Report: Alarming Abuses Seen at Remote California Prison

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Investigators Find ‘Culture of Racism,’ Abuse at High Desert State Prison.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. A remote California prison has a culture of racism and abuse that is exacerbated by a code of silence among its guards and staff, the state’s inspector general said Wednesday.State investigators say inmates at a remote Northern California prison are subjected to “overt racism” and targeted for assault, while staff misconduct is tolerated by an “entrenched culture of self-protection.” In a special report released Wednesday, the independent Office of Inspector General called for the corrections department to address what it described as deeply rooted “culture” problems at High Desert State Prison, located in the northeast corner of California near Susanville.

The investigation was requested in June by a Senate committee after complaints of excessive force by guards and reports that inmates with sex offenses were housed alongside those likely to assault them. More broadly, the report finds rising violence statewide in special housing units designed to protect vulnerable inmates, including sex offenders, gang dropouts and prisoners with physical disabilities. The months-long investigation was sparked by reports that some guards at the Susanville prison mistreated inmates with disabilities and set up sex offenders for assaults because of the nature of their crimes. Barton’s investigation, which was conducted at the behest of the state Senate, follows years of complaints and media reports alleging problems at the facility. “The findings in this report are deeply troubling and speak to larger woes in our broken criminal justice system,” said Senate Democratic leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles.

Jeffrey Beard, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the state has taken numerous steps to improve conditions at the prison, including appointing a new warden earlier this month. A spokeswoman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., the union that represents some 30,000 prison guards, said its “only interest in this matter is to make sure correctional peace officers’ constitutional and [statutory] rights are protected.” The 20-year-old High Desert facility houses high- and medium-security inmates and has two buildings set aside for inmates who require protective custody. Reports by the Sacramento Bee of cruelty and racism by guards in 2010 prompted a Senate review, a revised inmate appeal process and more reviews and more media reports of guard abuse. Jerry Brown and every state lawmaker in what Barton called “the latest strong-arm tactic” to obstruct the investigation and discredit the inspector general before the report was released. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who heads the Senate Public Safety Committee, said the report shows “an insular culture that is in desperate need of reform.” Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard, who is stepping down from his job on Jan. 1, said the department has already taken steps involving employee training, management changes and investigations of alleged wrongdoing.

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