Reviews Find Poor Oversight of California Prisons, Jails

Folsom State Prison in California
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Despite the state spending nearly $10 million a year to improve its handling of inmates’ allegations of staff misconduct, California’s inspector general said Tuesday the corrections department’s “process remains broken” and is neither independent nor fair.

Wardens exonerated more than 98% of prison employees under the new system, a rate even higher than the 97% who were cleared when the inspector general’s office criticized the old system two years ago. Most complaints were never passed on to the newly created Allegation Inquiry Management Section, which is underperforming despite the $9.8 million infusion, the review found.

“The lack of independence we highlighted two years ago still persists,” Inspector General Roy Wesley said in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers outlining the findings.

The new unit was intended to take complaint reviews away from individual prisons, so officials wouldn’t be investigating their fellow correctional officers. But of more than 50,000 inmate grievances in a five-month period ending in August, wardens decided more than 95% did not allege staff misconduct and referred just 541 to the new investigation unit.

The new investigation unit, in turn, opened just 86 inquiries a month, less than one-fifth of what it was intended to handle when lawmakers and Newsom allocated the money.

“It confirms what we have been arguing, which is the department’s investigation and discipline system is broken and biased,” said attorney Gay Grunfeld, who represents inmates with disabilities in one of the major federal class-action lawsuits that guide many prison policies. “They keep a lot of the allegations of staff misconduct at the prison, where they are investigated by their friends.”

Corrections Secretary Kathleen Allison said in a response letter that the inspector general’s criticism “may be premature” given that the new system is less than a year old.

The department “has encountered challenges, especially in the beginning,” Allison wrote. But she said the department “has not found evidence demonstrating wardens are intentionally circumventing the new process. Rather, typical learning curve challenges have transpired.”

The department is providing more training as it works to improve the process, she said.

The new unit declined to investigate more than one of every five of the few grievances that were forwarded by wardens, the review found, including allegations of sexual misconduct, neglect of duty, unreasonable use of force, threats and intimidation, retaliation and dishonesty.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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