A federal inquiry into California’s closure of a criminal investigation of guards at Pelican Bay State Prison will soon focus on the state’s corrections director. The San Francisco Chronicle says that Edward Alameida, who oversees the $5 billion prison system, faces scrutiny over his role in halting probes into whether guards lied to protect other guards accused of attacking and allowing attacks on Pelican Bay inmates.
The testimony comes as two state senators prepare for five days of hearings in January to dissect aspects of corrections operations they believe are costly to taxpayers and poorly managed.
Prisoner advocates say the case in San Francisco illustrates how a union that lavishes millions of dollars on politicians has transformed its political clout into more control within the state’s 33 prisons. Union officials dismiss the charge.
Steve Fama of the Prison Law Office in San Rafael has been involved with a nearly decadelong effort to revamp policies at Pelican Bay, the notorious maximum-security prison in rural Northern California. A federal judge ruled in 1995 that poor medical care and brutality by guards violated the civil rights of inmates; the prison has been a subject of federal oversight ever since.
Last year, two Pelican Bay guards were convicted of beating inmates and setting up inmate fights. Federal prosecutors turned over information to state officials indicating at least three guards lied under oath during the trial. The shutdown of perjury investigations “raise questions of either gross negligence by the highest level CDC (California Department of Corrections) officials and their attorneys, or a deliberate attempt to mislead the Court,” wrote John Hagar, the special master appointed a federal judge to oversee operations at Pelican Bay.
The Chronicle says hearings so far offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the state corrections department. They illustrate a code of silence among guards unwilling to speak out about wrongdoing in prisons. They also show how much sway the guards’ union has in operations.