The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

October 24, 2010
Penalties against inmates at North Kern rescinded

Following a Bee report that described evidence of violations of due process rights in California prisons, North Kern acting Warden Maurice Junious recently rescinded all 77 guilty findings and penalties imposed on prisoners convicted in April of obstructing officers. Instead, the inmates were counseled.

The Bee reported in August that a North Kern State Prison official had prejudged inmates as guilty and assigned penalties before required disciplinary hearings meant to determine culpability.

Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton called the reversal of guilty findings "unusual." Junious declined to comment.

Administrative hearings allow inmates to defend themselves and present mitigating evidence. North Kern's acting Associate Warden Steven Ojeda had sent an e-mail to Junious laying out guilty findings and penalties ahead of the hearings.

In late July, Scott Kernan, corrections undersecretary for operations, called Ojeda's e-mail "improper" but defended the department's due process system.

The Bee report described a pattern of failures in procedures designed to let prisoners dispute charges or press claims of mistreatment. Daniel Johnson, a retired research analyst for the department, reviewed 10,000 appeals involving allegations of misconduct by officers. Virtually none, he said, were ruled in favor of inmates.

On Aug. 1, the day The Bee story appeared, Lt. John McClellan of High Desert State Prison in Susanville sent a memo to inmates of the "Z Unit" - a prison within the prison to segregate recalcitrant inmates, such as alleged gang members. The memo laid out the consequences if an officer would have to forcibly take an inmate from his cell: loss of time off for good behavior, prison canteen privileges and exercise breaks - all before any rule violations took place.

"From now on if you participate in a cell extraction the consequence for that will be at a minimum; 90 days loss of credit, 90 loss of canteen and 10 days loss of yard," he wrote.

Nine days later, Associate Warden David Davey rescinded the order.

- Charles Piller

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