Flood waters, torture: Demand Corcoran prisons be shut down

Banner at protest outside of Corcoran State Prison, February 2019.

Oakland, California

The big news coming out of California is about the flooding of the Central Valley where multi-million dollar agribusiness makes its money. Missing from this headline story is the imminent danger faced by over 8,000 incarcerated people at two prisons in the small town of Corcoran:  California State Prison, Corcoran (CSP-COR), and the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran (SATF-CSP).  

The flooding caused by an unprecedented late winter rainfall and snowfall, now melting, across the Central Valley has made continued incarceration in these prisons life-threatening. It’s time to not only evacuate these prisoners, but to close these two prisons, which have a history of medical neglect, torture, and human rights abuses.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is notorious for its refusal to evacuate prisoners facing life-threatening climate catastrophes or other dangers. Just two years ago, during a particularly dangerous season of fires, prisoners at several California prisons were subjected to hazardous and unhealthy air quality, and high temperatures in their cells. 

The CDCR refused to even consider evacuating prisoners at any of those prisons, including incarcerated people at the California Medical Facility at Vacaville, most of whom are elderly and immunocompromised.

Prisoners face dangerous climate disasters 

Right now the most dire situation is faced by prisoners at both Corcoran prisons. CSP-COR and SATF-CSP were opened in 1988 and 1997, respectively. Construction began on CSP-COR in 1986, just three years after the last period of serious flooding in Corcoran in 1983. There is nothing in place to prevent a serious climate catastrophe in that town. (Truthout, April 14).

CSP-Corcoran contains a Security Housing Unit (SHU), commonly known as solitary confinement, that is infamous for its decades of torture and violence against prisoners housed there. However, prisoners in the general population have also been victims of medical neglect and violence perpetrated by prison guards. In 1998, eight prison guards were found guilty of serious civil rights violations and abuse — which led to the murder of a prisoner. 

CSP-COR was one of the prisons where guards set up fights in the prison yard between rival prisoner groupings and then opened fire during these altercations, killing and injuring many prisoners. These came to be known as “gladiator fights,” which from 1989 to 1994 caused the death of seven prisoners and injured 43 others. 

California Prison Focus, an Oakland-based prison abolition group, issued a report condemning the conditions at CSP-COR and documenting abuse from 2002 to 2004, particularly for those incarcerated in the prison’s SHU. 

And now, with the once dry Tulare Lake flooding its banks and more water cascading down from the Sierras, the incarcerated populations of both Corcoran prisons are facing life-threatening climate disasters. This crisis not only calls for an immediate evacuation of both prisons but the closure of these torture chambers once and for all.

Judy Greenspan was a member of California Prison Focus and visited prisoners in the Security Housing Unit at CSP-Corcoran.

Judy Greenspan

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Judy Greenspan

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