innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Monday, February 20, 2006

Jail Inmates Were Stripped to Deter Riots

Below is a story that was originally published in the L.A. Times By Megan Garvey and Stuart Pfeifer:

More than 100 inmates at a Los Angeles County jail were ordered to strip naked, had their mattresses taken away and were left with only blankets to cover themselves for a day as Los Angeles Sheriff's Department officials tried to quell racially charged violence that has plagued the jail system for nearly two weeks.

The tactics — defended Friday by jail officials as necessary to stop the fighting — were immediately criticized as dehumanizing and highly inappropriate by civil rights activists and the Sheriff's Department's independent overseer.

"I have no problem taking privileges away…. It comes to a different level of basic human rights if you take away clothing and dignity," said Michael Gennaco, chief of Sheriff Lee Baca's office of independent review.

"I don't know if it is consistent with the sheriff's core values."Baca said Friday that he was informed of the tactics after the order was given and supported the move, as long as the measures were short-lived. He said keeping inmates naked was at the "outer edge of our core values" but was done to save lives.

Scrutiny of the inmates' treatment comes as Gennaco is also examining why the bunk beds in dorms at Pitchess Detention Center where the rioting began Feb. 4 were not permanently fastened to a floor or wall.

State guidelines in effect since 1986 call for beds in areas holding maximum-security-risk inmates to be immovable, in part so inmates cannot use them as weapons.Investigators believe attackers used a steel bunk bed to beat inmate Wayne Tiznor, 45, to death during rioting Feb. 4 at the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic.

About 2,000 inmates threw bunk beds off balconies and beat and kicked one another in a disturbance that took deputies four hours to end.In light of the slaying, sheriff's officials said

Friday they may begin fastening more than 1,600 double and triple bunk beds to the floor or walls in dorms holding maximum-security inmates. Recent riots and fights in the jails have left two men dead and more than 100 injured, including four injuries Friday after 40 inmates scuffled at the Pitchess' North facility, a disturbance broken up by deputies using tear gas.

Sammy L. Jones, chief of the custody division, said Friday that it was his decision to force inmates at that jail to spend much of Feb. 9 naked and without their mattresses. The punishment was an attempt to calm inmates who had repeatedly attacked each other, even after privileges such as access to mail, television and phones were taken away, Jones said.

He said the measures were taken in three dorms, each housing between 45 and 60 inmates. The strategy worked, he said. There was no new violence in those dorms and after one day the inmates were given clothing, Jones said.While naked, inmates had no place to hide weapons such as homemade knives and could not use clothing to pull another inmate down, he said.

"I'm dealing with lives," Jones said. "I'm sure that if an inmate goes in there and comes out with his life and comes home healthy, his family is happy."

Jones, who said he has spent the last two weeks talking to inmates and directing efforts to suppress fighting, said: "I take it personally if I lose somebody in the jail system. It hurts."

For the whole story, click here.


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