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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.
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.