State investigators have found that inmates of a remote state prison in Northern California face a “culture of racism,” saying that the guards engage in use of force.
A special report released by California’s Office of the Inspector General calls for a change in the management of the High Desert State Prison in California. In July, there were reports of excessive force and complaints that sex offenders were placed in prisons alongside those most likely to cause them harm, following which an investigation was called for by a state Senate committee.
The investigation revealed that there was a “a culture of racism and lack of acceptance of ethnic differences,” and that the “a labor organization that opposes oversight to the point of actively discouraging members from coming forward with information that could in any way adversely affect another officer.” RT reports that nearly three fourths of the guards at the prison are white. The investigation came in the wake of incidents where prisoners with disabilities were mistreated and sex offenders were assaulted by guards.
Inspector General Robert Barton said members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association were asked not to cooperate. To obstruct the investigation, the association had filed a lawsuit and collective bargaining grievance. Barton added that a letter had been sent to Governor Jerry Brown by the union, a move that he says is “the latest strong-arm tactic” to hinder the investigation.
However, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said in statement, “Over the past eight months, we have taken significant steps to investigate and improve operations at High Desert State Prison, and we will continue to do so. We do not tolerate staff misconduct of any kind and will take appropriate action to hold all employees accountable.”
According to ABC News, the report says that one of the causes for the increase in problems at High Desert is because it is located in an isolated area about 90 miles northwest of Reno, Nevada.
The inspector general found that the prison’s 3,500 inmates did not report any wrongdoing, fearing that word may spread among employees of the prison and cause retaliation. The report points out that the “staff complaint process is broken.”
In a statement, Rebekah Evenson, an attorney with the nonprofit Prison Law Office representing the inmates, said, “This dangerous staff misconduct has been tolerated for too long. The culture of abuse at High Desert endangers prisoners and the prison staff.”