VISALIA, Calif. — It had been months since Angeleigh Garcia saw her fiancé.
An inmate at the California State Prison in Corcoran, Garcia’s fiancé was one of 350 Facility 3C inmates who has had visitation and yard time privileges restricted for five months.
On Saturday, Garcia stood alongside a dozen loved ones of inmates of 3C before going to the prison to see her fiancé. She felt lucky, she said.
Family members have spent the last three weekends outside the facility protesting the treatment of inmates at the prison. They say inmates are being treated inhumanely and forced into “gladiator-style” fights that stem from officers releasing certain inmates into the yard at the same time.
“He’s never wanted me to worry,” Garcia said. “He never shows how bad it really is, but now it’s getting to the point where he can’t take it. He said he’s lost a lot of weight.”
Due to a violent incident in September, inmates housed at 3C hadn’t been allowed visitors. They also say they are being denied commissary privileges and are having packages delivered late.
What’s caused the problem?
Inmates point to the Norteño-based Fresno Bulldogs and the gang’s unwillingness to make peace with rivals.
“We’ve made a peace treaty with everyone on the yard,” said one inmate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of being retaliated against by guards. “Now, these Bulldogs aren’t keeping their side of the truce.”
The inmate said last year Bulldogs started attacking other inmates.
Other inmates have asked that correctional staff separate known Bulldog gang members from the others on the yard. They say it would create safer conditions for inmates and guards.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials said the agency’s priority is creating a safe environment for staff and inmates.
“CDCR is charged with providing a safe and secure environment for everyone who lives, works and visits its institutions,” said Terry Thornton, spokesperson for CDCR. “Furthermore, the rehabilitation of individuals entrusted in the department’s care is also a priority.”
However, inmates say life at the prison is becoming increasingly unsafe.
“It’s gotten worse because we flat out refuse to program with these people,” the inmate said. “(Bulldogs) have a reputation.”
The problem is widespread.
At least three CDCR prisons have reported similar issues — Corcoran, Correctional Training Facility in Soledad and Pleasant Valley State Prison.
Facility C at Correctional Training Facility (CTF) and Facility 3C at Corcoran currently have inmates placed on “modified program.”
Being on a modified program is not the same as being on lockdown, Thornton said.
“A modified program is when inmate movement and/or programs are limited in response to an incident or unusual occurrence,” she stated in an email sent to the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advanced-Register. “Modified programs last no longer than necessary to restore safety and security.”
In Corcoran, roughly 350 inmates were placed on a modified program after several inmates from different prison gangs attacked each other, she said.
The incident happened on Sept. 28.
An inmates’ rights organization has taken notice of what’s happening at the prisons.
In a press release Thursday, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) alleged that as a result of modified program guards have started releasing groups of inmates who are rivals and will likely brawl in “gladiator fights.”
They then use that fight to justify the continued use of the modified program, IWOC officials said.
Two gladiator fights were filmed on a cell phone camera Feb. 14 and 15 at CTF and the footage was put online, IWOC said.
CDCR denies that correctional officers are setting up inmates to fight.
The incidents, better known as “incremental releases” occur when guards take steps to return inmates, who have been on a modified program, to normal programming, Thornton said.
But, inmates say because tensions are so high at 3C and in Soledad, fights often break out among inmates. They claim guards are aware of the issues but refuse to remedy the situation.
When loved ones hear that incremental releases happen, they often fear the worst.
“It’s hard,” said Josie Acosta, whose son is housed at 3C in Corcoran. “We are going to lose him in the fights or from himself.”
Rubi Garcia, of Long Beach, last saw her husband in September.
Prior to her husband being placed on a modified program, Rubi would visit her husband in Corcoran every weekend — Saturday and Sunday.
“(Guards) like to see bloodshed,” she said. “This affects families. We can’t function.”
She wants answers. She wants to know when she can see her husband again.
An end in sight?
Thornton said prisons will continue to move toward “providing the most programming opportunities” for inmates.
Correctional staff believes programming allows inmates to earn credits and helps reunite families. However, if an inmate or group doesn’t follow the rules and acts out in violence, staff could enforce sanctions.
“CSP-Corcoran officials are doing all they can to return Facility 3C to normal program,” Thornton said. “No one knows when the roughly 350 inmates on Facility 3C will be returned to normal program but we hope it is soon.”
In the meantime, Ruby Gradillas’ husband is up for parole in May.
He’s received his AA degree while incarcerated and nearly finished earning his bachelor’s degree before being transferred to Corcoran in November.
He wants to become a welder when he’s released, Gradillas said.
Gradillas fears that a fight could impact his chances of being paroled if he is chosen for incremental release.
“They’re treating inmates worse than animals,” she said. “When did animals have more rights than human beings?”
Follow Sheyanne Romero on Twitter @sheyanne_VTD
Rep. Dave Steffen, R-Howard, is calling on the state to replace Green Bay Correctional Institution with a new prison in a different location..
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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