Mag­gots, mice fall into Cal­i­for­nia prison din­ing hall

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - BY DON THOMPSON

Mag­gots and mice have fallen onto in­mates’ din­ing ta­bles at the Cor­co­ran state prison where holes in the roof also al­low rain and bird drop­pings to seep through and streak the walls, ac­cord­ing to an in­mate law­suit that charges the state isn’t mov­ing fast enough to re­pair de­te­ri­o­rat­ing pris­ons.

Cal­i­for­nia has com­mit­ted $260 mil­lion over four years to re­pair leak­ing roofs and clear dan­ger­ous mold at more than two dozen de­te­ri­o­rat­ing pris­ons where the cost of over­due main­te­nance is pegged at more than $1 bil­lion.

The law­suit calls for swifter ac­tion and in­cludes ex­am­ples of the prob­lems in stom­achchurn­ing de­tail.

Mice twice fell onto the din­ing ta­ble and scur­ried into a dish­wash­ing area in April 2018, tes­ti­fied in­mate Marvin Dominguez, who eats twice a day in the din­ing hall at the Cal­i­for­nia Sub­stance Abuse Treat­ment Fa­cil­ity and State Prison in Cor­co­ran. Then a squirmy mag­got dropped onto his food tray in Oc­to­ber.

A guard ad­vised him to sit at a dif­fer­ent ta­ble, he said.

The dis­clo­sure comes amid in­creased scru­tiny over prison con­di­tions na­tion­ally. Other reports in­clude a lack of heat in Fe­bru­ary in fed­eral de­ten­tion cen­ters in the New York bor­ough of Brook­lyn and near Los An­ge­les, and poor med­i­cal care and dan­ger­ous con­di­tions at fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

In­mate Robert Es­careno, who filed the Cal­i­for­nia law­suit, de­scribed in court how bird fe­ces paints the din­ing room wall. He says the mold and other con­tam­i­nants ag­gra­vate his al­ler­gies.

State of­fi­cials don’t deny the prob­lem but say they’re fix­ing the roofs as fast as they can. They blame in­mates for at­tract­ing ver­min by toss­ing food and hid­ing liquor they make known as “pruno” in the dam­aged ceil­ing.

In­mates’ at­tor­neys say the Cor­co­ran prison tar­geted in the law­suit is a symp­tom of a sys­temwide prob­lem.

“Roofs are fail­ing all over the place,” said Don Specter, di­rec­tor of the non­profit Prison Law Of­fice, which is rep­re­sent­ing Es­careno. “They ac­knowl­edge the need of the roofs, (but) they’re not mak­ing ar­range­ments so peo­ple don’t get hurt in the mean­time.”

Be­sides spawn­ing mold, leak­ing roofs short out elec­tri­cal sys­tems, in­clud­ing lights, fire alarm con­trol pan­els and fire sup­pres­sion sys­tems, cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials say.

Roofs at eight of Cal­i­for­nia’s 34 pris­ons have been re­placed, but an­other 20 still need to be done. Gov. Gavin New­som’s bud­get in­cludes re­plac­ing roofs at two pris­ons, leav­ing 18 need­ing roof re­place­ments and re­pairs.

It’s taken nearly two years just to de­sign the Cor­co­ran prison’s new din­ing room roof, and prison of­fi­cials could not say when con­struc­tion will be­gin.

That led Kings County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Donna Tarter to half-joke dur­ing trial that the roof “is not get­ting fixed prob­a­bly in our life­time.” She ex­pects to de­cide by May whether to or­der the prison to close the din­ing hall and feed about 800 in­mates in their dor­mi­to­ries, a stop-gap mea­sure that of­fi­cials said would cause con­sid­er­able prac­ti­cal com­pli­ca­tions while in­ter­fer­ing with prison pro­grams.

The broader prob­lem of leak­ing roofs could im­peril Cal­i­for­nia’s ef­forts to keep the in­mate pop­u­la­tion be­low a cap im­posed by fed­eral judges to im­prove prison con­di­tions.

Cor­rec­tions Sec­re­tary Ralph Diaz told leg­is­la­tors in March that one leaky roof could cre­ate prob­lems if in­mates have to be moved from cell houses. The state is about 3,300 in­mates be­low the cap but ex­pects to re­duce that mar­gin con­sid­er­ably when it re­turns 1,400 in­mates from a pri­vate out-of-state prison by June.

“The cush­ion isn’t as ro­bust as we would like,” Diaz said.

The prob­lem at Cor­co­ran is that leak­ing rain­wa­ter has de­stroyed in­te­rior ceil­ing tiles so of­ten that the prison no longer re­places them, prison Lt. Michael Owens tes­ti­fied on be­half of the state. In­mates then toss food onto the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem through the open­ings in the ceil­ing, he said, which in turn at­tracts flies that pro­duce mag­gots that fall from the ceil­ing. He also re­counted how he or­dered in­mate work­ers to reg­u­larly scrub the dis­col­ored walls with bleach.

As­so­ciate War­den Ja­son Collins and prison Lt. Ni­cholas Tyler blamed “pruno” – an il­licit al­co­holic bev­er­age fer­mented from left­over fruit with a lit­tle bread to pro­vide the yeast.

The din­ing hall roof also at­tracts pi­geons – lots of them. There they poop, and some birds die, their waste wash­ing into the build­ing when­ever it rains, tes­ti­fied li­censed ar­chi­tect, en­gi­neer and build­ing con­trac­tor Steven Nor­ris.

Prison Law Of­fice via AP

Dam­aged ceil­ing tiles have been re­moved in a din­ing hall at the Cal­i­for­nia Sub­stance Abuse Treat­ment Fa­cil­ity and State Prison in Cor­co­ran, Calif. Cal­i­for­nia is spend­ing $260 mil­lion to re­pair roofs and clear mold at more than two dozen de­te­ri­o­rat­ing pris­ons.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.