHU are common, and he believes they are considered easy targets, vulnerable due to the psychological effects of the SHU. The violence is usually a stabbing or an assault where at least one person is punched.
Several individuals who have left the SHU and are now in GP promote the AEH with others and try to live the values of the Agreement by refusing to play by the race game. “I have no hang ups about that stuff.”
Mar 10, 2016
From Prison Focus Issue 48
I recently arrived at HDSP - level IV -180, after an almost 10 year break. I have found that conditions remain the same as when it first opened in 1996. (It should be noted that prior to my arrival, I "lay over" at Tracy's Ad Seg. where the sink water is undrinkable, and can't be used even to brush one’s teeth. The water comes out greasy, smelly, and with visible brownish particles. God only knows how many months or years thousands of prisoners at Tracy have been forced to use this contaminated water.) Anyway, returning to HDSP, despite a few changes - one can actually see brown, black and Asian peace officers - The oppression, abuse, racism, and bigotry is ongoing.
When one goes to the R&R's window to be issued our property, the drama starts. Property is seized under the most ridiculous excuses, and when one requests a receipt for the confiscated property, the officer gets offended! And literally starts throwing property through the window and parts of it to the trash can. And all of this while talking "garbage" behind a window, with the full knowledge, the at the push of the alarm, he can have a dozen officers beating and kicking a slave that dared to question his authority.
I. There are no steady and constant NA and AA meetings.
II. Vocational buildings remain closed and being used for "something else" since 2003.
III. Law library remains a highly restricted building, as always, there are no walk-ins, even when space is available. Access is only allowed through a ducat system, which is highly unreliable.
IV. The books at the law library which are available to "check out" are mostly fiction. Books with intellectual value, GED, or educational simply do not exist on the library's shelves.
V. Inmates who do not have a Social Security Number are simply excluded from all college programs.
VI. As always the TV programming is mostly "garbage". Channels with an educational goal are restricted; No history, discovery, nature, National Geographic, science etc.. Inmates are encouraged to buy electronic tablets with dozens of children's games. This tablet is also restricted from having any type of educational courses.
Dental and mental attention is provided within five working days of turning in a sick slip.
OUTDOOR EXERCISE (YARD):
Fresh air, sunlight and out of the cell movement is still a priceless luxury here at HDSP. (From September 5-9, 2015, I only received two hours. No wonder death row inmates would rather stay there then to come to a level IV - 180s yard).
INMATE GRIEVANCES (602s):
Available, but intimidation tactics arm ploy, and retaliation is sure to follow against those who dare to question.
Access is highly restricted, due to frequent yard cancellations.
The walls at facility Level IV - 180 are full of holes made by peace officers' rifles. A crude reminder of how much a slave's life is worth. We are sitting ducks, target practice, one more school tattoo on a racist killer's arm. In all of these deaths by gun shot, we are all guilty at the very least by 50%. Why? Because of our failure to unite in the struggle against our common enemy: slavery, ignorance, and poverty. By fighting each other, we actually give the racist peace officers the excuse and legality to murder us. Either we unite and fight at all levels for our freedom, or keep up our wild west behavior. Which is then used at courts and parole board tables to deny parole. And justify perpetual slavery until we all die.