Courts & Crime

California prison officials broaden probe into alleged abuses

State prison officials said Monday that they had dramatically broadened their investigation of alleged racism and cruelty by guards at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville. The move came in response, officials said, to a Bee investigation published Sunday and Monday about claims of abuse of prisoners in a special behavior modification program.

The corrections department "has zero tolerance for abusive behavior by inmates or staff," said Scott Kernan, undersecretary for operations. "The department takes allegations seriously, and a full investigation is under way."

Earlier in the day, the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group, challenged California legislators to look into the abuse allegations — and pushed for the behavior units to be sharply restricted.

The Bee's report found support for the abuse claims in interviews with inmates, prison documents and a long-hidden report written by Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation research experts.

For years, prison officials knew about many of the claims — including denial of medical care, racial slurs and the destruction of prisoners' formal written protests of mistreatment — yet did nothing to investigate.

After initially downplaying the allegations to The Bee, Kernan subsequently said that the department's internal affairs office would look into them, but in a limited way: reviewing actions by managers after state researchers informed them of the abuse allegations.

On Monday he said the investigation had been broadened to cover the abuse claims themselves — whether reported to state researchers or revealed by The Bee — as well as revelations in The Bee that state researchers may have been retaliated against after they pressed for an investigation of the prisoners' claims.

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