California state prisoners are killed at a rate double the national average, and sex offenders account for a disproportionate number of victims, finds an Associated Press analysis of 78 killings that corrections officials reported since 2007. Male sex offenders made up about 15 percent of the prison population but accounted for nearly 30 percent of homicide victims. The deaths occurred despite the state’s creation more than a decade ago of special housing units to protect the most vulnerable inmates, including sex offenders, often marked men behind bars because of the nature of their crimes.
In some cases, they have been killed among the general prison population; in others, they were killed in the special units by violence-prone cellmates. Corrections officials blamed a rise in the prison homicide rate on an overhaul meant to reduce crowding. The state in 2011 began sending lower-level offenders to county lockups, leaving prisons with a higher percentage of sex offenders and violent gang members. Violence and homicides won’t decline unless the state goes well below the prison population level set by the courts, said James Austin of the JFA Institute, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that works on prison issues. “Until the state gets its prison population below 100 percent of capacity, you’re going to have this,” he said.