Special Review of How Salinas Valley State Prison Handles Allegations by Prisoners of Staff Misconduct

by the Office of Inspector General (OIG)

In January 2018, the secretary of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and attorneys from the Prison Law Office requested that the OIG assess the prison’s process of handling inmate allegations of staff misconduct, “staff complaints.” The department allows local prison supervisors to conduct “staff complaint inquiries,” which are a preliminary collection of evidence pertaining to an allegation. Our review included a retrospective paper review of 61 staff complaint inquiries the prison completed between December 1, 2017, and February 28, 2018, and an onsite monitoring review of 127 staff complaint inquiries the prison initiated between March 1, 2018, and May 31, 2018. This totaled 188 staff complaint inquiries, which included 268 allegations. Our review also included our assessment of nine additional complaints submitted to the department by the Prison Law Office.

FULL REPORT (137pgs): Special Review of Salinas Valley State Prison’s Processing of Inmate Allegations of Staff Misconduct
https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/2019_special_review_-_salinas_valley_state_prison_staff_complaint_process.pdf

FACT SHEET (6pgs): Special Review of Salinas Valley State Prison’s Processing of Inmate Allegations of Staff Misconduct
https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/2019_special_review_-_salinas_valley_state_prison_staff_complaint_process_-_fact_sheet.pdf

Special Review found Salinas Valley’s Reviews of Allegations of Staff Misconduct involved: Poor interviewing techniques Poor evidence collection Poor report writing Lack of training Lack of independence: Display of bias, Inappropriate reviewers, Breached confidentiality

Salinas Valley rarely found misconduct from its staff complaint inquiries, and in the few cases where it determined that staff violated policy, it did not always provide corrective action—until we asked about it. The hiring authority determined that subject staff did not violate policy in 183 of the 188 complaint inquiries we reviewed (97%).

A reviewer’s rank of service had little effect on the quality of the staff complaint inquiry; we found the work across all ranks to be lacking in quality. Sergeants performed the poorest at 70% inadequate. Lieutenants, the most common reviewers, produced inadequate inquiries 52% of the time.

Below are excerpts from the OIG’s Full Report included in the OIG’s Fact Sheet:

2019_Special_Review_DEFICIENTInterviewSkills-Fact_Sheet-page-4

2019_Special_Review_DISPLAY Bias-Fact_Sheet-page-4


Electronic copies of reports published by the Office of the Inspector General are available free in portable document format (PDF) on our website at www.oig.ca.gov .

Office of the Inspector General, 10111 Old Placerville Road, Suite 110, Sacramento, CA 95827

 

2019_Special_Review_DISCOUNTINGCorroboration-Fact_Sheet-page-4

2019_Special_Review_COMPROMISEDConfidentiality-Fact_Sheet-page-4

2019_Special_Review_FAILUREtoInterview-Fact_Sheet-page-4


January 24, 2019

Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:

Enclosed is the Office of the Inspector General’s report titled Special Review of Salinas Valley State Prison’s Processing of Inmate Allegations of Staff Misconduct. In January 2018, the secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the department) and attorneys from the Prison Law Office requested that the Office of the Inspector General assess Salinas Valley State Prison’s (Salinas Valley) process for handling inmate allegations of staff misconduct, commonly referred to as staff complaints. The prison conducts staff complaint inquiries—a precursor to a formal investigation—to address such allegations. A staff complaint inquiry includes the gathering of evidence, through interviews and document collection, and can evolve into a formal investigation if the prison suspects staff misconduct serious enough to warrant disciplinary action. This special review encompassed two periods: a retrospective review of 61 staff complaint inquiries that the prison completed between December 1, 2017, and February 28, 2018, and an onsite monitoring review of 127 staff complaint inquiries that the prison initiated between March 1, 2018, and May 31, 2018.

In this report, we concluded that Salinas Valley’s process for handling staff complaints was inadequate and may have resulted in decisions it cannot defend. The hiring authority—the person with the authority to hire and discipline staff—determined that subject staff had not violated policy in 183 of the 188 staff complaint inquiries we reviewed (97 percent of the inquiries) and concluded that only one of them warranted a formal investigation. However, we found that more than half of the staff complaint inquiries were inadequately performed because the staff complaint reviewers—supervisors the prison assigned to conduct the staff complaint inquiries— did not follow sound practices with respect to interviewing, collecting evidence, and writing reports. Notably, we found at least one significant deficiency (or inadequate rating) in 173 of the staff complaint inquiries included in this review (92 percent). We did not conclude whether the hiring authority’s decisions were correct or incorrect, or whether an accused staff member was responsible for committing the alleged misconduct; rather, we concluded that the hiring authority often made decisions based on flawed investigative work.

The deficiencies we found may have resulted, in part, from a lack of training for the staff complaint reviewers. For instance, among the 61 individual reviewers, only 14 of them had received any training prior to conducting their first staff complaint inquiry-related interview, and that training component consisted of only a two-hour class providing them with a general overview of the process and acquainting them with filling out proper forms. Forty-two individuals received this training class sometime after conducting their first interview, and five individuals never received this training.

Nevertheless, none of the reviewers received meaningful training in how to conduct interviews, collect evidence, or write reports. Overall, this lack of training was evident in the quality of their staff complaint inquiries.

In addition, we concluded that inadequate staff complaint inquiries resulted not only from poor investigative skills, but also from the staff complaint reviewers’ lack of independence. These reviewers were frequently peers or coworkers who worked in the same location as the accused staff—the same individuals the reviewers must rely upon if their physical safety were threatened. The reviewers also displayed signs of bias in favor of their fellow staff when conducting their staff complaint inquiries; they sometimes ignored corroborating evidence offered by inmate witnesses and often compromised the confidentiality of the process. As a result, we question whether Salinas Valley can effectively police itself utilizing the staff complaint process. Furthermore, an inadequately functioning staff complaint process that lacks independence fosters distrust among inmates and, in the cases we reviewed, the compromised confidentiality could have exposed inmates to retaliation for complaining about staff.

Moreover, although we determined Salinas Valley completed most staff complaint inquiries within the required time frame of 30 working days, it did not always notify inmates or its associate director when some staff complaint inquiries took longer to complete than required.

Finally, we also assessed nine other inquiries conducted by reviewers regarding inmate complaints concerning alleged staff misconduct that the Prison Law Office brought to the department. We found that the reviewers’ work with respect to these inquiries suffered from the same general types of failures as those we identified during the two periods covered in this special review. We found the quality of seven of the nine inquiries to be inadequate.

Respectfully submitted,
Roy W. Wesley
Inspector General


Electronic copies of reports published by the Office of the Inspector General are available free in portable document format (PDF) on our website at www.oig.ca.gov .

Office of the Inspector General, 10111 Old Placerville Road, Suite 110, Sacramento, CA 95827

OIG’s Full Report here    OIG’s Fact Sheet here

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