April 11, 2000

Eight prison guards going on trial for allegedly staging fights



News Release September 22, 1999


Sacramento-- The California Department of Corrections (CDC) has launched an aggressive investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct among staff and inmates at its four women's prisons.

Five employees have resigned under the intense scrutiny and another dozen are the focus of investigation at the California Institution for Women in Frontera (CIW). CDC officials expect the investigation could broaden to include up to 40 more staff at CIW alone. A search of a housing unit at the prison Tuesday, Sept. 21, yielded additional evidence.

"From the day Governor Davis took office, he made clear to me that he will not tolerate anything less than the highest professional standards in corrections, and we intend to root out and remove any staff who cannot meet those standards," said C.A. "Cal" Terhune, Director of CDC. "We have a zero-tolerance stance for any kind of inappropriate behavior by staff, including sexual misconduct"

"Sexual misconduct between prison staff and inmates is particularly abhorrent because of the inherent problems of staff having complete authority over inmates," Terhune noted. "We absolutely will not, under any circumstance, permit that kind of behavior between a vulnerable inmate and a staff person."

"Corrections is setting up a hotline for female inmates that will allow them direct access to the CDC Office of Internal Affairs," Terhune added. "We want women in our prisons to know that we take their complaints seriously and will investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by staff.

To date the investigation has led to the resignation of two employees after they were found dating parolees. Another has been placed on administrative leave and is currently pending prosecution by the San Bernardino District Attorney's Office for sexual assault.

In addition, another staff resigned while awaiting result of an investigation into an allegation that he is the father of an inmate's child.

Today's announcement by Corrections officials continues an extensive campaign launched after wardens from several women's prisons called for investigations of staff misconduct.

To date CDC's efforts to address the issue of staff sexual misconduct with inmates has included the following:

In November 1998 a task force was formed to investigate similar problems at another women's prison.

In March 1999 the Warden at CIW and four other high-ranking CDC officials attended a seminar in Washington1 D.C. that focused on how to uncover and identify serious misconduct issues.

CDC Director Terhune signed an April 1999 memo to all employees stating the Department's zero-tolerance for inappropriate behavior. The memo stated that, "There is no such thing as a consensual sexual relationship between staff and inmates under California law." It also reminded CDC staff that, "As an employee of CDC, it is your responsibility to report all allegations, observations or information you receive regarding violations of the law and policies governing this misconduct. Failure to report these crimes will result in disciplinary action."

Last month, Director Terhune established a Task Force of wardens assigned to women's prisons to review policy issues related to managing female offenders. The Task Force is charged with recommending policy changes relative to gender specific assignments, identifying and removing barriers to reporting sexual misconduct, and other issues related to female offenders.

This past summer two CDC investigators attended specialized training to investigate sexual assault. The training, certified by the state's Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (POST), gives CDC the expertise necessary to investigate an issue that is always considered difficult, even outside prison walls.

Since then, CDC has developed a detailed and thorough investigative protocol and launched a training program on investigative procedures, which is expected to receive POST certification in the near future. Training includes medical protocols, reporting forms, applicable laws and related issues critical to sound investigations of sexual assault.

The Department is supporting the administration-sponsored SB 377, Polanco that would broaden existing prohibitions against sexual relations between inmates and staff. Such relations are currently pumshable as misdemeanors.

CDC's response to the problem began with a warden's request for an investigation when an inmate accused a staff person of fathering her child. As investigators began to look into the issue, they uncovered additional instances of illegal and inappropriate conduct between staff and inmates.

"This Department does not intend to conclude this investigation until we are sure that such behavior has been eliminated," Terhune said."


August 1999

California State Prisoners Denied Access to Media --------- by Jean Fallow, --------------National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, 1402 - 3rd Ave., #421, Seattle, WA 98101

The California Department of Corrections is considering making permanent an emergency regulation barring "specific-person face-to-face interviews" of state prison inmates by representatives of the media.

The rule also prevents media representatives from using tape recorders, pens or paper during their interviews and allows prison officials to open inmates' letters to journalists, which are now protected as confidential. The regulation is currently under review by the Office of Administrative Law, which will announce a decision by October 28.

The regulation would amend Sec. 15 CCR to stipulate that "media may be permitted random ... face-to-face interviews with inmates or parolees housed in facilities under the jurisdiction of the department," while prohibiting interviews with specific individuals.

Boston Woodard, an inmate at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo who was fired as editor of the prison newspaper and put in lockdown for challenging the media ban, warns that prison officials will ensure that during "random" walkthroughs by media representatives, prison officers will "make sure you're in an area where all the inmates you talk to randomly will have the IQ of a cinderblock."

Terry Francke, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, argues that "there is no substitute for the opportunity to talk directly and candidly with specific individuals who either know the facts or can point to those who do." Civil Liberties, Media and Prisoners' Rights Groups Protest Of the 100 comments submitted to the Department of Corrections verbally or in writing on the issue, only one supported making the media ban permanent.

Alan Schlosser, managing attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, told the Bay area Recorder, "The prison system seems to be systematically and intentionally trying to seal off access of the public to information about what's going on behind prison walls." Moreover, Judy Greenspan of the HIV/AIDS in Prison Project notes that media interviews have been vital in helping her group obtain compassionate releases for dying prisoners.

However, Corrections officials did not even attend the June hearings and told the media that "The policy issues have already been decided." State officials justify the ban by contending that some prisoners seek to enhance their stature in correctional institutions through media attention, and that media exposure makes them inappropriate role models for youth.

In an article entitled "Media's Much Ado About Nothing," California Department of Corrections Director James H. Gomez wrote, "Having special privileges is not consistent with why these criminal offenders were sent to prison. ... Criminals should lose most of their right when they go to prison. That's why we send them to prison. Loss of freedoms is the punishment for their crimes. If they want these freedoms, they should obey the law and stay out of California prisons."

The Department also argues that crime victims may be traumatized by seeing their assailants on TV, and that media access to prisoners interferes with their "rehabilitation" and jeopardizes prison security. However, according to Ingrid Becker of the Bay area Recorder, "even the president of the correctional officers union is unable to cite a single major security problem caused by media coverage of prisoners."

Prison Guards Staged "Gladiator" Fights Between Inmates Denying prisoners access to the media (and vice-versa) encourages the increasing isolation of a self-enclosed prison system where human rights abuses can multiply freely free of public oversight. In August the Los Angeles Times ran a series of articles dealing egregious human rights abuses at the Corcoran State Prison, where guards released prisoners known to be enemies into the yard. They called the events "gladiator days" and took bets on which would "win" the ensuing fight. Sometimes they ended the fight by shooting -- and on at least one occasion killing -- one of the combatants.

Other incidents reported at Corcoran since 1989 include guards forcing new inmates to run a "gauntlet" where they were severely beaten; seven inmates shot dead and 50 wounded by prison guards; and a guard torturing of an inmate by applying electric shock to his testicles -- an incident witnessed by more than 20 people. Although a number of officers have been fired in the wake of some of these abuses, critics charge that problems are systemic rather than the result of actions by a few "rogue" officers. The prison is currently under investigation by the FBI after several guards disgusted by the brutality turned whistle-blowers.

A media ban would help prevent the public from learning about similar abuses in the future. Peter Y. Sussman, President of the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists, comments, "Freedom of the press was enshrined in our Constitution specifically to guarantee the independence of the news media to report on issues of public concern. That independence does not exist when the very officials whose actions are being scrutinized are allowed to direct the news coverage." Sussman also notes that a number of other states, including Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Idaho, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, and South Carolina have placed prohibitive restrictions on media contact with inmates, and warns that "The feds have a history of looking to California for blazing the trail on repressive measures in prisons."

ACTION NEEDED-- If you live in California, please contact your state senator and representative urging that legislation be introduced to overturn the media ban and increase public and legislative oversight of conditions inside state prisons. Write letters to the editor of your local paper as well. If you live elsewhere, find out what the regulations are governing your state's prisons and tell your legislators that the public has a right to know what goes on in state prisons -- and that inmates should not be forced to sacrifice basic human rights. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Amendment VIII, U.S. Constitution: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment."


July 2000

State doesn't need new prison


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