Report: Calif. Prison Investigations Slipping
SACRAMENTO (AP) — A state report found that California prison employees are not being as thoroughly investigated over allegations of wrongdoing since a federal judge stopped supervising prison discipline in 2011.
The report released Tuesday by the state inspector general also said officials with the California Department of Corrections were taking too long to report problems and complete investigations.
For instance, it took two years before investigators recommended charges against a psychiatric technician accused of having sex with an inmate and smuggling mobile phones, tobacco and narcotics into the prison in exchange for money.
The department also missed deadlines while investigating three corrections officers and a sergeant in connection with the beating of an inmate by other prisoners in retaliation for writing a complaint against a guard. The report does not say if charges were filed.
Overall, less than two-thirds of investigations met standards during the first half of this year, down from 74 percent in 2011. Proper handling of disciplinary cases slipped to 69 percent, down from 82 percent two years ago.
The report said the decline “signals some disturbing trends.” It came as Gov. Jerry Brown is trying to persuade federal judges that California prisons have improved so much that they no longer need court oversight.
It often takes longer than the inspector general would like for officials to assemble evidence needed to submit a formal complaint of employee wrongdoing, corrections department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said.
She said most investigations eventually resulted in employee discipline or referrals to prosecutors, even if the outcome was delayed.
The report says it is troubling that discipline has declined since a federal judge ended a major class-action lawsuit against the state involving prison conditions.
The inspector general’s office was created as one response to the lawsuit, filed in 1990, that led a judge to find that inmates were frequently being abused by guards.
A federal special master had been overseeing the way the state handled employee discipline, and the inspector general’s reviews were increased to see if problems resurfaced after federal supervision was lifted in 2011.
Those problems continue, according to the inspector general’s review of nearly 1,100 disciplinary cases in the first half of this year.
The office concentrated its reviews on allegations of unreasonable use of force, dishonesty and failure to report misconduct — areas covered by the former federal lawsuit. Of the cases it reviewed, 5 percent alleged criminal behavior, 3 percent sexual misconduct with inmates, and 3 percent the smuggling of contraband such as drugs, tobacco or cellphones.
The report blames part of the disciplinary system’s deterioration on budget cuts. Since 2011, the training budget for internal affairs agents has been cut 80 percent, and nearly a quarter of investigators’ positions are vacant.
Brown has been trying to end federal oversight of the state prison system without success. A judge earlier this year rejected the governor’s attempt to end court supervision of the system’s treatment of mentally ill inmates.
The U.S. Supreme Court this week refused to hear the state’s latest appeal of a lower court ruling that the state must reduce prison crowding to improve conditions for sick and troubled inmates.
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