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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/26/09

Torture Ignored in California's Prisons

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Message B. Cayenne Bird
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It is a black day. Although many citizens with a loved one in prison faxed in details about California Department of Corrections Agency Secretary Matthew Cate's deliberate indifference that has resulted in irreparable harm to prison inmates, the Senate Rules Committee confirmed him anyway.
What this indicates is that the three million people related to a state prisoner either didn't fax in enough objections to his appointment, or that they simply weren't read by those we've empowered to rule our lives at the ballot box. If you wrote in, at least you documented the public record which will matter now that several national journalists are studying cases of torture and murder by California state employees, not to mention routine deliberate indifference.
The more factually-based reports we have, the more compelling the evidence will be when this breaks in the national news. These are abuses far worse than those at Guantanamo, ignored by Matthew Cate and his hierarchy right here in the California.

I was copied on many letters that described mail delivery so poor that even legal mail is delayed for weeks at a time, resulting in court deadlines that must be constantly changed. I have documentation of this costly practice due to direct experience as well. This routine practice of obstructing mail that is costing millions of dollars in re-scheduling costs in the unbearably incompetent courts wasn't even mentioned.

The cruel practice of lock downs that are driving men mad until they mutilate their own bodies or commit suicide? Not even addressed.

Was deliberately blocked access to the courts, retaliation on all our UNION inmate lawyers which is totally ignored and possibly encouraged by Cate brought into the discussion during his "job review?"


What about Sgt. Godinez' continual theft of items from inmate packages that resulted in a petition signed by 350 prisoners at Salinas Valley Prison and numerous filing of complaints with the Monterey County Grand Jury? Does it matter that a second lawsuit on this practice that Matt Cate refuses to do anything about has been filed in order to publicly document the ongoing abuse?


There have been preventable deaths in the past ten months where CDCr employees refused to give the families any information, even delaying the news that their loved one had died for weeks as we saw in the case of Shirley Ward, who died a sudden, suspicious death in December, 2008 at CCWF Chowchilla. The fact that her family will suffer angst for their rest of their lives over this cruel treatment was of no concern to the Senate Rules Committee, even after the story ran four times from coast to coast on the news wires and was published everywhere. They knew about it, but they just didn't care.

We've had four riots this month, always a sign of poor management which also ends up costing the taxpayers millions of dollars in overtime for "searches", medical care for the injured and blocked access to the courts as all services such as using legal libraries are shut down. The human toll and sick worry of family members is immeasurable.

Two of the riots never even made the newspaper. One was at Avenal involving 80 prisoners according to many reports, with injuries to "someone" that required helicopters. Another melee was on the Sensitive Needs Yard at Kern Valley State Prison, a second fight that involved about a dozen prisoners after one was killed and sixteen others injured. San Quentin exploded with 450 rioters. All of this dysfunction would surely have been a big red flag to any thinking person that the prisons are in crisis.

Today I received a report from a source at Coalinga State Hospital. He said the hospital is on lock down over an incident between the cops and their take-down of a black patient/inmate in the main mall area. It is also believed some cops were injured, but we don't know about patients. The tension is reported to have been increasing recently, as more and more individuals who originally had two year commitments are now receiving lifetime commitments pursuant to Prop. 83, Jessica's Law, and they realize they have been sent there to die. A hospital is supposed to be a healing place, which is what we need in California's prisons, instead of punishment of the sick. Nobody is going to settle for these harsh sentences and be functional in the current situation.

You would think that the lawmakers could recognize that four riots in a month is a sign of poor management, but it is so much easier to blame it on the inmates and "race wars", which tend not to exist in yards where a family member mails in the UNION newsletter. Riots are due to poor management plain and simple and they cost the taxpayers millions. I suspect that most riots are provoked so that guards can earn overtime during cell searches afterward.

The reports are that the death toll has fallen, but if the three judges hadn't intervened and we hadn't filed lawsuits over wrongful deaths, this would not be happening. I don't think any reputable journalist actually believes the reports coming out of CDCr, it's just that due to severe media restrictions, this is the only news they have to print, unless a family member is able to get evidence to a journalist who has the time to get involved. Blocking the media's access is evidence that cover up of the crisis in the prisons will continue.

I have reports that the death toll does not include those who die within a year of release from long-neglected chronic illnesses. Nor do these reports always include inmates who died when taken at the last minute to outside hospitals. They certainly do not include the suicides, which causes CDCr staff to publicly cheer out loud at many of the news sites where they post, although suicide is one of the worst forms of illegal medical neglect.

The arsenic level at Kern Valley State Prison is 250% over the maximum federal levels and yet inmates are being forced to drink this water every day. Matthew Cate has even proposed building hundreds more beds there even though the water is giving everyone cancer. There are no "safe" levels of arsenic. A metal, arsenic accumulates in the system and causes cancer. How is the different from when the Nazis gassed the Jews at Auschwitz?
There is no bottled water being brought in, no water available for purchase in the canteen, even the visitors are being given doses of arsenic via the coffee machine and drinking fountains. About $600,000 of taxpayer money has been spent on PLANS for reverse osmosis filtration system, but there are no plans to go forward with it. There is money to build more beds but not to filter the water?

I am waiting for enough of the families whose loved ones are being poisoned with arsenic to get active in the UNION before I will find a lawyer for that one, because lawsuits are the only language that bureaucrats understand. Someone will have to die of cancer, then a lawsuit may be filed after the fact. There is a prison television channel that keeps telling the inmates "the water is safe to drink, the water is safe to drink." It's a lie, a damned lie and no one should believe it or hold back pursuing demands that bottled water be brought in right away. The lack of a public outcry is what empowers this mass poisoning to continue. You are that person who should be posting comments at the news sites and helping the UNION file a lawsuit over this.

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B. Cayenne Bird is a 45-year veteran op-ed journalist and publisher. A descendant of Mary Todd Lincoln, and General Andrew Porter, she is passionate about human rights and criminal justice issues. A mother and grandmother with advanced degrees in (more...)

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