Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

California’s Pelican Bay Supermax on Lockdown after Inmate Attack on Guards

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As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Pelican Bay State Prison was placed on indefinite lockdown Tuesday after at least two inmates, both convicted of crimes in Los Angeles, allegedly attacked three prison guards with homemade weapons, state corrections officials said.

The union representing the state’s 31,000 prison guards said two officers required dozens of stitches after suffering deep slash wounds on their faces. Another officer sustained multiple stab wounds, including one cut through his collarbone. …

Union officials said the prison was designed to house 2,280 inmates, but because of the state’s inmate overcrowding crisis, the prison houses 3,461 inmates.

The California prison guards’ union (CCPOA) gets a lot of bad press — not all of it undeserved — but it’s worth keeping in mind that CCPOA has been a vocal opponent of the appalling levels of overcrowding in California’s prisons. CCPOA intervened in Plata v. Schwarzenegger — on the side of the plaintiff prisoners. In other words, CCPOA filed a brief before the Supreme Court asking the Nine to uphold the prisoner release order. From the CCPOA brief, which is available via SCOTUSblog here (PDF):

During the course of this litigation, the State of California has not disputed that its correctional facilities have long failed to provide these minimal levels of mental health and medical care to the 160,000 inmates being held within them. Nor does the State dispute that overcrowding contributes significantly to these failures.

CCPOA’s members play an integral role in nearly every facet of prison health services. … [D]espite their best efforts, CCPOA’s members cannot adequately perform these duties given the current state of overcrowding. Based on its members’ experience with the day-to-day realities of overcrowding and the resulting medical deficiencies in California’s prisons, CCPOA took the extraordinary step of intervening in the three-judge court remedial proceedings on the same side as the plaintiffs.

It’s unusual for prisoners’ rights lawyers to sit at the counsel table next to lawyers for the prison guards’ union, but there you have it: That’s how it’s been throughout the Plata v. Schwarzenegger litigation. Overcrowded prisons are not just unsafe for inmates. They’re also unsafe for guards.

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