As soon as he arrived at Salinas Valley State Prison in northern California, Alan Ager believed his life was in danger.
"The very day they let him into the yard, he was filing complaints, 'Get me the hell out of here,'" said Ager's son, Daniel. "'This is not safe. I'm going to get killed out here.'"
Ager, a 63-year-old convicted child molester, was brutally attacked in the early morning hours of April 6, 2010, before a guard discovered Ager's cellmate trying to kill him with a cloth noose tied around Ager's neck and blood trickling from his nose.
Ten days later, without regaining consciousness, Ager died, and his cellmate—convicted murderer Clyde Leroy Beaver, who had already spent the previous four decades in prison—was given a second life sentence.
Ager's murder was one of 78 killings reported within California's state prisons since 2007, according to the Associated Press. And, including Ager, 23 of those murdered (nearly 30% of the homicides) were male sex offenders.
The prison homicide rate within California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is double the national average and among the highest in the country. From 2001 to 2012, 162 CDCR prisoners were killed—a rate of 8 per 100,000. In the two years that followed, that rate nearly doubled to 15 per 100,000.
CDCR officials have blamed the surge in prison homicides on the state's realignment plan, which—after a 2011 Supreme Court decision ordering California to reduce its prison population—includes sending lower-level offenders to county jails and keeping higher-risk prisoners, such as sex offenders and other violent offenders, incarcerated in state prisons.
The court ordered CDCR to reduce its population to 137.5% of its capacity. But CDCR's homicide rate—and the life-threatening risk to sex offenders—won't decline until the population falls even farther below what the court mandated, according to James Austin, president of the Washington, D.C.-based JFA Institute, a consulting firm that works on prison issues.
"Until the state gets its prison population below 100% of capacity, you're going to have this," he said.
More than a decade ago, CDCR created special housing units just for the most vulnerable prisoners, including sex offenders. But often, CDCR officials have acknowledged, the units also house the most violent offenders.
Investigating the problem, CDCR's inspector general reported in fall 2014 that 10 of 11 homicide victims in the first half of the year were so-called "sensitive-needs" prisoners. Eight, the AP found, were sex offenders.
As a result of the inspector general's report, CDCR is reconsidering housing vulnerable prisoners in special housing units two to a cell, according to CDCR spokesman Terry Thornton. But there is also talk of separating sex offenders into their own facilities.
Of course, that's all too late for Alan Ager.
Ager was kept in a special housing unit when he was first incarcerated at San Quentin. But after his transfer to Salinas Valley, he was placed within the general population because officials there decided he didn't need extra protection.
And yet, a federal judge ruled in March 2014 against Ager's family, who filed a wrongful death suit against CDCR, arguing that Salinas Valley officials acted with deliberate indifference.
Sources: www.abcnews.go.com, The Associated Press
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