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Probe Uncovers Strip Searches, Chains and Racism at Prisons

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posted on May, 10 2010 @ 01:52 PM

SACRAMENTO - Jason Brannigan's eyes widened as he relived the day he says prison guards pepper-sprayed his face at point-blank range, then pulled him through the cellblock naked, his hands and feet shackled.

"I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" Brannigan recalled gasping in pain and humiliation during the March 2007 incident.

"They're walking me on the chain and it felt just like ... slaves again," said the African American inmate, interviewed at the Sacramento County jail. "Like I just stepped off an auction block."

Brannigan, 33, said the incident occurred in the behavior modification unit at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, Calif., where he was serving time for armed assault. He is one of more than 1,500 inmates who have passed through such units in six California prisons.

An investigation into the behavior units, including signed affidavits, conversations and correspondence with 18 inmates, has uncovered evidence of racism and cruelty at the High Desert facility. Inmates described hours-long strip-searches in a snow-covered exercise yard. They said correctional officers tried to provoke attacks between inmates, spread human excrement on cell doors and roughed up those who peacefully resisted mistreatment.

Many of their claims were backed by legal and administrative filings, and signed affidavits, which together depicted an environment of brutality, corruption and fear.

Behavior units at other prisons were marked by extreme isolation and deprivation - long periods in a cell without education, social contact, TV or radio, according to inmate complaints and recent visits by The Bee. An inmate of the Salinas Valley State Prison behavior unit won a lawsuit last year to get regular access to the prison yard after five months without exercise, sunlight or fresh air.

State prison officials have known about many of these claims since at least July 2008, when Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation social scientists sent to High Desert to assess the program reported allegations of abuse - including denial of medical care, racial slurs, gratuitous violence and destruction of protest appeals.

The Bee's investigation also revealed a broad effort by corrections officials to hide the concerns of prisoners and of the department's own experts. Their final report, released only after The Bee requested it in April, downplayed the abuses.

James Austin, a researcher who served on a 2007 panel formed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to evaluate state prisons, said such allegations would automatically trigger an investigation in most correctional facilities.

"You don't really have an option," Austin said. "It's like reporting a crime to the police."

Yet, in an April 6 interview, Scott Kernan, corrections undersecretary for operations, was quick to dismiss the claims as typical of prisoner gripes, adding: "I don't see drastic abuses."

A week after The Bee asked about the behavior unit, internal affairs in the Corrections Department opened a narrowly defined probe, Kernan later said, into what managers did after researchers informed them of the abuse allegations.

Results of that inquiry will not be made public, he said.

Behavior modification units, later renamed behavior management units, were created in six prisons in 2005 and 2006. They were designed for troublemakers and inmates who refuse a cellmate - as an intermediary step between draconian high-security cells and general prison housing.

The units were to feature classes in "life skills," such as anger management. In practice, most classes have since been eliminated and budget cuts have closed three units, including High Desert's.

Most inmates in state prisons are incarcerated for serious crimes and are hardly the most reliable sources. But state researcher Norman Skonovd said he and his colleagues found the prisoners credible because they provided highly consistent stories in separate interviews.

The Bee tested that conclusion by tracking down more than a dozen men who served time in the High Desert unit. Now scattered across the prison system, they had no apparent opportunity to consult with each other. Their stories, supported by hundreds of pages of legal and prison documents, included remarkable consistency about incidents that some called "cruel and unusual."

'We do what we want'

"It was a strip-search, buck-naked in the snow," said Rufus Gray, an inmate who spent eight months in the High Desert behavior unit.

Gray, now an inmate at Calipatria State Prison east of San Diego, was one of several who complained to state researchers or The Bee about such checks.

Laura Magnani with the American Friends Service Committee, an advocacy group, was visiting High Desert on a bitterly cold day in 2007 when she saw a similar scene: a prisoner, in underwear and shoeless, "paraded" across the frozen yard.

Continued at link


Being involved in the justice system I'll say this like I always have. The criminal justice system is run by criminals and works towards keeping criminals, criminals. They don't know what the hell their doing because it obviously isn't working...

Anyway, I'll stop ranting.

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 02:23 PM
I am in the UK and in the prison service here it is a different story. The prisoners are treated very well and with respect. If they destroy a t.v. ..they have another delivered as a right. They have 3 hot meals a day, jobs if they wish and they have football pitches and gyms that are the state of the art. It's like "Butlin's" without paying. (Butlin's is a well known holiday camp in the UK for those that don't know)

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 02:26 PM
reply to post by sueloujo

I'd like to be locked up there. Starts to sound unlike a prison.

But there is both sides which are ridiculous, too harsh, to extreme and then the other side which is too easy, cakewalk, prisoners don't learn what they need to be free from committing the crime again. They need to focus more on the psychological issues involved and need to care more as well. The depth of their rehab doesn't properly assist individuals into actually changing from the inside IMHO, at least for most prison systems here in the US.

Thanks for the input.

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 02:28 PM
Oh no, racism in jail? I always thought jail would be one of the more respectable places in america.

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 02:31 PM
reply to post by Crossfate

You do realize that the guards create the gangs by pitting the inmates against one another for control right? THE SYSTEM CREATES THE CRIME TO PERPETUATE THE SYSTEM. I think we need some serious waking up here. Everyone is ignoring the real problems.

You can't learn in a cell! The only thing you learn is to calm your mind, or go crazy. Cutting people off from society does not prepare them for society. Jeez. Let's take an all new alternative perspective on this entire idea of a cell or jail. Lets get real with the issues.

[edit on 10-5-2010 by onequestion]

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 02:38 PM
reply to post by Crossfate

We try to concentrate much more on rehabilitation and enabling secure homes and positions of work once they leave. Most I speak to who are nearing the end of their "stay" vow never to return. Of course, you are always going to have the real hardened criminals who will never change their values in life...but at least we try.
Prison life is not unlike the outside will always have bullies and racists. In prison we can actually try and do something about it.

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 02:43 PM
reply to post by onequestion

Prisoners spend more time out of their cells than in them...they go to education and work and have association time together..playing pool and snooker etc.

There is a programme on ITV tonight at 9p.m. Uk time on Wormwood Scrubs...a Victorian prison in London. I will give a link..I don't know if it will show for US viewers but worth a try.

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 02:50 PM
reply to post by sueloujo

I have spent time in jail. The only thing going on is violence and gambling. The gangs are completely supported by the security staff. I watched inmates physically assaulted and tortured on a daily basis. The school system is less then adequate considering there are no jobs for felons.

Jail/prison is a recruiting ground for syndicates and a social networking site for criminals.

[edit on 10-5-2010 by onequestion]

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 02:56 PM
reply to post by sueloujo

I don't know about in the UK. I am speaking from personal experience in the US. I apologize if i seem aggressive in nature.

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 03:01 PM
reply to post by onequestion

There will always be violence in's the nature of the are dealing with people who see the "red mist" too easily. Gambling goes on as does drug use..its unavoidable; just as outside. The staff try to alleviate any problems as quickly as possible and certainly do not support my experience anyway. We have "vulnerable" prisoners, self-harmers, grasses, peadophiles etc who are kept apart form the main blocks for this reason.
The support system we have before and after release has been very successful for those prisoners wanting it.

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 03:03 PM
Considering that the prison system is a billion dollar a year profit making machine, this is not surprizing. Its all about the money.

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posted on May, 10 2010 @ 03:04 PM
reply to post by onequestion

Yes and I did time in jail too. Didn't enjoy it and once your labeled a felon you can't really do crap until you start lying about it in civilization. They say their gonna give you another chance at society but then label you a felon which cancels out just about everything. I figured I'd earn some merit or trust being honest on job and apartment applications and telling them I was a felon. 20 applications later I started lying and got a job.

We felons are people. We do stupid sh*t and those that really learn from our mistakes should be given another chance.

Jail and prison are also two different ball games IMO...

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 03:10 PM
reply to post by Crossfate

I agree with your consensus.

I think it is just the idea in general that we need to lock people up with a misunderstood perspective. We take someone who was beat their whole lives, tortured as a child and throw them into a cell for committing a crime against some innocent person. Well i don't think that taking that sort of approach with someone, someone that most of society has no understanding for because they themselves have not been introduced to that situation is logical. I believe the whole idea behind this system is wrong and needs to be corrected. As long as we deal with these issues in such a manner as a society i don't think we can begin to undertake anything else. This and the school system may be the first step towards our evolution as a species.

posted on May, 10 2010 @ 03:22 PM
reply to post by onequestion

Our warehouse schooling system seriously needs to be addressed and revamped along with our system of punishment, completely agreed.

I also have a general theory that any judge, cop, or person that contributes to such punishment should have to have withstood the same type of punishment for a designated period of time. What better way to judge someone than when you were in their shoes? It would make a huge difference and I'm sure instead of having judges and cops with god complexes and silver platter lives calling the shots, if we had those that really "understood" from experience the whole "system" would be different. Well I hope at least.

Edit: if the judges and cops were to experience first hand the punishment they dish out I think the current system would be overhauled as from the points you made.

[edit on 10-5-2010 by Crossfate]

posted on May, 11 2010 @ 01:32 AM
While it's true that once you go to jail, you forfeit most of your rights. However, unless you're hauled off to an actual gulag or work camp, you should still have the right to seek out rehab in prison. Some people actually do and reform their lives but society prefers to hear about the screw-ups more than the successes.

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