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State Report Finds Pattern Of Abuse At A Northern California Prison

High Desert State Prison in Susanville, Calif.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation/Handout
High Desert State Prison in Susanville, Calif.

A remote Northern California prison has seen a pattern of abuses of inmates by guards, according to a new state study.

NPR's Richard Gonzales tells our Newscast unit that the investigation, conducted by the inspector general of the California Department of Corrections and released Wednesday, found that "a code of silence among guards kept the abuses at the High Desert State Prison from becoming public."

Here's more from Richard:

"The report found that there is a 'culture of racism' among guards at the High Desert State Prison near Susanville. ... Inmates with disabilities are mistreated and guards set up sex offenders in cells where they are likely to be assaulted by other inmates."

The full report is available here. This is one example it gives of the guards mistreating inmates with disabilities:

"A wheelchair-bound inmate resisted being placed in a cell, claiming that he had safety concerns with the other occupant of the cell. The officers disregarded his safety concerns and physically picked him up out of the wheelchair and threw him into the cell. The door to the cell was then closed and the wheelchair was thrown against the door, damaging the wheelchair. Neither the use of force nor the damage to the wheelchair was reported. In addition, an inmate who could not ambulate was left in the cell without his wheelchair."

In light of these abuses, the investigation called for cameras in all inmate areas, and a pilot program of body cameras.

It also accuses the guards union of "valuing the brotherhood of silence over the professionalism of its members," adding that "the irony is that this very culture endangers the staff working at HDSP as much as anything else."

A spokeswoman for the guards union tells Richard that "its only interest is in protecting the rights of its members."

The report also says the "vast majority" of the prison workforce "do the best they can in a very difficult job."

The HDSP and a nearby prison are the largest employers in Lassen County, the investigation says. It's an insular community where the "pressure to conform to the prevailing norm is tremendous."

The Los Angeles Times says some state officials were surprised by the report's findings:

"Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), chairwoman of a state Senate subcommittee on public safety and corrections, said the findings were 'deeply disturbing and reveal broken systems.'

"The Senate probably will call for hearings into the findings, said her chief of staff, Hans Hemann. 'I don't think anyone expected it to be as scathing as it was.' "

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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