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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).
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).