With prison scandals in California includings stories of guards’ setting up inmates in human cockfights and shooting them dead, the state corrections department vowed to reform five years ago, says the Los Angeles Times. Whistle-blowers would be protected, not punished; internal investigators would be encouraged to pursue abusive guards; the correctional officers union no longer would have a hand in dictating policy.
The Times concludes that the reforms largely have not worked. California guards did stop shooting at inmates in fistfights, a practice that turned Corcoran State Prison into America’s deadliest lock-up. The department remains troubled by allegations that rogue guards go unpunished, union bosses’ continuing to exert strong influence, and administrators’ thwarting whistle-blowers.
This month, the department’s beleaguered director, Edward Alameida, resigned, citing personal reasons. 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 is in the crosshairs of two inquiries. 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 probing a code of silence that protected brutal guards at Pelican Bay State Prison. 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 prisons. “Corrections needs correcting,” said state Sen. Gloria Romero, who heads a 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.”
Some of today’s episodes are sequels to cases that led to reforms in the late 1990s, when California prisons had become synonymous with brutality.