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Oct 04, 2014
keywords: Step Down Program, Departmental Review Board, COMPAS
From Prison Focus Issue 44
[Note: The Tehachapi Report included in this same issue discusses what's been happening with the SDP at that institution. As noted therein, Tehachapi houses those placed in Steps 3 and 4 of the SDP—or what passes for Steps 3 and 4, as the author describes. ]
This report is largely based on interviews conducted with about two-dozen individuals at Pelican Bay SHU and at Corcoran SHU (respectively, in July and early October 2014). It is also based on letters recently received from men in either SHU, as well as CDCR publications. Random numbers are used herein instead of peoples' names, to guard the anonymity of our sources.
On October 17, 2014, the new administrative rules instituting the SDP and the Security Threat Group (STG) rubric were approved by the Office of Administrative Law and went into effect. They will be published in the next printing of California Code of Regulations, Title 15. At this time, we have only cursorily reviewed the final approved rules. All references to "indefinite" SHU terms have been omitted: The word "administrative" is substituted for "indefinite." This change was vetted prior to the final October 17 hearing and, at any rate, is rhetorical rather than substantive. More noteworthy is the fact that §3023(b), as approved, does include the word "knowingly." (The final text reads, "Inmates and parolees shall not knowingly promote, further or assist any STG as defined in section 3000." "Knowingly" had been omitted from an earlier proposed version noticed by the CDC on June 20, 2014.)
Under the new rules, the minimum amount of time it will take a person initially placed in Step 1 to progress through Step 4 is four years. This assumes that the person qualifies for accelerated placement into Steps 2 and 3 following 180-day reviews. For many, no doubt, four years equals or exceeds their actual SHU term.
We understand that the CDC plans to continue with both the DRB (case-by-case orCBC) reviews and inactive reviews[KR1]. However, the Department previously stated that CBC reviews will be conducted only for those validated prior to March2013[KR2]. And, although the Department has promised to honor existing dates for upcoming six-year reviews[KR3], the SDP regulations will replace the former six-year review process.
GLACIAL PACE OF THE DRB REVIEWS
Last August, Michael Stainer, Director of the CDC's Division of Adult Institutions, said that STG associates with the earliest validation dates would be prioritized forCBC reviews, although members would also be included for review on a sequential basis. At Pelican Bay, we are informed, the DRB is still in the process of conductingCBC reviews of those validated in the mid to late '80s. Meanwhile, according to "3," the DRB is simultaneously reviewing those deemed inactive, who receive priority. This leaves little time for others to receive reviews. "8" similarly observed that you only go to the DRB if the IGI (Internal Gang Investigation Unit) says you're inactive.
Information from Corcoran seems to corroborate what "3" and "8" said. "13" and "16" didn't expect to go before the DRB until their inactive reviews came up several years henceforth. "15" reported that he hasn't seen anybody going to the DRB [forCBC reviews], but has seen people placed in Step 1 following their six-year inactive reviews.
Another man at Corcoran was placed in Step 5 at following his inactive review, although he was kicked back to the SHU shortly thereafter. (He filed a 602 [grievance or administrative appeal] in response, since he wasn't provided with relevant documentation concerning the circumstances of his being returned to theSHU. His 602 was denied, and was denied at every level of review.)
Recent sightings of the DRB at Corcoran appear to be scant. One man, "20," said that he hadn't heard about the DRB coming around in a long time; i.e., since early this year. Another, "17," hadn't seen the DRB on his tier for over a year. "19" reported that they came in January, and at some point this spring, but had not been back since. (An IGI officer told him that the DRB wouldn't be back until December, because they were busy a Pelican Bay.) "20" indicated, on the other hand, that of those reviewed earlier in the year, a large percentage—up to 95%—were placed in Step 5 or went straight to the mainline. He personally knew of only two people who met with different outcomes.
So-called self-directed journals (workbooks) mandated by SDP
Vis-à-vis the journals, one man at Pelican Bay exclaimed, “They can’t use against you things you write to answer questions they made you answer. It’s humanly impossible!” Supporters on the outside will appreciate the righteous indignation and sense of outrage implicit in his remark: Yet, leave it to the CDC to defy time and time again what seems humanly and humanely possible. Otherwise, this man was of the view that there's no harm in participating in the SDP, since "it ain't gonna hurt to do what we can to get out of here."
"3" at Pelican Bay characterized the journals as "real negative," in that one has to assume that he's a bad person to answer the questions contained in them. (Note: Some journals have titles such as "The Con Game," "Thinking Errors," "Criminal Lifestyles," and "Reviewing my Drug Use." These titles alone clearly convey negative assumptions about those asked to complete them.)
At both Pelican Bay and Corcoran, individuals overwhelming expressed a disinclination to participate in the journaling aspect of the SDP, and/or reported that others were against doing them or were not doing them. However, "12" at PelicanBay, who initially refused Step 4 but was subsequently placed in Step 1, indirectly indicated an intent to complete the journals[KR4]. Another man at Corcoran, not yet in SDP, said he wasn't opposed to doing them, adding that it seems "elementary" (or, that the journals seem "elementary"—elementary being the least castigating word we have heard in relation to the journals.)
Under the new rules (§3378.3(a)(3)), [KR5]failure to participate in the SDP, "in and of itself, will not be cause to generate a Serious Rules Violation Report." This begs the question, how will staff interpret the phrase "in and of itself"? In any event, a person can be returned to a previous step for not participating, and will "be allowed to plateau" at Step 1 or Step 2 in "accordance with [his] conduct[KR6]." This differs minimally from the stated policy under the Pilot Program initiated in October 2012. The Pilot Program provided that "an inmate electing to not participate and with no continued STG related behavior may choose to stay in Step 2 indefinitely and the required ICC reviews will continue[KR7]." Several men at Corcoran attempted to challenge the institution's practice, under the Pilot Program, of regressing those who refused to complete journals from Step 2 to Step 1. In their group appeal filed a few months ago, they argued, without success, that this was done in retaliation for not doing the journals and constituted an underground policy[KR8].
We heard from one man at Pelican Bay that a person refusing the SDP must expressly say so during his DRB review, or else consent will be presumed.
COMPAS ASSESSMENT PROTOCOLS STILL NOT BEING FOLLOWED
As reported in recent issues of this newsletter (#42 and #43), the purported purpose of the COMPAS Assessment is to further the development and implementation of "a plan to obtain additional rehabilitation and treatment services for prison inmates and parolees.” The 2007 Public Safety and Offender Rehabilitation Service Act (PSORSA) requires the CDC to do develop and implement such a plan. PSORSA further mandates that the "data" collected by the CDC through assessments "shall be used to place inmates in programs that will aid in their reentry to society and that will most likely reduce the inmate's chances of reoffending" [emphasis added].
Based on what our sources have said, it appears that those with parole dates are prioritized where it comes to completing assessments (although not all men with parole dates have been asked to complete them, and although multiple COMPAS Assessments were distributed to one man who has no a parole date[KR9]). We have thus far seen no evidence to date that any person, subsequent to completing a COMPAS Assessment, has been placed in any program that will "aid in their rentry to society."
The questions on the COMPAS Assessment ask not only about the person who's responding, but also ask about that person's friends, acquaintances and family members—whether on the inside or outside. They include questions regarding past or present illicit drug use, gang involvement, arrests, and so forth. Meanwhile, the CDC has acknowledged that any "data" gathered through the assessments is going into peoples' C-files (central files). Given this circumstance, we see no reason why a person who completes a COMPAS Assessment can't become an unwitting confidential informant against himself or others.
Title 15, §3378.3(a)(5), as approved on October 17, provides, "Information gleaned through inmate participation in program activities is not intended to be used to validate an inmate, initiate an investigation into STG related behavior, or identify/corroborate the involvement of other STG participants." Suffice to say, however, that the phrase "not intended to be" is a far cry from "shall not be." And, this weak assurance aside, §3378.3(a)(5) moreover states that "information specifically intended to convey to staff the occurrence of past, present, or future STG threats of violence or disruption may be evaluated to maintain institutional and public safety." It does not specify how staff will arrive at such subjective determinations.
The COMPAS Assessment, as advertised by the CDC, is said to involve a face-to-face interview conducted by a trained person, who enters a respondent's information into computer. We continue to invariably hear from men at Pelican Bay and Corcoran, however, that this protocol isn't being followed. Instead, paper fill-in-the dot-style surveys are being distributed to individuals, without any explanation. In addition, we continue to hear that people who refuse to fill out the surveys are being threatened with 115s (Serious Rules Violation Reports) and/or are actually receiving them.
DIFFERENT PRIVILEGES FOR SAME CLASSIFICATION GROUPS?
As "22" pointed out to us in a letter written in Spring 2014, §3044(c)(5) of Title 15 specifies, "No inmate or group of inmates shall be granted privileges not equally available to other inmates of the same custody classification and assignment who would otherwise be eligible for the same privileges." This language is unchanged under the new rules. "22" additionally noted in his letter that those in the SHU generally share the same custody classification [and assignment]; i.e., they are placed in Workgroup D–2 pursuant to §§3043.4(b) and/or 3044(b)(7). Thus, he continued, the provisions of the SDP are inconsisten/incompatible with §3044(c)(5), in that they afford different privileges to persons who share the same custody classification and assignment.
§3044(b)(7) has been amended effective October 17 and now states, "An inmate in ASU [Administrative Segregation Unit], SHU, or PSU [Psychiatric Services Unit], serving an administrative or determinate SHU term, who is deemed a program failure as defined in section 3000, may be assigned Work Group D-2 by a classification committee." Previously, Work Group D–2-included those validated as prison gang members or affiliates. (The term "prison gang," of course, has been eliminated in the new rules, and is replaced with the term "Security Threat Group.") §3043.4(b) has been amended to read, "An inmate who is placed in SHU, PSU, or ASU for misconduct described in subsection (c) [e.g., murder or attempted murder, manslaughter, assault or battery causing serious bodily injury, assault or battery on a peace officer resulting in bodily injury, possession or manufacture of a deadly weapon] or upon validation as a STG-I is ineligible to earn credits pursuant to Penal Code section 2933 or 2933.05 during the time he or she is in the SHU, PSU, or ASU for that misconduct." What is not clear from the new rules is what the default classification/assignment will be for persons serving SHU terms who are validated as STG–I or STG–II associates or members, whether or not they've been placed in the SDP.
We by no means begrudge any individual for receiving so-called privileges under the SDP that s/he is not otherwise be able to receive. Yet, the issue raised by "22" points to the ineptitude of the CDC.
Oct 01, 2014
keywords: Wellness Checks, Sleep Deprivation, COMPAS Surveys, Special Needs Yard
From Prison Focus Issue 44
This report is based on dozens of letters from the men in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at California State Prison at Corcoran (CSP-COR), and interviews with nine men in SHU in October 2014. This report reveals the fact that the conditions remain appalling, substandard medical care persists, and the retaliation and abuse by the guards has been amplified. Half hourly wellness checks and sleep deprivation are becoming increasingly problematic and unbearable. In addition, a slew of previously reported problems, most of which have worsened since the 2013 hunger strike, have not been resolved—especially related to retaliation and mistreatment. The extent of the post-hunger strike retaliation still exceeds the degree of retaliation that the men faced before the hunger strike. Even minimal gains and privileges resulting from the hunger strike are being denied and some apparently phased out. The neglect and abuse illustrate the uninterrupted pattern of human rights violations. CDCR practices stand in opposition to multiple sections of California State Law (Title 15), and they violate the United Nations Convention against Torture—an international treaty that aims to prevent torture and cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment around the world.
The identities of the incarcerated individuals are withheld to protect the men against retaliatory consequences. Instead, a random letter (eg, Mr. C) is assigned each person cited in the report. For information specifically on the Step Down Program, please see a separate report on that topic in this issue (page 8).
The inadequacy of the physical and mental care at Corcoran remains dire. Last month, three individuals engaged in a hunger strike to demand humane health care treatment. Ultimately they received some of their demands, though again, they were only able to get some of their medical needs met by starving themselves. The lack of medical care runs the full gamut from life threatening illnesses to eye and dental care. In addition, prisoner reports indicate that decisions regarding medications are often arbitrary, retaliatory and/or based on financial concerns rather than need. Guards reportedly use the threat of withholding or reduction of medications as a tool to control the men. The strategy is effective. Some men hesitate to file medical 602s due to fears of retaliation.
Mr. F has two lumps that he has discovered on his body approximately eight months ago. He has been trying to see a doctor, but the wait is long and often men will go to the medical area but never actually see a doctor. He had to file 602s (complaint forms) in order to finally see a doctor. He has since seen a doctor four times but has had no diagnostics or testing. On one follow-up visit, the doctor did not thoroughly examine him and did not find either of the lumps. However, he explained, since discovery, the lumps have gotten approximately three times bigger. One doctor told him to come back if they get bigger, but they have already done so. The doctors are essentially downplaying and ignoring the problem and risks. Mr. F is very concerned about his health.
Mr. A was involuntarily taken off his old pain medication and put on others that are ineffective. On the 1st of October he was pulled out of his cell and made to wait from 9:30 until 12:30 for his appointment. His request for different medication was denied. He returned on a different day hoping to get treated by a different person, and again, had to wait for several hours. He thinks the excessive waiting is a strategy to discourage the men from going to appointments. Men can then be penalized for refusing treatment. If treatment is refused, the men’s medications can be curtailed or stopped. Mr. A stated that the only reason he had been able to receive an MRI in the past is because his niece on the outside advocated for him.
Mr. L has kidney problems which he believes are getting worse. He continually files sick calls. Sometimes he is taken to the medical area and is then made to wait all day. The line is always at least 15+ people. Eventually he is returned to his cell without having seen a doctor. He still is charged the five dollar co-pay for each sick call, however. He finally saw a doctor after about four sick calls. When the doctor found out he had been charged a co-pay multiple times yet never seen, he did not charge him for the last visit.
WELLNESS CHECKS AND SLEEP DEPRIVATION
Wellness Checks continue to be a serious and growing concern. For the last several months they have been conducted every half hour, 24 hours a day. We are receiving more and more complaints about the unremitting disturbance to sleep and peace of mind. In addition, as a result of the cell checks, guards are conducting more informal cell searches.
Though the men are told the checks are for suicide prevention, the guards usually just walk by and rarely look into the cells, unless to conduct a cell search. The checks involve the use of wand-like beepers which are about five or six inches long and have magnets at the end. The guards touch the wands to another magnet attached to the cell door, which sets off a loud beeper and makes a clamor as metal strikes metal. The men can hear the beeps and bangs on each of the 20 doors on their tier. Mr. F explained that the noise made by the metal on metal is unnecessary. The guards do not have to touch the door, but only need to move the wand close enough that the connections registers. As would be expected, the noise is especially disruptive at night. Guards are not supposed to use the wands that beep at night, but they do. And even when they do not, they still bang the wand on the doors and wake the men up. Some guards do make an effort to avoid the needless racket.
Despite the claim that wellness checks are a suicide directive,there is an unquestionable consensus among the men that they are contributing considerably to sleep deprivation and exacerbating mental health symptoms. Interviewees made statements such as, “Everyone on the hall is seriously sleep deprived”, “The wellness checks and sleep deprivation are definitely creating agitation on the tier,” and “The anxiety level is very high right now, more than I ever remember.” Mr. G knows at least one person on his tier who is experiencing severe mental health effects from solitary confinement. His condition, Mr. G explained, has become noticeably worse since the Wellness Checks began. “He yells and bangs in his cell all the time.”Another interviewee reported that there are at least two individuals on his tier who are exhibiting symptoms of mental illness which have been exacerbated since the wellness checks went into place. “One of the men never talks to anyone. He is completely un-engaged. He does go out to yard but does not move around while there, instead he just stands and stares off into space. Other people have tried to talk to him but he does not engage. He does not have a cellie. He has a TV but doesn’t use it. Everyone is very concerned about him.” In addition, conversations between the men are dampened because people are constantly trying to get sleep whenever they can. This adds to the men’s sense of isolation.
The guards dislike this new cell check policy as well, because they do not want to do the rounds all throughout their shifts. The men surmise that the guards are conducting the checks aggressively with little if any disregard to sleep disturbance in order to make inmates file 602s on the issue, so that this practice can be terminated. The guards verbally encourage the men to file 602s. The harm of the wellness checks have proven to be great and the benefits appear to be minimal. As they are now conducted, these checks should cease or be curtailed immediately.
Another factor interfering with sleep are the florescent lights which are on 24 hours a day. There are light switches in the cells but they are disabled.
SPECIAL NEEDS YARD (SNY SHU)
The conditions in the SNY SHU are even more horrendous than in other SHU sections. The men note that the guards are more violent and physically abusive to them, including an increase in the use of pepper spray. Mr. L disclosed that tear gas is used on the SNY tier daily. “It happens without warning,” he stated, “and spreads throughout the entire tier through the vents.” The burning sensation in the eyes and nose, and the coughing last anywhere from a half hour up to an entire day at times. Consequently, the men led a non-violent protest action in August against the use of tear gas. All of them refused to come out of their cells. In response, the guards used so much tear gas that it reportedly overflowed into the guard areas and upset them as well.
Transfer to the SNY SHU is being used as a method of retaliation. Mr. T no longer submits 602s because he was transferred to the SNY SHU as retaliation for doing so. Mr. B believes he was moved to the SNY SHU as a retaliation measure for participating in the hunger strike. He was moved there immediately after the strike ended. He explained that the SNY SHU is meant for individuals who have debriefed or are on determinate SHU terms, waiting to be moved back to mainline. Mr. T had not debriefed however, and reportedly does not fit the other criteria for placement in the SNY SHU.
PROPERTY RIGHTS AND DENIALS.
The men in the SHU only get one special purchase a year. Items are ordered from a prison issued catalog. Sometimes men order and pay for packages, only later to have CDCR stop the order, claiming ineligibility. These men do not receive their packages, yet their money is not returned.
THE PROPERTY MATRIX
One of the concessions made by the Corcoran administration after the 2013 hunger strike was new property regulations that expanded property limits. For example, a person can now have 45 pictures instead of the previous limit of 15. However, the new DOM released on January 1, 2014 does not include these higher limits. Thus, the men are still only allowed 15 pictures, no beanies or gloves, and no small connectors for the TV video cables that keep the cables from kinking and breaking. They are not permitted extension cords even though the cells were designed to accommodate them. Simply put, none of the new regulations resulting from the hunger strike are being honored at Corcoran. Moreover, some items went up in price following the hunger strike, and never came back down.
Corcoran neglects their responsibility to provide adequate property to meet the basic needs of those in its custody, yet regularly deny modest property requests made by the men who are simply trying to take care of themselves. Administration reportedly provides only one towel and no pillows or pillowcases. Other material needs that are not met include appropriate clothing, cleaning supplies and hygiene items. Items previously approved by the warden, like shampoo, may be taken and never returned. In addition, when men are transferred between institutions, property takes at least four to six weeks to arrive, and what arrives is not complete.
Mr. M has bad hearing. His hearing aid went out during the interview and he had to use the phone without a working aid in his right ear. Because of his hearing aids, Mr. M cannot use the earbuds that are provided to indigent people and cannot hear his tv properly. A different kind of headphones would easily solve the problem, so he requested a treatment order from his audiologist, for more suitable headphones. His audiologist said they do not do this and told him to request this from the medical department. Medical staff reported that he would need a cell mate to be accommodated with new headphones.
CELL RAIDS/PROPERTY CONFISCATION
The men continue to report that guards use cell raids as a retaliation measure. Prisoners explain that these raids are punitive and not related to guard or prisoner safety. Immediately following the 2013 hunger strike, cell raids began occurring once a month. They are less often now but still occur regularly, often with no warning or apparent cause. Mr. E reported that if a complaint is submitted, about the food for example, a raid will be forthcoming as retaliation. He reported that the guards come in 20 to 30 deep. “They make us come out in boxers and shower shoes and stand out there.” Another explained, “Everyone on a tier is dragged to the yard. The guards then tear up everyone’s cells.” The men’s already limited personal belongings are usually damaged or confiscated. Mr. A stated that the guards “throw your stuff around and stomp on your photos.” Legitimately purchased commissary food is taken. TVs are often broken, or those that are already damaged may be confiscated because guards claim that they were altered. (They want everyone to order new TVs with only the headphone option. But since they can only order once a year, the men usually have a long time to wait, without a TV at all).
602s are only sometimes successful in recovering property. Mr. G described a search in 2013 by which he lost all of the property he had accumulated over the past 20 years. He filed a 602 to recover his property. The administration responded by offering him a TV, which was only one of many pieces of property seized. His additional appeals have been denied because “compensation was offered,” although the amount does not come close to the value of all the property he lost.
602s (FORMAL COMPLAINTS)
CDCR’s officially sanctioned method to resolve prison related issues begins with the submission of a 602 form. The men emphasize that the appeals process is largely ineffective and poses the risk of retaliation. Some prisoners do not file 602s anymore because it is simply a waste of time, while others are discouraged to do so because of potential retaliation. Mr. C for example, used to file 602s regularly. He suffered so much retaliation, (eg, TV destroyed, property requests denied, and a transfer to the SNY SHU) that he no longer does. Men often receive no response to their 602s. The forms are allegedly lost and the appeals “uniformly denied”. The issues routinely go unresolved.
Mr. F filed a 602 last month with the laundry department. He had only been issued one towel, and since there had been no laundry exchange in about four months, it had not been laundered. In response to his 602, he was informed that he needed to submit a 22 form (Inmate/Parolee Request for Interview, Item or Service), which he did. He received no response. He then submitted another appeal which was rejected. All he wanted was a clean towel. Among other things, this example illustrates how 602s can be a unnecessary waste of resources, primarily time and energy, when prisoners are forced to use 602s just to get there basic needs met.
Access to the law library is inadequate. Inmates only have access if they have pending litigation. Since there is no library staff member however, access is dependent on the staffing, which is inconsistent. Even when men do get to go to the library, they rarely get the full allotted four hours. Even those with priority litigation access, those with an upcoming court deadline within 30 days, are not provided the required access once per week.
Also, there is no opportunity for cell study at Corcoran, as there is at Pelican Bay. Law Books are not permitted in the cells. An additional obstacle is the difficulty of getting copies made, especially within a reasonable amount of time. This barrier is problematic as legal proceedings consist of many strict deadlines. Men complain of lost and missing legal mail, an obvious obstruction of their legal rights. Regular mail, both incoming and outgoing, is impeded as well by unexplained delays. Mr. R received his mail from early August in early October.
The miniscule amount of time the men are permitted to spend outside of their cells causes great physical, mental and emotional harm to the individuals in SHU at Corcoran and elsewhere. Despite the brutality of the existing policy of holding men in their cells for 23 hours a day, prison staff still regularly find reasons to cancel yard time. Their excuses range from too many people having visits and a shortage of staff to staff meetings and events. Yard is denied weekly, “sometimes for 1 day, sometimes for 3 days.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) states in their Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health: “Lack of physical activity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (6%). It is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischemic heart disease.” They assert that physical inactivity levels has “major implications for the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and the general health of the population worldwide”(http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/pa/en/). CDCR claims they strive to rehabilitate the men and women in their custody, but their actions—forcing men to remain in 7x12-foot SHU cells for more than 23 hours a day—invalidates this claim. The lack of physical activity is just one more example of how CDCR policies contradict their proclaimed mission.
CLEANLINESS AND GENERAL CONDITIONS
Guards are supposed to sweep the tiers every 2 weeks, but they often do not do so unless the men lodge complaints. Air circulation and cell temperature continue to cause a great deal of discomfort. There is a lack of air flow through the vents, particularly in the summer because the swamp coolers stop moving air when the water in them gets too hot. This problem is easily resolved by simply changing out the water in the swamp coolers, but the guards do not do not bother doing this, except perhaps in the staff areas. This is a grave concern not only because the summer heat can be suffocating, but also because of the high levels of Valley Fever in the air in the Corcoran area.
The quality of food at Corcoran continues to be substandard. The men are fed on paper trays which are so small that they cannot get their full issue of food. The food never returned to pre-hunger strike sized servings. The portions remain very small and entirely insufficient for meeting the nutritional needs of grown men. We are told that the men have not received hot dinners since before the hunger strike. Occasionally they receive lukewarm meals in the morning. Access to fruit is inconsistent. Sometimes the men go for weeks at a time with no fruit, and the only fruit they receive, when they do, are apples. They used to get oranges or grapefruits on occasion, but no longer. One interviewee who had participated in the strike reported that he has not returned to his pre-hunger strike weight. He weighed 176 lbs before hunger strike and has since plateaued at 152 lbs.
Compass surveys were originally designed as assessment tools used for placement of incoming inmates. They are reportedly distributed to individuals who have a parole date in the next three years, along with a pamphlet that states the surveys are to determine program eligibility. The survey contains invasive questions not only about an individual’s behavior, but also about the people they know on the outside, within their communities. Questions include whether people in their communities use drugs, possess firearms, are gang members and so on. If an individual does not fill out the questionnaire, his is threatened with a series rules violation (115). Such violations have been issued in some cases. Despite the consequences, many men have refused to fill them out. A group 602 was filed in response to the COMPASS surveys, but as of the time of the interview there had been no response. (For more about COMPASS surveys see CPF Newspaper issue 43).
Oct 01, 2014
keywords: Lexan Cells
From California Prison Focus Issue 44
This report is based on dozens of letters from men housed in the Pelican Bay SHU as well as 14 interviews with men currently housed in SHUconducted by CPF representatives in July of this year. The information gathered from these men reveal that conditions at PB have not improved since the hunger strikes of 2013, or since our last report on the conditions of PB SHU, published in our 2014 Spring issue. The blatant abuse of human rights persists relentlessly. The identities of all prisoners are concealed by using a random letter (eg, Mr. A) to reduce the risk of staff retaliation. Information regarding the Step Down Program are presented in a separate report. (See page 8)
NON-BEHAVIOR BASED GANG VALIDATION
As long as men can be placed in isolation indeterminately without having committed a violent act, or any act at all, the SHU will be full and the wheels of the Industrial Prison Complex will keep on turning. Men continue to share with us the circumstances of their non-behavior based gang validation. Mr. C, for example, reported that he was validated in the mid-1990s based on information received from an unidentified informant. He has not received any violation write-ups (115s) in the last fifteen years, except for those he acquired during the hunger strikes. Yet Mr. C remains locked up in the SHU indeterminately. He has been waiting for his parole hearing for fifteen years. Another individual reported that he had been written up for gang activity after having received drawings through the mail with alleged gang-related symbols. He is challenging the purported violation. We heard that there is a new regulation that requires CDCR to give inmates, upon request, a document showing the symbols that may be used towards gang validation.
SUBJECTIVE USE OF VIOLATION WRITE-UPS (115s) AND THE FAILED GRIEVANCE PROCEDURE (602s)
Officers reportedly receive orders from the top to find some men guilty of violations, whether or not the officer believes a violation was committed. One guard, for example, stated to a prisoner challenging his 115, “I understand what you are saying, but I have to find you guilty.” We received a similar report, in which case, upon the approval of a 602 appeal, the officer stated, “I’ll get in trouble for this, but I’m going to find you not guilty.” Officers have reportedly been directed to write up any jerking of handcuffs as battery.
WITHHOLDING OF MEDICATIONS AND PROPER MEDICAL CARE
Medications have been drastically reduced for reasons unrelated to the men’s health care needs. When orders come down from above, the reductions occur all at one time. This has been especially difficult for the older men, some of whom are in severe physical pain. One interviewee reported lack of care for a re-injured shoulder for which he was already receiving pain medication. Despite an increase in pain and discomfort, his previously approved dosage was reduced. We received one troubling report from an individual that his neighbors were told that they needed to debrief in order to receive pain medication.
Several men reported ongoing neglect in both eye and dental care. The medical requests of men who need eye glasses or already have glasses but need a stronger, are regularly denied. One individual explained that if somebody has one good eye and one bad eye, he will be denied optometric care.
There are so many factors that contribute to the poor health of the men imprisoned in the SHU. Lack of fresh air and sun continues to have a toll on the physical and mental health of these men. Mr. G reported that he gets spots on his arms that look like bites. The doctor told him that it was from lack of sun. Mr. L pointed out to his interviewer, in a past visit, that after decades in the SHU he was losing the pigment in his dull, hazy blue eyes.
SLEEP DEPRIVATION AND CELL CHECKS
The disturbance caused by regular cell checks is a growing problem. Cell checks create a lot of noise, making it very difficult to sleep, or even think. The huge chains on the pod doors make a loud noise every time they are opened and closed, which is unrelenting due to the frequency of cell checks, every half hour, all day and all night. In addition, the guards make excessive amounts of noise stomping up and down the stairs with their keys jangling. The noises are multiplied by six as the men can hear the noises coming from each of the six pods in their block. Despite the increasing number of complaints of sleep deprivation, ear plugs are prohibited.
It is hardly disputed among specialists that lack of sleep has adverse health effects. Years of research demonstrate that sleep deprivation has both short and long term effects. Short term effects may include impaired judgment, mood stability and one’s ability to learn and retain information. It also increases the risk of accidents and injury. Long term effects include damage to the cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and/or nervous systems, leading to a host of health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Lack of sleep impairs glucose tolerance which is a precursor to diabetes, a life threatening disease already rampant and in Californiaprisons. Cell checks are directly contributing to the already compromised health of the men warehoused in the SHU.
Random drug testing has been occurring once a week or every two weeks. One man reported that for a month, he had been drug tested weekly. The guards state that the cells are picked randomly although some men believe this to be untrue. One individual referred to the drug testing as “bogus.” He reported that he had received an erroneous serious rules violation (115) for being drunk, stating that he had not had alcohol in 15 years. One individual asked in exasperation, “There is money for this, but not for programming?!”
VIOLATION OF LEGAL RIGHTS
One man reported that he has an active case and that he has been allowed only 2 hours in the Law Library every 6 weeks. This is a violation of his legal rights to defend himself.
LACK OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
The R in CDCR stands for Rehabilitation. Yet, over and over men express frustration at not having access to rehabilitative opportunities, such as education. Despite CDCR neglecting their own mission and responsibility to provide rehabilitative opportunities, many of the men strive independently to better themselves. Many explain that that they are unable to take correspondence courses because they cannot afford to do so. We received one report that the proctored exams, including math and reading, were stalled. Mr. P explained that he had requested the opportunity to take correspondence courses in late 2011, but there were continuous delays and excuses and ultimately, he never received permission to do so. Mr. Q had taken Coastline correspondence courses until CDCR “cut them out.” He was working toward an AA degree in 2006/2007. He is still a registered student there but CDCR will not allow him to continue his studies. Mr. Q wants more education materials in general, but specifically in history and math. He expressed disappointment that the SDP journals are not educationally oriented.
Supposedly, the men in the SHU have the opportunity to attain, at minimum, their GED. Even this minimal education proves nearly impossible to obtain according to several of the men with whom we have spoken. One student explained that when they are in the prison-run educational program,students send their work to the teacher to be graded, but noted “you wait and wait and get no reply.” Mr. W reported that he was in the GED program but then, for reasons unknown to us, he was required to take CASAS (Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System) again. At the time of the interview, Mr.W had already waited for over five months and had been unable to continue his studies. He is determined, however, to obtain an education, and looks forward to being able to do so when the prison makes that possible.
Education is an unquestionably critical element of rehabilitation. It opens the mind enabling one to see a different way of being. It is a critical stepping stone to making better decisions and building one’s self confidence. The Division of Rehabilitative Programs, a branch of CDCR, states that it’s mission is to “help offenders leave prison with better job or career skills, education, life skills, and confidence, so they can succeed in their future despite past obstacles... evidence shows successful rehabilitation is good for communities in a multitude ways, including a significant reduction in criminal recidivism.” CDCR and the Division of Rehabilitative Programs blatantly disregard their own mission statement. CDCR needs to take the R in their name seriously and provide real, effective,and timely educational opportunities for all men who need or desire it. As eloquently noted by Mutope Duguma (James Crawford), "If we fail to educate the people while we got their attention, that’s our failure."
UNSANITARY LIVING CONDITIONS
Little has changed regarding the appalling conditions at Pelican Bay. The men describe unsanitary conditions, worn out items such as clothing and mattresses, a faulty ventilation system, to name just a few. Trays continue to be “unsanitary and dirty with old food” visible on them. Showers are reportedly not cleaned regularly as is required by CDCR regulations, and even when they are cleaned, they are cleaned inadequately. Insufficient amounts of cleanser are provided for cleaning the pods, showers and yards. Mr.S said he does his own laundry because otherwise his clothes are returned dirty, damaged or not at all. Additionally, it is difficult to get replacement clothing, and when the men do succeed in procuring new (or used) items of clothing, they are often given the wrong size. It was reported at the time of the interview that there had been no hot water for the previous two days. Another common grievance we hear is about the apparently faulty ventilation system. Rather than cooling the cells, the vents had been feeding hot air into their cells causing great discomfort, especially for the men who are double celled. At other times the ventilation made the cells cold due to the condensation and lack of air movement.
Worn out, low quality mattresses are yet another problem. Mr. F reported that he had received a new mattress just two months earlier, but that it was already lumpy, all the air has gone out of it and he cannot sleep on it. Mr. D reported that despite the worn out state and poor quality of his old mattress, he preferred it to the new ones, which are even worse, he explained. The physical discomfort of sleeping on a slab of concrete on an inadequate mattress contributes to the sleep deprivation, back problems, and other associated ailments experienced by a large percentage of men in the SHU. Even the average barnyard animal receives more comfortable bedding than the men of Pelican Bay SHU.
CLAUSTROPHOBIC CONDITIONS OF PLEXIGLAS LINED-CELLS
Lexan cells are cells lined with Plexiglas, with about an inch of air space at the bottom of the walls. We understand that there is one pod in every block has lexan on the cells, though this information has not been verified. Though these cells are designed for mentally ill and/or suicidal inmates, they are being used to house non-mentally ill prisoners, either punitively or arbitrarily. One of the interviewees reported that half of the cells in which the Lexan had been removed, had since had the plexiglass put back on. Mr. X, who was being housed in a Lexan cell, explained that staff “pump in whatever temperature they have in mind, but there is no exiting air vent. So the air is stale.” He said that over the sumer his Lexan cell was extremely hot. However, the guards force in hot air in the summer and cold air in the winter. Mr. K reported that he does not complain about the temperature of his Lexan cell for two reasons: First, because he has been told by the guards that the forced air is not coming off, and second because he believes if he complains he would be the target of retaliation and probably moved to a different pod with even worse conditions. (This is a common threat made by the guards: “If you don’t behave, we’ll move you.”) It is critical that where the Lexan is not necessary for its purpose, it should be removed from the cell.
THE USE OF STAMPS AS DONATIONS
CPF received two reports through written correspondence that they were no longer able to include stamps in outgoing mail. One man’s letter to the editor of The Rock was returned because he had enclosed 4 stamps as a donation. Staff attached a note when returning it that said, “can’t purchase with stamps” even though it was just a donation. We find it incomprehensible that CDCR devotes time and energy to blocking a donation made to a small, but truthful and informative newsletter to prison while denying basic sanitary conditions and real educational opportunities to the men in SHU.
Recently CDCR attempted to enact a new regulation that would censor incoming publications. The public outcry against the unconstitutionality of this type of censorship forced CDCR to drop and reconsider the proposed regulation. Yet they seemed to have found a way around this move. Reports of stamps being disallowed as use for donations have only been received recently since the proposed censorship regulation was dropped.
ON A POSITIVE NOTE, PRISONER SOLIDARITY THRIVES
We spoke with one man who told us about how he tries to take care of others. If he knows somebody is feeling bad, he will send some food over. “Food,” he stated, "[is what] I call it our ‘emotional currency.’” In addition, he tries to educate those who need it about how to resolve conflict without violence, “to teach them it is okay to have emotions and express them--but emotions change and pass.”
Oct 01, 2014
keywords: California Correctional Facility, Step Down Program.
From Prison Focus Issue 44
California Prison Focus plans to visit Tehachapi (CCI) as soon as we have the resources to do so. In the meantime, we are tracking conditions there via letters from inside. This report is based on correspondence from two dozen prisoners in Tehachapi SHU.
As in our standard practice, because we do not have everyone’s permission to publish their names, we maintain our sources’ anonymity. Arbitrary letters designate individuals.
WELCOME TO TEHACHAPI
The conditions for some new arrivals in the SHU were horrific. In June we heard from one man (“B”) who was housed in a disciplinary management cell. These have no furniture and no electrical outlets. Their occupants get no access to the law library or to CDCR-22 forms (the beginning of the request or complaint process). “B” had been in that cell over five weeks when he wrote to CPF. For the first day and a half he had a mattress that reeked of urine and the cell smelled of excrement and urine. He was given no cleaning supplies. He stood up for the entire day and a half. He did not receive his religious diet for the first week.
Reportedly, others new to the unit were housed in these management cells for three to four days without even a mattress, sheets, blankets, soap, or toilet paper. This means men are sleeping on the bare concrete floor and have no ability to clean themselves properly.
After prisoner “E” arrived, he received no envelopes or pen for nine days. He could not even fill out a health care form. His cell was covered in “soot” and he lacked scrub pads and cleanser to clean it, getting only liquid disinfectant. It took 13 days to receive clean underwear, and then what he got was very worn and not the right size. His mattress was short—“shoulder length” —and he got no pillow. His first exchange of linens was after 19 days. Overall, he found the move from PBSP to CCI to be “a huge step backwards.”
STEP DOWN PROGRAM
Tehachapi SHU is home to steps 3 and 4 of the Step Down Program—or what passes for steps 3 and 4, as this report will describe. The SDP is allegedly designed to transition prisoners out of gang activity (if any) and prepare them for general population. Yet men have been moved to Tehachapi for months and nominally placed into these steps, only to find that it is SHU as usual--or worse. As they progress in the SDP, they should be allowed to walk to showers unescorted, participate in educational programs or groups, spend yard time with others, eat outside their cells with others, and spend time in a dayroom. The reality is that the prison was sorely unprepared for them and has provided none to little of this programming.
In July, prisoner “A” reported that step 3 and 4 participants were spending virtually no time out of cell, and no programming was in place. They were getting yard time in cages and only one day a week, for one 5-hour block. After being at Tehachapi for six months, “we still find ourselves working to get what comes with these programs.” He is “thankful that change is coming, but it ain’t nothing nice having to be one of the first participants to programs that are still working out the many kinks.” He noted that the promised phone calls and extra package had been granted.
Almost twenty other prisoners echoed his assessment that there was little sign of the steps operating. They detailed what was missing. There was no uncuffed movement, no dayroom time allowed, yard was limited to once a week at most, and no meaningful educational programs were in place. In sum, “we are going along with what is required of us…and…we are receiving no beneficial treatment. It is like we are being punished for participating.”
Letter writer “C” described the conditions for SDP prisoners at Tehachapi as “completely dysfunctional”--in short, “a mess.” He found the conditions there harsher than those in PBSP SHU, from where he was transferred. Given that prisoners are allowed no social interaction or freedom to show that they are not engaging in gang activity, he believes steps 3 and 4 have nothing to do with discontinuing gang activity, but are simply a matter of punishment and control.
Slowly, minimally, changes occurred. In late July, SDP participants were permitted to walk to showers unescorted. In early August, group yard started—but for only four men, three “northern Mexicans” and later, one “southern Mexican.”
One SDP participant (“D”) wrote with a somewhat different story. He reported that “so far we are getting all the privileges in accordance with the SDP memo, such as phone calls (4), packages (2) plus the annual [package]. There are hitches but mostly from the vendors.” As of early September, though, he said that there were still only four men getting group yard. There were men unable to get into groups like NA or AA for lack of space or facilitators, and the dayroom was still just an unrealized promise.
“D” had a positive view of the widely detested journals. He found them to fit the general purpose and “not invasive” as others have reported. He related that some men are graduating from step 4 and being transferred, though the transfer process has taken months. Despite the delays, this progress is very good news. It is the first verification that California Prison Focus has received that SDP participants are progressing through step 4 and being released from the SHU to general population.
However, “D” echoes a suspicion others have voiced--namely, “we still need unbiased oversight ‘cause I feel in time—more specifically after the courts are done, CDCR won’t be so gracious.” And “E” suspects that CDCR is using the SDP policies only to remove those men from PBSP SHU covered by the class action lawsuit.
Despite the slight progress made in the SDP during the summer at Tehachapi, in early October correspondent “C” still reported only four prisoners going to group yard. There were two new developments: first, some group meals were occurring—but only “one cell at a time,” which must mean that cellies were eating together, not exactly something new. Second, those in the SDP were being allowed to walk to showers unescorted, but only once a week. All in all, said “C”, “nothing that resembles a step down program is functioning here, nor can it be for quite some time, because…Tehachapi SHU will have to go through a major overhaul and retro-fitting to be able to secure both prisoners and guards.”
“C” and “G” assert that the SHUs at Pelican Bay and Corcoran “are making big strides in lining themselves up with the Title 15 matrix, standardized SHU and SDP policies,” but not Tehachapi. In agreement, “E” also found his move from PBSP to Tehachapi to be “a huge step backwards.”
There were many health-related concerns. Cleanliness was near the top of the list. Prisoners reported that the yard was “filthy,” covered in dust and trash, and with algae in the toilets. The showers were described as “dirty” and simply “horrendous.” Prisoner “C” explains that the guards don’t clean the showers, yet won’t let prisoners to do it either. Ironically, “F” observes that guards regularly clean the gun tower and their own office. However, “F” indicates that prisoners are allowed to clean them sometimes.
Most tiers are “dirty and dusty” at best. Resident “F” reported that numerous broken sewage pipes flood the tiers with human-waste-tainted water, making the whole block “smell like a sewer.” The puddles, which are not mopped up, attract bugs.
Many prisoners criticized the lack of health care without providing details.
“G” and “C” are concerned about the water. Staff refuse to drink the tap water, which leaves hard white deposits on sinks and cups or bowls. Of course, no other drinking water is provided to prisoners.
These same two individuals report that, though they had active medical chronos [established orders] at their previous prisons for pain medication, Dr. Tate at Tehachapi refuses to prescribe these needed medicines. Consequently, both men are unable to sleep through the night and are prevented from doing all of their usual daily activities. “C” knows of many others who have the same experience.
There does seem to be one improvement for SHU residents’ sleep. In June we heard that the wands that were touched to sensors on the wall—to register that a guard had done the half-hourly check—emitted a screeching beep, whose volume prisoner “F” compared to pushing the test button on a smoke detector. He wrote that the results were widespread sleep interruption, and foul moods among prisoners and staff. Since then, we have not received further reports of these noisy disruptions, so it appears that the prison has remedied the situation.
Several letters alleged pervasive use of excessive force by guards. “B” believes staff at CCI punish prisoners for claiming their legal rights and reporting CDCR abuse and corruption. “F” alleges that even verbal disrespect triggers the pepper spraying of a cell, and that assaults are common in all the blocks of the SHU. He suggests that the brutality started after an officer was killed in 2008.
“F” states that Ad Seg is filled with prisoners who were assaulted by staff and then charged with assaulting staff. “Most victims of these assaults are initially held incommunicado in pods where staff intentionally dog them and isolate them as much as possible. Prisoners with injuries are hidden and denied medical attention.”
Beyond this, many of these prisoners are denied food for days at a time. “F” writes, “Staff go to their cell and say, ‘You refuse your tray? Okay.’ The prisoner usually says, ‘No, I want my tray!’ and [the officer replies], ‘Okay, you refuse your tray!’” This man says he has personally witnessed this scenario three times and heard of it dozens of times.
The serious rules violations (115s) for alleged assaults are nearly identical, according to “F”. “The prisoner is always cuffed and under escort. The guards claim he attempted to kick them. They then deploy their batons and pepper spray,” yelling “stop resisting! stop resisting!” as the prisoner lies balled up defensively and cuffed behind his back. The officer then reports that force was deployed “for my safety.” Other guards’ reports corroborate the first guard’s claim, alleging the prisoner was “combative” or “non-compliant.” The prisoner’s injuries are either ignored or explained as accidental. If the prisoner complains, he is charged with assaulting an officer. Usually the guard even explicitly threatens, “If you snitch, we’ll charge you.”
[As “F” noted, and California Prison Focus is well aware, this whole scenario is practiced far beyond Tehachapi, at other CDCR facilities and also in some county jails.]
An attitude of lawlessness pervades the ranks of Tehachapi’s staff according to our interviewees. When prisoners first arrive at the prison, guards express this attitude, “letting us know they don’t give a damn about Sacramento, 602s or the courts.” According to “F,” staff stop the vast majority of complaints from being successfully filed. Most of the prison’s administrators ignore complaints and back the officers completely.
MAIL, CLOTHING, LINEN, AND VISITING PROBLEMS
Many prisoners complained of mail, both incoming and outgoing, being delayed, and sometimes “lost.” Eleven weeks after arrival at Tehachapi, “C” was still waiting for his personal mail--even though it arrived on the same bus as he did.
Nearly all of our sources said that allotments of clothing and linens are deficient. One letter spelled out the problem, comparing what rules and regulations require the men to be issued versus what they actually receive. The discrepancy was blatant.
Laundry exchange happens irregularly and, like the original allotment, delivers clothing of random sizes that is often ragged and dirty-looking. “C” described how he was issued a T-shirt and boxers that were four sizes too small upon arrival at Tehachapi.
Re-packaging of products in prisoners’ packages or from the canteen elicited complaints from multiple prisoners. In one account, the food arrives smelling and tasting like soap or deodorant. Similarly, the canteen food items are re-packaged, and “E” writes that this causes loss of some of the toothpaste or cheese squeeze, etc.
Another area of concern is visits. To book a visit, the visitor must wait two to three hours on the phone. When finally able to speak with the booking person, the visitor may be told there are no vacancies. The visits are officially 60 minutes long. But according to “F,” either visitors or prisoners are often brought to the visiting booth late so they do not get the full hour.
A couple of correspondents lamented the limited selection of TV channels and said that the signal was so weak that reception was frequently lost.
California Prison Focus calls on Warden Kim Holland to immediate start conforming her institution’s practices to Title 15 and CDCR rules and policies. Warden Holland must provide Tehachapi residents with the property and privileges they are due and must get staff under control. In particular, we condemn and call for an immediate end to the excessive force by staff and the writing of fraudulent incident and serious rules violation reports (115s).
Jul 24, 2014
keywords: Step Down Program, Departmental Review Board
From Prison Focus Issue 43
"If you do not go in the direction of your heart, you won't make it."-Justin Grant
This report is based primarily on the interviews of ten people in Corcoran's SHU, conducted by CPF investigators in June 2014, and on several letters that CPF has received from prisoners at Corcoran since the hunger strikes of 2013. This report demonstrates that CDCR is not following it own regulations in many instances, and that the men inside are either uninformed or misinformed about the new procedures. As in past reports, the identity of individuals has been kept confidential due to fear of reprisals.
THE STEP-DOWN PROGRAM (SDP)
Probably the greatest concern on the minds of the men we interviewed was how the new step down program is going to be implemented. The new policy requires that all men in Security Housing Units due to alleged gang affiliation receive a review by a Departmental Review Board (DRB). At the DRB hearing, the individual will be placed in one of the five steps of the SDP. Some men are also placed into the Step Down Program automatically at Step 1 or during their regular six-year inactive review. Step 5 is general population with special monitoring for 12 months.
The men indicated that those people in the SHU the longest, or who were validated earliest, are being reviewed first. Yet, there seems to be contradictory evidence on this account. Interviewee G said that people are being told that everyone is supposed to be in the SDP by January. Given the slow pace of the DRB reviews, the men are wondering how everybody is going to be placed in the SDP by January. A minority of reviews has been complete, he observed. [Note: According to statistics provided by the CDC on 5/28/14, 826 DRB reviews had been completed and, at that time, 1187 still remained.]
Interviewee I described a conversation with one officer who conceded to him that it may be five years before he has a DRB review. He then asked, "Are you saying that it could be five years before I go to the DRB, then it could be another four years [to go through Stepdown]?" The officer replied, "Yes."
One person reported that people are being placed in the SDP based on what is said during Committee (it is unclear if this means the Institutional Classification Committee, aka ICC, or some other committee). If a person disagrees with something that has been alleged during Committee, yet does not expressly state that he disagrees with it, his failure to disagree is taken as consent. The administration is using this alleged "consent” to place a lot of people in the SDP.
Interviewee A reported that, during the review process, the DRB is not taking into consideration the fact that a person may have no [recent] 115s in his file—except those, perhaps, that were issued during the hunger strikes. He said that the DRB is using Confidential Information Disclosure Forms (1030s) and is only going back four years rather than the entire six. Interviewee C also reported that the DRB is only looking at the more recent records, and indicated that this protocol is equally true with respect to 1030s. DRB reviews continue to use weak evidence towards maintaining men in SHU.
Interviewees A and C complained about the invasive nature of the “self-directed 'journals" which are a requirement for all participants in the SDP. Interviewee C reported that six workbooks must be completed for both Steps 1 and 2 and that Steps 3 and 4 each require twelve completed workbooks. He explained that the workbooks become increasingly intrusive. Interviewee C was concerned that honest responses may be misconstrued by CDCR and unjustly used against him (and others). Nothing in the new STG regulations or in Title 15 specifically prescribes how responses can and cannot be used in the future, or prevents CDCR from rendering a person a "confidential informant" against himself. A facilitator told Correspondent L that nothing he writes in a workbook would be used against him (unless, e.g., it consists of a threat to kill somebody or attack a cop), and no workbooks would be confiscated. Interviewee A explained, however, that no safeguards exist regardless of any such assurances. "The cards or stacked against us," he said. Interviewee C was of a similar mind, and said that the information the men are sharing is not protected, despite what is said in SDP policy.
Numerous individuals explained that SDP participants are expected to answer the questions posed in the workbooks in a way that tries to solidify a social identity for them as criminals instead of promoting rehabilitation. Interviewee F stated the widely shared sentiment that CDCR is attempting to push the men on how and what to think. While CDCR has told the Mediation Team that there is no intent to grade the journals/workbooks, Correspondent L reported that his facilitator told him expressly that the journals would be graded monthly at his door. In addition, both Interviewees A and C, and others through correspondence, reported that despite being told that there are no right or wrong answers in completing the workbooks, answers are corrected when they are not what the administration wants to see. One exercise in the notebook, for example, asked for a description of a picture of a man walking with a chicken. One man reportedly responded, “A man who is about to eat a chicken,” but was told that his answer was incorrect. The correct answer was, “A man stealing a chicken”. Again, this kind of negative reinforcement and brainwash does not foster rehabilitation, but rather opposes it. One must question the troubling fact that men’s responses to journal questions of this nature, or refusal to participate, contributes to the drastic measure of keeping a man in solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time.
Some individuals who refuse to complete the workbooks have been the target of retaliatory acts. Interviewee A cited a specific individual, M, who was moved from Step 4 to Step 3 after refusing to fill out his workbooks. The individual in question received no additional hearing and the change was made without his knowledge. Interviewee C also was moved back one step after declining to do the workbooks. He and Interviewee A both said that those who do not do the workbooks are supposed to be "frozen" in the step they are in at the time, rather than moved back to an earlier step. (Title 15 is not clear on this issue.) Interviewee C additionally reported that he and others received 115s for refusing to "participate in the program." He filed a 602 in response. His complaint led to the issuance of a chrono (Chronological History of significant events) falsely claiming that he had told officials that if he were not returned to Step 2, he would tell others not to participate. Interviewee C emphasized that he is supportive of those who choose to complete the workbooks; he just wants them to understand how it is.
Interviewee C observed that the administration was concerned about the low rate of participation in the SDP and he stated that failure of the program will make CDCR look bad. Interviewee A predicted that CDCR would blame problems with the SDP on the refusal of men to fill out the workbooks. A couple of interviewees indicated that the administration is using inducements, in addition to retaliation, to get people to participate in the SDP. For example, those in Step 2 reportedly get certain privileges. They are allowed some additional items in their packages and can spend up to $65, whereas those in Step 1 can only to spend $55 per package. Interviewee I reported that people were told that they could get two packages annually if they participated in the SDP. Later, however, he was told that the "rules" changed and this promise was rescinded. Interviewee C believes that “incentives” are offered selectively as a form of extortion.
One interviewee reported that guards had beaten him. They struck his head, slammed it against a wall, and bruised up his neck. Since the beating, he stated, "it's not been the same." He was not able to work out for about a month. When he did start to work out, his breathing was strained and his heartbeat was irregular. He has been having headaches ever since the beating. At the time of the interview there were still visible marks and discoloration on his neck where the officers had grabbed him. He filed a complaint (602) which was denied, but he is appealing the denial. He had yet to be provided with the relevant medical records, which he had requested.
DENIAL OF MEDICAL TREATMENT
We continue to hear about less than adequate medical care and attention for people housed in SHU. Disturbing reports about both doctors and nurses were offered in our interviews, though at least one of the doctors at Corcoran has been described as a “decent guy.” Interviewee E reported that the doctors were not using hygienic practices. For example, they do not always wash their hands between patients, and sometimes use the same tools on patients multiple times. We have received reports that prescriptions are either not filled at all, or that refills are delayed up to several months. Prescribed pain medications are often replaced with cheaper and less effective Tylenol. We have also received reports that the abnormal blood pressure of some inmates is downplayed and/or disregarded altogether. Some men with leg, foot, knee and/or back problems have been denied wheelchairs or crutches.
Basic medical treatments are denied. Interviewee C’s cellmate reportedly broke his thumb. Nurses reported that the x-rays of his hand were never examined by a doctor and there was no follow up. Interviewee F is diabetic and has some serious health issues as a result. He should receive three insulin shots a day, but reported one incident during the 2013 hunger strike when the nurse failed to give him his insulin and he went “man-down” (medical emergency situation in which cellmate or others nearby call for medical help). He also explained that at Corcoran there is no diabetic meal plan. Instead he was offered a healthy heart meal plan, which has been described by others as not much different from the regular meals. Interviewee F was denied his request to be transferred to a facility which would better meet his health care needs because he has been classified as medium-risk rather than high-risk. He has appealed this decision. Another time this same person was informed that he had been denied treatment because he had not shown up for his appointment; however, he reported that he had not received appointment notification.
Another typical example of the kind of medical abuse found in SHU includes a man who has two degenerated spinal discs. Though he had long ago been removed from wheelchair status, he was given a wheelchair for the visit, probably for the staffs’ convenience in transporting him. About four months after the disc-degeneration was confirmed by an outside medical specialist, his pain medication was rescinded. He said that he could not get up from bed for about two weeks, or even eat. Later he fell and hit his back. He was then taken to an in-house doctor who said he could not provide any additional treatment for him. The doctor's medical notes indicated that he was okay, but the inmate fell again. He has been experiencing a stabbing pain when standing. A nurse suggested to him that he “go suicidal” (that is, fake a suicide attempt), telling him that this was the only way he would get any help. Another time a medic remarked to him, without being mean or dismissive, "Man, you're only gonna get help if you die!" An MRI is necessary, the inmate said, but stated that he will not be able to get one because it had not been that long since his last one. A staff member told him that he could get another MRI when he is 40 years old—adding, "You'll know what pain really feels like when you're forty."
DEALING WITH SUICIDE PREVENTION.
Suicide is a very serious issue for people housed in solitary confinement with one study reporting that 50 percent of all attempts at suicide in prison take place among the 6 to 7 percent of people in solitary. Yet guards do not take suicide seriously. Interviewee E reported that for the guards, the suicide death of Billy Sell in July of 2013 was a joke. He reported that guards laughed at the fate of Mr. Sell and made comments such as “He should have never have starved himself.” Interviewee B reported that when men are having mental breakdowns, they are simply given pills to make them sleep. He also reported that prisoners who are put on suicide watch are put in special cells and required to take off their clothes for at least three days.
Based on several reports, cell searches increased significantly after the 2013 hunger strikes. As we were preparing this report, we heard from men through correspondence that another round of raids had just started—the third round in about six months. The men characterize these searches as a systematic tactic of retaliation. Several individuals spoke of two specific searches that were reportedly discretionary, as dictated by the administration. People reported that outside search teams were brought in to conduct these searches. K-9 units were involved in some searches. Our understanding is that one of the searches was conducted by Fresno law enforcement and one by another agency. Interviewee C explained that law enforcement officers from other states are sometimes brought in to see how things are being run in California prisons.
These searches were conducted with unnecessary hardship on the men. Interviewee A reported that the first search was for metal contraband. We received accounts from two different men from two different yards, reporting that they were stripped down to nothing but boxers and shower slippers and were forced to march in that condition a lengthy distance from their cells to a metal detector. While the cell search was taking place, the men reported that they were forced to stand, waiting in cages for several hours. The second search, as reported by Interviewee A, was conducted after a cell phone had been found in one person’s cell. Interviewee A reported that this search produced seven cell phones in one block while another prisoner reported that 15 cell phones had been found and confiscated. The men surmise that CDCR has kept this as quiet as possible, as the only manner to sneak phones into the prison is by the guards. To our knowledge, no investigation has been conducted, despite the fact that there is no other conceivable way that the men could have acquired cell phones.
One man whose cell was recently raided and searched stated that "they just destroyed everything." Others sent letters describing how it took several days to get their cell back in order. One man thought they would take his TV because it had a speaker, and he had heard that the men could no longer have a TV or radio with speakers. At the time of the interview, his radio and TV had not been taken. They did, however, take some cables, a photograph of himself and others, and other items. In addition, they “trashed” his cell. Interviewee D was concerned that a photograph taken by the guards would be construed falsely as "evidence" against him for breaking some sort of prison rule and remain in his C-file for that purpose. Another man reported that his whole building had been raided. The guards did not take anything, but his cell was “trashed” and his books damaged. The plastic casing on his mattress was torn off, but he hoped to find a way to sew it back together. Yet another person reported that his medical books and magazines were taken. His letters were removed from their envelopes and left in a heap on his bed with his legal work. Some fellows were told that certain confiscated items would be returned, but they were not. One individual said that his TV was taken. The guards said it had been altered because there was a small hole on the bottom. He stated that he knew they would not give it back, so he did not bother asking. Another man reported that he had been transferred to a new cell and he felt “lucky” because his property was properly packed and sent to his new cell with him, as protocol dictates.
URINE DRUG TESTING
Interviewee A reported that Corcoran had been conducting mandatory, random drug testing. Though CDCR was saying that the testing is random, it was reported that the testing is not random at all, but rather targeting certain people as a form of retaliation and simply another form of harassment. Many men are refusing out of principle. Refusing to be tested is counted as failing, which results in the loss of certain privileges, including yard for 10 days, radios, TVs and visits for 90 days. Another person reported that there has been retaliation in response to urine test refusals: property is taken, 115s are issued, food portions are smaller, and mail is lost or held for months.
Interviewee D reported that men have been moved all over the place since the hunger strike. “They are flipping up the prison regularly,” he said. He reported that men from Pelican Bay were being moved to Corcoran and vice-versa. He explained that those with allegedly more influence are being relocated where they are more isolated from other inmates. Another person reported that those who file too many complaints (602s) are being sent to Pelican Bay. In addition, people are being shuffled around for block cleaning, painting and maintenance. (See “Structural Conditions” section below).
RETALIATION AND STAFF CONDUCT
Title 15 states that “Inmates and parolees have the right to be treated respectfully, impartially, and fairly by all employees” (at § 3004). However, the men inside continue to expose blatant tactics of retaliation. Interviewee A explained that retaliation has been non-stop since the 2013 hunger strikes. “It is one thing after another,” stated another man. Interviewee E reported that guards harass and curse at the men regularly, are often disrespectful, and drag their feet passing out canteen and mail. Interviewee C reported that the actions of guards are under greater scrutiny--that is, when higher administration officials from Sacramento and/or CPF and coalition legal delegations visit, retaliation diminishes. However, in the last few months since they had stopped coming around so often, retaliation has resumed.
INCREASE IN SERIOUS RULES VIOLATION REPORTS (115s)
The number of 115s has grown since the 2013 hunger strikes. One man reported that sometimes the same men are being issued 115s over and over. Interviewee G reported that he received two 115s: one for inciting/leading a hunger strike, and another for participation in a hunger strike. When he questioned a guard about his confiscated typewriter, he received yet another 115 for delaying an officer. Another person reported an incident when, prior to a medical appointment, his cellmate’s clothesline fell down and he was helping to put it back up. The guard said he was taking "too long to get ready" and called this a "refusal [to obey an officer's orders]." It is not clear whether or not he received a 115 for this, but these are the sort of trivial matters for which the men are receiving write-ups for “serious rule violations.”
DIFFICULTY FILING COMPLAINTS (ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS OR 602s).
CPF continues to receive reports that 602 appeals are frequently lost or hindered by prison staff. Interviewee F reported that 602s have led to retaliatory cell searches in which property is confiscated. Sometimes staff do not respond to 602s within the requisite thirty-day time period and essentially run out the clock on the appeal making it impossible for the filer to follow up on it. Interviewee G reported that he had filed a 602 after getting beat up by an officer. Though he has documentation that his grievance was substantiated, he has received no relief through the administrative appeals process. Interviewee I and his neighbors filed a group 602 regarding the ongoing problems with food. Their objective is to get the kitchen staff retrained on proper procedures. Interviewee B reported that a group 602 has been submitted, protesting the canteen price gouging.
Based on letters and investigative interviews, food rations and palatability have been grossly reduced since the 2013 hunger strikes, which people attribute to retaliation. We have received numerous reports since the hunger strike that the food has gotten worse. The use of paper trays continues to be an issue. One man reported that the use of the paper trays had started about 100 days prior to our visit. Some men were told a dishwasher had broken down and washing all the hard trays would be too much work. However, that incident was “ages ago,” he added. Paper trays were uncommon before the most recent hunger strike. Currently they are being used more often than not. In addition to spillage and water-logged food, another person explained that the food ends up getting “smashed together” as it is pushed through the slot. But even more critical is the fact that the paper trays hold far less food than the hard trays. Portions are significantly reduced, often by as much as half. Interviewee H stated that some portions can be eaten in "one spoonful." Likewise, another fellow stated that portions may be “scarcely more than a mouthful.” Prisoners are reporting that the 2000 calories per day requirement is not being fulfilled. In addition, meals often arrive cold because they don't start delivering it until every last try is on the cart, instead of delivering smaller numbers of trays in succession. Lunch has been coming lately without any condiments and without cookies. Food is often taken when property is confiscated.
Interviewee H reports that new metal button devices were recently installed on peoples' cell doors. He explained that guards use a “wand” that looks like a flashlight, but beep when the guard touches the corresponding cell button. He stated that the men are not aware of what the buttons are for, but presume they are to track check-ins. The guards are saying that they are going to "beef up" the button-pressing up to every half hour. Interviewee H speculated that the installation of these devices was in response to the death of Billy Sells, and the fact that people were not being sufficiently checked in on during the last hunger strike. Director Adult Institutions Michael Stainer told the Mediation Team that the new "wellness check" system only cause a beep during the day, but emits a small LED light at night. Correspondent K recently wrote that the beeping goes on 24/7, night or day.
The men received a survey about the availability of items through the canteen as apparently CDCR was considering changing vendors. As a result, the men were told that new items would be available in July of this year. One person reported that this was a result of the hunger strike and simply a tactic to pacify people. He assumes that the prices will be raised as they have always been gouged. He said access to the canteen is consistent and is not included in lost privileges, though others reported having canteen rescinded for participating in the hunger strike. Interviewee E reported that people have to be in Step 1 to purchase shoes, though some men do get them. “It depends on the guard,” he explained. Another man reported that men were ordering items but not receiving them. He also reported that if a person could not pay for shipping, his package was taken away. In addition, when items are missing from a package, the men are still required to pay for shipping for those items.
Interviewee E reported that only three channels are available to all of the prisoners. If an individual has enough money, he can buy an antenna and receive additional channels. He also explained that the prisoners are required to listen to their TVs and radios by headphones. Headphone wires are limited to four feet long, however, making it impossible to listen to TV or music while lying down.
Men report that guards deny showers and yard regularly denied. For example, Interviewee B reported that guards told them that yard had been cancelled because the cages were not functional and needed to be fixed. He explained indoor cages could have been used, but instead the men are spending extended periods of time without leaving their cells. The result is that men are spending 24 hours a day in their cell, day after day. He stated that showers are frequently cancelled, too. Interviewee A reported that the law library has been pretty consistent lately, and that officers have been coming around regularly asking the men if they need copies. Legal books are not permitted out of the library and non-legal books in the library are limited. There are no mobile book carts for the men. One person reported that there is a crate of books in his section where one can sometimes grab a book on the way to or from yard. A man from a different section reported that they have no such crate. The majority of the non-legal books floating around are sent to the individual prisoners and then passed from one guy to another.
Interviewee A believes that Corcoran is going through an accreditation process and that they are therefore fixing up the sections. Entire blocks are being switched around for block cleaning, painting, and maintenance. Air conditioners are being repaired. Water was turned off for repair due to bad plumbing. Since outside officials had been coming around, the administration was trying to make things look better. Nevertheless, people report that they are not receiving their cleaning supplies, and that the floor officers refuse to clean the tiers.
Shortened Visits. Interviewee E explained that people had been informed that visits were for two hours but were only getting thirty-minute visits. If the visitors are late, time is taken off the visit. He also reported that getting an appointment for a visit is difficult in the first place. The men are being told that all of the booths are full.
LACK OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES
Every day in solitary is hard and solitary confinement can break down one’s revolutionary spirit, stated Interviewee F. “One can unravel.” He acknowledged that his family and supporters need him to stay strong. In order to do so he spends a great deal of his time reading, writing, and focusing on the struggle. For these reasons he is committed to his education and personal growth. Interviewee F is currently trying to get his GED. He explained that he has put in four or five requests to get a GED book, but that the assigned staff member for his block has not responded. Interviewee F referred to this individual as “the teacher.” As eager as he is to get his GED, he has thus far been unable to move forward in doing so. He explained that there are supposed to be classes aired on the prison TV channel, but he “had not seen any in a while.” Normally, he explained, the student would watch the classes on TV, complete the GED book, and then send the completed book to the assigned block teacher correspondent to be scored. Finally a test would be taken and scored by their educational correspondent.