Here you can read human rights reports written by our lawyers and legal interviewers.
Click on an article's title to see the full text.
Jun 01, 2011
keywords: Pelican Bay
From Prison Focus Issue 37
Overview: In April, Marilyn McMahon and I had the
opportunity to talk with 16 prisoners at Pelican Bay.
We visited mostly with prisoners on the SHU side,
but I note that prisoners housed in B2 on general population
side are now being converted to a permanent Ad-Seg or
makeshift SHU. The official prison reports list “only” 3,259
prisoners in SHU units system wide, but we know the real
number is much larger than this due to Ad Seg units that
have become defacto SHUs. As in past reports, we report
all information anonymously to prevent retaliation by prison
guards. Here are several key issues reported by prisoners:
Lockdown: After the stabbing incident in January, the
prison was on lockdown until just before our visit. For SHU,
lockdown means “no yard.” One prisoner mentioned only
getting yard once in the last month. Another noted they received
no yard in January or February.
Family Visits: Due to the Lockdown, visiting for southern
Hispanics was denied and visiting for other prisoners was restricted.
One prisoner noted that he was getting regular visits
while in general population, but since being moved to SHU,
his wife and family have not come to visit. He stated, “SHU
put an end to my marriage, not prison.”
Bogus Gang Validation:
[Note: CPF reiterates our view
that prison officials have the duty
to investigate matters that truly
threaten the safety of prisoners
and staff—including gang activity,
and to use legal means to ensure the safety of everyone.
The patterns of gang validation processes reported by prisoners
clearly demonstrate, however, that prison officials abuse
this mechanism, and do so in order to punish individuals for
defending their rights or to justify their own jobs (eg, gang
investigators). This abuse results in “validating” prisoners as
gang associates by the hundreds and placing them in SHU
indeterminately, a very illegitimate and illegal practice.] The
issue of bogus gang validations resonated loudly during our
visit and echoes what we hear in our correspondence with
prisoners. When asked, most prisoners estimated that only
10 to 20 percent of officially validated gang members or associates
serving SHU sentences had actually been involved
in such activity (lowest estimate was 1 percent, highest was
half). Prisoners continued to report the use of common or
cultural symbols as indicative of gang activity, a practice that
clearly violates established federal law precedent (see Lira
vs Cate). One prisoner said he didn’t even receive his validation
packet, and another said that prison officials stuffed a
poem he wrote that contained the word “sureño” in a letter
from his girlfriend and called it gang communication.
One Hispanic prisoner reported being validated for tattoos
that he has for cultural reasons, some of which he obtained
while a soldier in Vietnam. One prisoner was validated for
having the name of a gang associate in his cell. He used the
person’s name to obtain additional legal paperwork because
the limit on 30 pages makes it impossible to do real legal
work. One prisoner was asked if he knew person X, his former
crime partner. He said, “of course I know him” and they
used this as evidence of gang activity. One prisoner became
friends with another prisoner while in GP only to find out
later that his new friend was being investigated at the time
of being a gang associate. He noted, “I was not aware of
that at the time. They should at least give you a warning of
who not to associate with. Even with the gun-fi re, there are
big signs on the walls noting that one warning shot will be
fired. But when it comes to getting validated and landing in
the SHU, they don’t give you any warning that you might be
speaking with someone who is a suspected gang member.”
Yet another prisoner said they put a known gang associate
in a cell near him and then claimed that he was “associating”
with the gang member. Still another talked with a fellow
prisoner while in reception for only a few days, but that was
used to validate him.
Race continues to be used by the prisons to pit one prisoner
against another. A white prisoner noted that he was
not a member of the Nazi low riders as claimed. They used
several pieces of false evidence to validate him, but most
were debriefers. They tried to tie him to fights at his previous
prison claiming falsely that he had a leadership role.
He is constantly being written up with 115s even though he
has never assaulted anyone. He has 602ed most of his 115s
and beaten them. (In one incident, he was not even on the
yard at the time!) He feels his challenges to the write ups are
the main reason for his validation. Another prisoner reported
that prison guards get wind of fights before they happen, but
they allow them to happen anyway.
Pressure to Debrief: CPF views long-term isolation in the
SHU as a form of mental and physical torture that is prohibited
both by the U.S. constitution and international law.
One prisoner we talked to demonstrated the depth of the
cruelty of prison officials. This prisoner has a disease which
will likely take his life within the coming year, and doctors
encouraged him to contact his family as it may be his last
opportunity to do so. After some hesitation, the prisoner requested
a phone call to his family. When the guards arrived
for what he thought would be the phone call to his family, the
guard simply put a piece of paper on the door with the word
“DEBRIEF.” The prisoner refused and was not allowed to
make the phone call.
Food: Most prisoners reported that the food was low in
both quality and quantity. One prisoner said, “The food was
really good here 20 years ago.” Another reported that he had
to cut back in his workout routine [his way to relieve stress]
due to lack of protein. He noted that spaghetti comes with
sauce and noodles, but no meat.
Mental Health: A few of the prisoners were willing to
speak about the difficulty of enduring the mental torture of
SHU. Several noted that SHU prisoners show clear signs of
mental disorder including PTSD, problems relating to other
human beings, or just plain shutting down. Stress is high.
Medical: Getting an appointment to see the doctor takes a
long time, sometimes 3 or 4 months. Trying to see a dentist
is even worse. One prisoner said he refuses to put in to see
the doctor because “all they do is take your $5, weigh you,
and tell you ‘You’re fine.’ You don’t even see the doctor, but
a nurse practitioner.” One prisoner reported having all of his
chronos simply cancelled after being transferred to Pelican
Bay. He was in the process of trying to get them reinstated
with the 602 process. One prisoner cannot get attention for
fl are-ups due to a slipped disk and sometimes is in so much
pain he cannot even remain standing. He was refused treatment
by a doctor on one visit but was clearly in so much pain that the
nurse defended him and ultimately he ended up spending a few days in
the hospital. One prisoner suspects he has diabetes, but his
tests come back negative. Fellow prisoners save breakfast
syrup packages for him and throw them toward his cell if he
encounters a low sugar attack. One prisoner developed pain
in his thigh and down his leg, and suspects nerve damage.
He has seen several doctors who only grant him Motrin and
say “it will go away.” A recent doctor told him “It’s a cyst”
without even examining and suggested the previous doctors
was “just guessing” in his diagnosis.
Retaliation: This issue is tied to bogus gang validations
because prisoners often receive a validation packet shortly
after sending in a 602. One prisoner was assisting others
with their legal matters, and had seven legal books removed
from his cell. He 602ed it and won a judgment to replace the
books. A week later he was validated as a gang associate.
Yard: As noted above, for the past few months there was
virtually no yard. All of PBSP was on a “modified program”
from August 2010 to February 2011 meaning only 5 hours
per week of yard rather than 10. One prisoner reported getting
yard on only five times in the last six months.
Tsunami: Prisoners reported to us that during the Tsunami
warning, padlocks were manually placed on the cells to keep
them secure. One prisoner noted “What happens if the water
reaches here, we all drown in our cells?”
Educational Programming: With all these problems occurring
in SHU, one prisoner reported that he asked everyone
on his pod what he should report to CPF as their main issue.
The answer: lack of educational programming! He noted that
even though some prisoners are willing and can pay for their
own online courses, the prison has cancelled such programs
because they don’t want to pay for a test monitor. CPF notes
that a department which calls itself “Corrections and Rehabilitation”
is clearly not supporting rehabilitative efforts
even initiated by the prisoners themselves.
Law Library: Access continues to be insufficient and
constitutes nothing less than denial of legal rights. Only prisoners
with a legal case pending in 30 days can ask for access,
but visits are limited to two prisoners at a time for four pods.
The limit of 30 pages is also insufficient to carry out serious
legal research. [The recent Supreme Court decision declaring
California’s overcrowded conditions to be unconstitutional
alone was 91 pages]. In addition, two prisoners noted
that legal materials were confiscated from their cell and not
returned including CPF’s self-help manual on challenging a
Worst of the worst?: In nearly every mass media characterization
of SHUs, the claim is made that prisons such
as Pelican Bay, especially SHU, house “the worst of the
worst”—violent prisoners who are too dangerous to allow
on general population yards. Yet many of the prisoners we
spoke with either had very few 115s or none at all. One prisoner’s
last 115 was in 1987. One had two 115s in 10 years
which means, he noted, “that I let the guards beat me up for
a while and then they wrote me up.”
Jan 01, 2011
From Prison Focus Issue 36
Three investigators for California Prison Focus (Sacha,
Tonya, and Marlene) conducted a human rights investigation
at Pelican Bay State Prison over two days in
October and November, 2010. This report summarizes what
they learned from the interviews with prisoners in the SHU
and other units.
Many of the problems reported CPF has heard about for
years. Some things have worsened, and new problems are
surfacing. Of course, things that may have improved are not
foremost in the minds of the prisoners or the investigators.
Yet improvements in some areas would not excuse the various
sorts of egregious abuses reported.
Guards instigating fights. We heard several reports of
guards setting up fights between prisoners by opening rival
prisoners’ cell doors at the same time. We also heard that antagonistic
prisoners or groups were sometimes given yard together
so that they would fight. These reports are extremely
disturbing (especially given the “gladiator fights” history at
fellow SHU prison Corcoran).
Illegitimate gang validation. There is concern—among
prisoners of various ethnicities—about the disproportionate
number of gang-validations against southern Hispanics. For
example, about 95 of 104 prisoners in ASU are validated
Hispanics. This raises questions of profiling, discrimination,
and an assembly-line mass validation process, which is unlikely
to be accurate.
So-called evidence of the sort rejected by the court in Lira
that is not indicative of gang activity is still being used to
gang-validate prisoners: for example, tattoos, the number 13,
Aztec symbols, or cultural drawings.
Insufficient food. Prisoners reported that they don’t get
enough food. Portions get smaller all the time and in some
cases are literally cut in half. Supplementing with food
bought from the canteen is a necessity.
Silencing of prisoner grievances. The foundation of all
rights is the right and means to protect those rights. Sabotage
of this foundation is so frequent and many-faceted at
Pelican Bay that it appears deliberate and systematic. Virtually
the only ways prisoners can attempt to resolve any
problems—whether bad living conditions, maltreatment by
staff, medical neglect, or unfair policies—is to follow the
administrative grievance process (filing 602s) and to go to
court (which requires filing 602s first). So when prison staff
deliberately or inadvertently interfere with prisoners’ ability
to effectively use the 602 process or the courts, this strips
them of any means to protect their rights.
Such interference is rampant at Pelican Bay, with numerous
obstacles being placed in the way of anyone trying to
use the 602 process or the courts. These include retaliation
against those who file 602s, delay in returning legal papers
after confiscation, violating the confidentiality of legal mail,
and restricting or denying access to the law library and to
Retaliation for complaints We heard reports of prisoners
being retaliated against for filing 602s. The retaliation might
take the form of the prisoner’s cell being tossed, his mail being
lost, or worse.
Legal mail A couple of prisoners reported that legal mail
was handled properly, being opened in front of the prisoner
and not being read by prison staff. Another said that it was
handled properly only if the return address read precisely,
“(attorney name), Attorney at Law”. If it said “Law Office of
(attorney name)” it would get treated as regular mail.
Other prisoners reported improper handling of legal mail.
They said that their legal mail was often opened without
them being present, which is a clear violation of the law.
There was also complaint of legal mail being delayed, especially
when a prisoner has a court deadline to meet.
Holding of property We heard that after cell searches the
property office routinely delays the return of property in order
to delay a prisoner’s appeals processes.
Photocopying page limits on photocopying cause difficulties.
To copy over 100 pages, a court order is required, but a
court told a prisoner that they do not give such orders. Copying
also takes a long time. Prisoners waiting to get papers
copied routinely miss court deadlines. However, courts will
reverse decision if prisoners send in their papers late and explain
the reason for the delay.
Law library access We heard that prisoners can use the law
library only once every six or twelve weeks and that prisoners
are allowed only two small sheets of paper for taking
notes. One prisoner found access to materials and computers
in the library to be good, and several commented that the
library staff are helpful. Another prisoner reports routinely
being denied access to the computers in the law library. Ad
Seg prisoners reportedly get no law-library access.
On the other hand, several men reported that cell study is
good and that they get the material they want. One reported
that in the past at least sometimes he had gotten the wrong
Yard and showers. SHU prisoners are getting about six
hours a week of yard time. They are limited to three showers
a week. One prisoner reported that lockdowns happen weekly,
especially on days when yard or showers are scheduled.
On A Yard, they get yard time only once or twice a week.
So in a month they may get only 8 hours of yard. On Tuesdays,
Thursdays, and Saturdays, there is no phone, no yard,
no showers, “nothing.” The reason given is lack of staff due
to budget cuts.
Conditions in ASU. We heard that men are spending one
to two years in ASU while they wait to be placed in SHU,
and the situation is likely to get worse. Currently (in Oct./
Nov.), prisoners who were endorsed in June 2009 are being
placed in SHU housing. It took six months to place all the
prisoners who were endorsed in April ’09. For these long
durations in ASU, prisoners have no TV or radio. They get
yard time only about once a week for 3 hours, but it varies a
lot due to a complicated rotation. Sometimes they get yard
only once every 9 days.
Contraband Watch. We heard, yet again, multiple reports
that guards often cause false triggering of the metal detectors
by running their keys by the detector when a prisoner is
being checked. Then they claim that the prisoner has contraband
and put him on Contraband Watch.
One prisoner was reportedly held on Contraband Watch for
10 days, without a mattress, without toilet paper, and without
a shower or even being able to wash his hands. He did get a
blanket. We heard of others on Contraband Watch not being
given blankets though kept in areas where fans were on high.
Also, prisoners were said to be placed in the hallway while
using the toilet bucket, that is, in an open space where they
could be seen by people other than the guards assigned to
Reportedly there are several lawsuits challenging conditions
Medical. There were complaints about Dr. Williams,
saying that he has cancelled treatment and medication prescribed
by doctors at other prisons. In addition, he doesn’t
always pay attention to the patient he is seeing, instead talking
with other people during the visit, and as a result he has
missed extremely important information about the patient.
We heard repeatedly what many letters have told us about
medical pain management: that outside prescriptions for pain
medicine for men with severe pain are ignored by the prison
doctors. And SHU prisoners are routinely being denied adequate
pain medicine—as a matter of policy?
Jan 01, 2011
From Prison Focus Issue 36
The present report follows up on our more comprehensive
report from October 2010 and published in Prison
Focus #35. That report again brought several key
human rights abuses to light that are persistent to the present
day. This report is based on letters received from prisoners
through February 1, 2011 (including some reacting to the
October report) and our visit with over a dozen inmates at
Corcoran SHU on January 19, 2011.
Assaults. While some prisoners have reported that the assaults
by guards are not as frequent as they were in the 1980s
or 1990s, they clearly have not stopped. CPF heard from
several prisoners that guards have used excessive force on
many occasions, even after prisoners’ hands and feet were
cuffed and shackled in some cases. These assaults are allegedly
planned out ahead of time by a small group of corrupt
guards. Some of the guards belong to a gang called the
“Green Wall.” Prisoners reported being severely beaten, suffering
broken bones, internal bleeding, severe bruising, etc.,
that have left them unable to walk properly, to read normally,
to maintain normal strength in their hands, or even to urinate
normally. These guards are quite willing to empty whole
cans of pepper spray into the faces of prisoners, even as they
are handcuffed. Some prisoners also reported being partially
disrobed and humiliated before or during these assaults.
Bogus gang validations. Probably the most egregious disregard
for the rule of law by prison officials is the abuse of
the gang validation protocol. Officials at Corcoran and other
California prisons systematically ignore the Castillo settlement
which outlines the legal directives regarding gang validation.
Instead, the CDCR interprets its minimalist pieces
of “evidence” to be directly and indirectly related to “gang
activity” even though the activity is not outlined in any fashion.
Most prisoners reportedly were not afforded their legal
right to see or challenge the evidence used to validate them
as gang members. The clearest evidence of this blatant abuse
of authority is the practice of mass validations that have occurred
recently. Besides 60 prisoners validated at High Desert
in 2009, a group of at least 100 southern Hispanics were
validated at Lancaster and sent to Corcoran SHU recently.
One prisoner reported yet another mass validation at Ironwood,
though CPF has yet to confirm this with someone
who was validated in that sweep. In the Lancaster case, the
100 prisoners were simply rounded up while on the general
population yard and told that they were being transferred.
Only later did they find out that they had been validated.
Even though they are in Corcoran SHU, they still have not
had the opportunity to review the evidence which allegedly
stems from names and evidence from only one person’s cell.
Some prisoners feel that the purpose of the mass validations
is to keep the SHU (over)full. CPF regularly receives letters
from prisoners who are in Ad-Seg and who are waiting to be
transferred to Pelican Bay or Corcoran SHU.
Retaliation. Several prisoners have indicated that they are
in the SHU for reasons of retaliation by the guards. If the
prisoner does something that ticks off a guard, the guard will
then look for anything they can find to get the prisoner in
trouble. Often this includes putting two prisoners together
on a yard, on a work detail, or in a cell together who are
clearly going to fight. Often those prisoners who stand up
for their rights are the ones who receive the brunt of the retaliation.
In those cases where prisoners have successfully
followed through with a 602 against a guard or commanding
officer, those guards or the corresponding COs will try to
find a way to get the prisoner into trouble and thus land them
in the SHU. The torturous conditions of the SHU are used
as a punishment, therefore, for whatever reason the guards
decide. Another way to retaliate against a prisoner even after
they are in SHU is to toss their cell, returning only some of
their property and returning legal paperwork only after mixing
it all up.
602s. The 602 complaint process has never been worse
according to most prisoners. Many prisoners report that the
majority of their 602s get “lost” or are unfairly screened out.
The problem of “lost” (that is, mishandled) 602s is particularly
acute when a prisoner makes a claim of excessive use of
force by a guard and that guard has access to the 602s. One
prisoner reported having more than 85% of his 602s screened
out for this reason.
There are other games played with 602s, too. A 602 may
be sent back to a prisoner because it “needs more supporting
documentation.” But getting the documents takes a long time
(also controlled by the prison), and once the prisoner gets
them together, the resubmitted 602 is rejected as too late.
In fact, 602s are often handed back so late to a prisoner
that the appeal filing date has already passed. The result is
rejection due to failing to file in a timely fashion. This tactic
has become common practice according to many complaints.
Prisoners reported on the day of our visit that the 602 prison
is currently undergoing a change, however, in that prisoners
will now receive a receipt when they turn in a 602 and
must sign for it when they receive it back. If this is true and
the new process is implemented properly, it may help reduce
the number of “lost” 602s. On the other hand, the number
of 602s allowed per prisoner is being reduced and the turn
around time is being lengthened, so that it will slow down the
process even more than it already is. One frustrated prisoner
noted, “After a while, you just give up on it.” It would appear
that this is exactly the intended effect.
Medical Abuse. Prisoners reported not being able to follow
up with the same doctor and thus having to explain complicated
conditions over and over again to different personnel.
Mainly this means that they cannot receive the medical
procedures they are entitled to by law. Most doctors and
nurses are under pressure by CDCR to deny medications,
especially pain medications, and a couple prisoners reported
that one doctor quit simply because he could no longer stand
having to deny care to the prisoners in that way. Prisoners
reported having their medications arbitrarily changed and/or
reduced by nurses or doctors.
Hep-C patients are still denied treatment until the illness is
advanced, though treatment is known to be far more effective
if administered early.
A CPF visit may convey a benefit on the medical/dental
situation: one prisoner told CPF that the dentist is happy
when CPF comes because then “all of a sudden” he receives
Food. While nobody expects the best of food in prison,
most people expect that prisoners in the US will not be
starved. Yet the calories are not adequate for prisoners to
stay healthy and fi t. Several prisoners reported being unable
to exercise, and drastic weight loss is common even though
the food has a high fat and salt content. Prisoners report that
without access to the canteen/store, they just would not make
At least three of the men we interviewed had lost between
25% and 30% of their body weight, and another spoke of
seeing men’s “skin hanging down” when they lifted their
shirts, due to the rapid weight loss. Most reported being hungry
all the time.
One reason may be that what comes from the kitchen
doesn’t make it onto the prisoners’ trays. One prisoner told
us that one day he personally witnessed guards taking food
from the supply that was to be served to the prisoners. He
saw them taking half of the cheese provided, plus a stack of
In addition, the condition of the food and sanitation of
food service are woefully inadequate. One prisoner reported
being able to view the food service area from his cell and
noted that the trays were not clean when the food was being
served. After a complaint, the guard merely told the prisoner
working in food service to wipe the tray with a towel, but not
to wash or sanitize them. The prisoner reported that he and
at least 30 other prisoners have suffered from food poisoning
and other digestive problems due to the unsanitary conditions
of the food service.
Mail. Most prisoners complained that they are not receiving
all of their mail. In those cases where the mail must be
read to a prisoner or shown through the window in the door,
the guards will not leave it up long enough for the prisoner
to read everything. Often the guard calls off the names in a
low voice and if no one responds, they claim the prisoner
refused to accept the mail. Prisoners even received legal mail
already opened, rather than it being opened in the prisoner’s
presence, as required by law.
Law library. Prisoners can hardly get any time in the law
library. Most report getting once or twice a month at most,
and that is only if they can prove that they have a case coming
up soon. Getting PLU status is also very hard if not impossible.
Cold cells. Between midnight and 5a.m. there is no heat
in the cells of the SHU. Many prisoners are cold with only
the single blanket they are given. Sixty of them submitted
a group 602 on December 17 and as of the date of our visit
(Jan. 19) had gotten no response.
IEX Jumpsuit. When a prisoner who is in the IEX (indecent
exposure) program exposes himself outside of his
cell, he must wear a special, locked jumpsuit whenever he’s
out of his cell. (For the fi rst offense, the jumpsuit term is 30
days, and for subsequent offenses, 90 days). A special key is
needed when the wearer needs to use the bathroom or have a
medical visit. But sometimes the key is far away and it takes
a long time to get it, so the wearer may wet himself. The suit
is not laundered between wearers, but if you refuse to wear
it, you have to give up your visit or whatever you were leaving
your cell for.
This issue has been 602’d, with no response.
Cleanliness. This topic is really Lack of Cleanliness. The
showers and hallways are not being cleaned. Apparently the
guards whose job it is to clean them simply don’t do it.
SHU prisoners are given only a half bar of soap a week
and no disinfectant. If they want disinfectant or additional
soap, they have to make a deal with a guard (“I’ll give up my
shower today for some disinfectant”).
Yard. The walk-alone prisoners reportedly get yard only
every week to ten days. In the SHU, yard is generally every
other day “if we’re lucky.” We were told that as of our visit,
Ad Seg had gone 11 days without yard.
Oct 01, 2010
From Prison Focus Issue 35
The present report is based on dozens of letters with prisoners at California State Prison at Corcoran (CSP-
COR) and 34 in-depth interviews conducted by CPF representatives in 2009 and 2010. The report suggests that prison conditions have not improved since our last comprehensive report on conditions at Corcoran (see CPF report “Corcoran State Prison 2004-2006: Inside California’s Brutal Maximum Security Prison”). In some areas, conditions have worsened with prison officials generally citing budget cuts and the economy for the deteriorating prison environment.
Together these conditions constitute a consistent pattern of legal, medical, and general human rights violations that are absolutely unacceptable. CPF notes that not all prison guards or CSP-COR staff abuse prisoner rights. In the words of one prisoner “there are good guards and bad guards, good doctors and bad doctors.” Nevertheless, the reports received by CPF demonstrate that strong patterns of misconduct exist such that the problem cannot be reduced to “a few bad apples.”
The major complaints contained in this report include excessive use of force by prison guards, bogus validation of gang activity leading to solitary confinement, serious medical neglect, racial discriminatory treatment against Hispanic prisoners, failed administrative grievance procedures (that is, blatant denial of 602 complaint process as stipulated by prison regulations), denial of effective use of law library, poor sanitary and general health conditions, and denial of minimal food, laundry, mail, and property rights.
NOTE: The identities of specific prisoners will not be revealed in this report to protect them against common retaliatory practices by prison guards and staff at CSP-COR. Such retaliation, while itself a violation under several sections of California Law Title 15 (see §3004, §3271, §3402, §3486, and §3391), frequently occurs according to prisoners. One prisoner refused to meet with CPF representatives in April of 2009 specifically due to fear of retaliation from prison guards. Prisoners will be referred to with a different letter from the alphabet each time their correspondence or interview is referenced.
II. Assaults and Excessive Use of Force
Incidents of assaults and excessive use of force continue at CSP-COR. Prisoner A stated that he was taken from his cell under suspicion of staff assault. He was handcuffed, put into a kneeling position with his head touching the wall, and left in the cold night for 4 hours. Correctional officers (COs) then hit him in the back of the head, pulled his hair, slammed his face against the wall, stepped on his feet while he had them crossed in front of him. They also slapped him when he was passing out because of exhaustion. He was dragged into a different and his foot was hitting doors and trash cans along the way. He was put into a holding cell where CO Kirkland pushed him down with his weight. He was taken to a cell with one other prisoner and kept there for a long time. The cell had a flooded toilet, and the blankets and sheets were stuffed inside the toilet. The prisoners had nothing to wear except the boxer shorts, t-shirts and the socks they were wearing. They had no mattress or any way to cover from the cold. Their food was thrown from the tray slot and poured all over the floor.
CSP-COR staff also attempt to force incompatible inmates into housing together. Prisoner B, who was housed on a special needs (protective) yard, was placed by CSP-COR staff on the main line (general population) with another inmate. A fight broke out between the two inmates and CO Kalkis sprayed Prisoner B with pepper spray on the side of the face. Subsequently, he reported not being able to hear out of that ear and it still hurts. He also received a 115 for fighting, which will affect his release date. This incident should have been avoided due to Prisoner B’s condition as a special needs yard inmate.
Prisoner C also reported that when he and other prisoners refused to be housed with incompatible inmates, the guards take them to a “rotunda” cage with no water, toilet, or heat for 24 hours. They only have a mattress on the floor, but it is impossible to sleep.
Prisoner D reported that he was pepper-sprayed following an incident with a prison guard because the prisoner did not receive his special meal he normally receives due to religious observances. He told the guard that something was missing from his tray, but then told the guard, “Just give me the regular meal.” The guard responded by holding onto to the tray when Prisoner D tried to accept it through the slot. When the guard suddenly released it, the food spilled all over and then he had nothing to eat. Then the guard sprayed a whole can of pepper spray on Prisoner D who was unable to sleep all night. Prisoner E reported that another prisoner was in a fist fight the Thursday before our visit and got shot seven times with a “block gun”. (19 shots were fired.) These guns use hard rubber bullets. He says, “If they hit you in the head, it can put you in a coma.”) That prisoner has bruises etc. on his butt cheek, neck, etc. etc. and his hand is purple. He can’t use the hand, and it’s probably broken. For this they gave him only one ibuprofen.
Other prisoners reported current physical difficulties due to past beatings by CDCR guards (both at CSP-COR and other prisons). Prisoner F reported suffering a stroke after being beaten by prison guards on one occasion.
Prisoner G reported that another prisoner in 4A (whose identity he does not know) is apparently a non-English speaking individual who has been severely assaulted by CSP-COR prison guards. He wanted to check on the welfare of this prisoner.
Prisoner H reported that he saw another inmate being pushed through a door and a sergeant went through the door and beat him, cracking his arm bones.
III. False Gang Validations
Many prisoners report that they are validated as gang members with evidence that is clearly false or using procedures that do not follow the Castillo settlement. Prisoners report that any material in their possession that refers to George Jackson in any publication constitutes evidence of gang activity. George Jackson was a renowned San Quentin prisoner who organized resistance to blatantly racist conditions of prisons in the 1960s and 1970s, founding the Black Family as a resistance movement among prisoners and non-prisoners. Some later leaders of this movement subsequently became involved in gang activities, but this does not mean that anyone with anything by or about George Jackson is actively or passively involved in gang activities.
Prisoner I noted that he was validated as a gang member in part because he had a book written by George Jackson in his possession.
Of special concern to CPF is that the fact that the CDCR has used the mere possession of an issue of our newsletter, Prison Focus, that mentioned George Jackson and Black August, as evidence of gang-related activities. Prisoner J reported that our newsletter was used to validate him as a gang member. CPF categorically rejects this association in the strongest terms possible and calls on the CDCR to refrain immediately from associating any material produced by CPF with gang activities.
CPF has received hundreds of requests for its legal manual on how to challenge a prison gang validation, even though we ask for a $20 donation to cover costs. Prisoners generally report that the SHU cells are overflowing and Administrative Segregation Units are now being filled with prisoners with indeterminate SHU sentences. CDCR officials use the torturous conditions of SHU confinement (see VIII below) against the prisoner in order to find out more about prison gangs. CDCR officials pressure prisoners to “debrief” (that is, implicate others who are involved in gang activities) so that they can get out of SHU and sent to a special needs yard.
Prisoner K reported several pieces of fabricated material used against him (details omitted in order not to identify the prisoner). He suggests that CSP-COR officials are trying to “break” mainline prisoners by plucking out those with any sort of “structure” (meaning psychological balance, ability to think for oneself and stand up for one’s rights) and trying to “break” them (psychologically) by keeping them in solitary confinement SHU cells.
Prisoner L reported that he was offered release from the SHU. When he arrived at general population housing, he was asked to sign a prepared statement that implicated another prisoner of being a member of a known prison gang. He refused to sign and was re-validated using over-six-year-old evidence from a prison where he was previously housed.
IV. Serious Medical neglect
Several complaints about medical neglect reveal a strong pattern of consistently denying the right to minimal levels of medical attention. Most often prisoners are simply refused doctors’ appointments when they are sick
and in severe pain. Complaints about not getting a doctor’s appointment go unanswered (see section VI below). Prisoners have to wait in some cases for weeks or months for a doctor’s visit and then, after a co-pay of $5.00, may only bring up a single medical issue in that visit. Prisoner medications have been arbitrarily canceled without any direction from the attending physician, including extra strong medications for severe pain.
Prisoner M reported getting his heart medication on time for the first ten days after being transferred to CSP-COR, but then went without these medications for the next 30 days.
Hepatits C is rampant within the prison, and prisoners with this disease report they are unable to get treatment if they are in the first or second stages. This neglect leads to many prisoners advancing to the third stage of Hep-C which is both more costly for the prison to treat and is more likely to lead to liver cancer, liver failure, and death of prisoners. Prisoner N reported that he has been trying to obtain treatment for Hep-C during the last four years and to date has not been treated.
Prisoner O was denied dental treatment. He is trying to have the remaining loose teeth in his mouth removed so that he can get dentures, but the state refuses to do so stating they are under obligation to save his remaining “good” teeth. However his remaining teeth are loose and could be pulled. This situation severely affects how much he is able to eat.
Prisoner P stated that there was no doctor on his yard at the time of CPF’s visit in April of 2009—only a nurse practitioner. He reported that she told him angrily that he did not need his vitamins and took them away even though he had paid for them.
V. Racial Discriminatory Treatment Against Hispanic Prisoners
Prisoner Q reports that the CSP-COR staff discriminates against Hispanic prisoners based on their race in direct violation of Title 15 §3004 (c). Hispanic prisoners have been ordered on lockdown for the past 11 months following an altercation from last summer, even as non-Hispanic prisoners are not locked down. Under lockdown conditions, they are denied more rights than prisoners currently under punishment for prison violations who are housed in Administrative Segregation. Hispanics are being denied access to yard time, canteen, and even have shortened showers.
VI. Failed Administrative Grievance (602) Procedure
A ll prisoners complained about the Administrative Grievance Procedure, also known as the 602 process. This process includes both informal and formal procedures designed to allow for the opportunity of immediate staff to respond to prisoner complaints before appeals to higher levels of administration.
At the informal level, prisoner complaints are simply being ignored. Several prisoners report that their 602 forms are either being screened out (denied without the possibility of appeal) without proper justification or are simply getting “lost” without ever being logged. At the formal level, prisoners must appeal their 602 complaint in a timely fashion if their request is denied. Prisoners report that prison staff regularly return the denial of their requests after the appeal due date, thus effectively denying their right to appeal.
Prisoner R reported that he sent in six 602 forms in the last six months. He did not receive a response to a single one. Prisoner S wrote several 602s in order to get his medications back after they were cut off. He was subsequently severely limited in the number of 602s that he was able to hand in.
VII. Denial of Effective Use of Law Library
As with the 602 process, dozens of prisoners complained about CSP-COR staff denying their ability to use the law library in an effective manner. In some cases, prisoners reported that the time was so limited they could not carry out effective legal investigations. In addition, some prisoners were denied the ability to make photocopies even at their own expense or to check out materials, in violation of Title 15 §3120. Most prisoners complained about not being able to get to the law library, and those with access reported very limited hours.
Prisoner T stated that he is allowed to use the law library only once every four to fi ve weeks for two hours at a time. Other prisoners complained about not being allowed to use the law library since they are unable to get on the PLU (preferred library users) list.
VIII. Lack of Minimal Health and Sanitary Conditions
Especially noteworthy during this visit with SHU inmates, prisoners complained of the torturous conditions of sensory deprivation. SHU inmates are supposed to receive yard exercise time every day, but some do not because some of the yard cages are “broken.” 602 complaints about this issue receive no response.
Prisoner U reported the high and constant noise level in 4A. He noted that the radio playing by the prison guards, which cannot even by muffled by ear plugs, wears out the prisoners psychologically and may cause prisoners to “snap” or become suicidal. He also claimed that noisy inmates are to be placed in a special room or area away from the rest of the inmates in order to keep noise levels down to acceptable levels and this is not being done.
Prisoners do not receive enough soap or sanitary products to maintain a minimal level of sanitary conditions in the prison. Prisoner V reported that many prisoners were not issued shower shoes for as many as 30 days after their arrival to CSPCOR and for that reason did not shower. [One is allowed to shower without shower shoes but runs a high risk of catching bacterial diseases]. He also noted that in 2R, prisoners didn’t receive disinfectant for one stretch of three months in a row, and in 4B-1R they didn’t receive disinfectant for 70 days.
Prisoner W reported that regularly scheduled power and water outages are occurring at CSP-COR. When power and water go out, prisoners have to be escorted to a single bathroom in each building and must otherwise wait for long periods of time (up to six hours) to relieve themselves. These shutdowns happened twice in June and prisoners are only given two days notice before an outage.
Prisoner X claimed that laundry service has been poor because it was transferred from a general population yard (A) to a special needs yard (C). Prisoners have had to 602 requests to get all of their clothing back because the laundry would come back with items missing or all mixed up. Prisoner Y told us that he received only one laundry change in six months between October 2008 and April 2009. He stated that prisoners were washing their own clothes in the toilets and sinks.
Recently laundry issues seemed to have been corrected.
IX. Denial of Minimal Food Rights
N early all prisoners reported that food portions had become increasingly smaller and were inadequate to maintain their normal health. Food portions are so small that prisoners are losing weight at a rapid rate. Prisoner Z reported losing 15 pounds in two months. Prisoners receive only two meals a day, with dinner served at 4 pm making it very hard to get through to the next morning. Most prisoners who are able to supplement their diet with food from the canteen cannot imagine how prisoners with no funds are able to survive. Portions are often served less than the minimal serving sizes, watered down, cold, and sometimes undercooked (such as potatoes). Prisoner AA who is a vegetarian has tried to get on a vegetarian diet for more than 12 months, but none of his 602s receive a response.
X. Denial of Mail Service
Prisoner AB noted that mail service has recently improved, but in the period prior to our June 2010 visit, the mail was running extremely slow, taking up to 30 days to get delivered. Many other prisoners complained about the long time to receive mail and Prisoner AC claimed that his mail was illegally tampered with by prison officials.
XI. Denial of Property Rights
Prisoners reported having their property confiscated and then disposed of without their consent and without the opportunity to forward some of their property to their family members-- in violation of Title 15 §3191. Prisoner AD reported that when he was transferred from Pelican Bay, he did not receive his property for 30 days. When he received his property, much of it was missing, including a picture of his parents who are now deceased. He had not had the opportunity to send it to family members.
Prisoner AE reported that new arrivals often wait between 70 and 90 days to receive their property after a move even though they are supposed to receive it within 15 days. When a prisoner submits a 602 form to get their property back, they must include a property inventory sheet which they do not have because it is located with their property. Inmates are not allowed to bring any property with them on the transfer bus.
XII. Summary and Recommendations
At Corcoran State Prison, there are ongoing violations of prisoner’s rights to sanitary and healthy conditions, health care, mail, access to legal research materials, and their rights to be free from racial discrimination and physical abuse by prison staff. The grievance procedure that should safeguard their rights is simply broken. Finally, many “gang validations” are based on specious evidence.
CPF calls on the warden, prison guards, investigative personnel, and all other staff at CSP-COR to adhere to Title 15 regulations and respect the fundamental rights of prisoners. In addition, we call on state offi cials, including Governor Schwarzenegger, CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, Attorney General Brown, members of the State Assembly, and Sara Malone, acting ombudsman for CSP-COR, to investigate these serious allegations of maltreatment of prisoners and to hold all responsible prison officials and staff administratively and criminally accountable for these deplorable practices.