A CA prison psychologist has recently filed a lawsuit against CDCR that is quite damning. The psychologist alleges a strong backlash to her attempts to report mistreatment of gay and transgender inmates at a correction facility in Vacaville. On two separate occasions, she was locked in a confined area with known rapists by correction officers as a retaliation for her whistle-blowing. She goes on to cite further examples of guards assaulting gay and transgender inmates, and encouraging other inmates to do the same. On one occasion, prison guards even directed inmates to assault her in order to ‘remind her where she’s at’.
This horrifying tale is a small glimpse into prison culture. While it could be said that San Quentin is among the most progressive prisons in America, the same distinction cannot be bestowed upon other CA prisons. In the pantheon of injustices stemming from the cancer that is mass incarceration, this blogger has thus far failed to examine the role prison guards play. It’s difficult to find reliable data of any kind about prison guards beyond releases from CDCR. Needless to say, CDCR is in no hurry to reveal potential abuses by guards. It’s fair to assume that most guards aren’t sadistic psychopaths, but there are certainly ‘bad apples’ who turn a blind eye to injustices, or worse, are the catalysts of such abuses. The lawsuit shines an inquisitive light on the animosity from prison guards towards incarcerated LGBT-identifying inmates. Sadly, given the proliferation of such attitudes in mainstream society, it’s not hard to believe.
The corrections officers’ labor union is known as the “CA Correctional Peace Officers Association” — CCPOA. (Try not to scoff at the notion of prison guards as ‘peace officers’.) Semantics aside, CCPOA is a very powerful union that has been exerting influence over Sacramento since the 1950’s. CCPOA has a tenth of the membership that the CA Teachers Association does, but their political activity routinely exceeds that of other unions. CCPOA has several political committees that function as lobbying tentacles to help pass favorable legislation. For example, CCPOA is in favor of tougher sentences (for reasons of self-preservation). In fact, CCPOA was one of the top donors to the Three Strikes Proposition in 1994. The battle for criminal justice and prison reform in CA has strong grass root efforts, but as long as CCPOA continues to wield disproportionate influence in Sacramento, reformers must bear a Sisyphus-like mentality.