A report published on November 9, 2017 by the San Francisco Bay View reveals serious problems with the treatment of California inmates. The report explains how inmates are discriminated against, tortured, and dehumanized regularly by correctional officers (COs). The issues raised by the Bay View report connect to larger trends, as documented in Human Rights Watch’s 2015 report, titled “Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons.” HRW’s 127-page report exposed the physical and mental abuses routinely wrought across the US by COs on inmates with mental disabilities. The report listed “120 abuse cases brought against guards, 80 abuse cases settled with disciplinary action (no dismiss), 30 guards up for dismissal, and 8 dismissed.”
As Carl F. Harrison wrote in the Bay View, “the idea that [correctional officers] own everything in the prison sounds like they have serious ownership issues, along with superiority complex and delusions. It could also be the reason they abuse prisoners so much.” Instead of the inmates living out their time in jail, some guards want to use their power to control and exercise authority over the inmates to prove a point about who wields power in the situation.
Awareness of the treatment that inmates endure in California has grown recently, partly due to increasingly active prisoners’ rights campaigns and the efforts of the inmates they represent. However, as Mira Ptacin reported, the challenges they face to achieve justice are “monumental.” Ptacin described how the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires prisoners “to clear substantial hurdles before being permitted to sue the Department of Corrections, prisons, or jails for assault or civil rights violations.” Prisoners can lose their rights to file grievances or complaints if they are deemed to have acted out too much. And, before prisoners can file lawsuits in court, they must pursue their complaints “through all levels of the prison’s or jail’s grievance system, complying with all deadlines and other procedural rules.”
Carl F. Harrison, “Are California Prisoners the Property of Prison Staff?” San Francisco Bay View, November 9, 2017, http://sfbayview.com/2017/11/are-california-prisoners-the-property-of-prison-staff/.
Mira Ptacin, “Guards vs. Inmates: Mistreatment and Abuse in the US Prison System.” VICE Media (in partnership with Starz), https://partners.vice.com/starz/starzpowers4/news/guards-vs-inmates-mistreatment-and-abuse-in-the-us-prison-system/.
Student Researcher: L. Joseph Smith (Diablo Valley College)
Faculty Evaluator: Mickey Huff (Diablo Valley College)
Editor’s Note: For prior Project Censored coverage on the topic of abuses against inmates, see, for example, “Inmates and Activists Protest Chemical Weapons in US Prisons and Jails,” and “Lawsuit against Illinois Department of Corrections Exposes Militarization of Law Enforcement inside Prisons,” story #19 and story #22, respectively, in Censored 2018, and “Deadly Medical Neglect for Immigrants in Privatized US Jails,” story #17 in Censored 2017.