Clean Up Prison Mess
Editorial: Unintended consequence
Published 12:01 am PDT Friday, August 18, 2006
If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's aim in calling a special session on California's prison system was to keep a federal court from taking over the state's prisons, he has failed dismally.
Two days of hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Prison Population Management and Capacity left a vivid picture of a prison system in crisis and a state corrections bureaucracy without a clue. Throughout the hearings, the Schwarzenegger administration couldn't seem to muster a sense of urgency, much less present a package with any semblance of research, planning or detail for legislators to examine.
Sen. Mike Machado, a peach farmer from Linden and chairman of the committee, did his best to show his patient, deliberate, forbearing side. But he has his limits.
In proposal after proposal, Machado noted Wednesday, there were "discrepancies" between the information provided by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and what was being requested.
"The numbers don't match up," he said many times. Over and over he noted that the proposals have "no supporting documents" and, thus, are "premature." He said that in presenting its prison package, the administration was asking the Legislature to "accept the wrapping paper, but don't look inside."
After hearing two days of corrections officials saying, "We plan to do this" and "we plan to get you information," Machado had enough. Legislators, he said, had been hearing that for four years.
"If I was to raise crops the way you run corrections," he said, "I'd still be talking about preparing the ground."
In this special session, with three weeks left, Machado said he is prepared to talk about short-term proposals to relieve overcrowding. He made it clear that he believes the administration's vague, long-term proposals get in the way of dealing with very immediate needs.
But even there, corrections officials are woefully unprepared.
Here's just one example of many. The administration floated a short-term proposal to send 5,000 noncitizen inmates with federal immigration holds to other states. Acting Corrections Secretary Jim Tilton said at Wednesday's hearing that this is the "only real short-term solution we have."
Yet the administration has no draft bill on this. Moreover, the hearings revealed that the department does not even know which of its 170,000 inmates are noncitizens.
Senators were flabbergasted, and understandably so. They held hearings two years ago on this point and assumed the department was collecting this data. That assumption turned out to be false.
But then the whole idea of getting 5,000 noncitizens out of the prison system may be a fantasy. It turns out that many "immigration holds" may actually be U.S. citizens or legal residents. So much for that easy solution.
The hearings provided Californians with yet another litany of ill-considered, incomplete proposals. They revealed a department floundering.
The Legislature would do best to focus on short-term solutions that build on successful programs the department already operates. This page suggested some possibilities (see the third in our series of four editorials on California's prison crisis, "Look back to find solutions for state's prisons," at www.sacbee.com/opinion).
It is obvious that the overcrowding issue is not one of space, but of basic competence. If the department were simply managing its prison population, based on good data, we would not have a space problem. The tools exist for putting prisoners in the right places, but the department is not doing a good job of using them.
The state would be better off investing in a real computer data system to track its prisoners -- which, incredibly, it does not yet have -- than building more prisons. And it needs top managers who are capable of getting beyond current snapshot numbers and improvised solutions.
The best that can be said of the Schwarzenegger administration's performance in the hearings is that it did make some things clear. Instead of avoiding a federal takeover of California's prison system, the special session so far demonstrates the need for it.
Posted on Fri, Sep. 03, 2004
Retiring warden blows whistle
A veteran Department of Corrections official who headed Salinas Valley State Prison for six months says correctional officers there set up prisoners for prosecution and covered up instances of brutality by the staff.
Edward Caden retires today after 28 years with the state prison system, including a term as chief deputy warden at Salinas Valley State Prison and six months as acting warden.
In the time he managed the prison, Caden said he found that correctional officers planted contraband on prisoners, setting them up for criminal prosecution. Characterizing corruption at the prison as "pretty well organized," he said Thursday that guards beat prisoners and then conspired to cover it up.
Caden was relieved of the acting warden position in early August following the short-lived return of Warden Anthony Lamarque. Caden was then transferred to what he called a non-existent bureaucratic position in Sacramento.
He said Thursday he is retiring because he could not effectively fight wrongdoing in the prison system while working in it.
"Woe to anybody who tries to upset the little apple cart up there," Caden said in a telephone interview from Sacramento.
Caden is not the first to allege misconduct at the prison. Two former guards there have filed lawsuits containing allegations of misconduct by fellow guards and their superiors. One former officer, Donald Vodicka, testified about prison corruption in front of a state Senate committee in January. He described a gang of rogue prison guards, calling themselves the Green Wall, that had been formed to enforce a code of silence at the maximum-security prison near Soledad.
He said the group had intimidated inmates and guards and even had members within the prison's internal affairs unit.
Investigating similar allegations, the state Office of the Inspector General concluded in a January report that Lamarque had prevented timely investigation into the activities of the Green Wall and intentionally misled state investigators about the guard group.
A month later, seemingly as a result of the state report, Lamarque went on sick leave and Caden, who had been his chief deputy, took over.
Some prison employees have said the change was dramatic. Responding to his own findings and those of outside investigators, Caden said he started mandatory ethics training for guards and ended preferential treatment for favored employees. He said he initiated several criminal investigations into misconduct at the prison, some of which are still under way.
On Aug. 2, Lamarque returned from sick leave to retake the leadership at Salinas Valley State Prison. But, following clashes with Caden over reforms, Lamarque worked just five days before returning to disability leave.
At the end of the same week, on Aug. 9, Caden was transferred to Sacramento. Anthony Kane, formerly interim warden at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, was appointed to serve as acting warden at the nearby Salinas Valley State Prison. The move leaves Kane's chief deputies in charge at the training facility.
State corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton said Lamarque could return to his old job if his medical problems diminish.
"This is a temporary situation," she said.
Caden said reinstating Lamarque would be a big mistake if the state is interested in cleaning up the prison. He said Lamarque's return in August immediately energized wayward factions in the prison hierarchy, factions that Caden characterized as a "terror regime."
"There are a lot of people at the institution who are just terrified by this guy," Caden said.
Lamarque could not be reached to comment Thursday. However, Lt. Eloy Medina, spokesman for Salinas Valley State Prison, said Lamarque had embraced the changes Caden made in his absence.
"During his tenure, Mr. Caden reinforced to staff through training many of the ideals Mr. Lamarque believes in. Ethics and professionalism, communication at all levels, and positive, long-term goals for the institution," Medina said in a written statement. "When Mr. Lamarque returned he applauded the job Mr. Caden did in his absence."
But Caden said Lamarque blew off the results of internal and external investigations.
"He gave me his assurances that he wasn't aware of the things that were going on.," said Caden. "He knew that there were eight boxes of investigative materials in the prison, but he never read them."
In the other lawsuit filed by a former correctional officer, Manuel Rodriguez contends in a Monterey County lawsuit that officials at Salinas Valley pressed prosecutors to charge him with a crime because he had blown the whistle on staff misconduct leading to an inmate riot in 1999.
The allegations about Salinas Valley State Prison have emerged against
a larger backdrop of legislative demands for reform of California's penal
system. The Department of Corrections has received a new set of top administrators
and the guard's union, long a potent force in state politics, has lost
some influence but remains entrenched in Sacramento.
Jonathan Segal can be reached at 646-4345 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Abuse Common in U.S. Prisons, Activists Say
Thu May 6,12:25 PM ET Add U.S. National - Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Alan Elsner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Horrific abuses, some similar to those revealed in Iraq (news - web sites), regularly occur in U.S. prisons with little national attention or public outrage, human rights activists said on Thursday.
"We certainly see many of the same kinds of things here in the United States, including sexual assaults and the abuse of prisoners, against both men and women," said Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator for the national prison project of the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites).
"This office has been involved in cases in which prisoners have been raped by guards and humiliated but we don't talk about it much in America and we certainly don't hear the president expressing outrage," she said.
President Bush (news - web sites) has said he was disgusted by the abuse
of Iraqi prisoners. Yet, there were many cases of abuse in Texas when he
served as governor from 1995 to 2000.
For example, in September 1996, guards at the Brazoria County jail in Texas staged a drug raid on inmates that was videotaped for training purposes.
The tape showed several inmates forced to strip and lie on the ground. A police dog attacked several prisoners; the tape clearly showed one being bitten on the leg. Guards prodded prisoners with stun guns and forced them to crawl along the ground. Then they dragged injured inmates face down back to their cells.
In a 1999 opinion, federal Judge William Wayne Justice wrote of the situation in Texas state prisons: "Many inmates credibly testified to the existence of violence, rape and extortion in the prison system and about their own suffering from such abysmal conditions."
Judy Greene of Justice Strategies, a New York City consultancy, said:
"When I saw Bush's interview on Arab TV stations, I was thinking, had he
ever stepped inside a Texas prison when he was governor?"
PRISON GUARDS INVOLVED
Two of those allegedly involved in the abuse of Iraqis were U.S. prison guards. Spc. Charles Graner, who appears in some of the most lurid photographs, was a guard at Greene County State Correctional Institution, one of Pennsylvania's top security death row prisons. Two years after he arrived at Greene, the prison was at the center of an abuse scandal in which guards routinely beat and humiliated prisoners.
Prison officials have declined to say whether Graner had been disciplined in that case.
Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick was a corrections officer at Buckingham Correctional Center in Virginia. In a statement published by the Richmond Times Dispatch on Thursday, Frederick compared his role at Abu Ghraib in Iraq with his job as a guard in Buckingham, where he said he had "very strict policies and procedures as to how to handle any given situation."
In Iraq, he said, there were no such policies.
Jenni Gainsborough of Penal Reform International said: "I don't think we routinely torture prisoners in the United States but abuse and humiliation regularly occur. They may have been trying to get information out of the Iraqis but some of those photographs look to me as if the U.S. personnel were enjoying inflicting the humiliation."
In Cook County Jail in Chicago, the elite Special Operations Response Team has been implicated in scores of incidents of racially motivated violence and brutality in recent years.
One of the most dramatic took place on Feb. 4, 1999, when SORT members accompanied by four guard dogs without muzzles ordered 400 prisoners to leave their cells in response to a gang-related stabbing three days earlier.
According to a 50-page report by the sheriff's Internal Affairs Division, the guards ransacked cells, then herded inmates into common areas where they were forced to strip and face the wall with hands behind their head. Anyone who looked away from the wall was struck with a wooden baton.
Some prisoners were forced to lie on the floor, where they were stomped and kicked. One inmate, who did not leave a cell fast enough said he was beaten with fists and batons until he urinated on himself and went into convulsions. At least 49 inmates told investigators they had been beaten. After the beatings, guards prevented inmates from receiving immediate medical care.
Corrections officer Roger Fairley testified in a deposition last year that guards were afraid to come forward to tell of what they had seen in case their colleagues took revenge.
"On many and many occasions I witnessed excessive force, abuse of power, intimidation," he said.
Posted on Fri, Feb. 13, 2004
Two prison closings planned
SACRAMENTO - Even before setting up a commission to study prison closings, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration is planning to shut down two privately run facilities supporters say are among the most cost-effective in the state.
Critics of the plan to close the minimum-security prisons suggest that the Department of Corrections is advancing the agenda of one of the state's most politically powerful labor groups.
``We know the prison guard union has done as much as they can to get rid of private facilities,'' said state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Nevada City, whose district includes one of the facilities slated to close. ``There's got to be something political in this. It doesn't make economic sense.''
The Department of Corrections plans to close the small prisons, including the state's only minimum-security facility exclusively for women, when their contracts expire June 30, according to an internal department memorandum obtained by the Mercury News.
After June 30, the state ``has no legal authority to pay any expenditure related'' to the correctional facilities at Live Oak, 60 miles north of Sacramento, and in San Bernardino County, according to the Jan. 29 memo, signed by Suzan L. Hubbard, deputy director of the institutions division.
The memo casts doubt on the impartiality of the proposed closings commission and whether it will push to shut other private facilities where the California Correctional Peace Officers Association doesn't represent workers.
The union, which could not be reached for comment, has come under fire in recent weeks as lawmakers have examined the Department of Corrections and questioned whether the labor group unduly influences policy-setting.
The planned closing also clouds the future of private prisons at a time when the corrections system has been engulfed in controversy over its skyrocketing budget and treatment of inmates at state-run lockups.
Tip Kindel, a deputy secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's corrections chief, said ``the union had nothing to do with it whatsoever.'' While he described the closing plan as ``premature,'' a prison system representative offered a seemingly contradictory statement that the move made economic sense.
In his proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, Schwarzenegger said his administration would create a commission ``that would proactively evaluate and recommend future closures'' because the number of inmates, now around 160,000, is expected to drop. Schwarzenegger has yet to name any members to his commission on closings.
Both of the private facilities -- Leo Chesney, the prison for women at Live Oak, and a prison for men at Baker in Southern California -- previously have been targeted for closing but have escaped the budget knife. Both facilities are run by Houston-based Cornell Corrections and employ officers who are not members of the prison-guard union.
At Chesney, 190 women who have less than 18 months left on their sentences are able to take classes to prepare them for life on the outside. At the 262-inmate Baker facility east of Los Angeles, prisoners are taught basic rescue skills and help provide emergency services for a barren stretch of desert roadway.
The contracts, which expire later this year, for the two facilities are worth $7.1 million annually.
Two years ago, a legislative analysis of a plan to close private facilities could not determine whether such a move would save money, partly because a comparison of per-inmate costs is difficult.
The per-inmate cost at state prisons runs between $22,000 and $50,000, depending on the type of facility, according to figures compiled by a state Senate committee.
Mark Nobili, a Cornell lobbyist, said his firm's costs are considerably lower, between $16,000 and almost $19,000 per inmate.
The use of private prisons to save money increased during the 1980s and 1990s under Republican Govs. George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson.
Officials of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association have praised past efforts to scrap private prisons.
Nobili contended the ``union wanted them closed, so the department moved to close them. That's how this works.'' But, he quickly added, he doesn't believe that the proposal was approved by Schwarzenegger's advisers and predicted that the governor would reverse course.
``I don't think this administration will close these facilities once they're reviewed,'' he said. ``You can't cut your best and cheapest prison beds.''
Bob Martinez, assistant communications chief for the department, said the number of less-violent prisoners is declining, so the state doesn't need the private facilities and can accommodate the inmates in state-run institutions. So, the idea of renewing the contracts is ``not cost-effective,'' he said.
Aanestad plans to urge Schwarzenegger to keep open the prison inside
his district at the postage-stamp-sized town of Live Oak. ``Just keep the
doors closed,'' he quickly added.
Contact Mark Gladstone at email@example.com or (916) 325-4314.
Courts must step in now to clean up prison mess
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
This much is clear to everyone: California’s prisons are a mess. We believe the federal courts must intervene and dictate a solution.
John Hagar, the special master appointed by a federal judge to report on conditions in the prisons, found gross mismanagement, perjury and cover-up at the top levels of the California Department of Corrections. His report concludes the biggest obstacle to changing the system is the power of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the state prison guards union.
The union paints a much different picture of the problems destroying the prison system. As CCPOA President Mike Jimenez and others see it, ... the real problem is incompetence in the department’s leadership. ... They say the union is being unfairly targeted to obscure the department’s failings.
Who is telling the truth? It is clear the state simply cannot be relied on to clean up its prison system.
Despite the presence of Sens. Jackie Speier and Gloria Romero, who convened last week’s eye-opening hearings, we don’t think the rest of the Legislature has the political spine to take on the union. These same legislators approved contracts with the guards that make it virtually impossible for even the most conscientious wardens to run their own prisons, control runaway costs or discipline rogue guards.
The only viable answer lies in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who appointed Hagar. Henderson, who is hearing a decade-old suit alleging a variety of abuses in California prisons, should take control of California’s prison system and appoint a strong and independent leader to run it and to fully investigate every aspect of its activities.
Solutions to these problems cannot wait until another riot erupts, or more competent leadership is hired or a new generation of correctional officers or their widows step out of the shadows and tell the ugly truth. If California is serious about reforming the Department of Corrections, it must have help from the outside. Federal courts have monitored this crisis for years. The situation is deteriorating. The courts must intervene.
Editorial: Real prison reform
By now everyone in California should be clear about this much: The state's prisons are a mess.
Beyond that, there's not much agreement.
John Hagar, the special master appointed by a federal judge to report on conditions in the prisons, has put forth a scathing report alleging gross mismanagement, perjury and cover-up at the top levels of the California Department of Corrections.
Hagar's report concludes that the biggest obstacle to changing the prison system is the pervasive power of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the state prison guards union. Hagar minces no words in his report.
"The acquiescence by the (California Department of Corrections) to CCPOA demands no matter how intrusive, an active code of silence, inept CDC officials and retaliation against whistle-blowers and the investigators brave enough to attempt to enforce the law," he concludes, has rendered the discipline system within state prisons "almost entirely ineffective."
The problems go well beyond employee discipline or the other ills Hagar outlined. By now it is hardly news that violence and drug trafficking behind bars are rampant. Huge cost overruns threaten every other function of state government. Guards who report wrongdoing say they fear for their lives. The rookie governor who inherited the prison mess seems oblivious to the seriousness of the problem.
The union paints a much different picture of the problems within the prison system. As CCPOA President Mike Jimenez and other leaders see it, Hagar's report is incomplete and one-sided. The real problem, they say, is that the department's leadership is incompetent. They point out that the union favored the creation of an independent inspector general for the department and has won in several legal challenges to CDC's management. As they see it, the union is being unfairly targeted to obscure the department's failings.
Faced with these competing views of reality, Californians may find it difficult to figure out who's telling the truth. But it's not necessary to choose one side or the other to come to a conclusion about what needs to happen next. Looked at from either side, it seems clear that the state simply cannot be relied on to clean up its prison system.
Hagar proposes giving the Legislature and the executive branch of state government one more chance to fix the problems he outlines. That won't work.
These are the very same political institutions that have presided over the creation of this dangerously dysfunctional prison system. Over the last decade, CCPOA has contributed millions of dollars to the election campaigns of past governors and of legislators who would have to pass laws to clean up CDC.
These same legislators approved contracts with the guards union that make it virtually impossible for even the most conscientious wardens to run their own prisons, control runaway costs or discipline rogue guards. Despite laudable efforts by legislators such as Sens. Jackie Speier and Gloria Romero, who convened last month's eye-opening prison hearings, it is hard to imagine that lawmakers will be likely to buck the union. CCPOA has bankrolled too many of them.
It's equally hard to imagine that the remedy lies with administrators of the prison system. Both Hagar's report and the complaints of the union attest to the weakness of the prison system's leadership. That weakness is only increased by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's inexplicable decision to fire the acting inspector general, John Chen, and to dismantle the independent investigative office he headed. No matter who heads the prison system, to bring about real reform, that person will need the independent, experienced investigators that Schwarzenegger is now disbanding.
What to do then? The only viable answer lies in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who appointed Hagar. Henderson, who is hearing a decade-old suit alleging a variety of abuses in California prisons, should take control of California's prison system and appoint a strong and independent leader to run it and to fully investigate every aspect of its activities.
This is not a step to be recommended lightly. But the evidence on all sides indicates that California's prisons are in crisis. They are unsafe for both prisoners and correctional officers. They are rife with corruption and hobbled by incompetence.
Solutions to these problems cannot wait until another riot erupts, or more competent leadership is hired or a new generation of correctional officers or their widows step out of the shadows and tell the ugly truth.
If California is serious about reforming the Department of Corrections, it must have help from the outside. Federal courts have monitored this growing crisis for years. The situation is deteriorating. It's time for the courts to intervene.
Posted on Sun, Jan. 25, 2004
SACRAMENTO - In his first two months in office, Arnold Schwarzenegger has pretty much followed the script he and his advisers laid out after his election.
But with a long-simmering crisis in the nation's largest prison system coming to a boil, the new governor and his administration are now suddenly forced to ad lib.
How governors deal with these unscripted events or natural disasters can often turn into defining moments for their administrations. Think Gray Davis and electricity.
At issue is how Schwarzenegger will handle charges that the state Department of Corrections, under the sway of the powerful prison guard union, is unable to police itself. A federal court report has accused top corrections officials of whitewashing an investigation and, in legislative hearings last week, tearful prison guards told of being intimidated after reporting on other officers.
Schwarzenegger -- with the threat of a federal takeover and renewed legislative scrutiny on his side -- could be emboldened to make changes sought by prison reformers for years. Unlike his three predecessors, he has not taken any contributions from the prison guard union, which has spent lavishly to support the state's politicians.
Lawmakers who want to reform the system are optimistic the governor is in their corner. State Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-San Jose, said he was buoyed after meeting with Schwarzenegger in early December. He said the governor told him, ``We've got to make the Department of Corrections a department of corrections.''
Persistent critics of the corrections system note, however, that Schwarzenegger installed a former prison guard in the top job and fired the acting inspector general for prisons just before he was about to testify about its failings at a legislative hearing.
Schwarzenegger inherited a corrections department that grew topsy-turvy in the 1980s as a focus on rehabilitation gave way to punishment. In the 1980s and 1990s, the state cracked down on gangs, enacted the ``three strikes'' law and imposed tougher drug sentences -- leading to more inmates.
As the number of inmates grew to 161,000 and corrections employees to 49,000, the guard union also grew. It now has more than 25,000 members and collects millions of dollars in dues that are funneled into political donations.
``They have a lot of money,'' which translates into political clout, said Bruce Bikle, an assistant professor of criminal justice at California State University-Sacramento.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White, the former inspector general for prisons, testified last week that the union also works behind the scenes to influence the appointments of wardens, who must be confirmed by the Senate Rules Committee. With a close relationship to former Gov. Gray Davis, the union also managed to negotiate a controversial labor agreement that critics say will cost more than $500 million annually when it takes full effect.
The system is plagued with problems -- from an inability to investigate and discipline its own officers to an inability to send an e-mail between prisons. Most troubling, critics say, is a pervasive code of silence in which prison guards say they are discouraged from exposing excesses.
Bikle said Schwarzenegger must recognize that this is an enormous problem. ``The code of silence is an indication of institutional malaise in the department and they've got to fix that,'' said Bikle, a former prison administrator in Oregon and other states.
Mike Jimenez, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association for the past 18 months, said the guard union ``has never stopped an investigation.'' In legislative testimony last week, he disputed the claim that a code of silence prevails, calling it instead ``a code of cowardice'' by ``individuals who lack the courage and the intestinal fortitude to stand up.''
Schwarzenegger himself has not talked about prisons, but his cabinet secretary for corrections, Roderick Hickman, has promised to make changes. Last week, for example, corrections officials temporarily reassigned the top managers at Folsom State Prison in the wake of an internal report that was critical of how the prison's leadership handled a 2002 riot.
``The key for leadership is understanding that the message has to be clear that you will be held accountable for the values that we expound,'' Hickman told a legislative hearing last week. Prodded by the federal court's oversight at Pelican Bay State Prison, Hickman said he is developing a plan to revamp the way the department investigates wrongdoing.
In the coming weeks, a flurry of legislation is expected to be introduced, possibly to restore $5 million that lawmakers cut from the budget for the inspector general, the state's prison watchdog; to expand the attorney general's role in scrutinizing prisons; and to allow expanded media access to prisoners for jailhouse interviews.
Schwarzenegger will be asked to take positions on these proposals.
Some close observers of the prisons are concerned about Schwarzenegger's first moves, citing the appointment of Hickman as the corrections secretary to oversee the state's 32 prisons, juvenile prisons and parole programs.
They note that Hickman started as a guard and has spent 25 years in the California prison system. At the dramatic legislative hearings last week, White, the former inspector general, questioned whether Hickman had the passion to lead the agency on a new path.
And just the week before, Schwarzenegger fired John Chen, White's successor as acting inspector general. Chen had been poised to testify that the department exhibited ``a persistent cultural environment resistant to reform.''
State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Rosemead, who co-chaired the hearings, contends that the system is on the brink of being morally bankrupt. ``It is one judge's order away from being pulled into receivership and run by a federal court,'' she declared. ``It is a tarnished institution.''
Romero and others insist that there is a pervasive code of silence that must be broken. And witnesses, including hardened prison guards, broke down in tears last week as they described the hostility they suffered when they blew the whistle at prisons.
The code of silence was cited by a special court master in a highly critical report to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson detailing the failure of the Department of Corrections to investigate and discipline staff who abuse prisoners. The report found officers unwilling to report problems, especially if the union was involved, because of this informal code.
Acknowledging Schwarzenegger's recent election, the special master, John Hagar, suggested the state should be given additional time to comply with his recommendations for reform despite its ``miserable compliance record.''
Hagar wants the department to develop a plan to fully investigate allegations of the misuse of force, to establish appropriate penalties and to do this without interference from the union.
But White, the former inspector general, remains skeptical that Schwarzenegger and his new corrections chief can accomplish the sweeping reforms he thinks are needed.
``What will happen,'' White told lawmakers, ``is that heads will roll, butts will get kicked, and three months later, when you're not looking, it will all be back to where it was. I know this to a certainty.''
Contact Mark Gladstone at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (916) 325-4314.
Editorial: Big job for the big guy
Schwarzenegger must rein in prisons
It is not, to say the least, a pretty picture. Rogue prison guards who abuse inmates and threaten fellow officers go unpunished. Those who do their duty, obey the law and tell the truth about official misconduct face reprisals. And not only do they get no support from superiors, they risk demotion, ostracism and even physical harm.
That was the chilling testimony provided by whistle-blowing prison guards at an emotional state Senate hearing Tuesday.
Max Lemon, the assistant warden at Folsom Prison, was reduced to tears as he described the aftermath of a riot at the prison two years ago. The riot left 24 inmates injured and a guard permanently disabled; it also contributed to the suicide of another guard.
Even though the supervising officers who let rival gang members onto a prison yard disobeyed orders, no one was charged or disciplined, Lemon said. The riot was never properly investigated and those who have attempted to tell the truth about it fear for their lives. Lemon himself has been placed in protective custody.
The Senate prison hearing comes in the wake of a damning report by John Hagar, a special master assigned by a federal court to investigate similar allegations of cover-up and malfeasance at Pelican Bay State Prison. He described a criminally dysfunctional Department of Corrections so dominated by the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the state prison guards union, that it is incapable of disciplining brutal guards or investigating crimes they may have committed.
The threat posed by gross mismanagement and criminal activity at the Department of Corrections cannot be overstated. The risk goes beyond inmates and guards within the prisons. At the hearing, Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, alluded to death threats against legislators who convened the hearing from those who, she said, "believe we have gone too far."
There is a fiscal consequence to the prison crisis as well. Massive cost overruns in the Corrections Department harm every other function of state government. Corrections has overspent its annual $5.3 billion budget by $500 million this year. The prison guards contract approved by the Davis administration and ratified by the Legislature ceded large parts of the management authority to the guards union. The contract leaves the state with no ability to contain costs or discipline guards.
Sadly, in the face of overwhelming evidence of incompetence and wrongdoing, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration has proposed a series of window-dressing reforms that, if implemented, would make things worse. The department says it will reassign the top brass at Folsom, but the special master's report warns that the department has no effective way to vet its own personnel. Background checks performed on department investigators are cursory, at best, leaving the department with no ability to assure that the people it puts in charge are committed to obeying the law.
Most alarming, the governor last Friday abruptly fired John Chen, the acting chief of the Office of the Inspector General and the man who wrote a report that castigated Folsom officials for the way they mishandled the 2002 riot investigation. The governor has proposed folding the inspector general's independent investigative functions into the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, an action which, if taken, would deprive the office of the independence it needs to conduct effective investigations.
Disarray at Corrections is a growing cancer in state government. It threatens both public safety and the state government's ability to bring its finances under control. So far, Schwarzenegger has offered no plan to deal one of the most serious crises state government faces. If he does not do so, the Corrections mess may drag his young administration down before it can get off the ground.
STATE PRISONS' REVOLVING DOOR
A System Geared to Failure
January 22, 2004
The 2002 riot at Folsom State Prison was just one indicator of the many failures in California's $5.7-billion prison and parole system, which even its new director, Roderick Q. Hickman, admits is "a revolving door of crime." However, Sens. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) and Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who chaired hearings on prison reform this week, were right to single out this fracas for the way it epitomizes two grave problems:
• The system's tendency to provoke criminal conduct. The riot was incited by prison officials who, instead of releasing inmates from two rival gangs to an outdoor yard a few at a time to maintain control, abruptly cut loose more than 80 inmates with conflicting gang affiliations.
• The system's secrecy. Capt. Douglas Pieper, seeing that one gang was about to attack the other, asked Associate Warden Mike Bunnell if he could "shut 'em down" — order inmates to lie on the ground. Bunnell replied "not yet." Seconds later, a melee broke out that hurt 24 inmates and left a guard paralyzed. When Sgt. Sam Cox found a videotape of Pieper and Bunnell's exchange, Folsom's warden told him to delete its audio. After refusing to "tamper with the evidence," Cox told legislators, "I was demoted." Almost a year ago, Pieper took his life. In a letter he left to his wife and 12-year-old daughter, he blamed himself for not stopping Bunnell — who was investigated but ended up working in the head office of the prison system.
The problems unearthed at this week's hearings require big responses. The first should be for Speier and Romero to get lawmakers to restore the $11-million budget of the inspector general, the independent watchdog who helped bring Pieper's story to light. That move would not only assuage wronged whistle-blowing guards but also save taxpayers money.
On Wednesday, Steve White, the inspector general from 1999 to 2003, told legislators his office had, for example, exposed how guards — some paid $100,000 a year — fetched inmate mail from the post office. Why? As White said to laughs, the Corrections Department "hadn't figured out" it could get mail delivered free.
Speier and Romero deserve praise for attacking this quagmire. But to reform this system, they need the support of voters, the media and their government colleagues, who all have forfeited too much sway over the system to the prison guards for too long.
Just how dire is it? While most involved in the issue thought former
Department of Corrections Director Edward S. Alameida had left the prison
system after resigning last month, officials disclosed Tuesday that he
is just vacationing and will return to another managerial job in the system
soon. If that isn't discouraging enough, the governor may appoint a stall-and-study
panel on prison reform. That's the last thing California needs. It's past
time to halt the secrecy, lack of accountability, tax waste and danger
in the state's prisons.
The prisons are a mess; governor must act now
California's prison system is terribly broken -- corrupt guards protected by corrupt administrators; horrendous cost overruns; ineptitude. Blame it on the powerful prison guards union, blame it on administrators willing to cover up crimes or blame it on greedy politicians. While not all employees are corrupt and not all administrators are responsible, all are tainted, and all are likely to pay a part of the price.
We had hoped that Gov. Schwarzenegger would right the wrongs, but we are fast losing confidence. He must move this to the top of his list of priorities. It is not unheard of for federal courts to assume control of a state's prison system. We hope such measures are not required in California. Still, the problems are critical:
Corruption. The frightening details were made clear in a report released last week by a special master, John Hagar. A federal court had ordered Hagar's investigation after two corrections officers were convicted in federal court of instigating inmate-on-inmate assaults at Pelican Bay State Prison. Hagar found evidence of perjury and a cover-up at the highest levels of the Department of Corrections. He blamed both top officials and the union that appears to operate the prisons.
"It is apparent," Hagar wrote, "that top officials of the Department of Corrections neither understand nor care about the need for fair investigation, nor are they likely to impose discipline in the face of (union) objections."
Inmates are not the only ones at risk from the department's submission to California Correctional Police Officers Association authority. Hagar's report describes how honest prison guards who attempt to report misconduct by fellow officers risk isolation and retaliation, while top-level officials at the department condone and cover up. Hagar recommends criminal charges be filed against former Department of Corrections Director Edward Alameida and the department's former chief of investigations, Thomas Moore.
The report is limited to the shortcomings of the department, but it is clear this crisis began under previous governors and the Legislature. The union gave generously to the campaigns of former Govs. Davis and Wilson, and contributed heavily to key members of the Legislature.
Even as the state teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, Davis negotiated and legislators ratified a contract in 2002 that gave prison guards pay raises of 37 percent over five years. Worse, the contract ceded to the union unprecedented power to control personnel decisions and even discipline within the prisons. In key areas, the authority of wardens was subordinated to the union.
Budget overruns: Since 1999, the Department of Corrections has overspent its budget every year for a cumulative total of $1.4 billion -- mostly on payroll, according to an Associated Press study. The state's prisons couldn't live within their $5.3 billion budget last year.
In the midst of our financial crisis, the governor proposed cutting $400 million from the department. Yet he has quietly diverted $453 million from the general fund to cover overtime overruns for the current year, bringing Corrections' piece of the budget pie to $5.7 billion.
Ineptitude. With all the money lavished on prisons and the 165,000 inmates who live there, the department still can't pay bills on time. Corrections paid $3 million in late fees on 11,589 invoices, according to The Associated Press.
Perhaps it is no wonder that such a system needed 28 years to find an escapee who was living in Texas using his own name and his own Social Security number.
Even prosecution of those who covered up crimes will not be enough to reform the Department of Corrections or to regain control of our prisons.
State Sen. Gloria Romero will have hearings on the prison system soon.
It is an opportunity for lawmakers to take the lead in reforming this department.
If they don't, the governor or the courts must take action.
Posted on 01/20/04 07:10:12
State pays millions for deadbeat prisons
Sunday, January 18, 2004 - SACRAMENTO -- California's Corrections Department is not only a perennial budget-buster, it's also the state's biggest deadbeat.
Last year the department paid nearly $3 million in penalties for overdue bills, more than half of the $4.9 million in such penalties paid by state government.
According to statistics compiled by the Department of General Services for the 2002-2003 fiscal year, Corrections paid $2,982,805 in penalties for making late payments on 11,589 invoices.
California's second biggest deadbeat, the Department of Transportation, paid $688,578 last year.
For Corrections, these overdue bill penalties have gotten bigger each year, totaling more than $4 million over the past five years.
The California Prompt Payment Act requires state agencies to pay undisputed invoices within 45 days of receipt. Those failing to do so must pay a daily penalty of up to 0.25 percent of the amount on invoices submitted by small businesses until the bills are paid, and a slightly smaller penalty for other businesses.
Corrections officials attributed last year's late payments to delays in Department of Finance approvals of the prison system's requests for money to cover its budget overruns.
However, one high-ranking Corrections official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the late payments are so common many small companies selling goods and services to prisons know it may be months before they are paid and plan their own budgets accordingly.
Incoming Youth and Adult Correctional Agency secretary Roderick Hickman, whose agency oversees the Corrections department, was surprised to learn how much his department has paid in penalties.
"We'll examine the status of bill payments and late payments," he said when confronted with the data at a news conference about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed prisons budget.
Posted on Sat, Jan. 17, 2004
AP Analysis: California prisons overspent budgets by $1.4 billion
SACRAMENTO - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's initial efforts to tame California's out-of-control spending are unlikely to impose fiscal control on the state's prisons, which have overspent their budgets by $1.4 billion in the past five years, according to an Associated Press analysis.
The new governor did include $400 million in unspecified cuts for the Corrections Department in his first budget proposal, along with an almost $900 million cut in Medi-Cal and steep fee increases for higher education.
But Schwarzenegger also quietly diverted $453 million from the general fund to cover overtime pay for prison guards and other budget overruns, continuing a practice that has made Corrections one of the state's most profligate departments.
Schwarzenegger has provided no details on where the $400 million in cuts to prisons might be made, and Greg Jolivette, who evaluates the criminal justice budget for the Legislative Analyst's Office, said it is "highly questionable" that the prison system will achieve those savings.
"I think people should be outraged," said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, who directs the nonprofit Community Health Councils in Los Angeles.
Corrections has overspent its budget each of the past five years, perennially underestimating the costs of housing California's prisoners, which totaled 161,000 at last count.
And each year, using a process that largely escapes public scrutiny, prison officials have returned to the Department of Finance pleading for ever-increasing amounts to cover costs already incurred.
Overall, the state agreed to pay nearly 90 percent of the $1.58 billion in extra bills the prison system ran up since 1999, the AP analysis showed.
In the past, top prison officials have largely blamed the overspending on poor personnel management practices, such as losing control of guards' overtime and sick leave. Now, this is the new administration's problem.
When confronted this month with data showing the extent of the prison system's overspending, Schwarzenegger's new corrections chief, Roderick Hickman, said "We're establishing a process where management is held accountable for its spending."
Hickman's task is considerable: last year, the prisons ran up their largest deficit yet on their way to spending a total of $5.3 billion, 10 percent over the $4.8 billion they had been promised for 2002-2003.
Most of the extra money has gone to compensate prison staffers, according to an examination of Form 580s, documents submitted to the Department of Finance during the past five years and obtained by the AP under the California Public Records Act.
The costs, detailed in 20 separate requests for more money, included:
Unanticipated labor-related expenses of $272 million, including $136 million for "unexpected overtime," underbudgeted leave costs and additional compensation required under the contract and nearly $86 million for increased workmen's compensation.
About $169 million in additional expenses resulting from unanticipated inmate population increases.
Nearly $63 million in increased health care services to inmates prompted by a series of court decisions.
Corrections' largest-ever "deficit spending" request, for $544.8 million it overspent in 2002-2003 fiscal year - was made just two weeks before former Gov. Gray Davis left office. That bill mostly covered increased compensation for prison staff that Davis had agreed to in the latest contract with the politically powerful prison guards' union.
Schwarzenegger's finance officials ultimately approved $453.6 million of that request, and accounted for it in the current 2003-2004 budget year. That raised actual spending on corrections this year to $5.72 billion - about 9 percent more than what was budgeted - with five months still to go.
And that's what makes finding $400 million to cut from the $5.6 billion 2004-2005 prisons budget so unrealistic, analysts say.
"I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland. It gets weirder and weirder by the moment," said State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles. She chairs the Senate Select Committee on the California Correctional System, which will be deeply involved in prison budget reform.
Corrections actually is second to Medi-Cal when it comes to deficit spending - but that program is a federal entitlement that requires the state to pay its share of spiraling health care costs.
Prison spending is, by contrast, completely subject to state control.
In either case, such deficit spending requests would be impossible if voters approve the balanced-budget amendment on the March ballot. Proposition 58 would require spending to match revenues and prohibit carrying deficits over from one year to another.
Money for the cost overruns is ultimately appropriated by the Legislature, usually during the annual May budget revise. But the point of the revise is to respond to unforeseeable changes in revenues, not budget overruns that could have been anticipated.
The documents show the prisons' biggest budget-buster is the spiraling costs associated with a generous labor contract Davis signed with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which donated more than $3.4 million to the governor's campaigns since 1998.
A top-scale prison guard can now earn more than $100,000 annually under the contract. That's "if he wants to spend most of his life in prison," says Lance Corcoran, head of the union, who conceded that overtime pay can double the average salary of $55,000-plus for a seven-year veteran guard.
The five-year agreement, which expires in July 2006, will provide for an overall 37 percent pay increase for the guards and eventually add about $518 million to the cost of running California's prisons, according to the state auditor. The Davis administration challenged the auditor's estimates as "speculative."
California's practice of aggressively returning parolees to prison for offenses as minor as driving without a license contributes heavily to the yearly deficits. In 2002, more than 102,000 parole violators were returned, costing the state $1.3 billion. At any given time, more than half the adults in state prison are parole violators.
Corrections spending increased 31 percent from 1999 to 2003, an expansion that was accomplished mostly through the deficit appropriation process, which tends to be little understood outside Sacramento. Including the $453.6 million added to the current budget year, the Department of Finance has approved $1,408,139,000 in additional funding.
Hickman says he'll reduce costs and eliminate deficit spending throughout the prisons.
But some legislators are furious over his planned first move - saving about $7 million by abolishing the inspector general's office, which investigates allegations of corruption within the prison system.
That move will be scrutinized this week when two state Senate panels
- Romero's Corrections committee and the government oversight committee
led by State Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, look into allegations
that guard misconduct probes were stymied by top department officials.
© 2004 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
Despite State Promises, Reform Eludes Prisons
December 28, 2003
Five years ago, after prison scandals gripped California with tales of guards setting up inmates in human cockfights and then shooting them dead, the state Department of Corrections vowed to change its ways.
Whistle-blowers would be protected, not punished. Internal investigators would be encouraged to pursue abusive guards. And the correctional officers union no longer would have a hand in dictating policy.
That new day never came, interviews and documents show.
California guards did stop shooting at inmates engaged in fistfights, a practice that had turned Corcoran State Prison into the deadliest lock-up in America.
But the Corrections Department remains troubled by allegations that rogue guards still go unpunished, union bosses continue to exert strong influence, and top administrators still thwart whistle-blowers.
This month, the department's beleaguered director, Edward Alameida, abruptly resigned, citing personal reasons. Alameida was known among some employees as "Easy Ed" because of his reputation for acceding to the wishes of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. — a union that gave millions to the campaigns of former Govs. Gray Davis and Pete Wilson.
Whether his departure clears the way for much-needed change is an open question, say civil rights attorneys, watchdog groups and whistle-blowers. The culture inside the nation's largest state prison system — from top administrators in Sacramento to wardens in the field — resists easy reform, they say.
The department now finds itself in the crosshairs of two inquiries that could bring new disclosures of wrongdoing.
A federal court in San Francisco is looking into allegations that Alameida and his top staff, in the face of union pressure, stopped internal investigators from delving into a code of silence that protected brutal guards at Pelican Bay State Prison.
And two state senators have scheduled hearings next month on allegations of brutality and cover-ups at the California Institution for Men in Chino and other state prisons.
"Corrections needs correcting," said state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who heads the prison oversight committee. "We intend to start the new year off with a bang and take a hard look at everything. We have a great opportunity with the new administration to make some real changes."
The union disputes any notion that it stymies investigations of brutality or controls the Corrections Department. "Yes, we take the lead in pointing out the blemishes in internal investigations," said Mike Jimenez, union president. "But to say we're running the department — I find that comical."
The code of silence makes it difficult to know the extent of misconduct in the vast prison system. But in addition to recent troubles at Pelican Bay and Chino, The Times has learned of more cases in which whistle-blowers were punished and abusive guards were not.
• Richard Krupp, a systems analyst, tried to save the state millions of dollars by revealing alleged abuses in sick leave and overtime pay to guards. Krupp, a 31-year corrections veteran, was stripped of his duties in 1999 because of his disclosures to state auditors, according to the state inspector general's office.
Top corrections officials ignored his ideas for fixing what was then a $50-million-a-year problem and today costs taxpayers $250 million annually — about half the department's reported deficit. "This is an employee who should be held up as a hero," said John H. Scott, Krupp's attorney. "Instead, the department is treating him like a pariah."
• The department made an unusual reversal in the 1998 shooting death of inmate Octavio Orozco at Pleasant Valley State Prison. The shooting review board found that the guard who had fired the fatal bullet had used deadly force without proper cause. A decision to rule the shooting unjustified and suspend the guard was reversed later without formal review. "To go back in all these years later and change the finding is outrageous," said Catherine Campbell, a Fresno attorney who represented Orozco's family.
Reforms in Late '90s
Some of the episodes now in focus are sequels to cases that led to reforms in the late 1990s. Under then-Director James Gomez and his top administrator, David Tristan, California prisons had become synonymous with brutality.
No other state allowed guards to shoot at inmates engaged in fistfights and melees. Other states broke up fights with pepper spray, tear gas and officers on the ground. In California's 33-prison system, 39 inmates were fatally shot by guards during the 1990s.
At Corcoran State Prison alone, seven prisoners were killed and 43 were wounded. In a series of articles, The Times traced the Corcoran deaths to the practice of mixing rival gang members in small exercise yards used by the most violent inmates. Gomez and Tristan defended the shootings as the Wilson administration investigated them. But investigators said the probe had been stymied by the corrections officers union.
Corcoran was not an anomaly. Internal affairs investigators at Pelican Bay uncovered evidence in 1995 that several officers were directing a group of inmates to stab and beat other prisoners, many of them convicted child molesters.
A few months into the investigation, the union president and vice president at the prison accused the internal affairs team of doing shoddy work and demanded that the investigation be halted. The warden cut short the probe, and the investigators found themselves the subjects of repeated probes by the Corrections Department.
Ultimately, the FBI pursued two officers in federal court, where they were convicted of civil rights violations.
Citing the breakdowns at Corcoran and Pelican Bay, legislators from both political parties pushed for reforms in the late 1990s. Cal Terhune, who replaced Gomez as director of the Corrections Department, responded with several changes.
Prospective guards would now go through a more extensive training academy. The shooting policy would be tightened so that deadly force would no longer be used to break up fistfights. Investigators would pursue dirty officers, whether the union objected or not.
A new chief would oversee an expanded internal affairs unit. And the state inspector general's office would be given more troops to carry out a new mission: investigating retaliation against whistle-blowers.
As the changes took hold, Tristan and much of the old guard retired.
"We had a honeymoon period that lasted about 2 1/2years," recalled Rick Ehle, head of internal affairs from 1997 to 2001 and now police chief of Capitola. "The press was watching and the Legislature was watching, and we were pursuing a lot of staff misconduct.
"But some of the wardens didn't like the scrutiny, and the department started watering down our role," he said.
Earlier this year, a new set of whistle-blowers alleged new cover-ups at Chino; the allegations were reported in The Times and other newspapers.
Internal affairs investigators in Southern California went public last June with allegations that top department officials had blocked an investigation of beatings of inmates by guards at Chino. Four of the investigators later testified at legislative hearings that they had been ordered to turn over their case files to the union. They refused, saying the action would endanger witnesses.
The investigators then became the targets of internal probes, and their office in Rancho Cucamonga was threatened with closure. The chief deputy director urging the shutdown was Tristan, who had come back from retirement.
A few weeks later, internal investigators in the Sacramento office alleged that the union was interfering with their work.
Their complaints centered on the old Pelican Bay case involving inmate beatings. During the federal trial that led to the conviction of the two officers, several guards had been suspected of lying to protect them. A perjury investigation landed in the lap of corrections investigators in Sacramento.
Last March, investigator Bob Ballard was preparing to take the perjury case to prosecutors when he was called to a rare meeting with department attorneys, high-ranking administrators and Director Alameida.
Ballard said the meeting was called the day after he had notified the union that he was pursuing a criminal case against one guard. In a recent federal court hearing, Ballard testified that Alameida wanted the investigation dropped. "How do we make this go away?" Ballard quoted Alameida as saying at the March 27 meeting.
Testifying last month in the federal inquiry, Alameida denied having shut down the case at the behest of the union. He acknowledged having talked briefly on the phone with the union vice president who had worked to block the original investigation at Pelican Bay.
But Alameida said he had decided not to pursue sanctions against the officers after participants at the meeting agreed that the case was old and weak — a contention that Ballard and others strongly dispute.
Now, as legislators prepare to hold their hearings, The Times has found other cases with similar themes.
In the last year, according to state documents and interviews, the department has reversed its demotion of two sergeants at Ironwood State Prison in Blythe.
After a long internal probe, the department originally moved to terminate Jesse Lara and Glenn Barr for tying up a fellow officer, spray-painting his body with obscenities and then displaying photos of the hazing. But after the two admitted that misconduct, the department agreed to demote them instead.
Later, in a move that stunned the internal affairs unit, the two officers were given back their sergeant's stripes and back pay. Russ Heimerich, the department's spokesman, said in an interview the decision to promote Barr and Lara within 15 months of their demotions had been made by wardens at their respective prisons: "It's not something that the director got involved in."
But Monrow Mabon, counsel for the internal affairs unit, said the culture of the institution is dictated from the top. "The promotions send the absolute wrong message that even when you do wrong, it doesn't matter in the Department of Corrections. You'll be quickly forgiven."
In the case of Krupp, the systems analyst who alleged abuses of sick leave and overtime, Heimerich said the department could not comment because the matter was still before the State Personnel Board.
But both the state board and the inspector general have found already that Krupp was retaliated against after the department tried and failed to thwart his study in 1999. Krupp had taken the sick leave and overtime figures to top corrections officials Wendy Still and Teresa Rocha; Rocha would later become interim director.
State records show that the two administrators produced numbers suggesting that overtime and sick leave were declining. "They were trying to cook the books," Krupp said. "Sick leave and overtime weren't falling. They were doubling."
Krupp took his own figures to state auditors, who confirmed his findings in published reports that embarrassed the department. He was promptly shipped off to another office far from the data and given nothing to do. "So, I read over 200 books in 15 months — nonfiction mostly," he said.
The department still refuses to consider Krupp a whistle-blower, and opposes his claim for a retroactive promotion with back pay. His experience, according to state investigators, is just one of many instances in which the inspector general found retaliation against whistle-blowers, but the Corrections Department refused to work out a remedy.
"It's as if the reforms that grew out of the Corcoran hearings never happened," said Scott.
The department has stood firm in its reshaping of the shooting policy. Since 1999, only two inmates have been killed by guards; both incidents involved melees, not standing fistfights. But civil rights attorneys question the commitment of top administrators to fully investigate future shootings after the flip-flop in the 1998 killing of Orozco at Pleasant Valley.
The 23-year-old was serving a nine-year sentence for dealing drugs when he was gunned down by Officer Bruce Brumana during a fight at Pleasant Valley State Prison, according to the prison's official shooting report.
A few months later, the department's shooting review board ruled the killing unwarranted. The fight posed no "imminent great bodily harm" to inmates or staff, the board found, and could have been stopped without a gunshot.
The department suspended Brumana for 90 days. It was the first time a shooting review board ever ruled against a guard.
Union representatives weren't pleased, but Director Terhune stood firm, assembling an executive review committee that ratified the finding. The case ended — or so it seemed — with Brumana agreeing to his punishment before the State Personnel Board.
"It was signed, sealed and delivered," said Bob Navarro, co-counsel for the Orozco family. "It went all the way up to the director."
Then late last year, Robert Borg, a former warden and longtime corrections analyst, took it upon himself to dig back into the case. Borg had remained a defender of the old shooting policy. After reading the accounts of inmates and staff, Borg decided that Brumana had been justified in using deadly force.
Borg said the victim of the fight had been knocked to the ground and was being kicked by several inmates. The fact that he hadn't suffered any serious injuries wasn't relevant, Borg said. The victim still had faced "imminent great bodily harm" in Brumana's eyes. Borg said the shooting review board had ignored this evidence. He took his findings to Tristan.
In a unilateral decision outside department policy, Tristan assigned an internal investigator to review the shooting. Three months ago, after the investigator arrived at the same opinion as Borg, Tristan reversed the finding. Brumana was awarded back pay.
"It is extraordinary; I will admit that," Tristan said. "But after taking another look at all the evidence, I felt I had to do right by this officer. I couldn't let the adverse action stand."
Tristan said he never told Alameida about his decision, although he did tell a union official.
In an interview before he announced his resignation, Alameida said he had already made at least one important reform. He had placed the internal affairs units in the hands of six hard-charging agents from the inspector general's office.
"I've done something that's never been done. I've brought in the core from an outside agency and asked them to take over our investigations," Alameida said. He said he wanted a unit "that doesn't have internal or external influences And we're going to get there."
Santa Maria Times
Pulitzer Central Coast Newspapers
Monday, November 24, 2003
Cleaning up prison mess
Sometime in the not-so-distant past, California decided to get into the prison business - in a very big way. The state now spends more than $5.2 billion a year on its Department of Corrections.
Members of the Little Hoover Commission, a state government watchdog group, said last week California taxpayers aren't getting much for their money, calling the California prison system a dismal failure.
California operates the nation's largest state prison system, with facilities that hold about 150,000 prisoners. California also operates one of the nation's most inefficient prison systems. Whereas nationally, one in three ex-convicts returns to prison before finishing parole, in California two-thirds of ex-felons go back to prison for parole violations or for committing a new crime.
One reason for that abysmal record, according to a Little Hoover Commission report, is that the emphasis in California prisons is on punishment, not rehabilitation. The commission's report found that only about 25 percent of inmates have access to educational or vocational training programs. Most California prisons have no useful work programs for inmates.
The result is that 75 percent of parolees have substance abuse problems, more than 50 percent are illiterate when they go to prison and get no help while imprisoned, and 80 percent are jobless and have no work prospects when they get out.
We understand that one of the primary objectives of putting a criminal in prison is to punish that person for crimes committed. But there is no logic in simply giving convicts only bed and board until their release, when at least some of that time inside could be devoted to learning a job skill, breaking a substance abuse habit, or learning to read. Prisoners are, after all, a captive audience.
State prison officials are not unaware of the problems, and of the criticism. Policy changes are in store for the Department of Corrections after the first of the year that will help inmates better prepare for parole through counseling and remedial education programs.
Those are important steps. Reducing the prison population by just 10 percent could save taxpayers more than a quarter-billion dollars a year. Re-incarcerating parolees costs the state more than $1.5 billion a year.
If California intends to foster its burgeoning prison industry, it should at least spend some money trying to help felons become contributing members of society. Recycling the prison population has proved itself to be a serious waste of money.
Nov. 24, 2003
Three Strikes Legal - Index