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Apr 15, 2015
keywords: Step Down Program, Departmental Review Board, Case-by-Case Reviews
From Prison Focus Issue 45
This supplemental report substantiates through in-person interviews and correspondence four key findings:
1) The pace of the reviews remains sluggish as CDCR has only had two qualified persons to chair DRB reviewing teams since the inception of case-by-case reviews in October of 2012. CDCR officials informally reported in February that they plan to add two more individuals who can also chair DRB teams, and that these additions should speed up the process. Be that as it may, it's unconscionable that men who are likely to be released from solitary confinement upon review—after being subjected to inhumane conditions for years or decades on end—have been indefinitely waiting in SHU just to go before DRB. There is no excuse for CDCR's bureaucratic moroseness. Justice delayed is justice denied.
2) The pattern of case-by-case (CBC) reviews, when and where they take place, is being cynically driven by the Ashker v. Brown lawsuit. CDCR's demonstrated intent is to render that case moot by moving men who've been caged in Pelican Bay's SHU for ten years or more to the other SHUs—that is, to reduce and eventually eliminate the class of plaintiffs in Ashker v. Brown who are party to the cause of action brought under the 8th and 14th Amendments (Cruel and Unusual Punishment). This violates the spirit of those who participated in the recent hunger strikes and demanded, among other things, an end to CDCR's administrative abuses and debriefing policies. It also violates the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which the US and its subjugate territories are signatories.
3) CDCR continues to pressure individuals to enter the debriefing program at penalty of remaining in the SHU. In one recent case, CDCR decided to hold a person who'd refused to debrief in the SHU, citing nebulous security concerns as a justification. This was despite an earlier DRB finding that there was no reason to hold this person in the SHU any longer.
4) Linked to the previous item, we are receiving indications from various sources that several men have qualified for transfer directly to Step 5 (monitored status within the general population), but are being retained in SHU due to alleged security concerns. This is especially true where confidential informants are involved in raising security concerns. Under existing regulations, there's generally no way to corroborate such concerns or to ensure that they're being adequately investigated if at all. Hence, the status quo constitutes a continued abridgment of due-process rights.
The information that follows herein is based on:
-Interviews conducted with about two-dozen individuals at Pelican Bay SHU and at Corcoran SHU (respectively, in late December 2014 and in late February 2015)
-Information supplied by members of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS), including members of the mediation and legal teams.
-Letters recently sent to CPF by those in the SHUs.
Random letters (italicized) are used herein instead of names to identify sources inside so as to guard those sources' anonymity.
Ashker v. Brown is driving DRB priorities: Pelican Bay is the focal point, not movement out of SHU
In August 2013, Michael Stainer, then Director of CDCR's Division of Adult Institutions, said that STG associates with the earliest validation dates would be prioritized for CBC reviews. By now, CDCR practice has revealed a clear alternative priority, as indicated above: The focus is to conduct CBC reviews of those people who have been at Pelican Bay SHU for the longest amount of time. DRB's George Giurbino corroborated this as much during deposition in December. This has resulted in many being transferred from Pelican Bay, often to other SHUs. CDCR has therby succeeded in vastly reducing the numbers of class members party to the first cause of action (Cruel and Unusual Punishment) in Ashker v. Brown. When the plaintiffs thereto filed their Second Amended Complaint back in May 2012, an estimated 500+ people held in Pelican Bay's SHU had been there for over ten years (based on CDCR's own statistics for 2011). As of January 31, 2015, only 213 people remained in that category compared, to 232 for the previous month. Many of these men, however, were not let out of SHU, but simply transferred to other SHUs. By end of February, a little over 200 remained so classified at Pelican Bay.
Due to this practice of SHU-shuffling, the plaintiffs in Ashker v. Brown recently petitioned the court to expand the class action to those who have been transferred out of Pelican Bay and placed in other institutions. The majority of those transferred out of Pelican Bay have been sent to Tehachapi (CCI)—where conditions are reportedly even worse than those at Pelican Bay (see, e.g., the Tehachapi Report included in Issue #44 of this publication). Oral argument on was heard on February 12. Although a written decision from Judge Claudia Wilken is forthcoming, she did rule from the bench in favor of expanding the class. This judgment will result in a bifurcated trial; i.e., two trials. The first is set for December 2015, whereupon it will be decided whether confining a person to the SHU at Pelican Bay constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. If the plaintiffs prevail, the court will decide during a second trial (in 2016) whether confining a person to Pelican Bay's SHU for ten years or more, then transferring that person to another SHU, also constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
According to one PHSS legal team member, almost 900 people remain in the Due Process class (14th Amendment), according to statistics for February. This class consists of those men at Pelican Bay's SHU who were validated under regulations formerly in place under California Code of Regulations, Title 15, and have yet to receive a DRB CBC review. The length of time spent at Pelican Bay doesn't matter. The Due Process class increased by four people between January 31 and the previous month. Thus, it seems that CDCR is moving people who've not yet received DRB reviews into Pelican Bay's SHU, from other SHUs or from Administrative Segregation.
In their recent meeting with CDCR on February 20, the PHSS mediation team was told that 1,070 CBC reviews had been completed, and about 1600 remained. Of the 1,070 who received reviews, about 72.5% (776 total) had been placed in Step 5, whereas the other 294 had been placed in Steps 1–4. These statistics evince the legitimacy of one of the prisoners' five demands: that SHU only be used as a last resort. If over 70% of them men in SHU have been qualified for general population, with CDCR reporting few if any problems of post-SHU release adjustment, then the SHU hasn't been (and continues not to be) used as a last resort.
CDCR further told the mediation team that they plan to complete the CBC reviews by December 2015. At present, only two DRB teams handle all reviews, each headed by Susan Hubbard or George Giurbino. However, CDCR says that two new teams are currently being trained and will focus on Corcoran and Tehachapi. The current wardens at Wasco State Prison and Central California Women's Facility (CCWF)—respectively, Deborah Johnson and Jon Katavich—will lead these new teams. These additional teams will allegedly increase CDCR capacity to do the CBC reviews.
Members of the PHSS mediation team, including CPF volunteers, complained about the low number of teams since 2012. They consider the refusal to implement additional teams until now as a violation of the men's basic rights not to be held in SHUs indefinitely and without due process—especially in light of the fact that the great majority of them will be released to general population.
News from Pelican Bay SHU
Mr. A told us, "The way I see it, it's a con game. They got the biggest con game in there." He has already heard that people who have gone to the DRB or have been deemed inactive are coming back from the mainline (general population), and cited two specific examples. The same holds true, he indicated, for those who have successfully challenged their validations under the Castillo settlement.
Mr. A was placed in Step 3 some time ago and was almost regressed to Step 2 when he refused transfer to Tehachapi. His refusal was primarily due to medical concerns. "Why would I want to go from bad to worse?" he rhetorically asked when discussing his situation. A lot of men just want to "get the hell out" of Pelican Bay, he added—noting that when they see how bad the alternatives are, they may reconsider. In his own case, he asked to be transferred to New Folsom rather than Tehachapi and ultimately was not regressed to Step 2.
Mr. B had his active/inactive review in mid February 2014. While he was in the shower the around the time of his review, his cell was searched—as were the cells of two others on his tier who were not up for review. Mr. B speculated that IGI (Institution Gang Investigation Unit) perhaps thought the latter two were holding something for him. One IGI officer told him that they were conducting random cell searches. Another told Mr. B, "No, we're doing your active/inactive review." The search slip he received cited that the reason for the search was his active/inactive review.
In July 2014, IGI did another search of Mr. B's cell, again saying that they were conducting his active/inactive review. He told IGI that he thought he had already received it. They told him, "No, that was something else." This time they came up with a validation point, based on Mr. B having records of some other peoples' birth dates in his cell. He filed an administrative grievance (602) and as of late December was waiting for his final appeal decision from Sacramento. He contends that the theory used by IGI to deem him an active STG (Security Threat Group or prison gang) member is unsupported by the evidence. For example, no inmate ID numbers or anything else in the documentation shows that the persons cited by the IGI for the purpose of affirming association are who the IGI says they are. In addition, no evidence shows points to any Security Threat Group/gang-related conduct, he said.
Mr. C reported that he's been on inactive status since May 2014. He met with the DRB in November 2014, and was told that he would be placed in Step 5 and go to the mainline. When we spoke with him, he had been waiting to be transferred for some seven weeks, and noted that others had only waited four weeks. Again, CPF finds such wait times in solitary confinement due to inept management to be a clear violation of basic human and legal rights.
Mr. D, who at the time of our interview with him was not in the SHU but on the mainline, indicated that a lot of people who had supported the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) had been kicked down to his yard. Why these latter men remain at Pelican Bay, as opposed to being transferred to a different institution, is not clear.
Mr. E discussed new guidelines released three weeks prior to CPF's visit: If somebody is placed on “inactive” status, he will go to the Internal Classifications Committee (ICC), which, Mr. E noted, is less desirable than appearing before the DRB. The ICC tends to be less impartial and part of an institution-specific operation, he explained. Mr. E has been in the SHU for around twenty-five years, and therefore didn't understand how others were receiving CBC reviews ahead of him.
Mr. F observed that that, although CDCR approved the SDP, "they don't even know if it works." (Implicit in his words was that the SDP had been rubber-stamped.) He was supposed to have his active/inactive review in February 2014, but it got postponed until September 2014—two days before his parole date, it just so happened. He was given a six-year denial, he said, but he was supposed to get a four-year denial, like others who were validated around the same time as he. He filed a 602 on this issue up to the third level, but Sacramento denied his appeal.
Mr. G was placed in Step 5 and was consequently released from Pelican Bay's SHU on inactive monitored status. He was then transferred to Kern State Prison. His yard, he reported in a letter, is full of gregarious people—many of whom, like himself, have recently been returned to the mainline from the SHU. Otherwise, there is no program to speak of. One can have a microwave in one's cell, or purchase a tablet computer, but that's as far as it goes. (The tablets appear to be e-readers preloaded withVoluntary Educational Program (VEP) materials, including remedial education and GED materials, and materials relating to self-help programs [AA, Anger Management, etc.]. This is indicated by information available through CDCR's website.)
NEWS FROM CORCORAN
Two people at Corcoran commended Susan Hubbard—one of the two people currently leading the two DRB teams, as earlier discussed herein—for rejecting weak evidence in the course of conducting CBC reviews. (In contrast, Mr. A at Pelican Bay mentioned that a St. Paddy's card he had hanging on his wall for year had been construed as evidence of "gang activity" at his DRB review. He did not say who headed the team handling his case.)
Mr. H reported agreement amongst the men at Corcoran to participate in the widely loathed aspect of the Step-Down Program that requires the completion of numerous so-called self-directed journals. (Issue ## 43 and 44 of this publication detail the make-up of these journals. Some have insulting and/or presumptuous titles such as "The Con Game," "Thinking Errors," "Criminal Lifestyles," and "Reviewing my Drug Use.") Mr. H is not himself in favor of completing the journals, but is going along with it for the sake of solidarity with the mens' collective decision to do so.
On a separate note, Mr. H reported that people placed in Step 2 at Corcoran have access to a new programming opportunity: a book club. The book club includes three other men and a staff person (?), Ms. Done, besides Mr. H. Ms. Done asked an officer by the name of Bailey—who apparently heads the implementation of Step-Down at Corcoran and apparently "chaperones" the book club—if men participating in the club could receive certificates for doing so. (Such certificates help when the men go up for parole). She did this in front of the group participating in the book club. Bailey denied the request, but stated that the participation of individuals would be noted in their central files.
Mr. H estimated that around 90% of those validated at Corcoran are still waiting for DRB reviews. In his area, he reported, he knew of just two people who were placed in Step 1, two people who were placed in Step 3, two people who were placed in Step 4, and four others who were placed in Step 2. To his knowledge, DRB will next be visiting Corcoran in April.
Mr. J told us that, as a result of his 2013 DRB CBC review (he was one of the first to receive one), it was determined that evidence used to revalidate him in 2010, pursuant to his six-year inactive review, didn't substantiate gang activity. The DRB concluded that there was no reason to hold him in the SHU any longer. Yet, confidential informant information suggested that he had a security concern--i.e., that others wanted to hurt him, for events going back to 1996. The DRB decision was to retain him in SHU for another year, but during this time, the IGI was supposed to investigate and determine if security concerns remained valid. Mr. J. claimed that IGI interviewed nobody, but filed a report saying that since they found no new evidence to discredit security concerns, they remained valid.
In anticipation of a follow-up DRB hearing in November 2014, Mr. J submitted letters of support from his family and other materials in October. He has been free of write-ups since 2007. However, the DRB didn't come in November. At first he was told that the teams busy doing reviews at Pelican Bay, and he could expect his follow-up DRB in January. January came and went with no review. Upon inquiry with his counselor in February, Mr. J learned that a DRB decision was reached in his case in Sacramento in absentia. The decision was to retain him in SHU for another 24 months. Mr. J was then asked to enter the debriefing program. He refused. This refusal was noted on his paperwork and it was recommended that he continue in SHU due to security concerns.
Mr. J happens to be a successful litigant who in the past won a significant settlement against CDCR for guard misconduct. Thus, this case has the clear appearance of retaliation. Furthermore, CDCR has put him in a Catch-22 situation. The only way he can prove that he does not have security concerns is to associate with other supposed STG members or associates. But if he associates with them in any way, this will be misconstrued as gang activity and he will be revalidated. This situation further exemplifies the lack of due process otherwise remarked upon herein.
Mr. K affirmed that although CDCR claims many men are placed in Step 5, many of these same individuals remain in the SHU.
Mar 07, 2015
keywords: Sleep Deprivation, Directors Review Board, Security Threat Group, Step Down Program
From Prison Focus Issue 45
The most important issues the men were facing at Corcoran have to do with the slowness of the Director's Review Board (DRB) case by case reviews, placement in Step Down Program (SDP), and ongoing problems with due process around Security Threat Group (STG) validation. Most of these items are covered in a separate report on DRB and SDP in the same issue on page 2.
Beyond the report cited above, we reiterate in this report that today many men remain locked in SHU who have been validated as members or associates of Security Threat Groups (STGs) based on false evidence. Nearly four years after the first hunger strike, these men are still waiting to have their cases reviewed by the new criteria that will most likely put them in Step 5 of the Step Down Program (72% of all those reviewed are placed directly into Step 5). That CDCR has been so slow to review their cases under the excuses of wanting to ensure they are done right, or that it takes a long time to train other individuals to do the reviews. These excuses are flat out appalling and unacceptable. In addition, Corcoran interviewees expressed concern that most of the action on the case by case reviews was occurring at Pelican Bay due to the hunger strikes originating there and the on-going lawsuit on SHU conditions there (Ashker v. Governor of California). Individuals with whom we spoke note that items found in other men's cells (over which they have no control) as well as political literature that raises consciousness about racism, classism, slave-like conditions, etc. (George Jackson, Malcom X, cultural drawings) are still retaining some men in SHU today. This occurrence is inexcusable, and CDCR cannot hide behind the excuse of "we're going as fast as we can" when they certainly had the opportunity to train others to the reviews years ago. The continued torture of 24/7 housing in solitary confinement is what hangs in the balance here.
A major complaint we heard was about the lack of real mental or physical health care. With respect to mental health, one man told us that the psychologists are not there to help you, but just to say that they are doing their job. He said they transfer counselors in and out so fast, and then one has to start all over again to tell one's story and go through all of the issues one is dealing with. He is getting tired of starting from scratch over and over again.
We heard several stories of men collapsing, going man down, and subsequently being rushed to the hospital to be cared for. One man was allowed a wheel chair and a desk while he was in ACH (Acute Care Hospital at Corcoran), but now that he is back in SHU he is allowed neither. This makes it very difficult for him to be mobile in his cell, on the one hand, or to sit and write, on the other. His current wheelchair is in bad shape, but he is afraid to ask for another one out of fear of retaliation.
With respect to physical health, the common complaint was lack of pain medication, especially for those with documented chronic pain conditions. The men told us that their individual physicians will order pain medication, but that the chief medical officer denies the request. Most often the CMO will allege that the men are faking their pain in order to abuse drugs. In the cases of the individuals with whom we spoke, however, their chronic pain has been medically documented. They suspect that cost savings may also be behind the denials. A couple of individuals with whom we spoke were clearly in pain at the time of the interview. Although they have different ailments, each basically approaches each day as a challenge in terms of getting through their chronic and severe pain. One man has returned at least five times to his doctor who prescribes pain medications for him, only to have them canceled later. This interviewee was told that he would have to be seen by the pain committee, but he has been waiting over a year and still has no date for such a meeting.
Another man had special insoles for shoes confiscated from his cell in 2011. The insoles helped to relieve some of his pain, but he has not been able to get new ones. He often does not go to yard because the guards mishandle him, pushing and shoving in ways that aggravate his chronic pain condition. Often the guards suggests that the men are either lying or exaggerating about their ailments.
SHOWERS AND UNSANITARY CONDITIONS
Related to medical wellness is basic hygiene. The men have no control over the shower schedule which is supposed to be three times a week, but we have heard that showers are regularly canceled due to all sorts of excuses. Sometimes the guards claimed they are understaffed, other times they are at a meeting, and that still other times they are "doing moves." Most of the men with whom we spoke claimed that they had not showered in the entire last week.
Most of the men complained that they did not receive enough cleaning supplies to be able to keep their cell adequately clean. If they request more, it usually takes a long time to receive. They are only allowed to put in for such a request every three months.
The new policy of 30 minutes wellness checks often leads to the disturbing occurrence of some guards who either intentionally or recklessly bang or slam the electronic wand on the metallic button outside the inmate's door to register that they have been checked. First, most men told us that they don not actually check, but simply run up and down the hallways as fast as they can to get the check done. Second, while some guards are respectful and attempt to carry out the duty at night with minimal noise, others who make a lot of noise—some apparently intentionally—are contributing to the torture of SHU through sleep deprivation and all the harms it brings with it. One man told us he can hear the guards making noise already in the previous pod, illustrating how loud wellness checks can be. SHU is stressful enough for those who sleep well. Depriving these men of regular sleep under these conditions is out and out inexcusable. Guards who make that much noise during the wellness checks at night should be held accountable and reprimanded for their behavior to the fullest extent possible.
Programming is usually either nonexistent or completely inaccessible to most individuals in the Corcoran SHU. Rarely do we speak with incarcerated individuals who do not wish to receive educational or other programming opportunities. Ironically, one man was able to pay for his college correspondence courses only after receiving a significant monetary settlement stemming from a case years earlier of clear abuse by CDCR staff. He stated that when he paroles, he wants to have some skills behind him. This man’s drive to educate himself and to succeed in the outside world reflects the wide spread longing of men in the SHU for educational and other programming opportunities, and ultimately to grow and experience success, if given a chance to do so. Unfortunately, few of the men in the SHU at Corcoran receive that chance. If validated individuals do not have the financial resources, receiving an education while in the custody of CDCR is nearly impossible.
Obtaining a GED is also a challenge. One man who was approved to take the GED course has been waiting five months for his course to start, but nothing has happened. Another noted, however, that he was able to acquire his GED along with others in SHU. He said this occurred due to the hunger strikes. Previously, he noted that people could study for the GED, but never finish it and get their certificate.
Despite The "R" in CDCR, rehabilitation does not appear to be a priority to those who have the power and ability to implement rehabilitative programming. As one interviewee asked rhetorically in reference to his eventual release, “What am I going to do with $200 and no education? Am I going to be able to get a job? Is that going to benefit society?”
Access to the law library is limited, and often completely inaccessible to those who are not PLU (Priority Legal User). This situation prevents men who are considering a lawsuit to get informed about how to do so and thus prevents them from exercising their basic legal rights. Men without active cases have reported putting in multiple requests over the years, and have still never been granted access to the law library. Though the law library finally got computers, many of the men have no experience with computers and nobody in the library (including the librarian) has been willing to show them how they work. This again leads to a denial of legal rights. One man explained that he spent his entire allotted time in the library just trying to figure out how to use the computer. He had made little progress before the guard suddenly announced that his time was up. In addition, many (if not most, or even all) of the law books in the library are outdated. Many are from the 1990s and have pages torn out of them. According to one man, when he reported missing pages, the guard cynically replied, "Talk to your buddies. They stole it.”
Like showers, the yard is often canceled suddenly for all sets of excuses. Lately the excuse is often due to the morning fog, but there is never any yard time given later in the day to make up for the cancelled time. Getting out to yard is extremely important for anyone who is being locked up 24/7 for most of the week. CDCR must end immediately this practice of regularly canceling the minimal amount of yard time demanded by law when no makeup time is allowed.
The main complaint we receive regarding mail is of unnecessary delays. Two interviewees explained that they often go two weeks or more without receiving any mail, and then receive a stack of letters with different postdates, all at one time. They suspected that the IGI (Institutional Gang Investigator) is behind these delays. Sometimes men do not receive their letters at all. We also receive complaints about family members not receiving mail from their incarcerated loved ones. These occurrences are especially upsetting to the men who take the time to produce detailed letters or intricate artwork for their family members, as they have little else they can offer their loved ones as gifts. We received one report stating that the guards are opening his legal mail outside of his presence, against legal mail policy, because he has a case against CDCR. This same man reported that his legal mail was taking ten days to leave the prison, which can have serious consequences as the courts have strict deadlines.
We continue to receive a steady stream of complaints regarding the quality and safety of the food. Contrary to Pelican Bay where the food is now served by prisoners who wear gloves, hats, and smocks, the food at Corcoran is served by guards who wear none of the above. One man stated that if a spoon falls on the floor, the guards just shake it off and keep on serving (he saw this happen on one occasion). The trays are delivered after they all have been stacked up and sitting, which is why the food is usually cold and covered in flies when it arrives at the cells. The men complain that the food is soggy and tasteless, the portions are small, and items are frequently missing. The Kosher meals are reportedly the only meals that include fresh vegetables. One must meet with a Rabbi, however, to be approved for Kosher meals. The Halal meals include meat, but one man noted that it is so processed that he would hardly refer to it as "meat." The five core demands of the 2013 Hunger Strike of 2013 included the provision of “adequate and nutritious food.” Clearly that is one demand that has not been met.
The complaints outlined in this report are of a serious nature and constitute the denial of legal, medical, and other basic human rights. Practices at Corcoran continue to contravene international and domestic law, as well as CDCR policy. Guards and other staff members who openly and regularly violate the law, institutional rules, or policies must be held accountable for their actions. We press on administration officials at Corcoran State Prison and Sacramento to take the necessary measures to address these concerns as soon as possible.
Mar 07, 2015
keywords: Department Review Board, Step Down Program
From California Prison Focus Issue 45
This report is based on investigative interviews with men imprisoned at Pelican Bay State Prison SHU and written correspondence received from them in the last six months. Medical neglect, retaliation, staff misconduct, substandard food and denial of the rights continue to be critical issues. Although the hunger strike of 2013 has advanced the movement to end solitary confinement by bringing attention and momentum to the issue, many men locked away in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison have seen little improvements in their day to day conditions and treatment. Moreover, some men endure hunger strike-related retaliation. Individual identities are withheld from this report. For information specifically on the Step Down Program (STP) and Department Review Board (DRB) see our separate report on page 2.
LACK OF MINIMAL ADEQUATE HEALTH CARE
Poor health and medical care continue to be one of our top concerns, based on the regularity and severity of reported medical situations and crises. American Disability Act standards are often unheeded. Assistive devices are confiscated or withheld regularly, including back braces and eyewear. Mr. A had his glasses confiscated after the doctor claimed he was manipulating the eye test. Now he uses reading glasses for everything. He filed a complaint (602), reporting that all of his 602 exhibits had gone missing. In addition, the Pepto-Bismol that he used to take to ease his celiac disease-related discomfort was confiscated. One former patient stated that there is a new doctor, Nancy Adams, that “just takes everything” from assistive devices to anti-depressants, aspirin for high blood pressure and medications for pain.
Treatment for various conditions is regularly denied. Mr. B described his repeated efforts to receive treatment for his Hep-C. At first he was told he was not strong enough to handle the treatment. Medical staff eventually conceded that he could, but continued to deny him treatment, reportedly for financial reasons. Mr. C has colitis, an inflammation of the inner lining of the colon which causes, among other things, blood in his stool. This is a chronic condition which can be partially regulated by diet. Mr. C has been denied a special diet, however. When his colitis acts up and he requests immediate help, he is told to fill out a medical slip, even though it can take up to two weeks to receive medical attention. Staff members tell Mr. C to drink water and they give him a Motrin. Such efforts clearly do not address in a meaningful way his medical condition.
Men frequently have their medications canceled and must fight to get their medications re-instated, even when their conditions are chronic and medications unchanged. Mr. D was diagnosed with an anti-biotic resistant staph infection. He gets occasional outbreaks, but his requests for medical attention are regularly denied. In a clear violation of his medical rights, he was told by medical staff, “if you want to receive better medical treatment, you gotta get out of the SHU.” Mr. E received a medical recommendation to be transferred to Folsom Medical Facility due to a “high risk” issue he has, but the transfer was denied.
Mr. D complained of a complete lack of privacy. Two guards stand with the men at all times. The guards listen in on all discussion between the doctor and patient. Mr. D explained, “you have to get nude, but there is nothing even so simple as a paper privacy curtain to shield you from the eyes of guards or anybody who happens to be passing by.” Mr. D is over fifty years old and feels he should have a prostrate exam, but for the above reason, he has postponed doing so. Another problem is over-use of restrictive devices, such as black box restraints, which are used for transportation to outside medical appointments. Black box restraints render a person’s wrists immobile, forces one’s arm into awkward and often painful positions, and cut off circulation.
Medical patients are charged whether or not the treatment they receive is adequate or effective for their ailment, and regardless of whether they are seen by a nurse (RN) or doctor (MD). These problems and others deter many men with health issues from seeking the care they need.
Men continue to be validated as gang members or associates (now Security Threat Groups) and sentenced to decades of solitude and sensory deprivation by an internal group of prison staff with insufficient regard to due process. Men are validated, often subjectively, based on flimsy and false evidence. The patterns suggest that some are validated as a means of staff retaliation. For example, Mr. E challenged his validation in court and won. The following day he was served with a "new" validation packet citing the same source items as previously used to validate him. The DRB (Department Review Board) hearings and Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI) persist in employing different and inconsistent criteria for validating people. Unfounded allegations of STG affiliation continue serve as a pretext for forcing men, including non-violent offenders, into long term solitary confinement.
Mr. F was given an indeterminate term in solitary confinement based on a validation he described as “very vague.” He explained that he was accused of being involved in “a conspiracy of some sort,” but that he was not sure exactly what it was since it was never clearly explained to him. In addition to the conspiracy allegation, he was validated based on the claim that his name was found in someone else’s property. According to a memo from then Director of Adult Institutions, Michael Stainer, such evidence should not be considered when a person is being considered for validation. Since the men cannot control items in another's cell, such evidence is to be considered only if found in that person's own property. Another man reported that he had a St. Paddy's day card which had been hanging on his wall for years, but was recently told to take it down because it was allegedly gang-related. The card was discussed at his DRB review.
THE AGREEMENT TO END HOSTILITIES
Since Fall 2012, a group of men in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, referred to as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective, have been pushing to end all hostilities between racial and geographical groups within California’s prisons and jails, and in violence ridden communities on the outside. The handwritten announcement, called The Agreement to End Hostilities, calls for people to solve their disputes non-violently. (See page …) The men had hoped to circulate the statement throughout all California prisons. However, since the inception of The Agreement to End Hostilities, CDCR has stifled the men’s efforts to disseminate it. Staff members refuse to hang the statement throughout the prison as the collective had hoped, claiming that The Agreement to End Hostilities qualifies as "third party communication Mr. E noted that he challenged his validation in court and won. The following day, however, he was served with a "new" validation packet citing the same source items as previously used to validate him.
LACK OF REHABILITATIVE OPPORTUNITIES
Despite the widely acknowledged rehabilitative benefits of education and the mission of CDCR expressed in its very name, there are few to no educational and other rehabilitative opportunities for the men in the Pelican Bay SHU. If one has sufficient funds—and by and large, most men do not—opportunities are minimal. Mr. F explained that even the educational programs that do exist are unreliable or inconsistent. Sometimes the programs will stop before they are completed. He reported that when programs are dropped, “people complain until it starts up again. Without ongoing outside pressure and scrutiny,” he explained, “they will stop." Mr. G had planned on enrolling in the past but was told that there was no space at that time for lifers. The program was subsequently cut. Others complain that they cannot afford the books. Pelican Bay has a program that provides some inmates to obtain free textbooks. The problem is that general population yards are prioritized over the SHU. Thus, those men who are dependent on free textbooks must tailor their curricula to the books available. Mr. H explained that if those studying for their GED have a question, they must submit it on a request form, but often no response is received. The men do not have access to a library, apart from the law library which has a limited selection of outdated legal books. There are no book carts with novels and other non-legal literature. Advocates and loved ones of the incarcerated individuals are prohibited from sending books or magazines directly to the men inside. Despite the fact that all mail is subjected to inspection, books still must be sent directly from the publisher, a rule that clearly reduces the number of books that would otherwise be circulating through the prison and thereby limits efforts at education and rehabilitation.
The conditions at Pelican Bay remain deplorable. Ceilings leak and subsequent puddles create a safety hazard. Mr. N stated that the men are denied towels to put by the doors for the water that accumulates from the leaks. The men suffer from the cold as well. Mr. F stated that he recently experienced one of the coldest winters at Pelican Bay that he remembers. He reported one incident when cold air was blasted through the air vents despite the cold weather. The men, who sleep on thin shabby mattresses on a concrete slab, and are usually denied more than one light weight blanket, struggle to keep warm at night.
The lack of decent food contributes to the men’s poor health. From year to year, the complaints remain unchanged. The food lacks nutritional quality, tastes horrible, lacks fresh fruits or vegetables, and are insufficient in quantity, leaving the men hungry, malnourished and unsatisfied. In their own words, when asked about the food, the men say it is “still garbage” and “the same old crap.” According Mr. D, “The menu looks pretty but the food is horrible, the proportions are tiny and the meat is not real." Often complete items are missing from the tray. In general, the men report that the trays have larger portions when “there are tours or suits coming through.” Several men have explained that they drink large amounts of water to help with the hunger. In addition, staff piles up trays for delivery rather than delivering smaller numbers at a time and making more trips. As a result the food is cold by the time that it arrives. We receive regular reports of men being denied special meals, even when medically advised.
It reportedly took several appeals and an injunction through Del Norte Superior Court for the men to begin receiving yard on time. Men are not receiving the four hours a week they are supposed to get in the law library when they have active cases and filing deadlines.
We received reports that mailing rights are sometimes denied as a form of punishment. As stated in Title 15 §3130, mail is a right—not a privilege. Mail tends to sit in the mail room for up to five days before it is distributed to the recipients. One man reported an incident when correctional officers lost his mail which contained important legal documents relevant to an active case.
We have received multiple reports that the men rarely, if ever, get their full three hour visits. They are generally getting about two hours and forty minutes visiting time, or approximately twenty minutes less than what the regulations call for. The location of Pelican Bay makes it extremely difficult or impossible for most of the men’s loved ones to visit. Their friends and family cannot afford the long journey, only to have their visiting time cut short. Thus, geographical remoteness is another factor playing into the severe isolation of the men incarcerated at Pelican Bay.
Often the men are separated by race. However, sometimes an individual of one race gets placed in a pod in which there are no members of his racial or social group. Mr. O, for example, was the only African American man in his pod for eight years. One incident was reported in which an African-American man who was racially isolated from his social group received a 115 written violation for speaking to other African Americans as he was being led through the hallway. He had been isolated from his own group for a long period of time, he explained, and was eager to connect with others in his racial/social group, given that he would soon be isolated from them again.
Despite the fact that the following information is from the mainline, we have included it in this report because it reflects CDCR’s attitude that is behind Pelican Bay’s decision not to support or circulate The Agreement to End Hostilities.
A new Anti-Hostility Group was initiated by an individual in general population. He explained that the chaplain had permitted him to sponsor the initiative but the staff are not supportive. The Anti-hostilities group is trying to promote peace as the new “cool” and challenge what is perceived by many of the men to be CDCR’s divide and conquer mentality. Some guards have been known to place “disruptive” people on the yard to instigate fights and break the peace promoted by the Anti-Hostility Group and The Agreement to End Hostilities. Like the Agreement to End Hostilities, the Anti-Hostility Group discourages men from partaking in violence, challenging officers’ apparent attempts to incite hostilities and violence among the men.
This report demonstrates the great deal of work that lies ahead to rectify California’s system of so-called criminal justice system, and to develop a sense of humanity within our state sanctioned method of correction and rehabilitation. The report reveals that rights of all United States citizens as stated in our Constitution, and the specific legal rights stated in CDCR’s Title 15, are not only frequently and regularly discounted, but in fact are scorned by the very people whose mission is to promote peaceful interaction and rehabilitation among men on the inside. The way prisoners are treated at Pelican Bay State Prison and other California Prisons harms the individuals who we aim to rehabilitate, as well as their children and families, their communities, and society as a whole. Years in solitary confinement commonly and predictably lead to mental health problems and instability. Individuals who have no history of violence often leave prison with more uncontrolled hate and anger than ever before. CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitation claims its mission is to “help offenders leave prison with better job or career skills, education, life skills, and confidence, so they can succeed in their futures despite past obstacles." CDCR has yet to explain how years and decades of being locked in a small concrete box, deprived of all social contact, family connections, sensory stimulus, education or creative outlets, rehabilitates anybody. They have yet to offer an explanation of how the consequential psychological problems and symptoms of mental illness factor in to their stated mission. One cannot help but question the sincerity of CDCR’s mission, and ask who is actually benefiting from this mass warehousing of human beings, mostly men of color and from financially disadvantaged communities.
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).