Recent horrific tales of inmate abuse and rape sanctioned by prison guards at Corcoran State Prison, along with revelations contained in a report released in July by the federal General Accounting Office (GAO), underscore the dire need for more public oversight of the state system.
The Corcoran tales, first exposed by the L.A. Times’ Mark Arax, have resulted in criminal and legislative investigations of guards and facility operations there. Separately, the GAO found evidence of widespread sexual abuse of female inmates in California, Texas and the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Specifically, the GAO found that women inmates lodged 117 complaints in California, with 22 of them sustained. At one facility, investigators determined that inmates were forced to perform stripteases for male guards.
The GAO also reported that the state is currently defending four lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by prison guards, and had settled one lawsuit related to unlawful sexual intercourse for $73,000. California has failed to criminally prosecute a single staff member for sexual misconduct involving female inmates, the GAO found.
Although it’s the department’s own regulations that faced revocation under Migden’s bill, Department of Corrections spokesperson Terry Thornton said last week that the department had "no position" on the bill.
Thornton added, however, that department brass remain concerned about celebrity prisoners. "Restoring one-on-one interviews would also give prisoners more rights," she said.
Terry Francke, the director of the Sacramento-based First Amendment Coalition, an organization working to protect reporters’ access to public information, said the Migden bill was critical because "legislation trumps regulations.
"The prison guards are supporting the bill because they know the security issues are bullshit. They also understand that some of the conditions inside prisons can get quite serious if they are not corrected." This, continued Francke, was a key test of Davis’ attitude on public access. He added that there is little chance that the Legislature would override Davis’ veto.