Abuse at California prison driven by ‘culture of racism’ – report

High Desert State Prison © wikipedia.org
Inmates at a remote state prison in Northern California are subjected to a “culture of racism” where assault by guards is common, according to state investigators.

California’s Office of the Inspector General released a special report on Wednesday, in which it calls for a change in management at the High Desert State Prison in the northeast corner of state. It also asked the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to address what they called the prison’s culture of racism.

A state Senate committee called for an investigation of the prison in June following reports of excessive force and complaints that sex offenders were intentionally housed alongside those most likely to cause them harm.

The months-long investigation found evidence of “a culture of racism and lack of acceptance of ethnic differences.” It also cited “a labor organization that opposes oversight to the point of actively discouraging members from coming forward with information that could in any way adversely affect another officer.” Three-quarters of the guards at High Desert are white.

Inspector General Robert Barton said that the California Correctional Peace Officers Association advised members not to cooperate, and filed a lawsuit and collective bargaining grievance in an attempt to obstruct the investigation, according to the Associated Press.

The union also sent a letter to every state lawmaker and Governor Jerry Brown in a bid to discredit the inspector general.

Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard, however, said that he welcomed the report.

“Over the past eight months, we have taken significant steps to investigate and improve operations at High Desert State Prison, and we will continue to do so,” he said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “We do not tolerate staff misconduct of any kind and will take appropriate action to hold all employees accountable.”

The inspector general suggested that it may be beneficial to make it more difficult for guards to learn what crimes a prisoner has been convicted of. Since officers are currently able to do so via an electronic database, they may share that information in a way that some prisoners can find out about their fellow inmates’ offences as well. Sex offenders, in particular, are often targeted by other inmates.

Additionally, the inspector general recommended that special housing units intended to provide safety must be re-assessed since increasing prison violence may indicate they are ineffective, the Sacramento Bee reported.

High Desert State Prison houses prisoners ranging from low- to maximum-security designation. It holds nearly 3,500 inmates, although it was only designed to accommodate 2,324.