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Maximum Security University, edited by Tom Quinn (Book and Video Review)

Video Review by Bob Fischer and Janet Stanton

Maximum Security University is a 48 minute video production by California Prison Focus depicting the deaths of four prisoners shot by guards during the notorious gladiator fights at Corcoran prison in California. The shootings occurred as part of the CDC's deliberate policies.

The goal of the California SHU system, and particularly the integrated yard system, was supposedly to "teach" prisoners from rival groups to get along with each other. (Hence the title of the book and video.) Prisoners from antagonistic groups, and individuals with known animosities for each other, were placed together on the 70 by 20 foot pie shaped exercise yards at the same time. Guards were authorized to shoot 37mm baton rounds, or deadly 9mm Glazer safety slugs to "save life or prevent great bodily injury." Theoretically, each shooting incident was reviewed by a 3-4 person internal administrative shooting review board; in practice, every fatal shooting was ruled justified. In none of the shootings analyzed in the video did the fighting prisoners possess a weapon of any kind.

Quinn obtained surveillance videos of these shootings during the discovery process of the lawsuit filed over the murder of prisoner Preston Tate. Maximum Security University analyzes four of the five killings at Corcoran second by second, comparing what is shown on the tapes to the official report and transcripts of the administrative reviews. Besides a few still photos of the prison and facilities, and shots of poster board bearing prisoners' cells and mug shots used by guards to match up rivals, most of the video is black and white surveillance camera footage. The jerky motion and grainy images are disturbing, and underscore the reality of what we are seeing. Each shooting is shown through several times. The incongruity between the official report and the video record intensifies the viewer's distress. The lawsuit that brought these tapes to light was over the circumstances of the fifth killing (Preston Tate), and was in litigation at the time, and so is not analyzed in the video.

Book Review by Paul Wright

In 1988 the California Department of Corrections (CDC) opened a prison in Corcoran. It had a Security Housing Unit (SHU) for some 2,000 men. It quickly became a shooting gallery. Between 1990 and 1994 seven prisoners were shot dead by Corcoran guards, another 43 were shot and wounded. Many of the shootings took place in the SHU where guards staged "gladiator fights" so they could gun down the unarmed combatants.

PLN has reported extensively on the shootings, the gladiator fights and prisoners being raped by agents of the prison staff. Tom Quinn is a private investigator who assisted in the litigation of the shooting death lawsuit of Preston Tate, a prisoner gunned down at Corcoran. This gave Quinn a bird's eye view of the Corcoran mayhem as well as surveillance videos, internal CDC documents, depositions, and much more.

Quinn has compiled this book of lawsuit documents, newspaper articles (many of which were based on information and documents Quinn provided journalists). The booklet is an essential accompaniment to the video of the same title Quinn produced.

Together the video and book paint the most detailed, credible and reliable account of what transpired at Corcoran. The myth of the country club prison is shattered when confronted with the reality if what modern American prisons are like today. These materials are powerful organizing tools that should be seen in every community impacted by the prison industrial complex.

The book and video are being sold for $22 each by California Prison Focus as a fundraiser. To order either or both, contact: CPF, 2940 16th St. Rm. 100, San Francisco, CA 94103. (415) 252-9211.

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