January, 18, 2004 - The Associated Press

Abuse in [CA] Prisons Targeted

State lawmakers to seek reforms in corrections system accused of being out of control.

SACRAMENTO ­ State lawmakers, saying California's Department of Corrections has lost its moral and ethical compass, plan two days of hearings to begin reforming a prison system battered by accusations that it can't police its employees.

The CDC, the nation's largest prison system, has become rife with abuse and "bungled investigations of that abuse," said Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, who heads the Senate Select Committee on Prisons.

Hearings scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday in the Capitol will feature whistle-blowers at Folsom State Prison who received demotions and reassignments and were placed under scrutiny for raising concerns about internal investigations. Many alleged an administrative cover-up of staff decisions leading to a 2002 inmate riot, which a state inspector general's report later called botched and counter to normal procedures.

One officer in that case, Capt. Doug las Pieper, committed suicide after he questioned the warden's investigation of those events and was reassigned to a job he didn't like.

Hearings come in the wake of a scathing federal report that alleges perjury by prison guards in inmate-abuse cases and an administration that fails to "investigate and discipline serious abuses of force by correctional officers."

A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the governor is "very concerned" about the findings. He has appointed a new prisons chief, Roderick Q. Hickman, to restore public and employee confidence in the system's disciplinary process, officials said.

Hickman will testify Wednesday when the two committees examine proposals to reform the system's process for investigating dishonest and corrupt officers.

Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, said the "state has to bring that system under control" or face possibilities of a temporary federal takeover. Speier, head of the Senate Select Committee on Government Oversight, said, "We have to restore strong leadership so that correctional officers who want to do the right thing will not fear for their lives."

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