Sacramento—The California Department of Corrections (CDC) has launched an aggressive investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct among staff and inmates at its four women’s prisons.
Five employees have resigned under the intense scrutiny and another dozen are the focus of investigation at the California Institution for Women in Frontera (CIW). CDC officials expect the investigation could broaden to include up to 40 more staff at CIW alone. A search of a housing unit at the prison Tuesday, Sept. 21, yielded additional evidence.
"From the day Governor Davis took office, he made clear to me that he will not tolerate anything less than the highest professional standards in corrections, and we intend to root out and remove any staff who cannot meet those standards," said C.A. "Cal" Terhune, Director of CDC. "We have a zero-tolerance stance for any kind of inappropriate behavior by staff, including sexual misconduct"
"Sexual misconduct between prison staff and inmates is particularly abhorrent because of the inherent problems of staff having complete authority over inmates," Terhune noted. "We absolutely will not, under any circumstance, permit that kind of behavior between a vulnerable inmate and a staff person."
"Corrections is setting up a hotline for female inmates that will allow them direct access to the CDC Office of Internal Affairs," Terhune added. "We want women in our prisons to know that we take their complaints seriously and will investigate allegations of sexual misconduct by staff."
To date the investigation has led to the resignation of two employees after they were found dating parolees. Another has been placed on administrative leave and is currently pending prosecution by the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office for sexual assault.
In addition, another staff resigned while awaiting result of an investigation into an allegation that he is the father of an inmate’s child.
Today’s announcement by Corrections officials continues an extensive campaign launched after wardens from several women’s prisons called for investigations of staff misconduct.
To date CDC’s efforts to address the issue of staff sexual misconduct with inmates has included the following:
In November 1998 a task force was formed to investigate similar problems at another women’s prison.
In March 1999 the Warden at CIW and four other high-ranking CDC officials attended a seminar in Washington, D.C. that focused on how to uncover and identify serious misconduct issues.
CDC Director Terhune signed an April 1999 memo to all employees stating the Department’s zero-tolerance for inappropriate behavior. The memo stated that, "There is no such thing as a consensual sexual relationship between staff and inmates under California law." It also reminded CDC staff that, "As an employee of CDC, it is your responsibility to report all allegations, observations or information you receive regarding violations of the law and policies governing this misconduct. Failure to report these crimes will result in disciplinary action."
Last month, Director Terhune established a Task Force of wardens assigned to women’s prisons to review policy issues related to managing female offenders. The Task Force is charged with recommending policy changes relative to gender specific assignments, identifying and removing barriers to reporting sexual misconduct, and other issues related to female offenders.
This past summer two CDC investigators attended specialized training to investigate sexual assault. The training, certified by the state’s Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (POST), gives CDC the expertise necessary to investigate an issue that is always considered difficult, even outside prison walls.
Since then, CDC has developed a detailed and thorough investigative protocol and launched a training program on investigative procedures, which is expected to receive POST certification in the near future. Training includes medical protocols, reporting forms, applicable laws and related issues critical to sound investigations of sexual assault.
The Department is supporting the administration-sponsored SB 377, Polanco that would broaden existing prohibitions against sexual relations between inmates and staff. Such relations are currently punishable as misdemeanors.
CDC’s response to the problem began with a warden’s request for an investigation when an inmate accused a staff person of fathering her child. As investigators began to look into the issue, they uncovered additional instances of illegal and inappropriate conduct between staff and inmates.
"This Department does not intend to conclude this investigation until we are sure that such behavior has been eliminated," Terhune said. "
Nearly 2,000 inmate firefighters from the California Department of Corrections have joined the battle lines against raging wildfires that threaten communities and open lands in counties from the Oregon border to Central California.
Orange-suited inmates from 28 of the state’s 38 conservation camps from as far south as San Diego have been pulled in to help other fire crews contain the blazes caused by thousands of lighting strikes last Sunday and Monday. The 1,731 inmates and 160 staff from the California Department of Corrections (CDC) will remain on the fire lines until they are fully contained and then will be deployed to help contain other blazes. Currently, there are 114 CDC crews on the fire lines at nine major locations that together encompass approximately 250 separate fires. No inmate fire deaths or serious injuries have been reported to date.
Inmates assigned to minimum level security conservation camps are those typically convicted of non-violent offenses. They must pass a highly selective screening process and a rigorous training regime that includes 64 hours of classroom and hands-on fire fighting training. The average camp inmate is serving a two year sentence and will spend nine months in camp before being paroled.
Nearly 4,000 inmates are housed in the series of camps that are jointly operated by CDC and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF). CDC oversees camp security and operations while CDF provides the fire fighting training and supervision of inmate firefighters on duty.
Conservation camp inmates provide over two million hours of firefighting response and prevention services during an average fire season. They are paid $1.00 per hour on the fire lines and from $1.45 to $3.90 a day for non-emergency work. It is estimated that their work saves more than $70 million in costs to state and local governments.
When not fighting fires, inmates provide from six to eight million hours of conservation and project work annually, including such emergency and non-emergency tasks as earthquake response, flood control, wildlife habitat preservation and graffiti removal.
Note: CDC Information Specialist Lt. Mack Reynolds is currently available at the Butte Complex Incident Command Post at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico to assist media interested in covering the inmates’ firefighting efforts. He can be reached at (530) 345-3892.