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Inspector General: California Prison Guards Violate Use of Force Policies Half the Time

by Steve Horn

report released in July 2018 by California’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that with respect to use of force incidents reported by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), guards abused their authority by misusing force about half the time. 

The 33-page report outlined the findings of an investigation into use of force incidents in CDCR facilities between July 2017 and December 2017.

“As part of its reviews, the department found that officers did not always justify their need to use force and, in a few instances, their actions may have contributed to the need to do so,” the Inspector General wrote in the report’s introduction. “We also found that officers did not consistently follow departmental policies for video recording inmate interviews, which may have weakened the department’s ability to support, or refute, certain allegations of unnecessary or excessive force. Finally, we found that officers did not always follow policies when they used controlled force, a type of force used when the inmate did not pose an imminent threat and was isolated in a confined setting.”

The report noted that one-third of the use of force incidents it reviewed occurred at just five state prisons: California State Prison, Corcoran; California State Prison, Sacramento; Kern Valley State Prison; the California Correctional Institution and Salinas Valley State Prison. The Sacramento facility led the count with 51 such incidents, while the California Correctional Institution came in second with 38.

Of the 3,709 incidents involving use of force reviewed by the Inspector General, 11,046 legally defined “applications” of force took place, meaning that in many of the incidents, multiple types of force were used by prison staff.

“The use of chemical agents accounted for 5,121 (46 percent) of total applications, while physical strength and holds accounted for 3,662 (33 percent),” the report stated. “The remaining 21 percent of applications comprised force options such as less-lethal projectiles, baton strikes, tasers, and firearms.”

Two dozen of those incidents led to deadly uses of force by CDCR guards. 

Further, prison officials conducted interviews with prisoners as part of investigations in the aftermath of alleged abuse of force incidents only 57 percent of the time. CDCR policy calls for a videotaped interview to take place within 48 hours of discovery of an injury resulting from a use of force. 

“The OIG has presented this concern in past reports, but the issues we raised have not been fixed,” the report said. “In March 2017, after we published the low video-recording compliance rate of 61 percent for the July-through-December-2016 period, the department directed additional training for all custodial supervisors and managers on the video-recording requirements.”

According to the report, the improper use of force incidents occurred despite the fact that California prison guards have undergone a training program called the multiple interactive learning objective (MILO) simulator. 

“All custodial and noncustodial staff use this training to improve their communication skills and learn when to apply de-escalation techniques,” the report noted. “The goal is to gain voluntary compliance through verbal persuasion rather than by force. In addition, the training assists staff in learning to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness or developmental disability. MILO training consists of numerous prison-based, interactive scenarios conducted by certified instructors who direct the scenario based on the participant’s verbal interaction with it, which is projected on a 12-foot screen.”

CDCR spokeswoman Vicky Waters said the department plans to alter its policies going forward. 

“Use of force in our institutions is not something we take lightly,” Waters told the Orange County Register. “Every situation where use of force was employed is different, but it is done so to ensure the safety and security of staff, inmates and the public.”

In response, the ACLU said it was skeptical that much will change until CDCR staff are held legally accountable when they misuse force on prisoners.

“If there’s not consequences for violating the policy, it won’t be followed,” observed Eric Balaban, a senior staff member with the ACLU. 



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