Corcoran, CA – A culture of carelessness, abuse, and neglect is now putting people in the states’ largest prison at risk of COVID-19. On September 3, an entire housing unit section in the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran, California (SATF) F Yard Section 1, was cleared to make COVID-19 quarantine housing. Eyewitness testimonies from incarcerated people detail several ways in which this move was conducted with total disregard for health and safety practices. This is business as usual for SATF, which during this pandemic will likely result in widespread illness, injury, and death.
SATF stands out in California’s prison system as a site of chronic neglect. Over the course of years there have been multiple documented complaints, reports, lawsuits, and corresponding inadequate state responses to toxic conditions and total disrepair. Reports include that the SATF roof is leaking in at least two housing units. When one leak source, a cooling unit was removed, it left incarcerated people to swelter in the summer heat, and left the roof further vulnerable to inclement weather and elements. In past months, water has pooled in peoples cells and has created toxic black mold in at least two housing units. All of these structural problems occurred well before the onset of a global pandemic.
September 7, 2020: 141 active cases (139 from the previous 14 days)
September 15, 2020: 182 active cases (95 from the previous 14 days).
Currently, cases of COVID-19 are growing rapidly, and prisoners’ risk factors are drastically increased by the following conditions that have been confirmed by several people inside:
- Transfers of people with positive covid cases to housing units without positive cases
- This has also created further crowding and minimizes peoples’ ability to socially distance
- Prisoners are given masks very infrequently, and they are often made out of unbreathable material. Mask policies for staff are not being enforced
- Kitchen workers are being housed with people who have positive cases, putting the whole facility at risk
- There is little to no access to hand sanitizer or disinfectant for phones and other common surfaces
- Social distancing guidelines are not being used by staff or prisoners’
- Information is not given to other inmates about positive cases in their housing unit. They are not even provided with CDCR memos related to COVID-19 that the public has access to
In the words of our incarcerated friend, who we must call #7 in this document to safeguard against retaliation for speaking out:
“It appears as if they have set the stage for what is supposed to be a coronavirus free facility up for an impending outbreak, just as the one which occurred at San Quentin. Giving consideration that this Institution is the largest of all the California institutions, an outbreak at this facility will have devastating consequences, wherein this facility or the institution in its entirety is not equipped to address such a pandemic or put in safeguards to ensure the reasonable safety and protection of the prisoners from the future risks of harm that are prevalent within this environment.”
Since the COVID-19 global pandemic began, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr) response has been abysmal. The now infamous statewide spread was a direct cause of CDCr transfers from the Southern California California Institute for Men, to Avenal State Prison in the Central Valley, to San Quentin, just north of the San Francisco Bay Area. CDCR is now scrambling to adhere to court-ordered practices regarding quarantines and transfers from ongoing Plata/Coleman class action cases. These movements are having severe effects not because of the physical transfers themselves, but due to the way these transfers are conducted total lack of regard for human life, health, and safety by both the institution and by CDCr. To date, 60 incarcerated people and 2 prison guards have passed away from COVID-19.
As family, friends, and advocates, we are sending this to multiple members of the press and news outlets directly in order to spread this information as widely as possible. Too often, when the incarcerated people inside issue grievances or voice concern, they are laughed at, ignored, or retaliated against. When supporters on the outside call or write, we are given the runaround or a generic Public Information Office Statement.
The intent of this effort is not only to stop the next COVID-19 outbreak disaster story – but to firmly establish that CDCr prisons systemwide have been a disaster for the past several decades. There is no reasonable way to address a global pandemic let alone any issue concerning human rights within these prisons. The only real solutions are mass releases of people who are confined in these deadly institutions, NOW.
CSATF Basic Facts:
Yard Types: Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY) including Protective Custody (PC) and Enhanced Outpatient Program EOP
Population: 4,501 (131.5% over official bed capacity of 3,424 ) (as of Sept 9, 2020). This is currently the largest prison in the CDCR system by population.
MOVES & TRANSFERS
Seemingly in accordance with the recent Coleman v. Plata Order to Set Aside Isolation and Quarantine Space (July 7, 2020), several transfers have been made. However in practice, this is creating several complications. Here is how the move is happening, as observed from people experiencing it first-hand.
Names have been changed to numbers to protect those inside from retaliation:
#1 “As of this moment, they’ve [CDCR] moved ten infected prisoners from a level four facility onto our yard which up until now has been relatively free of any outbreaks of the virus.”
#3 “They decided they were going to have one building here at CSATF for quarantine. Which sounds like a good idea. The part that didn’t make sense is to make room the moved inmates all over the prison from different yards. On my yard Facility X (changed to protect identity) we received over 50 inmates. None tested and all from Facility E where they now have the ‘quarantine building.’ “
#4 “Yes there are folks being transferred in from other prisons and from other yards. Enough to notice, but in numbers below normal. About a month back quite a few folks were removed from E yard (quarantine yard) over to D yard.”
#6 “CDCR are still mixing people from seperate buildings of which is against Direct Connie Gipson’s signed order.”
#7 “Currently there is a mixed custody populace of level 2’s,3’s,4’s being held within the “F” facility. Administrators have been using the Men’s Advisory Council (MAC Reps) to desiminate false and misleading information even going as far as to suggest that here are no cases of coronavirus at this facility. The evidence has shown otherwise, which is inclusive of the fact that in cell feeding of the designated section has commenced and medical staff have been in constant attendance of the building 1 housing unit.”
#7 “Last week Admin. cleared out an entire section of building 1 (A-section) designating this section as emergency bedding for persons who test positive for COVID-19. As a results of this alteration a compacting of the cells has occurred, where now the safety measures for social distancing of six feet have been taken completely away.”
The complications with the yard transfers are exacerbated by the fact that prison guards and other staff have been consistently observed to not be wearing masks or adhering to social distance protocols. The July 1, 2020 directive requiring staff face coverings for employees, issued by retiring CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz has repeatedly been violated and unenforced. Consequences including verbal and administrative write ups can happen to prisoners who don’t wear masks, however we have also had system wide reports of masks being made with the same unbreathable material as the prison jumpsuits which makes them extremely uncomfortable and discourages their use.
“We were all issued cloth masks and encouraged to wear them. Some staff some don’t, same with inmates.”
“The failure of people to wear masks (properly) is tolerated. It is more uncommon to see folkjs actually wearing masks. If brass shows up everyone looks good. It is all a facade. Cameras on the yard show it.”
#5 “We haven’t received new masks the last time we gotten new masks was in july so we have to wash our old mask.”
#7 “There was an anonymous donor for PPE Masks which were to be distributed to the population. The disclaimer was set forth stating that the masks were a generic of the N95 masks but were better then the material masks that have been distributed to the entire population which were constructed through the PIA using repurposed clothing materials which are normally used to construct pants and jumpsuits. The masks have been only distributed to workers.”
#7 “Most Free Staff including officers do not wear masks, this too the Lts. and Sgts. yet the prisoners are being commanded to do so whenever occupying the dayrooms, entering and exiting the housing units, or attending appointments.”
SOCIAL DISTANCE VIOLATIONS:
#1 “It’s a theater – lines painted in the yard, etc., but nobody uses it.”
#6 “Staff are often within 2 feet of each other without social distancing nor wearing masks. They only enforce social distancing when it benefits them.”
#8 “In section 2, they [CDCR staff] had a man taken out who tested positive, they left a remainder of men in his cell all who have been exposed it’s a matter of time before they all test positive as they continue to walk around section 2.”
#7 The workers who operate the kitchen are housed within the same infectious building are yet attending their work assignments.”
#1 “Same trays are used between inmates.”
#1 “They [staff] do have real disinfectant but no one has access to it.
When I get off the phone, I don’t have anything before and after to make sure it’s safe
#4 “Hand sanitizer is, generally, not provided to prisoners, although staff have an endless supply for themselves.”
#5 “There is no hand sanitizer being passed to inmates only the cops have there own sanitizer.”
#7 “The cleaning of the housing units is the same as before the pandemic with an inclusion of periodic sprayings of the surface areas, such as tables, phones, door handles. The treatments of spraying consists of a quick misting with a spray bottle by a porter.”
#8 “Even the people who work in the kitchen don’t want to do with the utensils that have to be washed because the men have they should be using disposable are the men who are positive rather than risk the whole prison.”
Communications come in the form of posters and videos, but very little material of practical information makes it to those incarcerated at SATF.
#4 We aren’t informed if anyone (staff or prisoner) is removed for covid positive.”
#5 “The staff don’t Inform us of any new cases the only way we would find out if they are sick and the police packs up their property and quarantine them.”
#6 “SATF administrators are withholding COVID-19 Memorandums from the population (Inmates) when they are mandated to be posted per CDCR policy.”
CDCR has an infamously complex and byzantine grievance system, as if the violence of the prison is in direct proportion to how much paperwork there is. To expect a trail of records of individual grievances as a legitimate process for effective prisoner organizing would at this point be a hollow task for two reasons. 1) prisoners expect retaliation from filing grievances. 2) the system is filled with hollow, arbitrary, and callous bureaucratization that render attempts totally redirected, denied on technicalities, lost, or ignored. At the bare minimum a grievance process that goes through all three levels will take 180 days.
Our friend sums this up in perfectly in their
#2 “If we try to do a 602 it gets lost or they say that they never got it and then take it out on us by searching our cell or take things from us . We really need help in here can you or someone do something for us??”
#1 “All things that are good for the spirit were shut down in this prison.”
#6 “Conditions in here are terrible and medical is failing drastically. If you are believed to have come in contact with another person who may have COVID-19 you are shipped off somewhere and kept house for 14 days then you come back or you don’t.”
#7 “The housing buildings have a shared HVAC system that has been poorly maintained and does not provide adequate circulation. The ventillation vents are extremely dirty and when in use the smell of spored materials and mold permeate the air.”
#8 “RIGHT NOW WE’RE SURVIVING BY THE GRACE OF THE ALMIGHTY.”