[Pnews] In blistering ruling Federal judge orders video surveillance & body cams in 5 CA prisons to stop abuse of men & women with disabilities

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 17 10:28:01 EDT 2021


  In blistering ruling Federal judge orders video surveillance & body
  cams in 5 CA prisons to stop abuse of men & women with disabilities |

Written by Celeste Fremon - March 15, 2021

On Thursday, March 11, Senior U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken handed 
down a  blistering ruling 
<https://witnessla.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Wilken-ruling.pdf>that ordered 
the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to institute 
a series of changes with which the judge hopes to put a stop to what she 
describes as a pattern of systemic abuse of incarcerated people with 
disabilities at five of the state’s prisons.

The abuse and various related violations were documented in more than 
one hundred declarations by present and past residents of the 
prisons, along with other evidence that, according to Judge Wilken, 
suggests that the CDCR has been aware of these problems for years.

The five facilities named are California State Prison, Los Angeles 
County (LAC); California State Prison, Corcoran (COR); Substance Abuse 
Treatment Facility (SATF); California Institute for Women (CIW); and 
Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP).

In her 71-page ruling, 
Wilken described a disturbing pattern of abuse of the 
five lock-ups’ residents who qualify for special accommodations under 
the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) <https://www.ada.gov/>.

These disabled residents “are vulnerable to abuse,” wrote Judge Wilken, 
“and less able than others to defend themselves in light of their 

In the text of her ruling, the judge listed some of the incidents 
described in the declarations. In many cases the incident begins when 
a prison resident asks for some kind of accommodation that he or 
she needs, and how the request is refused. Then, in certain of the 
cases, some brand of physical abuse follows after the refusal.

The residents also report how they are discouraged from accessing the 
various prisons’ grievance processes in order to report the abuse they 
have experienced, or to document that they are being denied what 
they need to function adequately, given their disability.

*Bad investigations*

A large part of the problem, according to the judge, has to do with 
the CDCR’s system of investigating staff misconduct which remains 
“deficient and ineffective.”

Thus, according to the ruling, if residents with disabilities /do/ 
persist and try to file a grievance alleging abuse, violence, or neglect 
— or all three — the investigative system “cannot be relied upon to hold 
wardens and staff accountable.”

Judge Wilken’s assessment of the CDCR’s grievance system is 
strongly supported by a recent report issued by the California Office of 
the Inspector General 
on February 16, 2021, which mirrors her conclusions.

In the February report, the OIG wrote that, 
despite the fact that the state had just spent nearly $10 million a year 
to improve its handling of inmates’ allegations of staff misconduct, the 
CDCR’s investigative process “/remains broken”/ and is “/neither 
independent nor fair./”

As it happens, this is far from the first time the judge has taken a 
good hard look at the CDCR’s broken system when it comes to incarcerated 
men and women with disabilities.

In 1996, Wilken determined that the CDCR’s policies and procedures “with 
regard to disabled prisoners” were “inadequate and violative” of the 
ADA, and ordered the CDCR to develop a “remedial plan” to “fulfill its 
obligations to disabled prisoners under federal law.”

Yet, although, between 1996 and now,  the judge has issued a series of 
further orders,  very little appears to have changed.

And the judge is not happy.

“….the court has found,” she wrote in the ruling released last week, 
“that staff failed on numerous occasions to reasonably accommodate the 
disabilities of disabled inmates.”

With all of the above in mind, Judge Wilken has now ordered her own 
remedial prescription for the five prisons named in this newest ruling.

*Cameras and monitoring pepper spray *

The main change that Wilken has now ordered is the installation of 
surveillance cameras, which are to cover all areas of each of the 
five facilities to which disabled residents have access.

The cameras must cover, at minimum, “all exercise yards, housing units, 
sally-ports, dining halls, program areas, and gyms.”

Furthermore, all correctional officers at the same five prisons, must 
begin using body-worn cameras, according to the new order, if they “have 
any interactions with disabled inmates.”

As for the footage gathered by the cameras, if it in any way documents 
use of force “and other triggering events involving disabled inmates,” 
it must be retained “/indefinitely./” Furthermore, that footage is to be 
be “reviewed and considered as part of the investigation of any incident.”

Judge Wilken ordered other changes, such as a mandate for the CDCR to 
develop a system to monitor and control how much pepper spray is used on 
disabled inmates. She has also ordered a new electronic system to track 
incidents of misconduct.

In addition, the CDCR must reform the staff complaint and disciplinary 
process, and increase supervisory staffing.

And /just/ to make sure the above gets done, Judge Wilken has appointed 
an expert to oversee the CDCR’s implementation of the mandated reforms.

Interestingly, according to the attorneys at Rosen, Bien, Galvan & 
Grunfeld, <https://rbgg.com/>the firm that brought the lawsuit, Judge 
Wilken’s recent orders were built upon earlier orders that she issued in 
September 2020, after finding similar violations and at R.J. Donovan 
Correctional Facility (“RJD”) in San Diego.

The Donovan order represents the first time that correctional officers 
have been required to wear body cameras inside a California prison.

*Abuse and neglect*

The body of the ruling portrays a pattern of everyday humiliations 
experienced by those with disabilities, such as the resident who was 
allegedly repeatedly denied the assistance needed to take an ADA shower, 
to the point where the resident just stopped asking.

In other declarations, incarcerated people described being pepper 
sprayed severely when they reportedly presented no threat.

In one such case,  a man suffering from extreme depression at LAC 
requested an appointment with his mental health clinician after he 
learned “his father had been diagnosed with cancer. ” Instead, he was 
pepper sprayed, wrote the judge.

In another case, a man who asked for his prescribed medication was 
reportedly beaten by a corrections officer, according to the declaration 
of a witness who reportedly viewed the incident. The man, like some of 
the others, is now reportedly afraid to ask for any kind of appropriate 

Sometimes the stories simply describe neglect, such as the man who is 
deaf who reportedly requested the appropriate hearing device that the 
prison is required to provide for him.  The man reportedly made the 
request in February 2020, but was not provided the hearing device until 
June 2020 — four months later.

*Credible accounts*

In addition to the alleged abuse of those with physical disabilities, 
the ruling describes multiple abusive situations involving prison 
residents who have been classified as belonging to the specialized 
category of EOP, “Enhanced Outpatient Placement,” due to a diagnosis of 
severe mental illness, meaning “they require special housing,” and 
“special programming.”

Although prison officials disputed the accusations in general, according 
to Judge Wilken, CDCR officials failed to submit any evidence that 
countered the accounts of the prisons’ residents,  things like 
declarations by the officers who allegedly engaged in intimidation, 
threats, or coercion, in order to “dispute the occurrence of these 

In general, the judge wrote that she “found the inmate declarants to be 
credible,” in part because their descriptions of the behavior of the 
staff were “remarkably consistent,” and very detailed.

She also found them credible, she wrote,  because the CDCR presented 
no evidence that contradicted the version of events described in the 
declarations by inmates describing how staff had “threatened, 
intimidated, or coerced them when they requested reasonable 
accommodations, or indicated that they would file ADA-related 
grievances, and that this has caused them to refrain from requesting 
accommodations or filing ADA grievances,” even when they 
are experiencing “severe emotional distress.”

*The experts and the ruling*

As mentioned above, the CDCR didn’t bother putting forth evidence or 
declarations disputing the accounts of the individual prison residents. 
What they did instead, according to the judge, was to hire three 
“experts” to examine whether there was any “systemic denial” by the 
staff of the accommodations to which those with disabilities had a legal 
right, in the five named prisons.

Unsurprisingly, the CDCR’s experts — one of whom was former Secretary of 
the CDCR, Matthew Cate — all more or less sided with the state.

Judge Wilken noted Cate’s perspective on the case, then dismissed it, 
concluding that the staff in the five facilities had “failed to provide 
reasonable accommodations for disabled inmates’ disabilities,” that the 
staff engaged in unwarranted uses of force “such as throwing disabled 
inmates out of wheelchairs, punching them, kicking them, or using pepper 
spray — where the undisputed evidence shows that the disabled inmates 
pose no threat to staff that would warrant the use of such force.”

Based on the totality of the evidence, the judge concluded, “staff 
target inmates with disabilities and other vulnerable inmates for 

Gay Grunfeld, one of the civil rights attorneys for the plaintiffs 
called Wilken’s ruling, “a great victory for incarcerated people with 

The ruling, according to Grunfeld, will make it possible to “get some 
information and visibility on where the problems are so people can be 
held accountable.”

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