Transcript: Testimony of Inspector General Robert Barton at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

Partial transcript of testimony of Inspector General Robert A. Barton at the joint legislative hearing on “Segregation Policies in California Prisons: Current Conditions and Implications on Prison Management and Human Rights” on Oct. 9, 2013:

Good afternoon. My name is Robert Barton. I am the Inspector General for the state of California with oversight of CDCR.

By way of an introduction, I have been a member of the Inspector General’s office since 2005, originally in a supervisory role in Central California, which included two of the prisons we’re going to be speaking about today -Tehachapi and Corcoran – I am very familiar with having visited probably close to 20 or 30 times each of those prisons.

I was appointed in 2011 as the Inspector General and for the last two years have run the office with about 100 employees statewide in three offices – one in Southern California, one in Central California, and one here in Sacramento. And we are in the prisons everyday – our staff – monitoring various processes within corrections.

I personally have visited every prison in the state, most on multiple occasions, including the four that we’re talking about today that have security housing units – that being specifically Pelican Bay, California State Prison in Sacramento, California State Prison in Corcoran, and California State Prison in Tehachapi.

My office is independent of the CDCR. We intake and process approximately 250 to 300 complaints each month regarding CDCR as a whole. Some of those do come from SHU inmates and we follow up on those complaints. We are statutorily mandated to monitor and oversee the rehabilitative efforts of CDCR, so this issue is one of paramount interest to our agency in that role. And we also oversee their internal affairs, their medical care, sexual abuse complaints, use of force, critical incidents, retaliation claims, warden selection, and the department’s adherence to their own strategic plan.

We are available to review any policy or practice of the CDCR upon request of the legislature or the Governor, and I was asked to provide you with some statistics and facts regarding the current state of secure housing units within California.

So first, as a matter of semantic clarification, so we all understand what I’m referencing, the California Code of Regulations Title 15 Article 7 that defines security housing units does so in a broader scope labeled segregated housing. Sometimes those terms are used interchangeably mistakenly. In actuality, segregated housing is a broader context that includes, for example, administrative segregation units that each prison has, which is a shorter term of confinement. It also includes, for example, the condemned housing in San Quentin and protective housing units for those inmates who are not being disciplined or have any gang validations but for their own safety cannot mix with other inmates.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
…Administrative could be used for – for instance – transgendered prisoners?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Administrative segregation? It depend on what purpose they have to put them in there. But I think you’re probably thinking in terms of protective housing units if for their own protection they needed to.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Well, that as well but also the anecdotal is that transgendered inmates often are put in administrative segregation as a first step, and just checking that out.

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
And while I have, in fact, seen transgendered inmates in administrative segregation, typically there are other issues at play – either they’re in danger or there’s been some other reason for their classification to be in question.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Do we have transgendered guards?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Yes, CSC does.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
You do? Okay.

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Well, I’m not CDCR so some of these questions I’ll defer to those from CDCR. But I have visited yards specifically at California Men’s Colony that does.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
No, I don’t mean yards. Guards.

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Oh, I’m sorry. I though I heard yards. [Overlapping audio] I have no idea in terms of prison officers what the –

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
It might be helpful.

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Okay. The segregated housing, as I said, what we’re talking about today is a sub-category of that, specifically security housing unit – SHUs…And I would include within that the psychiatric service units or PSUs, which is a smaller subset of inmates that otherwise would be in security housing except they require and have been diagnosed with psychiatric disorders so they receive enhanced outpatient program level of mental health care, often referred to as EOP. And they have living units that have services provided to them by the mental health staff of CDCR.

And I’ll give you the actual breakdowns in numbers.

So here’s a snapshot of what I consider to be the security housing units themselves.

First of all, there are the four located in Tehachapi, Corcoran, Pelican Bay, and Sacramento. Two of these – Sacramento and Pelican Bay – also have smaller psychiatric service units.

What the general public might not realize is that each of these four prisons also house other inmate populations in other parts of the institution, including minimum, medium and maximum general population inmates as well as sensitive needs inmates. So if you think about a common prison having about 4,000 to 5,000 inmates, each SHU population is roughly about 1,000 or so. So it really is about a quarter, typically, of the overall population of that whole prison, unlike some in other jurisdictions where a true super max is devoted specifically to those persons on lockdown.

Currently, as of the beginning of October – and again, these numbers change on a weekly basis but not drastically – there are approximately 4,054 inmates currently in security housing units in California. 4,054.

Of that, 327 are in PSUs or psychiatric service units.

The breakdown is as follows:

There are 1,248 at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi’s SHU.

There are 1,213 at the Corcoran SHU.

1,179 in the Pelican Bay SHU.

And 87 in the CSP Sacramento SHU.

And as I said, Pelican Bay and Sacramento both have psychiatric units. So at Pelican Bay, there are currently 97 inmates in their psychiatric units. And in CSP Sacramento, there are 230.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Do they have designated staff ratios?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
According to their blueprint, they are following their standardized staff ratios, yes.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
So that would apply to each of the prisons?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
It would be a uniformed ratio?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:

And the other thing that I wanted to bring up because it was a question that I know the committee had on their minds in terms of how many of these inmates are double-celled, because we tend to think of secure housing unit as single-celled, and while that’s true for many of them, there – approximately half of them – half of the 4,054 – the actual number is 1,998 are doubled celled.

So that breaks down to 948 in Tehachapi have a cell mate; 746 in Corcoran have a cell mate; 264 in Pelican Bay have a cell mate; and then 40 out of the 87 in Sacramento have a cell mate.

So there are some of these people in secure housing units – some of these that do have cell mates.

Let me also add because I would be remised if I didn’t – we don’t tend to include them in the conversation – I think we should – and that is the 74 women serving SHU terms at the California Institution for Women currently. And there are also a handful that are awaiting transfer from CCWF. So there is a secure housing unit designed for women at CIW as well…

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley):
Of the women, how many are – you mentioned before a number of psychiatric in for the men. So if that 74 SHU women – would you qualify any of them…?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
They don’t have a separate standalone psychiatric secure unit that I’m aware of that I’ve personally visited or seen. Then again, I may be wrong.

Michael Stainer, Director of CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions:
Good afternoon, I’m Mike Stainer. I’m the Acting Director of the Division of Adult Institutions.

With regard to the female SHU population, we do not segregate or separate their EOP or CCCMS population from the non-mentally ill inmates, but we do provide all the services with regard to their level of care within the SHU.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley):
And are the women with roommate or solitary?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Again, it’s mixed. I wasn’t provided with that specific category. Typically, the department for space reasons tries to double-cell whenever they can. But there are some people they’re not able to for one reason or another. So that number I don’t have the specifics on how many of them are double-celled. If I were to hazard to guess, I would say that it’s probably about the same ratio you would have some that are and some that aren’t out of the 74.

Let me talk to you about the actual living conditions in the cells. The physical space or characteristics for the security housing units vary slightly from prison to prison.

You’ve been provided, I believe, in your informational packet with some photographs. Let me tell you from my purview of these photographs they all appear to be Pelican Bay photographs. Is that accurate?

So I’m going to talk to you about a little bit of differences in a couple of other facilities.

The physical characteristics of a cell range from 75 to 85 square feet.

In Corcoran, the cells measure 12 feet 4 inches by 6 feet 10 inches or approximately 75 square feet. They have windows that allow in exterior light. They’re narrow windows and, again, you don’t see those in these pictures necessarily. And their cells have the same mesh front that you would see in these pictures. So the front of the cell is that metal mesh.

In Pelican Bay – those are the pictures that you’re seeing – the cells actually measure 8 feet by 10 feet or roughly 80 square feet with metal mesh fronts and while they don’t have a window to the exterior, they have skylights that allow in ambient light to the unit, and those fronts are open metal mesh that you see in the photographs.

In Tehachapi, the cells measure 7 feet by 11 feet or 77 square feet. They, however, don’t have the metal mesh front doors. They actually have solid metal doors that have two narrow windows that the inmates can see out of, that staff can see in, and a trace lot that opens.

CSP Sacramento has 7 feet by 12 feet, approximately 85 square feet cells with solid cell doors like Tehachapi, with the two windows and the door and the tray slot. And I believe there’s another window next to the doors typically that looks out.

As a comparison, basic general population cell is 6 feet by 8 feet or 48 square feet, typically housing two inmates, but of course those inmates spend significantly fewer hours confined to their cells.

Each cell has a toilet, sink, concrete bunk beds, mattress, electricity for radio, TV. Approximately, as I said before, half of the security housing unit inmates are double-celled.

The units are configured and – those of you that have been there and I know a few of you have – the tiers will change. So the minimum you would have four cells on the bottom of the tier and four cells on the top. So you have eight total cells in a particular unit. And that would go all the way up to potentially 24 inmates in one unit in cells that were double-celled and you had stacked. And the reason that that is important to understand is when you’re talking about interactions, if you will, those are the only other people other than staff that they’re interacting with.

Inmates are allowed to talk to one another within their units, cell-to-cell. They do so on a regular basis. I’ve talked to them myself through the cells on multiple occasions.

Officers do have routines throughout the day – counts on an hourly basis as well as interaction as needed for feeding, mail delivery, escorts, shower, medical, dental, mental health appointments, law library, attorney visits.

Also, chaplains and teachers are allowed to interact with inmates cell-front if they request or in a voluntary education program. My understanding currently is that about 750 of the 4,000 are currently availing themselves of some type of self-directed education program, be that basic literacy all the way up to college programs.

The units also have inmate porters who interact with the inmates and interact between inmates.

SHU inmates typically are fed breakfast between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., at which time they are also provided with a sack lunch. A hot dinner meal is provided in the evening but all of their feeding is done in-cell.

As far as any out-of-cell activity – again, depending on the configurations – it’s a little bit different. Pelican Bay is unique in that they allow inmates 90 minutes of exercise on an enclosed yard that is attached to the unit. You have the photographs of that in your documents. And that unit is actually considerably larger than the units provided in the other SHUs. It’s approximately 26 by 12 feet, about 325 square feet enclosed on all sides by concrete walls but there is a mesh ceiling, if you will, that is open to the air and sunlight, et cetera. So there are 90 minutes of exercise on that yard per day. And as I said, you can see those in the pictures.

They are housed in a manner that allows them to be non-escorted. In other words, the officers can open the cells, they can walk out to that exercise yard – same way they can walk to showers.

In the other three SHUs, it’s different. Their exercise facilities are not attached to the unit itself. They’re actually outside of the units. They’re outside in the open air and they also have different measurements, each one of them roughly 160 square feet.

So Tehachapi’s fenced-in units where the inmates are allowed to exercise are 12 feet by 14 feet. Sacramento’s are 10 feet by 15 feet. CSP Corcoran’s are roughly 15 feet by 11 feet. So again, you’ve about 150 to 160 square feet to exercise in.

If you’re double-celled, your cell mate and you have the option to go to the exercise yard together or not.

The inmates during that time – again one of the differences in Pelican Bay – you may have the opportunity to interact while you’re walking to and from exercise or shower through the cells with other inmates. In the other SHUs, it’s a constant rotation where they’re bringing inmates out to the walk-alone yards and bringing inmates back in. So it’s a constant rotation because they’re trying to get through all the inmates with a minimum of three days a week, minimum of 10 hours per week. So you might be out there anywhere from two to four hours and during that time while you physically cannot interact with inmates in another walk-alone unit, you can certainly see them, talk to them, et cetera. They’re separated and fenced in.

So that’s what the out-of-cell activities in terms of exercise is like.

In terms of showers, Pelican Bay allows them daily and they run through it on a constant basis to allow for everyone to get a shower. The other SHUs allow for shower every other day and it’s on a rotating schedule.

Programs in terms of SHU incarceration are extremely limited. Within the past year, however, the department has begun, as I said, to offer academic education, and about 750 have availed themselves of that, where you have instructors can go to the cells, give self-directed information, and proctor exams, et cetera. We’ve actually had a few complete their GEDs while in security housing this last year.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
What about counseling?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Counseling in what sense?

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Well, counseling for emotional…

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Yes. Mental health clinicians do visit the security housing units as well, and they can request that as well. So there’s reviews that are done on a routine basis.

They also – I should have said this before. Out of cell, they are allow time in every SHU to go to the law library. While they can’t go to the library like you or I would for recreational reading, they are allowed to request books and can keep up to 10 of them either by requesting it through the library or selecting books off a cart that’s brought into the SHU.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
In relation to the communication part, are sometimes inmates written up for a rules violation for communicating with another inmate?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
We actually had that – I don’t know if you recall – at the end of the last hunger strike, my office and did a review of that at Pelican Bay and what we found was that they weren’t written up just for talking to other inmates. What they were written up for was when they or in the view of the department inciting other inmates to violate the rules, in essence be in the hunger strike. And so we wrote an entire report on that.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
…Your title is Inspector General. What exactly do you do as Inspector General?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
I oversee the office that has the mandate within the statutes of the penal code to give transparency and accountability to the Department of Corrections.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Okay, so then you would do visitations to the different facilities?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
As I said, my staff is in the prisons every day, as have I.

In addition, Pelican Bay as well as the other SHUs allow for inmates to purchase typewriters recently. Also they’re allowed to have radios, televisions. Each of them have access to TV channels. Pelican Bay has 23 channels. Corcoran 21. Tehachapi 12. And CSP Sacramento 16 total.

They are limited in the items they can purchase from the canteen. So you also have within your materials here the actual sections within the department’s operations manual where it talks about what property they’re allowed and not allowed to receive. But they can purchase some publications. They receive mail. They can receive packages.

Where there is a big difference between security housing and any other population is they are not allowed any contact visits. So all of their visits on weekends while they are allowed the time to have those visits on weekends and holidays, they’re non-contact visits, so they’re through a plexiglass barrier.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
There are visitors. It’s just that it’s –

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Yes. It’s just non-contact.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
No touching…

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Right. It’s not like in an open – normal visiting room that I’ve been in, you sit at the table with your family. You can talk to them. You can hold hands. That sort of thing. In these, you’re literally talking on a phone, seeing the person through plexiglass, but there’s no touch.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco):
Ms. Skinner was asking how much time?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Minimum of two hours – [audience murmurs] – and I know it depends on where you’re at. That’s what they’re supposed to have. I hear the groans. I know that there are issues in getting people there, and I know there are places where the travel time to and from is counted against the inmate. So there are issues like that. But that’s what their own rules provide for.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley):
Two hours once a month? Two hours – ?

Robert A. Barton, Inspector General:
Per visit on the weekends. So the real issues is where these prisons are located. It’s hard for family members to get there. So to get up to Pelican Bay for a two hour visit, even if you get the two hours, is difficult for many. But I don’t think any of us in the room here now chose the locations…

The next thing I was going to talk about was the terms of confinement.

Inmates are placed in Security Housing Units either for determinate or indeterminate terms.

Depending on the institution, they’re confined to their cells for approximately 20 to 22 hours per day with out-of-cell time, as I said, for yard, shower, attorney visits, weekend visits, law library, medical, dental appointments.

If an inmate, while in prison, commits a serious or violent offense, they can be placed in the SHU for a determinate term of 6 months to 5 years. That means at some point, that term is going to end, depending on the offense. Approximately, 40% of the current SHU inmates have determinate terms of 5 years or less that they’re currently housed for.

Inmates who are deemed to be validated gang members or associates by CDCR can be placed in SHU for indeterminate terms. These account for approximately 60% of the SHU population and are about the breakdown what you mentioned before. As of July 2013, there are approximately 1,900 out of the 4,000 inmates in secure housing units that have life terms. There are now currently 23 inmates who have served more than 25 years in SHU. There are 84 who have served more than 20 years. There are 106 who have served more than 15 years. And there 197 that have served more than 10 years. And another 574 that have served more than 5 years. So it’s basically 984 out of the 4,000 have served more than 5 years in secure housing units.

From September 2012 to September 2013, approximately 273 inmates have paroled directly from a secure housing unit. So that’s an average of approximately 23 per month average.

In closing, I would thank you for this opportunity to brief you on those physical and programming conditions of secure housing units in California…


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One Comment on “Transcript: Testimony of Inspector General Robert Barton at the joint legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California – Oct. 9, 2013

  1. Pingback: Alternatives to long-term solitary confinement in California | What The Folly?!

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