Monday, August 02, 2010

Criminals On Both Sides Of The Bars

The Sacramento Bee had an absolutely stunning article in yesterday's edition, one that promises to raise the heat in discussions of the California prison system and the all-powerful prison guards union. The investigative piece details some of the most horrific behavior imaginable, only the bad guys in the article aren't the prisoners, but those assigned to guard them.

Here's is just one of the scenarios presented:

On May 26, 2004, Hernandez, then 21, had the misfortune of crossing paths with Officer David Sharpe between rows of beds. Sharpe said Hernandez struck the guard's chest with his elbow. Another guard said he heard Sharpe grunt. Hernandez denies any such attack.

In sworn statements, witnesses said that Sharpe, who stands 6 feet tall and weighed about 300 pounds, bear-hugged Hernandez – 5 feet 9 and 140 pounds – from behind. He threw Hernandez head-first into a metal locker. Hernandez fell to the floor, with Sharpe on top of him, then twitched and jerked violently. Blood pooled near his head.

In a subsequent court proceeding, Sharpe confirmed those events but faulted the confined area and said he did not intentionally injure Hernandez. ...

Back in his cell weeks later, Hernandez suffered from facial paralysis, seizures and vomiting, according to medical records. He also had to defend himself against the serious charge of assaulting an officer.

Hernandez told The Bee he didn't get a fair hearing because key evidence was barred. The prison investigator disallowed photographs of the scene, a complaint by other inmates alleging criminal misconduct by Sharpe, and statements from FBI examiners, according to his report.

Also rejected by the investigator was Hernandez's "stress voice analysis" – a lie-detection method – conducted by High Desert internal affairs, which the inmate claimed proved his innocence.

The investigator did include in his report accounts of inmates, who said they saw Sharpe attack Hernandez without provocation. None said Hernandez attacked the officer and no guards witnessed the event.

The hearing referred to is one held to mete out punishment to prisoners who have misbehaved, and the article makes it clear that most, if not all, of those hearings are deliberately stacked against the prisoner and the results preordained. If the hearing officer doesn't follow the script, he himself is subject to informal punishment by his superiors and peers.

Current and former correctional officers said guilty findings often were preordained informally and hearing officers knew they would be in trouble with higher-ups if they didn't consistently find inmates guilty.

Gerald Edwards, a former lieutenant at Calipatria State Prison east of San Diego, said he conducted about 100 rule-violation hearings in the last few years of his 24-year prison career. In 2009, Edwards alleges he was harassed by superiors after ruling in favor of inmates four or five times.

Once the ruling comes down, however, the punishment is swift: loss of "good-behavior" time (which is one criterion for early release), being locked up in an isolated part of the prison ("the hole"), or transfer to another facility, one usually populated with the prisoner's enemies (opposing gangs).

I am fully aware that most of the prison population are no angels. A high proportion of them are there on drug charges, usually coupled with illegal arms charges. Many are violent offenders. They are not particularly nice people. That said, however, they still are entitled to certain basic rights, including due process.

Complicating matters further, the California prison system itself is broken. A federal judge has found the prisons unacceptably over-crowded and conditions deplorable. There is inadequate space, lousy food, and practically non-existent medical care. The whole scenario looks to be lifted from those dreadful prison movies of the 1950s.

The Bee has come forward with a remarkable story, one that should be read and should be read into the record at future investigative hearings for inmate misbehavior and at legislative hearings looking into the state prison system. It should also be mailed to the Department of Justice. The feds really need to look into this deplorable state of affairs.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inmates are the scrum of society and deserve everything they het. Kudos to the guard.

10:40 PM  

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