On Thursday, California corrections officials announced that prison guards would be issued earplugs and instructed to tiptoe around the cells of the most dangerous convicts in the state so the inmates can sleep peacefully.
Seventy complaints from the 1,100 inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison’s security housing unit have protested welfare checks instituted to guarantee the prisoners have not committed suicide or suffered heart attacks. The inmates complain that officers have intentionally awakened them every half-hour with their keys and boots while slamming doors and shining flashlights into their eyes.
Pelican Bay, which holds difficult management cases, prison gang members, and violent maximum security inmates, according to its website, instituted time clocks which the guards are supposed to punch; the guards were told to mute the system. The prison has been called “the last stop in California’s penal system.”
Michael Bien, an attorney who represents mentally ill inmates, asserted that guards may resent punching the time clocks and performing the welfare checks, telling CBS Sacramento, “Nobody wants to punch time clocks, and the anger has been taken out on prisoners.”
Yet Bien admitted that the welfare checks are necessary, stating, “This has been successfully done all over the state without disruption, and it saves lives.” He said inmates may commence hunger strikes to protest the welfare checks.
Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which represents crime victims, defended the guards, saying, “It’s kind of a tough pickle for corrections officers because they are kind of in between – whatever they do they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.” He added, “It seems like one of these Catch 22s – if they find a dead inmate then the first thing that happens is corrections gets sued.”
Solutions offered include Rushford’s idea to install video cameras and Bien’s recommendation that the guards wear soft-soled shoes.