Probe finds officers create a culture of racism at HDSP

By Noel Scott

At High Desert State Prison (HDSP) the correctional officers see the inmates as “little more than wild animals” reports Don Thompson for The Associated Press.

“Black inmates were disproportionately likely to face discipline and use of force,” according to the AP.

In 2015, the Inspectors General’s Office found there was a “culture of racism” created by officers.

Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan ordered the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) to investigate the prison.

According to ASCA, there were, “little evidence of overt racism, but plenty of other problems at the maximum security prison housing about 3,800 inmates near Susanville, nearly 200 miles from Sacramento.”

The lack of leadership and communication at the prison “has left the staff without a clear sense of direction, and in particular unaware of the change toward rehabilitation in the department’s mission,” according to the report.

“In their view, efforts to rehabilitate inmates of the type housed at HDSP, who they view as little more than wild animals, are both futile and dangerous.”

The ASCA report also found that officers rarely interacted with inmates unless violence erupted. “It was as if the officers and the inmates had reached an agreement. ‘You can do your thing, and we’ll do ours, so long as you don’t get violent.’”

This sort of attitude is what led to allowing illegal activities such as gambling, which was just a way to keep the peace, reports the ASCA.

Reviewers also found that, “white inmates were disproportionately assigned to skilled jobs, while Latinos were underrepresented.”

Although the ASCA examined slightly different factors than the Inspectors General’s Office, both agencies seemed to find the same amount of statistical problems.

According to the Prison Law Office, HDSP inmates were often subjected to racist comments, said Don Spector, the Prison Law Office’s director. “It’s incredibly difficult for the Department of Corrections to rehabilitate prisoners when at least some of the staff have those kinds of comments — suggesting that the prisoners are not human or, even milder, not fit for rehabilitation,” said Spector.

Kernan said the officers at HDSP worked under difficult circumstances, but they will continue to strive for improvements. “Our overarching goal is to ensure safety for everyone and to promote rehabilitation in support of public safety.”

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