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The State Worker

California prison watchdog recommends discipline for supervisors over use-of-force reports


California’s prison inspector general is calling on the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to discipline supervisors over faulty use-of-force investigations.

The Office of the Inspector General found that some use-of-force investigations were approved through the command chain even with significant faults.

When oversight officials took a closer look at last year’s approved reports, they found more than 3,000 alleged use-of-force policy violations that reviewers didn’t catch.

When correctional officers use force, a supervisor is assigned to investigate the incident. That review then goes to higher levels of authority, up to a warden.

Oversight officials say the multi-level review system helps cut down on blatant violations that go unaddressed. But if the violations aren’t reported, correctional officers who commit these violations can skirt accountability.

In one example, an inmate broke free of his restraints in a group therapy session and threw a chair at another inmate. Once the pepper spray cleared the room, however, correctional officers’ reports of the incident varied significantly. Later reviews of all the reports didn’t mention the lack of agreement and no further action was taken.

In another case, an officer pushed an inmate to the ground, the prisoner claimed that he didn’t resist — and that the officer used unnecessary force. But none of the reviewers at any level recognized the allegation, and no disciplinary action was taken.

All in all, according to oversight officials’ count, there was an average of about one-and-a-half unidentified violations for every incident they had reviewed.

In an email statement, CDCR spokesman Jeffrey Callison said the department “takes seriously all reviews of use of force.”

“Every use of force by CDCR institution staff is reviewed four separate times determine if the force was in compliance with policy procedure and training,” he wrote. “During these multiple layers of review, if violations are discovered that warrant corrective action, that process can be initiated by supervisors and managers, consistent with departmental policy.”

Inspector General spokesman Shaun Spillane said that discipline for reviewers would depend on a range of factors — from the severity of the error to one’s disciplinary history. According to CalHR, first-time offenders could receive a verbal warning or an unofficial email. Repeated errors could be met with a pay cut, demotion or even termination.

The report states that this system could help speed up the review process and identify correctional officers and supervisors who may need more training.

Other recommendations include clearer policy guidelines for cleaning up indoor areas after using chemical agents like pepper spray.

The Office of Inspector General over years has urged the corrections department to improve its internal investigations. Over the past year, the corrections department created a new investigation unit to standardize its processes for investigating complaints against officers.

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